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Women In Shakespeare Henry V And Merchant

Of Venice Essay, Research Paper Shakespeare?s presentation and portrayal of his female characters in The Merchant of Venice and Henry V follows a typical pattern that is present in all

Of Venice Essay, Research Paper

Shakespeare?s presentation and portrayal of his female characters in The

Merchant of Venice and Henry V follows a typical pattern that is present in all

of the Shakespearean plays that I have read so far. When looking closely at the

fate of his female characters, this pattern becomes even more evident for it

repeats itself no matter how different the plays are. For instance, Henry V and

The Merchant of Venice are different in every respect. The female characters not

only come from different backgrounds, they also have very different

personalities. However, as different as these plays and their characters are,

the female characters end up suffering the same fate. It doesn?t seem to

matter whether they are born into a life of peasantry, nobility, or come from

royalty, for they ultimately will end up being no better than a piece of land,

or cattle, or some possession that a man can own and do with as he pleases.

Scholars have been debating for centuries now as to whether Shakespeare?s

women reflect his society?s attitudes or that of his own. Henry V is

definitely geared more for the male audience. There are only two or three acts

in which a female character is present at all. When we first get a glimpse of

Katherine, she is trying to learn the English language. This scene is supposed

to be somewhat comical, but are we really supposed to believe that while there

is a war raging throughout her country, that all Katherine is concerned about is

the fact that she can?t speak the language of her enemy? This scene in which

we get our first glimpse of Katherine is somewhat degrading to her character as

well as misleading. This leaves the audience with the inaccurate perception that

Katherine, and thus all women in general, care very little about what?s going

on around them, and more about making themselves presentable. Afterall, isn?t

Katherine the ?Grand Prize? that will be awarded to the winning side? I find

it very insulting that Shakespeare?s only significant female role in the whole

play, is being used as a ? Prize? to be given away. Shakespeare doesn?t

even try to hide the fact that he is setting Katherine up as a prize. I find

this kind of arrogance to be offensive and very belittling to women. While the

men are off fighting the battle, Katherine, the future Queen of France, does not

appear to be a bit concerned over the fate of her own country. Instead, she

readily accepts her fate as she prepares herself for the role of Queen of

England. This play is very biased and one-sided. Most of the English men are

portrayed as noble, humble and superior to the French. Henry himself can do no

wrong, and is portrayed through out the play as the best leader that the English

have ever had. This image that he can do no wrong and is as close to being

perfect as one can get, only holds up if you don?t go digging around in

Henry?s past, in which he had been portrayed as a spoiled, pampered partying

boy. The French, in contrast to the English, are presented as arrogant,

incompetent, and weak, very similar to what Henry had been not to long ago.

There is, however, one thing lower than a Frenchman, and that is, a French

woman. The fact that Shakespeare subjected Katherine?s character, (she, who

had been born into royalty which was the highest social position one can reach),

to being treated as a possession or prize for a man, only adds credence to the

argument that Shakespeare had very little respect for women. Katherine

character, for the most part, adds very little, if anything at all, to the play.

