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Women in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Taming of the Shrew Essay

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During the early modern period, despite Queen Elizabeth’s powerful rule in the mid-sixteenth century, women in England had very few social, economic, and legal rights. According to the British system of coverture, a married man and wife became one person under the law, thus, “all the legal rights and responsibilities a woman had when she was single transferred to her husband upon marriage” (McBride-Stetson 189). Additionally, once married, the entirety of a woman’s property and wages came under the husband’s control; thus, in essence, women became the responsibility and property of their husbands (McBride-Stetson 189). Shakespeare, through his writings, illustrates the early modern period’s obsession with maintaining the legal subordination of women through marriage. Shakespeare’s leading lady in The Taming of the Shrew severely contrasts her obedient and demure sister and, in doing so, transcends the gender roles appropriated to her and, thus, must be tamed. In contrast, Much Ado About Nothing’s Hero plays the role of the ideal early modern woman until the nature of her chastity comes into question. Despite the fundamental differences between the characters of these two women, the financial and object-based language used to describe women as well as the institution of marriage in The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing demonstrate the early modern period’s view of women as pieces of property.

The play introduces Petruccio as Katherine’s potential suitor before Petruccio, in fact, meets Katherine; however, Petruccio asserts, “I have thrust myself into this maze/ Happily to wive and thrive as I may” (1.2.52-53). Interestingly, Petruccio lists “wiving” as his first goal, followed by “thriving.” In a sense, the ...


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...r to that of property and subject to male control. Clearly, the study of these plays serve as prime examples in demonstrating the effect of British common law during the early modern period as well as depicting the society’s anxieties in regards to maintaining the ultimate upper-hand in regards to women’s rights, or, lack thereof. Although Hero is, for the most part, painted as a virtuous character throughout Much Ado About Nothing, the question of her virtue is not only known to be a false-accusation to the audience, but her chastity is quickly restored at the end of the play. Likewise, Petruccio is able to remedy Katherine’s shrewish behavior into that of a young lady. Clearly, the plots of these plays as well as the repeated associations between women and one’s property overtly demonstrate a societal desire to maintain a sense of power and domination over women.


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