Gender Roles In Much Ado

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The controversial treatment of gender issues in Much Ado would have been central to its impact on Elizabethan audiences familiar with an extensive literature on the role of women. Independent, assertive, unruly women commanded attention on stage; the traditional pattern of feminine behaviour was under strain. Women were supposed to be silent, gentle, passive and submissive but Queen Elizabeth I herself projected an ambiguous male-female identity. The erosion of traditional gender ideologies created anxieties about the subversion of the social order. Loquacious, insubordinate, independent women were regarded with interest and suspicion. Comedy was a way of exploring such anxieties and diffusing them with laughter. In the patriarchal society of Much Ado conventional codes of honour, camaraderie and a sense of superiority to women regulate masculine loyalties. Although female inconstancy is presumed, Balthasar’s song deconstructs it and the fraud of men is dramatised in Claudio’s ruthless treatment of Hero. Beatrice disrupts the conventional gender polarities, urging Hero to defy her father and putting Benedick on his mettle, although her role is ambiguous as she also yearns to exercise male power to avenge Hero. Benedick voices the traditional patriarchal ideology through…show more content…
His heroines often unite harmoniously the strengths commonly associated with one sex or the other – assertive but not aggressive, independent but not insular, erotic but not sensual, warm-hearted but without sentimentality, rational but sympathetic. Although Much Ado may lack a female exemplar of moral virtue, it almost champions sexual equality and female liberation. It is the least feminine of the comedies; the conventional heroine remains silent and the unconventional refuses to 'cry Heigh for a husband' (II.1.242–3). She does succumb to love but immediately assumes a dominant male role in demanding Claudio’s
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