Thesis

Impossible standards: women's agency in Shakespeare

Within William Shakespeare’s works the women characters range from being
 independent and outspoken to submissive and obedient. Throughout the plays, despite
 their natural personalities, the women are often faced with social institutions that regulate
 their behavior, which generally forces them to be compliant to the men in their lives.
 Furthermore, even when they do conform to social standards, there is often a
 preconceived notion that women are inherently untrustworthy, and in some cases,
 ironically because of their obedient actions. Primarily, this thesis will focus on the
 attributes of the women in three plays; Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado
 About Nothing. In each play the women are judged based on their actions or regulated to
 act in a certain way based on societal standards and conceptions about women.
 My first chapter examines the women in Othello and in particular the
 impossible positions Desdemona is placed in by being required to be obedient while navigating a divided duty. This forced obedience inevitably sets her up for failure,
 making her obedient nature the cause of Desdemona’s vulnerable situations.
 In my second chapter I focus on The Taming of the Shrew and how the male
 characters dominate the play itself, forcing the women into diminished roles and a
 compliant nature. The only way women are given power is by acting in a socially
 acceptable way by exhibiting submission to their male counterparts.
 The third chapter looks at Much Ado About Nothing and the way deception is
 a primary theme specifically in regards to the obsession with women’s sexual fidelity.
 The women then are left defenseless against men’s prejudices; leaving them with no other
 solution that to maintain patience or a good sense of wit.

Within William Shakespeare’s works the women characters range from being independent and outspoken to submissive and obedient. Throughout the plays, despite their natural personalities, the women are often faced with social institutions that regulate their behavior, which generally forces them to be compliant to the men in their lives. Furthermore, even when they do conform to social standards, there is often a preconceived notion that women are inherently untrustworthy, and in some cases, ironically because of their obedient actions. Primarily, this thesis will focus on the attributes of the women in three plays; Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing. In each play the women are judged based on their actions or regulated to act in a certain way based on societal standards and conceptions about women. My first chapter examines the women in Othello and in particular the impossible positions Desdemona is placed in by being required to be obedient while navigating a divided duty. This forced obedience inevitably sets her up for failure, making her obedient nature the cause of Desdemona’s vulnerable situations. In my second chapter I focus on The Taming of the Shrew and how the male characters dominate the play itself, forcing the women into diminished roles and a compliant nature. The only way women are given power is by acting in a socially acceptable way by exhibiting submission to their male counterparts. The third chapter looks at Much Ado About Nothing and the way deception is a primary theme specifically in regards to the obsession with women’s sexual fidelity. The women then are left defenseless against men’s prejudices; leaving them with no other solution that to maintain patience or a good sense of wit.

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