Gender in Shakespeare’s Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth Night
Becca Griffing 02/08/2012 Shakespeare in Love Examine the representation of gender in two or more plays and/or films When checking out literature from the Renaissance duration, it is clear to see male and female characters were thought upon as two entirely various kinds of people. By following what the bible told them about the opposite sexes, authors in this time had the ability to set particular gender standards for both men and women. Nevertheless, when reading the works of William Shakespeare, one can pick up a riff in the standards of either sex.
With characters such as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, we can see a character that possess qualities that do not necessarily come from their gender. However, with a character like Desdemona in Othello, we can see that Shakespeare might also write characters who succumb to the gender roles of society. Also, with a character like Viola in Twelfth Night, we can see a character who becomes stuck in the middle of following the gender standards and making their own options in life. By looking at these 3 distinct characters, we must wonder what Shakespeare was trying to state about the manner ins which males and females were viewed at the time.
Did he concur with the guidelines that society made for them? Or, was he trying to alter the method we thought about the opposite sex? When an individual thinks of a dedicated female character, Desdemona from Othello is the first that need to pop into mind. While Desdemona is perceived as an among Shakespeare’s brightest and most devoted female characters, she is likewise a clear victim of the gender stereotypes of the time. One of the very first things that we know about Desdemona and Othello’s relationship was that they were not brought together necessarily her sexuality, but by Othello’s interest in her mind.
In reality, the very first time that Desdemona is presented in Act 1, scene 3, she exists as strong, independent, and efficient in making her own choices. In her very first lines of the play, she says; I do perceive here a divided task. To you I am bound for life and education; My life and education both do discover me How to respect you: you are the lord of responsibility, I am hitherto your child. But here’s my spouse; And so much responsibility as my mother revealed To you, choosing you prior to her daddy, A lot I challenge that I may proclaim Due to the Moor my lord. (I, iii, 180-188)
To make such a statement like this one while being the only female character on phase is rather a task, and would be thought about an act of fantastic bravery. Also, by saying this straight to her dad, Desdemona proves herself to be virtuous and smart. Not wishing to insult Brabantio, she convinces him to think on her as he thought on her mother; that she was passing by to wed Othello in spite of him, however due to the fact that she wants to share her proper upbringing that he was able to give to her with her husband so that she might start her own family and perform her womanly tasks.
Sadly, this proclamation becomes her undoing. At the time, this unwomanly characteristic of bravery is attractive and compelling to Othello. However, once the incorrect seed of her infidelities is planted in Othello’s ideas by Iago, he starts to wonder what other manly qualities she has the ability to posses (such as adultery). By turning Desdemona into an atrocious character (a minimum of in Othello’s mind), Shakespeare has the ability to show the readers that a women who challenges authority would most likely be punished for it.
This plot of Desdemona being unfaithful is simply one of the manner ins which Shakespeare raises the topic of male anxiety towards the sensual power of a woman. Othello believes that Desdemona has actually seduced her way into another man’s heart, In retrospect, the only individual to be seduced in the play remains in truth Othello himself, who succumbs to the lies that Iago has actually told him. In Act 3, scene 3, now thinking ladies to be misleading creatures, he curses them and the organization that they so greatly depend on; She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief Must be to loathe her. O curse of marital relationship,
That we can call these fragile creatures ours, And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad And live upon the vapour of a dungeon, Than keep a corner in the thing I like For others’ usages. (III, iii, 270-276) In Othello’s mind, he thinks that women hold on to the concept of marriage so strongly due to the fact that they think it to be the best cover; that being married will allow them to continue leading their promiscuous lifestyles without the fear of looking like a slut. Likewise, it is in this quote that we as the reader see the true nature of male in this time.
Othello listens to Iago implicate his wife of awful deeds, but never attempts to ask her if they hold true, (that is, up until it is too late). Simply put, since he himself is a man, Othello would rather listen to another guy’s viewpoints than ask a woman for hers. This concept that a woman’s viewpoint is not worth listening to is a continuous wrong-doing that presents itself in literature from this period. Sadly for Desdemona, her death is composed as for a character who has actually done something wrong. Throughout this time, if a female character has mistreated a guy in anyhow, she would generally die.
Coincidentally, Shakespeare composes a death for Desdemona that goes together with the sin that she was implicated of devoting; foul play in bed. In Act 5, scene 2, Othello goes into Desdemona’s room, proceeds to implicate her of infidelity, and after that smothers her to death. Desdemona, in an attempt to conserve her life, tries to reason with her husband, but to no avail. Nevertheless, when she is found on the edge of death by Emilia, she does not accuse her other half of her murder. Instead, she says; A clean death I die. No one– I myself. Farewell– Commend me to my kind lord– O’ farewell! (V, ii, 122-125)
Although it is obvious that Othello was her real killer, Desdemona blames her death only on herself. Being the obedient better half that she was, Desdemona would never ever dare pin her death onto her husband. Nevertheless, to have her die by her partners’ hand was Shakespeare’s method of strengthening her commitment to him. Like any excellent female in Renaissance literature, Desdemona was faithful to her husband in life, and with death, still stays loyal to his will. It is regrettable to see a character who is as brilliant as Desdemona fall a victim to the timeless standard of female throughout this period of literature.
