When it comes to William Shakespeare, the concept of tragic love stories, dramatic plots and Vishal Bhardwaj come to mind. However, many of Shakespeare’s plays revolve around exceptional women, and he portrays them in a great way. He’s really gotten a lot right about women. If you read between the lines (and even the lines themselves) there is a lot to learn from his plays about feminism, modern womanhood and the very notion of femme fatale.
Shakespeare believed in making his female characters intelligent and not wide-eyed idiots. Portia from The Merchant of Venice was the pinnacle of intelligence. In the play, Antonio is unable to pay his debt to Shylock as a result of which Shylock demands a pound of Antonio‘s flesh (morbid, I know). However, Portia steps in, dressed as a man and lawyers them like a total baddie. She combines her wit and knowledge of the law to state that if the extraction of the pound of flesh yields a drop of blood, Shylock will lose all his wealth. Despite the play being flooded with men, it took a woman to come up with a great solution and save a life. Female intelligence all the way!
Shakespeare’s women are not to be subdued. Whether it’s Rosalind from As You Like It, dressing up as a man and criticizing other men’s inherent flaws or Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing putting her ex-lover in his place, Shakespeare’s women know how to clap back to men. Their savage burns, scorching one-liners and metaphorical insults are far too great. They refuse to let men dictate their worth and put down their personality. For instance, Benedick tells Beatrice that the men she dates end up with a scratched face because she seems crazy like that, to which she responds,
Scratching could not make it worse ’twere such a face as yours were.
(We need some aloe vera for that burn, thank you)
Shakespeare certainly got this right about women. They don’t let society put them down. Hernia from A Midsummer’s Night Dream elopes with her lover despite her own father threatening to kill her. She remains calm and elegant while arguing her case. Imogen from Cymbeline wrongly becomes a widow and is accused of all sorts of crimes. Instead of succumbing to her fate, she fights for her rights and innocence. Juliet‘s bravery lay in standing up to her family’s rigidity, fighting for her right to love and even letting a boy spend the night while her parents were home. Absolutely insane!
Lady Macbeth wanted to be queen and she worked towards it. She used emotional manipulation, her sexuality and extreme cunningness to do so. She literally made her husband murder somebody! She created sheer chaos to rise to the top and that is beyond impressive. Margaret of Anjou challenged all gender notions, defied her own banishment and even brought down Richard III‘s terrorising rule. Shakespeare got this right about women and nailed their need to shatter the glass ceiling.
The one major thing Shakespeare got right about women is that they are independent. They are confident and they believe in themselves. They aren’t damsels in distress but powerhouses who impress. Most of them lose the support of their tyrannical fathers and egoistical suitors, but they thrive in their independence. They own it, really. This is an inspiration for women today as well!
Shakespeare’s portrayal of women was problematic in some instances. Whether it was their willingness to kill themselves or that they all had daddy issues, Shakespeare did get it wrong in some ways. However, in most cases, his female characters were trailblazers and inspirational in a lot of ways.
Which of his female characters is your favourite and why? Share it with us in the comments below.