Traditional patriarchal society Essay

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Traditional patriarchal society

Discuss the validity of Rachel Clayton’s view that Much Ado About Nothing has ‘laid bare the faults and deficiencies of a traditional patriarchal society’. In Rachel Clayton’s essay ‘Who is Hero? ‘ she suggests ‘Shakespeare has laid bare the faults and deficiencies of traditional patriarchal society. ‘ She suggests that a feminist would find Hero’s acceptance of Claudio after he disgraced her frustrating.

But she suggests when looking at Hero’s actions again considering the society at the time that her actions are more understandable. Elizabethan society was patriarchal and religious. Women were possessions, owned by fathers or husbands. They had to be compliant; a disobedient wife or child made a man appear incompetent. Whereas men were allowed to behave promiscuously before they were married and even during, women were not. If they were found guilty of this they would never be able to marry and their reputation would be shattered.

‘The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is a good horse to hire’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man'”. When a man could not control his wife they were known as ‘cuckolds’ by other men, which traditionally had horns on their heads. When Benedick uses this imagery, he is suggesting any woman he marries is likely to cheat on him.

This shows that men are insecure about themselves; they assume women would be unfaithful because they never get to know them before they are married. Benedick is paranoid about this, and so he uses his scorn of marriage and women as a defence mechanism to protect himself. ‘It is clear that Shakespeare criticises the existing customs and advocates that a courtship in which couples communicate would be a far more preferable way, and which would prevent the mistakes of Claudio. ‘1 Beatrice also shows this, as when the slander of Hero has taken place, Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio for her.

When he refuses, Beatrice gives her view of men, Claudio in particular. She says that if she were a man she would ‘eat his heart in the market place’. She is showing that men are weak and cowardly, whereas women, who are portrayed as the weaker sex, are much stronger and braver than men, but she is also showing a stereotypical view of men, showing a lack of understanding because lovers did not get to know each other. If a woman did not get married, it was believed she would go to hell, because marriage was a sacrament and supposedly brought you closer to God.

In this way the church is also an aspect of patriarchal society, used to control women and make them do what men desire of them. In fact, the Church was one of the most influential figures of authority, which is shown later, when friar defends Hero. Rachel Clayton says, ‘In consideration of seventeenth-century marriage, romance and emotional capability were not high on the list of priorities for well-placed young women; generally only low-born women had the freedom to marry for love.

‘ When considering this, Hero’s actions are more understandable, even though the slanderous allegations made against her were untrue, her reputation may still have been tarnished, damaging her chances of marriage. If she did not marry Claudio, she may never be able to marry, and so she marries him for her own sake as much as his. A modern audience would find Hero’s lack of choice frustrating, but to the contemporary audience this would be the norm in society. In a recent interpretation, Hero rejects Claudio, which is a much more satisfying ending to a modern audience.

However, these values did not apply to the lower classes, as although Hero is slandered when it is believed she has been unfaithful and is not virtuous, when it is discovered it is in fact Margaret who was with Borachio, she is not punished and her reputation is not tarnished, showing that society treated women differently according to class. ‘Can the world buy such a jewel? ‘ ‘Yea, and a case to put it into. ‘ Although Claudio refers to Hero as a jewel, he is also referring to buying her, she is a possession to be bought and sold.

The metaphor jewel implies this, as although it is a precious beautiful object, it can be owned by an individual and a price put on it. In the same scene, Claudio asks ‘Hath Leonato any son? ‘ so implying he has purely selfish reasons for wanting to marry Hero. This also suggests his earlier romantic speech is merely a pretence, and his true motivation for the match is money and status. Hero is the possession of her father, and this is shown when Beatrice, Antonio, Leonato and Hero are discussing the fact they think Don Pedro is going to propose to Hero.

Leonato tells Hero if he does ‘You know your answer. ‘ The use of the imperative shows Hero does not have a choice. The Watch, although portrayed as foolish, undermine the upper class society as they work out who is to blame for the slander of Hero, whereas the upper class characters believe the lies. The upper class characters are perceived as more intelligent, but the watch find out the truth because they overhear Borachio bragging ‘Thou shouldst rather ask if it were possible any villainy should be so rich.

For when rich villains have need of poor ones, poor ones may make what price they will. ‘ He believes that ‘chiefly by my (Borachio’s) villainy’ he has bettered members of the upper class society. He is unaware that he is about to be found out by a lower class than him. A Marxist reading would say that many characters, especially the women, are controlled by hierarchical society. This is also shown in Don Pedro, who believes his high status in society gives him the right to mock other characters, especially women.

This is shown when plotting the match between Benedick and Beatrice Don Pedro tells Hero ‘I will teach you’, assuming Hero would not be able to trick her own friend. This also shows how men in society viewed the women as inferior and insignificant, and he is patronising her. The word patronising and patriarchal both stem from the Greek word ‘pater’, meaning father. The theme of ‘noting’, overhearing, appears throughout the play, as many of the deceptions are carried out due to people misunderstanding overheard conversations.

