Introduction: fathers, their husbands or their brother. Society

“Strong, attractive, intelligent, and humane women come to life in Shakespeare’s plays. They not only have a clear sense of themselves as individuals, but they challenge accepted patterns for women’s behaviour.” states Irene Dash. Shakespeare is described by many as an innovator and subtle advocate for egalitarianism considering the social normalities of the 17th century. The representation of women in Shakespeare’s work has been a keen topic of scholarly interest for sometime and continues to be debated today. Shakespeare was in no way a feminist as we define the term today, as the discussion of gender equality did not exist in this period in which women were regarded as the weaker sex despite a powerful and respected female ruler. Women had no right to vote or work in many professions as they were objects of their fathers, their husbands or their brother. Society even prevented women from acting in plays by law- not being allowed on stage until 1660 which meant prepubescent men usually played the roles of female characters. Elizabethan England tended to assume that female actors were prostitutes as “a women who could so easily change her appearance and sway people to believe the character was viewed with alarm by many in this era”.  The fact that Shakespeare was writing about complexes female characters with intelligence and sexual desires, exploring the best and worst qualities of both sexes is quite profound. In contract, some scholars argue that even Shakespeare’s most complex female characters possess highly negative and inferior qualities. This is explained by others as the deep seated misogyny in the Elizabethan society, in which Shakespeare wrote all of his plays in. In this essay, an attempt has been taken to explore the representation and role of women in Shakespeare’s works using Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew as case studies. It will be arguing that Shakespeare felt positively towards women and their roles in society; a radical approach compared to that in his time period such as playwright Francis Beaumont who wrote “as men/Do walk a mile, women should talk an hour/After supper. ‘Tis their exercise.”. and writer Samuel Johnson writing “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.” Women may not have had equal rights, but they had the freedom to be just as intelligent, brave, witty, and satirical as men in Shakespeare’s plays.    

Repesentation and role of women.
To give an idea of the sixteenth century which was Shakespeare’s England, historian Lawrence Stone describes it as being “patrilinear, primogenitural and patriarchal” despite the fact a single women ruled over England. As head of the household, the husband was allowed to chastise his wife and daughters “were often unwanted and might be regarded as no more than a tiresome drain on the economic resources of the family” (Stone, Family 88, 112) due to their inferior position in society and the fact that their offspring did not carry on the family name. A women’s role was to bear her husband’s children commonly birthed every due year due to the high infant morality rate which is part of the reason why parent-child relationships were so formal.

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Overview of Romeo and Juliet

Overview of Case Study

Critically explore Romeo and Juliet’s representation and role of women:
Through the male supporting roles named Sampson, the view of the time period is stated in the first scene of the play. 
      “Tis true, and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall.” (Romeo                                and Juliet, 1.1.15) 
He is saying that girls get pushed up against wall because they are weak. Juliet very much opposes the idea of being a weaker vessel.

Critical Reception of Romeo and Juliet:

Problematic moments:

Overview of Taming of the Shrew:
The character discussed most frequently when exploring Shakespeare’s representation and treatment of women in his plays is Katharina from The Taming of the Strew.  She is argued to reinforce negative female stereotypes implying that only a man has the ability to tame her. Katherina, the sharp-tongue and animal-like “Shrew,” is prone to violence, specifically against any man who tries to have her hand in marriage. Her ‘tamer’, Petruchio, is as equally out of control character as his female counterpart and spews highly misogynistic ideas out of his mouth. The Taming of the Shrew was a comedy and is part of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The term comedy had a different definition in the Elizabethan era with it simply meaning that the play concluded with a happy ending. The play has been grouped amoungst The Winter’s Tale, Timon of Athens and The Merchant of Venice by F.S. Boas as “problem plays” due to their more sinister dramatic element.

Overview of Case Study 
Considering the amount of people claiming that the play is offensive and misogynistic, productions of The Taming of the Shrew remains remarkably popular with audiences including that of the 1967 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli staring Elizabeth Taylor as Katharina and Richard Burton as Petruchio. In this adaptation, all costumes and set designs are in the style of 17th century Padua with Renaissance décor and heavily robed merchants with a small amount of editing within the script.

Critical Reception
A reason why this play gained such positive critical reception considering the said mysogynistic elements of the play is because the characters were portrayed as exaggerated caricatures, making the story far more lighthearted compared to other interpretations of the text such as Connor Morrison’s 2008 modernised production. “Katherina has no escape, and will die for it. No amount of funny business can turn that ugly truth into light comedy.” states Lyn Gardner with the Guardian who gave the performance a 1 star review. Because you are unable to empathise with Petruchio’s very unsympathetic character, you are left feeling heartbroken for Kate, and unsurprised that she becomes submissive. There are few parallels between 17th century women and 21st century women which is why the whole production simply came across as domestic violence.

