Throughout history, men and women have been assigned specific roles to which society prescribes standards and qualifications. There are certain tasks that have been traditionally completed only by men, and others that have been assigned to women; most of which are separated by the realm of the domestic sphere. During the period of the Renaissance, men and women were assigned very different roles within society. The value, social expectations, legal status, and rights of citizenship differed greatly between the sexes as well as among the classes. Many of these gender roles can be identified through careful readings of the literature produced throughout the Renaissance. Sometimes the roles are clearly defined, while in other instances the characters move fluidly between them. In Shakespeare's As You Like It, Renaissance ideas of men and women can be easily identified. However, Rosalind possesses many of the traits typically associated with maleness as she manipulates Orlando and woos him as an outsider. Orlando is also forced into submission by his domineering older brother, Oliver. In As You Like It, Shakespeare assigns the traditional Renaissance gender roles to opposing sexes in the play.
In order to fully grasp the concept of the varying gender roles within the play, one must first clearly understand the Renaissance conceptions of men and women. The way in which society valued men and women differed greatly. Men basically functioned as the ruling voice over all aspects of society; ". . . all forms of public and domestic authority in Elizabethan England were vested in men: in fathers, husbands, masters, teachers, preachers, magistrates, [and] lords" (Montrose 6...
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... woman in As You Like It.
Camden, Carroll. The Elizabethan Woman. Mamaroneck, NY: Paul A. Appel, 1975.
Dunn, Catherine M. "The Changing Image of Woman in Renaissance Society and Literature." What Manner of Woman. Ed. Marlene Springer. New York: NYU Press, 1977. 15-38.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Introduction. The Norton Shakespeare. Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus et al. New York: Norton, 1997.
Montrose, Louis A. "The Shaping Fantasies of Elizabethan Culture." Rewriting the Renaissance. Ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986, 65-87.
Putnam, Emily James. The Lady. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1970.
Wiesner, Merry E. "Women's Defense of Their Public Role." Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Ed. Mary Beth Rose. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1986. 1-27.
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