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Friday, 20 April 2012

Shakespeare's 'Daughters'.


 For the first time I am presenting on my blog my college-work. This is my submission for our 'Practical Criticism's paper' which was much appreciated. I am thankful to my professor for allowing me to publish this essay on my blog.

 Shakespeare's Heroines

I would like to call Shakespeare's heroines as his 'daughters'. Yes, William Shakespeare has created his own unique world filled with many remarkable men and women who are 'alive' even now and many people like me feel these characters much nearer to heart than our own relatives.
  Being a girl I am more fascinated by Shakespeare's heroines and feel like having a strong bond with some of them.I call them his 'dear daughters'.His women have varied characters and characteristics. Just see the range! 'Love's martyr' Juliet,'Intelligent beyond her age' Portia ( Merchant of Venice),'Shy, soft-spoken and introvert' Viola (Twelfth Night), 'playful and mischivious' Rosalind (As You Like It), 'Weak and inordinately submissive' Ophelia, 'Pure-hearted but impractical' Desdemona (Othello),'Truthful' Cordelia (King Lear),'Venus-incarnate' Cleopatra, 'Innocent and child of Nature' Miranda (The Tempest), 'Flowerlike' Perdita (The Winter's Tale); and also the most cruel, devilish Regan and Goneril (King Lear) and the very blot on femininity Lady Macbeth!....
  Shakespeare was always trying to dive deep into the human psyche and fathom the riddle of human nature and life. He was trying to find answers to many questions: What is  the relation between human nature,circumstances and destiny? What is the place of values like love, brotherhood of man, purity, charity, chastity, righteousness, munificence, valour, selflessness etc in life? what is their value in individual behaviour? How far helpful are the beliefs in abstract concepts like heaven, hell and immortality of soul? However, he never preached or championed a particular principle or way of life. In my opinion he was secular and humanist to the core.
 On this premise I am going to try to understand some of his 'daughters'. In this context it is pertinent to bear in mind the nature of Shakespeare's time and the lifestyle of women of that period. There was no education for women in those days. almost all the women were illiterate. They were however well trained in crafts and arts like sewing, embroidery,painting,  music and dance. There being always war-like atmosphere, women were not able to move freely outdoors.
 Yet, Shakespeare recognised the importance and  the unique place of the woman in human life and moulded his woman characters accordingly. He knew that the woman is naturally more adoptive, clever, shrewd and cunning. When in love she demonstrates these characteristics more strongly. She is very romantic and dreamy while playing the games of love and equally resolute and capable of highest sacrifice when her love or chastity is challenged. Shakespeare portrayed all these subtle shades of feminine nature through  various heroines, their colleagues, nurses, chaperons and even maid-servants. He cleverly juxtaposed girls with exactly opposite thinking to highlight both sides of the woman-nature.
      His ideal heroines religiously preserve the purity of love. They are very noble in behaviour and never utter a single bad or 'rustic' or vulgar word which would blot their upbringing. His maid-servants and nurses are somewhat given to sharp tongue yet he never gives them overtly vulgar dialogues as he gives to some of his men in order to create laughter among the audience in the 'pit'. He plays upon the contrast in thinking and behaviour of his heroines and their colleagues, maidservants and nurses most effectively. His heroines are noble, idealistic and given to romanticism, whereas their maid-servants or nurses are extremely realistic, practical and tactful. They are very adoptive and believe in the means which would bring instant results.
  For example let us take Desdemona (Othello's wife) and her maid-servant Emilia (Villain Iago's wife). Desdemona's love for Othello is intense and she is totally dedicated to him.She reveres him so much that she never opposes or questions her jealous husband who doubts her fidelity and heaps most vulgar and baseless accusations on her. Emilia, on the other hand,is of the opinion that  men should be dealt with on  'measure for measure' basis. She angrily questions the one-sided ethics that men can behave as they like but their wives must remain loyal to them without uttering a word of complaint. She bluntly asks that if men start indulging in unrestrained promiscuity, then what is he harm if their women 'cuckold' them sometimes? But the same Emilia sacrifices her life on the sword of her villainous husband Iago in order to expose his guilt and thereby prove the purity and chastity of her mistress Desdemona.
 Shakespeare also portrays the contrast between the characters of two girls- Heroine and her friend- from the similar social background. For example, in 'Much ado about Nothing' Beatrice is extrovert, short-tempered, sharp-tongued and quarrelsome whereas Hero is introvert, grave, quiet and simple.  In 'As You like It' Rosalind is naughty, playful, forward and given to dominate whereas Celia is quiet, subdued and soft-spoken. Yet, on falling in love she acts swiftly and marries her lover before Rosalind!
          All this preamble is necessary to understand Shakespeare's overall thinking about feminine nature, his understanding of the basic driving forces in the woman's mind and how they get affected by the circumstances and what are the specialities of womanly love according to him.
    I will now turn to some of his  famous daughters.
 First, 'Love's Martyr' Juliet..........

        - AUTUMN ELIZA

( to be continued over other posts)


  1. Very Nice piece...i will wait...

    1. thank you, Mr. Ranvijay! I am going to write a series of articles on Shakespeare's heroines and need support from wellwishers like you.

  2. What an illuminating essay. Shakespeare has always been my favorite and Macbeth is my favorite. I too had Shakespeare in my post graduation and I agree he knew women to the core. Thank you for sharing this

    1. Dear Rimly, thank you for your appreciation and support!

  3. You have made me want to pull out my Shakespeare and reread! Well done!

  4. Elle - wonderful. You did a great job of prepping us for future dissertations, by introducing your heroines!

    I am interested to see if you disclose some of your own "traits", as your narrative continues....thoroughly enjoyable!