Henry IV Part 1

Ways of Defining Gender in Shakespeare's History Plays

Known as a fine interpreter of human thought and action, William Shakespeare often relied on gender roles and stereotypes to create within the audience an opinion of a character or event. Since Elizabethan society made such great distinctions between the actions and feelings of men and women, Shakespeare's gender imagery most certainly would have succeeded in capturing the audience's attention and understanding.

Twentieth century feminist critics of Shakespeare see him as reinforcing the patriarchal values and perceptions of women during the Renaissance (Grady, 237). Madelon Gohlke defines traditional Elizabethan gender roles as masculinity portraying "heroic violence" and femininity portraying "submissive pacifism," (Grady, 238). Shakespeare uses both characters of both genders and gendered language to display the masculine and feminine attributes of the characters, events, and situations in the history in Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. The manly attributes in Shakespeare's history plays are strength and honor, while womanly attributes are weakness, and untrustworthiness. Thus, Shakespeare continually shows feminine attributes in a negative light while extolling the virtuous masculine...

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