Shakespeare and Similarity of Gender Roles

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Shakespeare and Similarity of Gender Roles #2 Shakespeare, although historically gender biased, can be charged with giving both males and females similar characteristic traits within his plays. This can best be proven using the comparison of Portia from the “Merchant of Venice” to King Henry from “Henry V”. These two characters, barring gender, show common traits throughout both of these plays. They are also set into similar situations, such as marital issues, prank playing, and the use of disguises. As audiences are introduced to each of these characters, they are shown both their wealth and intelligence. In “Henry V”, the audience is quickly given King Henry’s “free-spirited” background, but then is told of his miraculous change in demeanor after his father’s death. The Bishop of Canterbury explains it as “But that his wildness, mortified in him,/Seemed to die too; yea, at that very moment/ Consideration like an angel came/ And whipped th’offending Adam out of him,/ Leaving his body as a paradise/…Never was such a sudden scholar made” (1.1 27-33). Portia’s intelligence is explained best by the literary critic Mrs. [Anna Brownell] Jameson when she states that Portia is “distinguished by her mental superiority. [In Portia] intellect is kindled into romance by a poetical imagination” (38-39). Portia’s sense of humor and spiritedness makes itself known almost immediately when she is first introduced in “The Merchant of Venice” with her waiting woman, Nerissa. In this speech, which concerns the terms of her future marriage according to her deceased fathers’ will, Portia artfully and impertinently describes the suitors who have vied for her hand thus far (1.2). Forced marriage is a common bond that Portia shares with King Henry. According to her deceased fathers’ wishes, Portia must marry the man who chooses the correct casket from a choice of three. She has no say in the matter. Henry, also, has no say in whom he must marry. As King, he must cement England’s bonds with France, and thus make his marriage to Katharine a condition of Frances’ surrender. Portia, happily, ends up marrying the gentleman that she wishes. Henry decides to “woo” the Lady Katharine, supposedly falling in love with her. According to Desmond Seward, “ The King…was enchanted by the girl. He regarded her as the only possible bride for him, if contemporaries are to be believed” (130-131). A strong parallel that Shakespeare creates between these two characters is their use of disguises.
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