However, not all of Shakespeare’s ladies offer into the requirements that society has laid out for them; at least not without a battle. In Twelfth Night, we see a female who is pretending to be a guy. The principle of wearing drag is not unusual in Shakespearian funnies. By doing so, the main female character is enabled to perform heroic acts that were normally reserved for guys. While she does eventually change back into ladies’s wear and becomes a devoted better half, she is very first permitted to prove herself to be brave and shrewd, and is able to do so without having to face the stereotyped consequences.
In this play, Viola’s cross dressing experience is very important to both the central issue and resolution to the plot. In Act 1, scene 5, Viola, who is presently in camouflage as a boy named Cesario, goes to your home of Countess Olivia in order to profess the love of his brand-new lord, Duke Orsino. Nevertheless, since of Viola’s wit and compassion to Olivia, she rather makes Olivia fall for her male alter-ego. After Cesario’s exit, Olivia states, Even so quickly may one catch the pester? Methinks I feel this youth’s excellences With an unnoticeable and subtle stealth
To creep in at my own eyes. (I, v, 285-288) Why was it so easy for Olivia to fall in love with Cesario, when it is difficult for her to feel that way about Orsino? It is due to the fact that she thinks that Cesario is a new sort of guy; one that will listen to her opinions and actually appreciate them. With this quote, Shakespeare is not just adding a humorous mixup into the plot, but is likewise taking a jab at the men of the time duration. Cesario represents the womanly side that lies within every guy. By having Olivia succumb to Cesario, Shakespeare is promoting guys to be more caring towards females.
While causing all sorts of problem in the play, Viola’s cross dressing likewise manages to solve the plot and offer the play a happy ending. In Act 5, scene 1, Viola, still dressed as Cesario, discovers herself facing death from Orsino when she is accused of weding Olivia. However, before Orsino can carry out the deed, Sebastian runs in saying sorry to Olivia for is tardiness. It is here, after minutes of confusion for the other characters, that Sebastian sees Cesario. Do I stand there? I never ever had a sibling, Nor can there be that deity in my nature Of here and everywhere. (V, i, 220-222)
By seeing Viola in guys’s clothing, Sebastian begins to think that he is seeing double. With this, Shakespeare persuades the reader that Viola’s camouflage is excellent adequate that it could even convince her own brother that she was a guy. Finally, once it is exercised that Viola has been in drag the entire time, Orsino is finally gets over his fixation of Olivia and is able to recognize the love he shares for Viola. With Orsino’s statement of love, we get to see how Cesario’s character was also able to soften and alter the heart of the most stereotypically “manly” character in the play.
As Cesario, Viola had the ability to get near Orsino and helped him to open up and share his feelings. Thinking that Viola was a male, Orsino was not afraid to express how he felt about different issues. If he understood that it was in fact Viola listening to him, he would be unable to truly reveal himself due to the fact that he would be stressing over the constraints that divided their genders. In the end of Act 5, scene 1, as soon as Orsino has actually found the truth about Viola, he states, Cesario, come- For so you will be while you are a guy; But when in other practices you are seen, Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen. V, i, 375-377) Since of the rules that each gender requires to abide by, Orsino refuses to embrace Viola till she has her feminine clothes back. Though he loves her, to reveal this sort of love to another male was not something that was appropriate. Still, by cross dressing, Viola had the ability to alter the manner in which 2 different characters viewed the opposite sex, while at the exact same time proving that ladies might be brave and cunning. Though Viola’s character does lead the way for braver female characters, it might be argued that her character does not actually change the way that women were perceived.
While preventing the charges that would have concerned her actions if it were understood she was a female, Viola still succumbs to an emotion that has actually pestered ladies because the dawn of literature; love. If Shakespeare’s real intentions were to compose a female character who was to break to chains of gender stereotypes, then he would not have her marry Duke Orsino at the plays end. Nevertheless, this is exactly what happens. By writing this sort of end for viola, Shakespeare is mentioning that even the strongest of women will bind themselves to an other half.
In his plays, Shakespeare does not only offer us with women who flex the gender standards, however offers us males who do the exact same. In Romeo and Juliet, we are presented with Romeo. Like Cesario, Romeo represents the womanly side that is found in males. What makes Romeo’s character different than any other male Shakespearian character is his ability to fall in love so quickly. At the beginning of the play, we hear him swoon and mope over Rosalind. However, as soon as he sees Juliet at Capulet’s party, Rosalind is completely forgotten. At this moment, he states, Did my heart love till now?
Forswear it, sight, For I ne’er saw true appeal till this night. (I, iv, 165-166) For Romeo to be able to cast his old lust of Rosalind aside and to replace it with Juliet so quickly is an attribute that the majority of men of the time were unable to possess. With these few lines, Romeo shows himself to be a completely various sort of man than any other in the play. Another womanly quality that Romeo has is his use of language. During his first interaction with Juliet in Act 1, scene 4, we see an entire new side to Romeo that was not visible in the first couple of scenes.
