How Far Do You Agree That Shakespeare’s Portrayal Of Gender Relations Is More Sinister Than Comic?

1668 words - 7 pages

How far do you agree that Shakespeare’s portrayal of gender relations is more sinister than comic?
Shakespeare’s depiction of gender relations in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ distinguishes male and female stereotypes during the Elizabethan era of 1599. Shakespeare accomplishes this through the contrasting couples of Benedick and Beatrice and Hero and Claudio. The relationship between fathers and daughters is likewise used to demonstrate the sinister and slightly comedic relations between men and women.
To a great extent, modern audiences would find the objectification of women very much ominous, especially in the case of Hero. ...view middle of the document...

Therefore gender relations in the comedy are initially represented as unsettling rather than comic.
Furthermore, perhaps the most overt example of the volatile relationship between male and females is the denouncement of Hero. When Claudio accuses Hero at the altar for unfaithfulness and sexual promiscuity, he is supported by Don Pedro. The degrading line ‘but the sign and semblance of her honour. Behold like a maid she blushes here’ (4/1/32-33) perpetuates the sinister idea that Claudio thinks Hero’s outer beauty is concealing corruption within. The phrase ‘like a maid she blushes’ is the sign of her honour but Claudio sees it as evil guilt. The endorsement that Claudio receives from Don Pedro and Leonato presents how men will believe each other over any woman, even their own daughter. Here Shakespeare appears to be contradicting the view of Aristotle who wrote ‘comedy does not involve pain and destruction.’ 1Yet in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ the sinister relations between men and women cause pain to many of its female characters. Leonato wishes for Hero’s death and says ‘Death is the fairest cover for her shame’ (4/1/114). He would rather Hero die than not marry as a virgin and regrets ever conceiving her. The tragedy of the scene would thus validate the argument that gender relations are portrayed as more sinister than comedic.
Additionally, Shakespeare entails that women must sacrifice their integrity if they are to marry or find love. When Beatrice is presented as witty and outgoing, she is immediately discouraged by her uncle. Leonato tells her ‘So by being too curst, God will send you no horns’ (2/1/22) which interprets to audiences that by Beatrice acting independently, she will not find a husband. During the masked ball scene Beatrice says ‘Here’s no place for you maids Heavens...where the bachelors sit’ (2/1/40-42) which is stating a tradition in a patriarchal society where women have to remain virgins until marriage while men can indulge themselves in sexual activity. This clearly presents males as the dominant gender during the Elizabethan era and women must accept their rule or risk being shunned. Shakespeare enriches this idea throughout the comedy using controlling male figures, which are more committed to their male ideal of honour than respecting women. The expectation of females in the comedy is obedience, modesty and beauty which is why Hero is presented as the ‘ideal’ woman because she fits this description and Don John calls her ‘Leonato’s Hero, your Hero, every man’s Hero’ (3/2/92). As Jean E Howard convincingly argues that ‘Hero, the blank sheet upon which men write whore or goddess, as their fears or desires dictate’ represents how men have egotistical attitudes to reassemble so use female characters like Hero or Margaret to achieve this. 2Beatrice, feisty at the beginning of the comedy, conforms to society by the end, perhaps because she realises that she is living in a...

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