Bharathi Ram
Kiely Pham
Scott Sok
Samir Hamsafar
Pauli Wilhemsen
Gender Roles in Shakespeare
• Gender roles in Shakespeare’s work is a
critical point in understanding the
characters involved.
• Overall, Shakespeare sees women as
extremely powerful beings, even if they
are not viewed as such by society.
However, Shakespeare still acknowledges
in this work that women are often,
unfairly or not, the scapegoats or the
tools of men.
– Possibly a tribute to Queen Elizabeth.
Power factor in Gender Roles
Shakespeare often plays with gender roles in his
writing, sometimes making women more or
less powerful in actuality than they originally
– In Macbeth for example, Shakespeare explores
the relationship between gender and power,
portraying male characters as strong willed and
courageous, but at the same time giving a female
character—Lady Macbeth a ruthless, powerhungry personality which is typically more
associated with masculinity.
– The main source of Macbeth’s power stems from
his wife, Lady Macbeth who is the brains behind
the plot to murder King Duncan and seize the
throne of Scotland. The type of power that Lady
Macbeth wields over her husband is unusual in
literature of this time, and certainly would have
been atypical for a husband and wife during the
time in which Macbeth is set.
Contrasting Views
• Shakespeare often contrasts men’s view of
women with women’s view of men.
• For example, in Othello, Iago warns
Othello: "Look to your wife; observe her
well with Cassio; Wear your eyes thus, not
jealous nor secure... They [women] dare
not show their husbands; their best
conscience/ Is not to leave't undone, but
keep it unknown.”
– Iago describes women as deceptive and
secretive people, who have the
somewhat surprising ability (surprising in
the sense that men during this time
period controlled their women, or at least
believed they could control them in
whatever way they wished) to manipulate
and deceive their husbands.
Contrasting Views (cont.)
• Another example is given by Iago's wife, Emilia, when she co
mplains about how women seem to serve as men's scapegoat
for everything. She says "A man... They are all but stomachs,
and we are all but food; They eat us hungerly, and when the
y are full, They belch us.”
– Emilia touches on exactly what Iago is doing to Desdemona: using her
as a scapegoat for his own villainous actions. Emilia complains that
men only use women, using the metaphor of a hungry person eating
until they are full and then moving on. Although Iago uses Desdemona
for furthering his evil plan, he doesn't actually belittle her. In a weird
and twisted way, Iago has praised women for having the keen ability to
outsmart their husbands, although he warns Othello against this.
The protestant leader John Knox wrote:
"Women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and
obey man.“
•Even though there was an unmarried woman on the throne in
Elizabethan England, the roles of women in society were very
•Most women were given education only if they were members of the
nobility. Otherwise, they had to stay home and learn to run the
household and become the housewife.
•Many women in this period were highly educated, like the Queen
herself, who was tutored by the famous Elizabethan scholar Roger
•Education included knowledge of several languages, including
Latin, Greek, Italian, and French. However, even noblewomen were
not allowed to go to university and were only taught by tutors who
visited them in their home.
•Women were not allowed to enter the professions i.e law,
medicine, politics, but they could work in domestic service as
cooks, maids etc, and a female painter.
•Women were also allowed to write works of literature,
providing the subject was suitable for women: mainly
translations or religious works. Women were not allowed to
act on the public stage or write for the public stage.
•They were strictly forbidden from the Army and Navy.
•From birth, Elizabethan era women were taught how to
govern a household and perform domestic duties so that
when they married, their husbands would be proud.
•Childbearing was considered a great honor to women, as
children were seen as blessings from God, and they took
great pride in being mothers.
•Women were regarded as "the weaker sex", not just in terms of
physical strength, but emotionally too. All throughout their life, the
women of the Elizabethan times were made to become dependent on
a male relative - father, brother, uncle, husband, or other.
•Disobedience was seen as a crime against their religion and the
Church continuously quoted the Bible in order to ensure adherence to
this principle.
•Women, regardless of social position, were not allowed to vote.
Neither could women inherit their father's titles. All titles would pass
from father to son or brother to brother. They were strictly forbidden
from the Army and Navy.
•The only exception was, of course, the crown. The crown could pass
to a daughter, and that daughter would be invested with all the power
and Majesty of any king.
•In a way, despite the limitations, women had more freedom in the
Elizabethan period than they had had previously. The Renaissance
brought with it a new way of thinking. It was thought men and women
could do anything and be anything they wanted to be, that their
capacity for knowledge was limitless. Thus, noble women were given
an impressive education in the classics, mathematics, and all other
academic subjects of the day.
The term “homosexual” was not used in
during the Renaissance; instead the term
“sodomy” was used to label same sex
Elizabethans acknowledged the existence
of same-sex desire through all levels of
society, but religious teaching and the law
strictly prohibited sodomy.
Such acts could be presented as evidence
of witchcraft or wizardry, and those
caught in the act (or in some cases
accused) could be put to death.
Shakespeare and Homosexuality
– Venus and Adonis and The Rape of
Lucrece dedicated to the Earl of
– Shakespeare’s Sonnets are clearly
addressed to a young man.
Was Shakespeare gay?
What is Queer Theory?
Sumptuary Laws called the 'Statutes of
Apparel' attempted to limit the expenditure of
people on clothes and to maintain the social
structure of the class system.
So crossdressing threatened the carefully
constructed hierarchal social order, and
regulation of dress was necessary to mark and
secure social difference.
These statues were impossible to enforce and
were essentially a lost cause.
Shakespeare, Crossdressing, and the Theatre
Actors were exempted from the Sumptuary
Laws on stage, but outside of the theatre they
could not legally wear their costumes.
Women were forbidden to act on the public
stage, so female roles were played by
prepubescent boys.
In certain comedies, women crossdressed as a
strategy to achieve their goals.
• Woman in this era’s, lives are more analyzed and
documented because of their limitations.
• Men lived life as the superior gender, thus life was just
considered normal.
• Both gender and the patriarchal dominance were assumed to
have been set in place by God and nature
Men virtually ran all aspects of
•They were the only ones allowed to
go to war.
•To be lords and accepted artisans
•Any position of power besides the
• The Elizabethan family life for men was one of power. The men
made the decisions and the women were expected to obey them.
• The men were expected to support the family from a whole
variety of occupations.
• Expected to improve the positions of all members of the family
through influence and patronage from wealthier people and
families than their own.
• How was it possible for
a woman at the time to
receive an education?
• Name two characters
from our past comedies
that showed abnormal
(for the time) strength
as a woman?
• What is the other term
used for
• Who are Shakespeares
sonnets directed to?
• Who played women on

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