Gender Roles In Shakespeare

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Gender roles are an integral part of human culture, and have existed as long as the species has. In its simplest form, a gender role can be defined as a set of expected male or female behaviors shaped by the contemporary culture and personal upbringing. William Shakespeare attempts to address this issue, among countless others, in his many works. An author during the English Renaissance period, including the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James, he was aware of gender roles that were very clearly defined. Although he echoes and at times supports the stereotypes of women and men of the time and their various societal roles and responsibilities, he also notably questions and even challenges these exemplifications. Defining what a female was supposed to portray and how they were supposed to act was nothing new in the English Renaissance period, but it was very clearly established. For Shakespeare, as well as most of Renaissance society, women who were properly within the feminine role displayed a series of values most indicative of purity, or even angelic behavior. These values included obedience, submission, humility, patience and sexual chastity among others. Conspicuously, the majority of these values was measured by and derived meaning from their relationship to the male. Nonetheless, as gender roles are social constructs, Shakespeare was able to manipulate them as he saw fit, such as with crossovers. In other words, he was able to create female characters that exhibited masculine characteristics and male characters with female characteristics. As the roles were essentially cemented into the culture, manipulations such as crossovers provide a source of conflict and intrigue into the narrative of the plays. Two of Shakespea... ... middle of paper ... to bury will resurface tragically later on. Whereas in Othello Desdemona returns to her femininity to absolve feelings of guilt, here Lady Macbeth becomes overburdened by her guilt because of her return to femininity. Unable to cope with the guilt of their crimes, she commits suicide. Gender roles are integral to the way people interact within a society. In the Shakespearean era, women were expected to be subservient to their husbands, patient, and sexually chaste. Two of Shakespeare’s characters that completely go against this stereotype are Desdemona and Lady Macbeth. As they are within tragedies, however, their boldness leads to the eventual downfall of both their husbands and themselves. However, the fact that Shakespeare includes such a controversial issue in his works means that he himself was unsure of the stability of the social construct of gender roles.
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