The title ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, is multi-layered, as it could be interpreted as a commotion over nothing, but in the time of Shakespeare it could be read as noting, a commotion over noting. Whereas the higher society misinterpret the conversations they overhear, the lower class make no mistake and it is due to their ‘noting’ and persistence the deceit was uncovered, which also portrays the faults in the patriarchal society.

A third interpretation of the title also looks at the word nothing, which can also be read as no-thing, which was a slang term for female genitalia. This interpretation looks at how the ‘Ado’ concerns man’s fight to control female virginity. When Hero is around the women in the play, she wittily converses about the plot to trick Beatrice, saying ‘Why you speak truth, I never yet say a man, how wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured, but she would spell him backward’ showing her playful nature and her ability to bond with other women and leave behind the formality.

This shows that ‘humanised by the worries and wit she discloses to her friends, Hero embodies the enormous pressure upon women to conform to the male ideal’ (York Notes); it seems her duty is to demonstrate responsibility and restraint, but her silent nature around men is not who Hero really is, but whom she pretends to be in order to gain a husband. This shows that the male members of society suppressed women, and that this submissive silent quality was attractive to men. Hero’s name is also interesting.

Many have suggested that it can also be read as her-o, o being a metaphor for a woman and her virginity. This seems to fit with the plot of the play, as the slander is because Claudio believes Hero is not innocent, she ‘knows the heat of a luxurious bed’. He also says ‘Hero itself can blot out Hero’s virtue’. If this is read as ‘Her-o itself can blot out Hero’s virtue’ Claudio is saying her virginity will show she is not faithful and honourable, as he believes she has lost it. However, it is also intended to propose a connection between Hero and the so-called heroes of the play.

The men of the play have just returned from fighting in the war, and therefore are war heroes. However the craven behaviour shown by the men, Claudio’s slander of Hero before even checking to determine its truth, and Benedick’s reluctance to challenge Claudio for the crimes he has committed, make the audience question who the real hero of the play is, whether it really is Hero, who spends her entire life submitting to the behaviours she believes men desire, and even when she is slandered still forgives and marries Claudio.

Hero has no choice in this, therefore Shakespeare has ‘laid bare the faults and deficiencies of a patriarchal society’. The slander of Hero is a cowardly, insecure act. When Claudio says ‘Are our eyes our own? ‘, he is showing his own insecurities, he does not know Hero well enough to marry her, and if he did he might not be so insecure and might know she would not be unfaithful to him. Jackie Shead says ‘Shakespeare intends irony, then, when Claudio asks at the wedding party ‘Are our eyes our own? as if the reply, like Hero’s guilt, is self-evident.

‘ She also says Claudio is ‘constantly borrowing the eyes of others’; Hero has been the perfect woman all her life, wealthy, beautiful, respected and most of all obedient. She deliberately becomes the ‘silent women’ to ‘conform to the male ideal’ and to slander her because of the words of a villain is a cowardly act. This shows that although society looked upon the courtship of Hero and Claudio to be the correct way of finding a partner, they did not know each other well enough, suggesting that the socially acceptable thing to do is not always the best way, therefore undermining the society of the time.

In a recent performance at the National Theatre in London, the only women in the scene of Hero’s slander are Hero and Beatrice, to illustrate how dominated the society was by men. In my opinion, Shakespeare was ahead of his time when he wrote Much Ado About Nothing. He seemed to be able to see through the common beliefs that members of the upper class society were more intelligent and superior to members of the lower class society, as shown in the perceptive nature of The Watch and the way the upper class characters are fooled so easily, and also the belief that women were of a lower status to men and were possessions of men.

The comedy in the play is satire, used to highlight the faults in the patriarchal society. As a feminist, I agree with Clayton that Hero’s acceptance of Claudio after he had disgraced her is frustrating. I also agree with Clayton’s view that ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ has ‘laid bare the faults and deficiencies of a traditional patriarchal society’. Shakespeare uses many techniques to mock the upper class characters; especially the way women were treated. One of his motivations for this may have been the fact that the monarch was female at the time Shakespeare was writing.

Queen Elizabeth was Shakespeare’s greatest patron, and if his plays appealed to her she would go to see them, which would also encourage others to go. However, the very last line of the play is given to Benedick, who has the last word in his ‘merry war’ with Beatrice, giving him the upper hand and kissing her to stop her mouth, which shows Shakespeare could not break entirely away from the restraints of patriarchal society.


Berry, Mary, ed, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, Cambridge, Sch.Shakespeare (1993) Clayton, Rachel, ‘Who is hero? ‘ The English Review September 2002 Shead, Jackie, ‘Are Our Eyes Our Own? ‘ The English Review September 2004 Stuart, Ross, ed. Much Ado About Nothing York Notes Advanced, York Press London, 2001 http://www. sparknotes. com/shakespeare/muchado http://www. megaessays. com/viewpaper/28333. html 1 ‘How does Shakespeare dramatically present power and authority between men and women in Much Ado About Nothing? ‘ http://www. megaessays. com/viewpaper/28333. html

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