Role of Women in Shakespeare's Plays - a Case Study of "Macbeth" and " the Merchant of Venice"

Topics: Macbeth, William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice Pages: 6 (1489 words) Published: April 30, 2012
William Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English poet William Shakespeare and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon” (or simply “The Bard”).His surviving work consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. Scholars have often noted four periods in Shakespeare’s writing career. Until the mid -1590s, he wrote mainly comedies influenced by Roman and Italian models and history plays in the popular chronicle tradition. His second period begin in about 1595 with the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” and ended with the tragedy of “Julius Caesar” in 1599. During this time, he wrote what are considered his greatest comedies and histories. From about 1600 to about 1608, his “tragic period”, Shakespeare wrote mostly tragedies, and from 1608 to 1613, mainly tragicomedies called romances. (“William Shakespeare” – Wikipedia)

Shakespeare’s plays are famous for many different reasons. The plot, characterization, dialogues, the use of metaphors and symbolic tone and the supernatural element found in many plays. Here the characterization with respect to women’s role in Shakespeare’s plays is discussed. The role of women varies in each play. The women evil found in Lady Macbeth, beauty and wisdom found in Portia, daughterly love and sacrificing nature found in Cordelia and the weak nature and dependence on others found in Gertrude, each one of them has her own uniqueness.

Role of Women
Two main characters i.e. Lady Macbeth and Portia are discussed to highlight the role of women in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “The Merchant of Venice”. Both these characters are very important and main female characters in these plays.

Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth is a fictional character in Shakespeare's Macbeth (c.1603–1607). She is the wife to the play's protagonist, Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman. After goading him into committing regicide, she becomes Queen of Scotland, but later suffers pangs of guilt for her part in the crime. She dies off-stage in the last act, an apparent suicide. The character's origins lie in the accounts of Kings Duff and Duncan in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of Britain familiar to Shakespeare. Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth appears to be a composite of two separate and distinct personages in Holinshed's work: Donald’s nagging, murderous wife in the account of King Duff, and Macbeth's ambitious wife in the account of King Duncan. Lady Macbeth is a powerful presence in the play, most notably in the first two acts. Following the murder of King Duncan, however, her role in the plot diminishes. She becomes an uninvolved spectator to Macbeth's plotting, and a nervous hostess at a banquet dominated by her husband's hallucinations. Her fifth act sleepwalking scene is a turning point in the play, and her line, "Out, damned spot!" has become a phrase familiar to most speakers of the English language. Analysts see in the character of Lady Macbeth the conflict between femininity and masculinity, as they are impressed in cultural norms. Lady Macbeth suppresses her instincts toward compassion, motherhood, and fragility — associated with femininity — in favor of ambition, ruthlessness, and the single minded pursuit of power. This conflict colors the entire drama, and sheds light on gender-based preconceptions from Shakespearean England to the present. (“Lady Macbeth” – Wikipedia)

Ambition, Cruelty and Guilt
Lady Macbeth is far more ambitious than her husband is. When she hears about the prophecies by the witches, she becomes determined to kill King Duncan. This ambition is very clear from these lines of Act I, Scene V:...

Bibliography: 1. Elliot, G.R. Dramatic Providence in Macbeth. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958. Print.
2. Harbage, Alfred. Conceptions of Shakespeare. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1966. Print.
3. Bradshaw, Graham. Shakespeare’s Scepticism. Sussex: The Harvester Press Limited, 1987. Print.
4. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954. Print.
5. Smith, Evelyn. The Tragedy of Macbeth. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons LTD, 1925. Print.
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