Despite qualities women were expected to have in Shakespeare’s time, Lady Macbeth disregarded the manner in which most women of her time acted. During the Renaissance period, women had no status and relied on male figures for guidance and support (“Elizabethan Women”). Lady Macbeth challenges the role of women during Shakespeare’s time, as she is stronger, more vicious, and more ambitious than her husband. Shakespeare illustrates a contradictory characterization of Lady Macbeth in contrast to the subservient women of the Renaissance era, creating an intriguing relationship between her and Macbeth in their quest for power. Upon the introduction of the Macbeths in the play, it is apparent that they do not exemplify the conventional men and women of Shakespeare’s day (“Elizabethan Women”).
Ed. Paul Lauther. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. New York: Houghton 1998. 1342-1354.
The women in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ defy traditional gender roles. Beatrice represents a brave and outspoken woman who defies the oppressive, traditional gender roles for the female sex. Her cousin Hero, however, represents those women who were successfully oppressed by the patriarchy and accepted the traditional gender roles without much complaint. The Elizabethan society in which Shakespeare lived during his life held a misogynistic ideology in high esteem. ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ was written in 1598-9, during a time when women were second class citizens compared to males and were considered to be inferior to males in every way.
Back in the early ages when social class was strongly enforced women were submissive and treated as possession. Marriage is thought to be act of love, to be with someone until death does them apart simply because they believed in pure love but back then marriage was an exhibition of a purchase. Women married men because they loved them but men did not. Their intention was to also marry a woman as a favor to them, to obey men as they pleased in return a thought of privilege. In the play Othello, Shakespeare portrays women as inferior to all men.
It does not matter to these two men that Lavinia is married; she is still just as attractive to them. Lavinia has the power to attract these men to her by her femininity, but she is not able to ward off their attack because her power is limited to being feminine, not being strong and convincing, like
Morgan leFay is the ultimate conniving, manipulating, woman. While the three women in this legend have a much more active role than in earlier texts, this role is not a positive one; they are not individuals but are symbols of how men of this time perceive women as passive tokens, adulteresses, and manipulators. Guinevere from the very beginning of the legend is portrayed as a passive, typical lady of the court. In stanza four, the author describes Guinevere almost as a trophy or ornament of the court: "Queen Guinevere very gaily was gathered among them/....The prettiest lady that one may describe/She gleamed there with eyes of grey/To have seen one fairer to the sight/That no one could truly say" (74-84). Guinevere does not take an active role in the court.
Exposing the Role of Women in The Madwoman in the Attic In their book The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar address the issue of literary potential for women in a world shaped by and for men. Specifically, Gilbert and Gubar are concerned with the nineteenth century woman and how her role was based on her association with the symbols of angels, monsters, or sometimes both. Because the role of angel was ideally passive and the role of monster was naturally evil, both limited a woman’s behavior into quiet content, with few words to object. Women in the nineteenth century, Gilbert and Gubar claim, lived quiet and passive lives, embodying the ideals of the “Eternal Feminine” vision in Goethe’s Faust. Passivity led to a belief that women were more spiritual than men, meant to contemplate rather than act.
New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1999. 1563-1564. Donne, John. "The Good Morrow." The Longman Anthology of British Literature.