When he has existed with this new love, he is able to change into the enthusiast that we know him to be. In his first words to Juliet, Romeo states, If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the mild sin is this, My lips, two blushing pilgrims, all set stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. (I, iv, 206-209) By giving Romeo such significant language, Shakespeare had the ability to reveal the artistry and enthusiasm that lies deep within a man, just waiting on the appropriate muse to unleash it from him. Also, having him speak so poetically, Shakespeare raises Romeo’s character above the other men in the play.
This isolates him from the typical male, that makes his connection to Juliet even more plausible. Romeo’s view of love is on a whole other spectrum than any other male character in the play. In Act 1, scene 4, while discussing their sensations about the concept of love, Mercutio informs Romeo, If love be rough with you, be rough with love; Prick love for puncturing, and you beat love down. (I, iv, 25-26) Mercutio’s outlook is that of the regular guy of that time. By recommending Romeo to play rough with love, he is informing him to not stress over the effects. Romeo on the other hand, has more of a lady’s outlook on love.
Like Juliet, he is a virgin who idolizes the concept of love and does not want to destroy it by taking a chance on something that he does not believe will last. By considering their love to be a higher power, Shakespeare proves the difference in between Romeo and Juliet’s idea of love and the rest of society’s concept of love. For Romeo and Juliet, love is something that they think about to be holy; thus why they do not partake in sexual activities till after their marital relationship. Regrettably, the mixture of Romeos devotion to Mercutio and his dedication to love prove to be his biggest flaw.
After the death of Mercutio, Romeo states revenge on Tybalt. Thinking that he needs to go through with this because “he is a guy, and that’s what men do”, he blames his feminine outlook on life on Juliet, stating, O sweet Juliet, Thy charm have actually made me effeminate, And in my mood softened valour’s steel. (III, i, 113-115) By seeking out revenge on Tybalt, Romeo is going completely against his nature. Likewise, by attempting to alter his whole outlook on life due to the fact that of one event, Romeo lights the spark that results in his own failure.
Here, he disregards to take a look at his womanly qualities as a positive, and instead, only sees them as something that makes him less of a guy. A third way that Romeo represents the feminine side of male is via his death. In Act 5, scene 3, Romeo burglarize Juliet’s tomb, not realizing that she is simply asleep. Laying beside her, He continues to consume a poison potion that he has purchased. Toasting to Juliet, he proclaims, Here’s to my love! O true Apothecary, Thy drugs fast. Thus with a kiss I pass away. (V, iii, 118-120) By taking a poison to end his life, lots of critics believe that Romeo took “the simple way out”.
This idea goes hand in hand with his lots of other womanly qualities. Later, Juliet awakes to find him dead at her side. After one look at him, she takes his dagger and stabs it through her heart so that she might join him in the afterlife. When comparing and contrasting the deaths of these two awful heros, it does appear a bit odd that Juliet selects to eliminate herself in the most brutal method possible, while Romeo picks a fast and pain-free death. To stab oneself with a dagger takes a lot more courage than drinking a potion.
Considering that their deaths break the typical standards of their genders, Shakespeare is able to prove that they were so unified as one that they mixed together, making it unnecessary for there to be a difference in the genders. In Renaissance literature, it is very common to discover characters who live by the guidelines of gender. Nevertheless, one author, William Shakespeare, enjoyed bending the guidelines that he was supplied with. With Romeo, he produces a guy who acts more like a woman, and when he attempts to fall into the stereotyped method of male, is ruined.
With Viola, he develops a woman who tries to get a taste for both sexes by living as a male, however loving as a woman. Lastly, with Desdemona, Shakespeare is still able to reveal us that even the most smart of us cans till ended up being victim to the courses that society has chosen for us, and though we try to stray from them, they are still able to pull us back in. With these three characters, Shakespeare shows to us that society is a strong force, and that when a way of life is set, it is practically impossible to break away from it. However, he does not prevent us from attempting to pave our own ways.
For Shakespeare, males and females were not simply categorized by gender, however by their personalities. He thought about all his characters a people, and however much of them shared similarities, it was each little unique trait that made them remarkable. Bibliography Main Sources Shakespeare, William, and Jill L. Levenson. Romeo and Juliet. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print. Shakespeare, William, and Michael Neill. Othello, the Moor of Venice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print. Shakespeare, William, and Stanley W. Wells. Twelfth Night, Or, What You Will.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print Secondary Sources Barker, Deborah, and Ivo Kamps. Shakespeare and Gender: A History. London: Verso, 1995. Print. Blossom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Innovation of the Human. London: 4th Estate, 1999. Print. Rackin, Phyllis. Shakespeare and Women. Oxford [England: Oxford UP, 2005. Print Smith, Bruce R. Shakespeare and Masculinity. Oxford, [England: Oxford UP, 2000. Print. Jacobs-Royer, Scott K. “”Unhonest Desire”: Culture, Schools, and the Misallocation of Blame in Romeo and Juliet.” Shawangunk Review XII (2001 ): 33-37. Print.