The Difference between the Way Shakespeare Treated Women in His Plays and the Way Women Were Treated At the Time
Women in medieval and early modern England were trammeled and incapacitated by an oppressive patriarchal system that legitimated their subservience, subordination, inarticulateness, and inferiority. In that male-dominated and gender-based culture, females were denigrated, humiliated, depreciated, treated as second-tier beings, and marginalized excessively.
Social, political, and intellectual institutions, to perpetuate patriarchy and male superiority, not only undervalued and trivialized women’s contributions and experiences, but they also channeled women to internalize a sense of inferiority and low self-esteem. Women, thus, were denied self-reliance, self assertiveness, self-expression, and power to define and create their own destinies.
This low status of women owes much to the unwarranted negative, constructed view of the nature of womankind. In fact, women were misrepresented by the patriarchal hegemonic discourses of that era. Because the English culture at the time was phallogocentric, power over ideas and concepts was in the hands of men. Male views of the world, especially of women, was universalized and perceived as ontological givens and unarguable truths.
Therefore, to promote a negative picture of womankind, patriarchal authorities prejudicially associated women with negative stereotypes: women were viewed as physiologically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually inferior (Cerasano & Davies, 1996). In this connection, this study will attempt to review difference between the way Shakespeare treated women in his plays and the way women were treated at the time.
In contrast with the real world situation of women of 16-17th century, Shakespeare novels presented or treated women in a complete different way.
Treatment of Women in the Era of Shakespeare
In the history of England during the era of Shakespeare, as in that of most countries, the role of women has been marginalized. According to ancient postulates, the standard, normal version of the human body was the male, whereas the woman’s body was viewed as deviant, an aberration from the norm, hence, abnormal, incomplete, and, even defective. Further, in reproduction, the male was believed to supply the soul of the fetus, whereas the female provided the flesh, or the matter—namely, the inferior part (Rackin, 2005).
Thus, the pervasive view of women as inferior was directly linked to the pre-existing view of the female body and its physiological construction and processes. Based on these constructed medical observations, many debilitating and stereotypical views surrounded women. Parturition, a supposedly honorable feminine experience, was transformed into an ugly humiliation for women due to the general view of the womb as unclean and polluting and to the contemporary belief that a woman in reproduction merely supplied the matter, the inferior part.
The view of parturition in this fashion rendered this distinct female experience a humiliating experience partly because of the prevalent negative view of the womb and also because the woman’s contribution in the reproductive process was allegedly inferior.