In fact, the role of Katherine could have easily been omitted altogether, and

personally, I wish it had been The last act, in which Henry easily manages to

win the affections of Katherine, is a weak attempt on Shakespeare?s part to

end the play on a an uplifting note. It?s a shame that Shakespeare put it in

at all because it definitely changes the way I feel about this play, in

particular, as well as the others. The women characters in The Merchant of

Venice are treated with much more respect than Katherine had been. However, I

have a feeling that it?s only due to the fact that Shakespeare thinks less of

?Jews? than he does women. The Merchant of Venice, does have a strong cast

of women who play very important roles throughout the play. These women are much

more impressive than those found in Henry V. Portia, in particular, is by far

the superior one of the play. Like Queen Elizabeth herself, Portia?s character

is a blending of femininity and masculinity. Portia has great strength of

character, a quick wit, and is very well educated in the affairs of the world

around her which is not a common theme in Shakespeare?s women. She is in every

respect far superior to the fools she ends up being surrounded by. This might

not have been the case if it weren?t for the fact that she, with all her

intelligence and wit is still being dictated by a male. Her dead father dictates

her life through his will. I guess Shakespeare does not miss an opportunity to

put even the most superior of all women in her place as he does just that to

Portia. For all her power, riches, and strengths, she still is no better than

the man she marries. Her new husband, Barsenio, is no match for her, and yet he

is handed over everything that belongs to her, including her soul. Although

Shakespeare gives the very best of qualities and traits to the female character

Portia, he knows that in spite of her superiority and domination over all the

other characters including the male characters, he can later strip her of all

her greatness at any time, and does just that at the end of the play. What I

find so unbelievable is the way that Shakespeare?s women just hand over

everything including themselves, no questions asked, to a man they hardly know

and yet willingly and happily marry. I have a hard time believing that women of

his day did this duty so graciously. Portia?s portrayal of being such a strong

figure and at the same time, a woman who is subservient to her times, makes me

question whether Shakespeare really knew what was gong on in the minds of the

Elizabethan women. Just the fact that he disguises his women characters up as

men in order to bring them to higher levels, leads me to believe that he is just

making it all up as he goes along. Don?t get me wrong, I love most of

Shakespeare?s work. It?s just his female characters that I have a problem

with. When reading Shakespeare it is easy to question what his motives might

have been. Scholars have been doing this for centuries. We will never be sure as

to whether or not Shakespeare was reflecting the times or his own feelings. One

must keep in mind when reading Shakespeare that hs writings are not historically

accurate and therefore most likely only reflect his views on things. I only hope

that is the case, for I can?t imagine women ever being so passive. Could we

have really been the passive beings that Shakespeare portrays women as, I

seriously doubt it. Kelley Vickers-Sullivan Engl. 141-Mid-Term Essay March 30,

2000 You?ve Come a Long Way Baby! Shakespeare?s presentation and portrayal

of his female characters in The Merchant of Venice and Henry V follows a typical

pattern that is present in all of the Shakespearean plays that I have read so

far. When looking closely at the fate of his female characters, this pattern

becomes even more evident for it repeats itself no matter how different the

plays are. For instance, Henry V and The Merchant of Venice are different in

every respect. The female characters not only come from different backgrounds,

they also have very different personalities. However, as different as these

plays and their characters are, the female characters end up suffering the same

fate. It doesn?t seem to matter whether they are born into a life of

peasantry, nobility, or come from royalty, for they ultimately will end up being

no better than a piece of land, or cattle, or some possession that a man can own

and do with as he pleases. Scholars have been debating for centuries now as to

whether Shakespeare?s women reflect his society?s attitudes or that of his

own. Henry V is definitely geared more for the male audience. There are only two

or three acts in which a female character is present at all. When we first get a

glimpse of Katherine, she is trying to learn the English language. This scene is

supposed to be somewhat comical, but are we really supposed to believe that

while there is a war raging throughout her country, that all Katherine is

concerned about is the fact that she can?t speak the language of her enemy?

This scene in which we get our first glimpse of Katherine is somewhat degrading

to her character as well as misleading. This leaves the audience with the

inaccurate perception that Katherine, and thus all women in general, care very

little about what?s going on around them, and more about making themselves

presentable. Afterall, isn?t Katherine the ?Grand Prize? that will be

awarded to the winning side? I find it very insulting that Shakespeare?s only

significant female role in the whole play, is being used as a ? Prize? to be

given away. Shakespeare doesn?t even try to hide the fact that he is setting

Katherine up as a prize. I find this kind of arrogance to be offensive and very

belittling to women. While the men are off fighting the battle, Katherine, the

future Queen of France, does not appear to be a bit concerned over the fate of

her own country. Instead, she readily accepts her fate as she prepares herself

for the role of Queen of England. This play is very biased and one-sided. Most

of the English men are portrayed as noble, humble and superior to the French.

Henry himself can do no wrong, and is portrayed through out the play as the best

leader that the English have ever had. This image that he can do no wrong and is

as close to being perfect as one can get, only holds up if you don?t go

digging around in Henry?s past, in which he had been portrayed as a spoiled,

pampered partying boy. The French, in contrast to the English, are presented as

arrogant, incompetent, and weak, very similar to what Henry had been not to long

ago. There is, however, one thing lower than a Frenchman, and that is, a French

woman. The fact that Shakespeare subjected Katherine?s character, (she, who

had been born into royalty which was the highest social position one can reach),

to being treated as a possession or prize for a man, only adds credence to the

argument that Shakespeare had very little respect for women. Katherine

character, for the most part, adds very little, if anything at all, to the play.

In fact, the role of Katherine could have easily been omitted altogether, and

personally, I wish it had been The last act, in which Henry easily manages to

win the affections of Katherine, is a weak attempt on Shakespeare?s part to

end the play on a an uplifting note. It?s a shame that Shakespeare put it in

at all because it definitely changes the way I feel about this play, in

particular, as well as the others. The women characters in The Merchant of

Venice are treated with much more respect than Katherine had been. However, I

have a feeling that it?s only due to the fact that Shakespeare thinks less of

?Jews? than he does women. The Merchant of Venice, does have a strong cast

of women who play very important roles throughout the play. These women are much

more impressive than those found in Henry V. Portia, in particular, is by far

the superior one of the play. Like Queen Elizabeth herself, Portia?s character

is a blending of femininity and masculinity. Portia has great strength of

character, a quick wit, and is very well educated in the affairs of the world

around her which is not a common theme in Shakespeare?s women. She is in every

respect far superior to the fools she ends up being surrounded by. This might

not have been the case if it weren?t for the fact that she, with all her

intelligence and wit is still being dictated by a male. Her dead father dictates

her life through his will. I guess Shakespeare does not miss an opportunity to

put even the most superior of all women in her place as he does just that to

Portia. For all her power, riches, and strengths, she still is no better than

the man she marries. Her new husband, Barsenio, is no match for her, and yet he

is handed over everything that belongs to her, including her soul. Although

Shakespeare gives the very best of qualities and traits to the female character

Portia, he knows that in spite of her superiority and domination over all the

other characters including the male characters, he can later strip her of all

her greatness at any time, and does just that at the end of the play. What I

find so unbelievable is the way that Shakespeare?s women just hand over

everything including themselves, no questions asked, to a man they hardly know

and yet willingly and happily marry. I have a hard time believing that women of

his day did this duty so graciously. Portia?s portrayal of being such a strong

figure and at the same time, a woman who is subservient to her times, makes me

question whether Shakespeare really knew what was gong on in the minds of the

Elizabethan women. Just the fact that he disguises his women characters up as

men in order to bring them to higher levels, leads me to believe that he is just

making it all up as he goes along. Don?t get me wrong, I love most of

Shakespeare?s work. It?s just his female characters that I have a problem

with. When reading Shakespeare it is easy to question what his motives might

have been. Scholars have been doing this for centuries. We will never be sure as

to whether or not Shakespeare was reflecting the times or his own feelings. One

must keep in mind when reading Shakespeare that hs writings are not historically

accurate and therefore most likely only reflect his views on things. I only hope

that is the case, for I can?t imagine women ever being so passive. Could we

have really been the passive beings that Shakespeare portrays women as, I

seriously doubt it.

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