Women in Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's Miranda in The Tempest

Powerful Essays
Women in Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's Miranda in The Tempest

Treatment of women has evolved much since Elizabethan England. As a preface to the dissection of The Tempest – in particular, the character of Miranda, Shakespeare’s role for women as a whole must be addressed. According to Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz’s introduction of Woman’s Part, “patriarchal order takes different forms and is portrayed with varying degrees of emphasis throughout the Shakespearean canon” (5). In the midst of this patriarchy, where do women stand? What social assumptions guided the pen of the great English poet and playwright as he wrote The Tempest? Lenz discusses that “In the comedies women are most often nurturing and powerful; as their values educate the men, mutuality between the sexes may be achieved” (6). However, “in tragedy…their roles are at once more varied, more constricted, and more precarious…they are condemned for acting, accused of being deceitful even when they are not” (6). Why the canyon between the two? How does Shakespeare reconcile women in what The Norton Shakespeare terms a romance play?

Given the tragic outcomes of certain female characters (i.e., Desdemona and Juliet), sexuality must be promptly considered. Desdemona’s “jeopardized” fidelity ignites Othello’s murdering hands. Her sexuality controls him. In the same way, it might be argued that severe sexuality is the compulsion of Romeo and Juliet. Considering the brevity of their relationship, which implies the absence of shared memories and the absence of mutual and intimate knowledge, one may deduce that all they really can share is bodies. And it may be precisely their bodies that drive the entire relationship and tragedy. In Woman’s Part, Paula S. Berggren r...

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...ergren, Paula S. “The Woman’s Part: Female Sexuality as Power in Shakespeare’s Plays.” The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene and Carol Thomas Neely. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. London: The MacMillan Press Ltd., 1975.

Novy, Marianne L. Love’s Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Pitt, Angela. Shakespeare’s Women. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1981.

Ranald, Margaret Loftus. Shakespeare and His Social Context. New York: AMS Press, Inc. 1987.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997. 3055-3107.
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