Literature and Gender.
Women have constituted about half of humanity in all ages. Yet amazingly enough, the position of women in the patriarchal cultural matrix has never been equal to that of men. Women have been looked upon as inferior beings, subordinates in a totality where the two component parts – male and female – are necessary and complementary to each other. The relation of the two sexes has always been asymmetrical. The term man in general represents the all-embracing term Human. Man is positive as well as neutral. Woman, on the other hand, is someone who is not a man; she is something negative; she is person who is lacking in certain positive qualities - physical, moral and ...view middle of the document...
It is astonishing how woman's dependence has been thrust upon her by men and then established as a socio-cultural and historical fact.
Shakespeare reflects and at times supports the English Renaissance stereotypes of gender roles, but he also questions, challenges, and modifies those representations. Shakespeare’s works offer excellent scope for studying and interpreting gender representation in literature. In his own time, Shakespeare seems to have been raising questions about the standard images of males and females, about what the characteristics of each gender are, about what is defined as masculine and feminine, about how each gender possesses both masculine and feminine qualities and behaviors, about the nature and power of a hegemonic patriarchy, and about the roles women and men should play in acting out the stories of their lives.
Gender characteristics have always been socially constructed, and an easy cross-over of masculine and feminine traits to both genders allowed writers like Shakespeare to draw males with certain “feminine” characteristics and females with certain “masculine” characteristics.
Just as the Renaissance defined female roles, it clearly delegated certain behaviors to males. In Macbeth, as in Renaissance society, men were expected to engage in public affairs (as soldiers, politicians, leaders), to be talkers, make decisions, move events forward. They led lives that were duty-bound (mostly to the state), aggressive, and self-satisfying. On the other hand, women were expected to assume a more passive role. When Lady Macbeth decides to become an “active” partner in her husband’s deadly mischief, she needs to pray “Come, you spirits ... unsex me here .......” which suggests that it is not “natural” for a woman to be cruel.
Yet, as is often the case, Shakespeare rises above the stereotypical views of Renaissance society as he portrays women as more than passive vessels. For example, the love of Romeo and Juliet is an equitable experience. Each assumes responsibilities for making their relationship work. Lady Macbeth goes beyond Juliet’s collaborative nature and takes charge of her relationship with Macbeth. Perhaps she sees herself more “manly” than her husband, for she fears his kindness and passivity. Yet Shakespeare's treatment of Lady Macbeth surely suggests that a woman's intellectual ability, when miss-used, has adverse effects on the individual and those surrounding her.
The wonderful heroines of the romantic comedies- Rosalind in As You Like It, Viola in Twelfth Night, and Portia of Merchant of Venice - reflect this blend of feminine and masculine attitudes and behaviors. Although they are women, subject at some point in each play to the care of fathers, brothers, and/or husbands, each is also “masculine” in her actions. As “strong females,” they demonstrate more self-awareness than the men; they use their reason, they talk, they are mobile, often found in the out-of-doors rather than inside their fathers’...