Challenging Gender Roles in English Society

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Challenging Gender Roles in English Society

The age of Shakespeare was characterized by an overwhelming tendency for women to be looked down upon as the inferior gender. Women of the time were expected to be submissive, dutiful, obedient, and predominantly silent. The idea of an independent, out-spoken woman would have challenged all of the societal values of the time. Shakespeare, however, challenged the traditional patriarchal values of his time by introducing powerful and highly influential female characters in some of his most memorable plays.

Lady Macbeth and her earlier counterpart, Volumnia, both serve pivotal roles as dominant and commanding mother figures and also challenge the traditional role of the dutiful wife. Both of these independent, strong-willed women are far ahead of the times in their approach to marital, maternal, and societal involvement. Shakespeare successfully portrays his women in a new light, very different from the perspective with which women were viewed at the time. Both women challenge traditional patriarchal values of English society and establish the female character as a significant and heroic figure among Shakespeare’s prominent male figures.

Lady Macbeth, perhaps the most famous of these spirited women, is a particularly prominent character in Shakespeare’s tragic Scottish play, Macbeth. Her decisive and determined mentality serves as the driving force in Macbeth’s journey toward tragedy. It cannot be mistaken that Macbeth’s own desire for greatness is motivated in large part due to his wife’s passionate influence. Lady Macbeth appears to be the dominant partner in the twisted and power driven relationship between herself and Macbeth. She demonstrates her great concern with her husb...

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...nglish society, Shakespeare places his female characters at the center of the action, making them equally important, if not more important than their male counterparts. These women, especially, allow the audience to view gender roles and gender restrictions imposed by society in a new light. Perhaps women are not as frail, dim-witted, and incapable as once thought. Shakespeare seems to lead us to the idea of women holding significant yet distinctive roles in society. He has effectively created strong, independent women who do not accept traditionally prescribed gender roles, but instead speak what they will, when they will, and do what they deem best. Through their distinctive actions, each of these women presents alternatives to the traditional patriarchal values of the time period as they establish themselves as thinking, feeling, and essential members of society.

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