This post is for the females in this world. I have long heard the stories of girls who were told to stay at home because the best ‘job’ they could ever have was being a housewife. Another told me that her own gran cut off all relations with her as she proceeded to university to achieve her own dreams and ambition. Apparently, this meant there were no school fees left for her younger brother. As much as this is discussed in our daily lives, this is an issue which is prevalent all throughout history. A prime example can be found back in one of the Shakespeare’s work.
In Shakespeare’s “Much ado about nothing,” there is much focus on the different roles of men and women in society as well as the establishment and maintenance of their honour. The play acts out against the unfairness of gender roles in society and the inequality between men and women, and Shakespeare humours the fact that men believe women are suspicious. I will attempt to examine the issues of gender roles and honour in the play.
In the play, the roles of men and women were clearly that of a patriarchal society, in which women were subordinate to men. A man’s loyalty and social grace were influenced by orthodox rules of honour, camaraderie and the dominance of women. The camaraderie is obvious when Claudio listens his friend, Don Pedro, rather than trust Hero’s word, and he, therefore chooses obedience and friendship over his love for Hero.
Women were expected to be obedient and subordinate to men, chaste, virtues and a good wife and mother. The play focusses much on the importance of an honourable bride, rather than true love and happiness. The men fear that their women can be unfaithful to them because they will have no way of knowing this. Despite the established gender roles in the era of the play, Shakespeare emphasises that male power over female fragility is not so importance and cleverly pokes fun at the inconstancy of men rather than women.
The importance of honour is evident throughout the play and men and women establish their honour in different ways. The men’s honour depended on male camaraderie and social rank, which was achieved through wise words and speech or fellowships. A man could defend his and his family’s honour if it was slandered, by challenging the offender to a duel. A woman’s honour was based upon her maidenly behaviour.
After the disastrous wedding scene in the play, Beatrice wishes that she could become a man in order to avenge Hero’s integrity and honour by accessing the strength and violence of men. Unfortunately, as a woman she is physically weak and can only hope on a man to do so for her:
Is Claudio thine enemy?
Is he not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman? O
that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they
come to take hands; and then, with public
accusation, uncover slander, unmitigated rancour,
–O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart
in the market-place. (Act IV, scene I)
Being a strong-minded and opinionated woman, she persuades Benedick to challenge Claudio to a duel. Beatrice’s independent and powerful character opposes the norm of a subordinate woman, and although she marries Benedick, she does so out of true love. The fact that Claudio seems apathetic at marrying a woman he has never met, give rise to suspicions of his reasons for marrying a woman in Leonato’s family, seeing as he questioned the inheritance of Leonato’s wealth:
Hath Leonato any son, my lord?
No child but Hero; she’s his only heir. (Act I, Scene i)
The play subtly mocks the present roles of men and women in society through the marriages of Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick. The aspiration of men to marry into a wealthy family and to a socially accepted and virtuous woman takes the beauty and passion out of romantic relationships, and further amounts to inequality between men and women.
Author – Jiangmin Hou
Jiangmin is a 5th year high school student currently studying five STEM subjects at Scottish Higher level-Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Computer Science and Chemistry. She is interested in pursuing a degree in Medicine after completion of Secondary Education.