Henry IV Part 1

Shakespeare and Gender College

Authors often perform the task of cultural historians, eternalizing with their written word the popular perspectives and social opinions of their time. Shakespeare himself perfectly encapsulated in his writing the Renaissance mentality towards gender, and the roles and responsibilities men and women both play in society. In his time- as well as still in ours- women are seen as possessing virtuous traits, such as piety, obedience, chastity, patience, and modesty. Men, on the other hand, fulfill honorable roles, demonstrating great wisdom, bravery, gallantry, power, logic, and strength. However, Shakespeare went beyond reflecting his era’s beliefs, and actually questioned, challenged, and modified those ideals of gender.

In Shakespeare’s plays, Henry VI Part 3 and Richard III, the notion of gender is frequently disputed. Oftentimes, characters do not fit into a perfect mold of “masculinity” or “femininity,” but rather, these traits overlap and characters behave in complex, fluid, and simply universally human manners. The women were cunning, and artfully grasped at power through their speech, family and marriages. The men were sometimes weak, crumbling at the will of their enemies, defenseless and unreasonable. Thus, Shakespeare...

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