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Explore the presentation of women in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ The women in the 1500’s were always expected to do things such as taking care of the family not working outside of their houses and always seen as possessions, not people. As in Shakespeare’s time they were seen not heard. Shakespeare used this as a theme in him novel, ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ and the character Hero in particular portrayed the typical woman. The typical woman was modest, convectional, reserved and many women were pressured to be exactly like her.
There are many other ways of which women are presented in this 1599 play about love and the deception of appearances. The play was very popular with the audience and was a comedy. Women who had a high status were usually linked with honour. Hero is an example of this as her father, Leonato, is a successful character and has high status. He is described as a, ‘honourable father,’ which means that if she was to be, ‘unfaithful’, to Claudio then her whole family would go down in status and she Hero would be seen as an unclean creature now worth nothing.
Hero’s overall presentation is a typical woman and is used as a plot device to move the story along, so she is valuable but her value is not recognised. An example of this is when she furthers the plot when she is, ‘unfaithful,’ to Claudio. Hero is a possession to be passed on from father to husband as the society was patriarchal and the women were dominated by men and were assets to bargain. In the wedding scene Hero hardly says anything in her defence, and what she does say are only in one line blocks, ‘is my Lord well that he doth speak so wide?
‘ She is not saying that he is wrong, but just asking him to rethink what he is saying. This shows us that she is a typical, modest woman and cannot stand up for herself. When Hero is accused of being unfaithful to Claudio, her father doesn’t defend her like a typical father would do today, but he says, ‘do not live Hero, do not ope thine eyes,’ Leonato is ashamed to be linked with his daughter and basically says that he wants her to die. This is not how women should be treated. They have no voice and people would believe a man’s word over a woman’s.
Hero is seen as a, ‘plague right well prevented,’ which means she is no longer any use to Claudio and is a plague on him. Once women had lost there virginity to a man when they were not married, they were seen as useless and unclean, a woman would not be able to get a husband and would be put in a nunnery or kept indoors. Honour is linked to virginity because then the women were not worthless and so that they could be married to someone of high status. Claudio thinks Hero’s appearance is deceiving him and he ruins her life as she had ruined his, ‘thoughts of harm.
‘ He ruins her life because now people think that she is unfaithful, ‘rotten orange,’ she will be worthless and kept indoors. Another example of Hero as a typical Elizabethan woman is at the party when she gets proposed to. Hero is told what to say to her marriage proposal and has no choice in what to say. Beatrice even prompts her on what her actions should be, ‘speak cousin, or if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss. ‘ Woman’s sexuality was controlled by men. Hero would be like any other good typical wife in Elizabethan times, she, ‘would do any modest office.
‘ She is quiet and chaste and conforms to the norms of the society. Hero is very predictable, again like the typical woman, ‘now going to kiss Claudio,’ Beatrice prompts her on her actions. In contrast Benedick’s and Beatrice’s relationship has more equality and they come across as comfortable with one another as they use, ‘you ,’ and, ‘your,’ as apposed to, ‘thee,’ and, ‘thou,’ as Hero and Claudio use. Beatrice is presented in a very different way to Hero. Beatrice is presented very openly. All of her emotions are shown and she always says what she thinks, ‘the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villainy.
‘ This shows us that Beatrice is a very plotting and witty character who is in control of the situation. She is an independent woman, who was not like how women in Elizabethan times were presented, she was like Queen Elizabeth. Hero and Beatrice are complete opposites. Beatrice doesn’t want any man to rule her life, in marriage, so takes an independent look to things. She doesn’t want a husband because she wants to remain like she is, ‘I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
‘ Her strong voice is a strong comparison to Hero’s silence; it makes them seen very opposite and is not the norms of Elizabethan society. Because Beatrice is so independent, she uses her wit to stop her from getting hurt, ‘so I would not he should do me, my Lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools. ‘ It shows that Elizabethan women were quite vulnerable. The love that Benedick has for Beatrice is true love, this gives Beatrice the power to manipulate him, and she tells him to, ‘kill Claudio,’ because she has to rely on a man to carry out what she wants to be done.
The women in those times could not carry out a duel with someone else, as it was no, ‘expected,’ of them to do that and they had to conform to the typical woman, like Hero. Beatrice shows her frustration when she says, ‘O God that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place,’ she’s saying that if she was a man she would kill Claudio herself so makes Benedick chose if he looses a friend or love. Beatrice shows that she can be a domination person when she cuts Benedick’s sentences short, ‘Beat-,’ then she says, ‘Princes and Counties!
‘ Overall I think that the women in, ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ were pressured into being quiet, chaste and not seen, like Hero. Beatrice is the total opposite and has her own strong-willed, independent mind. Men and women were not treated as equals and men had so much more power and freedom and saw the women as possessions not wives. Hero resembles the perfect presentation of what a woman should be like. Beatrice does not because she is not quiet and is not told what to do, she is different, she is stubborn and will do things her own way.