Female Agency In Shakespeare's Tragedies

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Introduction Throughout his career, William Shakespeare has presented a range of strong-willed and active female characters. His comedies, in particular, contain many women who not only have agency but are able to use this to gain sexual and political freedom. In order to investigate the extent and role of female agency in Shakespeare’s comedies, three plays from various points in his career will be analysed: The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1592), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1594-6), and All’s Well That Ends Well (c.1602-7). First, though, what is meant by both political and sexual agency must be defined. Michel Foucault in his discussions in ‘The Subject and Power’ describes power as being exercised ‘by the threat of arms, by the effects of the word, by means of…show more content…
In particular, it will focus on the character of Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew who appears to have submitted to her husband’s will but upon deeper scrutiny can be seen to manipulate Petruchio’s behaviour. To a lesser extent, Bianca and the Widow’s actions will also be examined as both of these women use conformity to patriarchal standards in order to marry men who they will be able to control. The four female leads of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will all be considered for their attempts to gain political agency: Hermia and Helena leave Athens despite being ordered otherwise, Titania leaves Oberon rather than bowing to his will, and Hippolyta uses her influence over Theseus to manipulate his decisions. In the case of All’s Well That Ends Well the character of Helen – who charms the Countess and King into letting her choose to marry Bertram, who is above her station and uninterested – will be investigated. As will the Countess – who agrees to her plan so that she herself will gain a better position in court – and Diana – who, along with her mother, aids Helen in the bed trick on the promise
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