Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shakespeare and Misogyny

          Throughout history, men have felt the need and compulsion to keep women in a state of obedience and expectations. In the modern age, women have proven to be just as qualified as men in many aspects of life, but traces of misogyny still remain despite the progress that has been made. During Shakespeare's time, the mocking and lack of respect for women was much more prevalent than it is in the twenty-first century. Both of Shakespeare's plays Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew provide clear examples of misogyny during Shakespeare's time period. After reading through these two plays, it's interesting to think  about how much society has changed for women and in some ways hasn't.

          During the play of Hamlet, one particular scene illustrates the contempt and frustration men seemed to have had towards women in Shakespeare's time. In the beginning of Hamlet, it is quite well known by most characters that Hamlet and Ophelia are involved in an intimate relationship. After the Hamlet encounters the ghost of his late father, he purposely begins to act crazy and contemplates the purpose of life and humanity in general. Being worried for him, Ophelia seeks out Hamlet and questions his odd change in behavior, but is only rewarded with a harsh lashing of words. "God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig, you amble, and you lisp, you nickname God's creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance"(Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1, Lines 137-140). This outburst clearly defines the true feelings that Hamlet and arguably Shakespeare had towards women along with the rest of society at that time. Even in the bible(which was taken much more seriously then than it is now) it was clearly stated what roles women were supposed to live by.

          Compared to Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew focuses much more on the expectations of women in Shakespeare's society. The story focuses primarily on a hot tempered and ferocious woman named Katherine whose attitude and behavior is ultimately subdued by her future husband Pertuchio. In many ways, Katherine represents all the qualities that women were not supposed to have during Shakespeare's time while her sister Bianca is modest, quiet, and delicate flower all women were expected to be. After a variety of harsh and unorthodox methods, Pertuchio is able to tame the shrew known as Katherine into a satisfactory and submissive state. "She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, my household stuff, my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing"(The Taming of the Shrew, Act 3 Scene 3, Lines 101-103). The mind set that women are little more than property to their husband or any man is made quite clear by Pertuchio. A women with Katherine's attitude and spirit had no place during Shakespeare's time and had only two options: become tamed or die miserable, old, and alone.

          While it's clear that there was a high level of misogyny in Shakespeare's time, there are still clear traces of it in our society as well. One of the most obvious examples is how women are portrayed by the mainstream media. In today's day and age, women tend to be exploited as sex symbols and society has taken a greater value to a woman's appearance than how intelligent or well meaning they are. However, there have been some massive improvements within the last fifty years in America at least. Women are now able to live independently without dependence on anyone and can hold high positions in the government as well as run multi-million dollar companies. It's a mixed bag, but misogyny is nowhere near as prevalent in our time than it was in Shakespeare's.