Gender In Shakespeare's As You Like It

1967 words - 8 pages

Questions of Gender in Shakespeare's As You Like It

     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 ...view middle of the document...

Such a life was impossible for women . . . because for a woman, a public reputation was dishonorable, a sure sign of immorality and scandal" (Wiesner 12). Women were excluded from any position of meaningful authority in any realm of society. Men were even valued for their ability to classify an object or being as beautiful. During this period of great creative accomplishments, men may ". . . have taken to commerce or to drink, but as a matter of fact they took to visible beauty" (Putnam 164). They established beauty as an important quality of life, and only men had the capacity to differentiate between that which was beautiful and not beautiful.

Women, therefore, were often valued for their physical features. In the Renaissance, ". . . the beauty of woman is more praised and esteemed than any other beauty . . . [for] it appears to be the order of nature that what is lacking in one sex is supplied in the other, and since man is endowed with wit, judgement, and a mind almost divine, . . . woman is given bodily beauty that she may be superior to man in this respect" (Camden 20). Women were object to be viewed with pleasing affections, not with any sense of worth other than their physical features; ". . . the only positive demand of the woman was that she should be beautiful" (Putnam 164-165). Women were also valued for qualities that define them as submissive and passive. A woman's character should consist of specific attributions such as chastity, modesty, humility, constancy, temperance, piety, patience, and kindness (Dunn 17). All of the characteristics listed describe someone who has no authority in decisions and subscribes to being passive and obedient. Also, "her behavior was carefully prescribed. She was to tend to her household duties industriously, . . . she must be silent most of the time and not speak out or argue, . . . [and] she must never be witty or clever" (Dunn 17). It becomes quite obvious that the value of women during the Renaissance was almost opposite than that of men.

The legal status of men and women in Elizabethan society also had distinct features. While men held almost absolute authority, married women had virtually no rights as citizens. "Women differed from the men in their ability to be witnesses, make wills, act as guardians for their own children, make contracts, and own, buy , and sell property" (Wiesner 4). They were legally powerless in the society in which they lived. The men in their lives, whether their fathers or their husbands, had complete control over all constitutional matters of their lives. Women were definitely not free; "'free' meant to them [Renaissance scholars] enjoying the rights and privileges of a citizen and possessing an educated capacity for reason, neither of which was possible for women" (Wiesner 1). While married women had few rights within society, "single women, whether widowed or unmarried, could, if they were of full age, inherit and administer land, make a will, sign a...

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