With close reference to William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and wider reference to Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, explore the presentation of female protagonists.
In William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing and Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the audience is introduced to female protagonists who face misogyny, social control and power struggles. In Much Ado about Nothing, Beatrice, although constructed in a time where women were mere objects, manages to conduct a ‘merry war’ against oppression and dent the patriarchal ego. Whereas Maggie, the ‘Cat’ in Williams’ play, can only manipulate it to satisfy her own needs, despite being in a society less authoritarian than the Elizabethan era. Both women exist in a male-dominated world, but differ in the role they choose to construct for themselves; even today’s modern audience can relate to Beatrice, with a personality and wit that transcends her era, whilst Maggie reminds us, instead, of a time when the womb ruled over feminist ideals.
Much Ado About Nothing and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are separated by centuries and thus it would be expected that Beatrice be far less liberated than Maggie. However, despite the period, Beatrice is more unconventional, exhibiting bold disregard for society’s proprietary expectations as depicted in the vocative, “Signor Montanto.” The noun phrase illustrates Beatrice’s sexual freedom, as she uses innuendos to portray her wit, whilst also revealing her knowledge of typically masculine activities such as fencing. Beatrice often uses typically ‘male’ speech to portray her own thoughts and opinions, evident in the utterance, “But for the stuffing – well, we are all mortal.” The parenthetical end focus coupled with the ambiguous noun ‘stuffing’ portrays both the masculine confidence in Beatrice’s speech and her scathing assessment of Benedick’s virility. This is especially unusual when considering that women were usually the target of bawdy humour; it is as though Beatrice uses the enemy’s ammunition against them, but with a deadlier aim. In stark contrast, Maggie’s attitudes to masculinity and marriage seem to adhere to conventional expectations, despite the more modern context. Her use of the adverbial phrase, proclaiming her union with Brick as “totally childless and therefore totally useless!” illustrates, through repetition of the intensifier “totally”, Maggie’s frustration. Despite this compliance with society’s rules, Williams makes it apparent that the idea of being an equal to her husband is attractive to Maggie. She is often the dominant speaker in their conversations, attempting to control Brick, and the turn taking, several times in the play. This is similar to Beatrice’s need for control, as she is often seen dominating the turn taking and gaining control over Benedick through her manipulation of his language. She responds to his declaration that any suitor of hers would receive a “predestinate scratched face” by claiming his modifer “scratched” and using it in verb form in order to insult him. Her declarative “Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.” is a symbolic seizure of power and demonstrates the influence she has in Messina, and over men, at this point in the play. Her’s, however, is a power based in humour due to the play’s comedic nature whereas Maggie’s linguistic power stems from a darker and more emotionally fragile place. For example, Maggie strives to manipulate Brick’s fears of his own possible homosexuality by attempting to goad him into proving his masculinity through procreation. The play’s repetition of the noun “crutch” in reference to Brick’s physical weakness and sexual ambiguity serves as a visual taunt to Maggie in her failed quest to fulfil her emotional and physical needs.
Both protagonists also differ in their attitude to men and masculinity. Indeed, Beatrice almost has a...
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