Franco Zeffirelli’s play is amusing and enjoyable to watch because it is so absurd. Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of Katherina is ridiculously violent and the amount of aggressiveness she exhibits is very funny. Both Taylor and Burton turn this potentially misogynistic play into a true comedy due to their over exaggerated performances of Shakespeare’s complex characters. Critics at the time of its premiere described it to be “their extravagant overacting and in the evident fun they have that the sheer theatrical gusto and rollicking sport of this film reside” with negative aspects of the film being that the repetitive nature of the acting gets a bit “tedious”.

Film and media journalist Douglas Brode, made some small-minded and misogynistic comments about Elizabeth Taylor’s performance of Kate, saying that her “breasts performed beautifully, but her vocal chords proved disappointing”  expressing that she had a “nasal thin whine of a voice,”. I would argue that Taylor’s ‘whine of a voice’ was purposeful and that Zeffirelli’s underscoring of the diegetic sound, non-diegetic sound, and silence was well placed within his interpretation of the shakespearian comedy.  Zeffirelli envisioned for his Kate and Petruchio to be these caricature personas that challenge these 17th century gender roles which is arguably what Shakespeare’s intention was too therefore Taylor’s  ‘whine of a voice’  and Burtons loud “drunken peasant,” cleverly reinforces Kate’s bad tempered, aggressively assertive, shrewish characterisations and Petruchio’s ignorant slobbery. These exaggerated personas are one of the main elements which allow for a non-offensive film which many productions often fail to achieve.

Critically explore The taming of the shrew and representation and role of women: 

Zeffirelli and composer Nino Rota use musical motifs, interesting phrased by David Kranz,  ‘to advance the director’s view that Kate, under Petruchio’s tutelage, overcomes her childish inferiority and the defensive shrewishness that masks it, eventually working with her husband to achieve a marriage of mutual love and equality of wit’ unsual, for the supposedly sexist play.  Zeffirelli also makes Petruchio’s hidden vulnerability evident through use of sound by providing motifs of incessant, roaring laughter, recognised as a public, male mask of bravado and intimidation for the protagonist’s inner emotional vulnerability. This, paired with inserted silences lacking in dialogue allow the audience to see the emotional distress Petruchio is experiencing through his unsettled facial expressions and attracts some sympathy towards the troubled character. The fact we view both protagonists as crazed and unhinged yet also sympathise for the two, in a way, allows us to view them as equals. Zeffirelli has made a fine attempt as representing Kate as Petruchio’s as each others equivalent.

A technique that Zeffirelli uses to make Petruchio somewhat of a mockery making this film non-offensive towards women and the misogyny within it have any sort of validity is the use of meta cinema which breaks the fourth wall and blurs reality and fiction. An example of this belongs to Petruchio who drunkenly sings in a cappella style;
  “When that I was and a little tiny boy, 
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, 
    A foolish thing was but a toy, 
    For the rain it raineth every day. 

    But when I came to man’s estate, 
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, 
   ‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate, 
    For the rain it raineth every day.” 

This is the the last song of Feste the Clown from Twelfth Night and is also sung by the Fool in the play King Lear. For those of the audience who are quite familiar with the works of Shakespeare, the fact Petruchio is singing this connects him to the likes of witty ‘Naturals’, which insinuates his lightheartedness, intellect, and judgment of physical and psychological realities. This will lift the audience from the film, exposing an awareness of the fact that it is a work of fiction. The film is being self-reflective and adds density to the serious topics within such as misogyny.

Sound is a massive role in this production of The Taming of the Shrew and sound and … is quoted as saying when the “sound patterns are juxtaposed to 1) romantic additions like the visualized silent moments of the lovers, 2) somewhat ambiguous additions like the visualized housekeeping by Kate (that paradoxically expresses both a confining domesticity and an independently chosen productivity, in contrast to earlier shrewish destruction), and 3) patriarchal additions like the filmed misogynistic postnuptial trip back to Verona in rain and snow” the forward-looking interpretation that Zeffirelli has created becomes less ambiguous, especially when the narrative progression of the film is also given due consideration. That is, when the sound patterns described here are placed in a fair and balanced accounting of other cinematic evidence, the mutuality of the sexual politics in the play will clearly emerge, despite misogynistic and patriarchal appearances of which feminist critics have made much 

The key idea that both Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew have in common is the ceremonial importance of the marriage ritual in which a daughter and son are being incorporated into a new family unit as well as bonds being between father and daughter are being dissolved and memorialised. The constant theme of the marriage ceremony puts into focus the disobedience of the two characters.

In conclusion, it is clear that Shakespeare wanted us to judge his character on their actions, not their gender.