My Sex

"Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex"

MSND, II.1

 

Happy International Women's Day!

 

It's an oft-debated question: how did Shakespeare feel about women?

 

There are many who surmise (not illogically, given the plot of Taming of the Shrew alone) that he was, obviously, like all men of his time and culture, a misogynist.  There are countless examples in his work that may be taken as evidence to support this assumption, and I strongly recommend that you (if you haven't already) read all of it.

 

However, if you're really determined to pry open the Bard's soul and attempt to understand all that lurks there, you have but one option, as far as I can tell.  That is: read every one of his plays, and then put yourself in the shoes of EVERY ONE OF HIS CHARACTERS by preparing and executing a performance of each and every role.

 

Having not yet accomplished this feat personally, I can only offer speculation as to what you might discover by doing so, and my speculation is this: no human being so apparently capable of seeing the world from the perspective of such a vast and varied range of fellow human beings could possibly presume an inherent "superiority" over a single one of them, regardless of their gender or any other genetically derived characteristic.

 

Or, to put it another way, if Shakespeare truly believed women to be biologically more shallow, stupid, fearful, or "wicked" than men, he never could nor would have written so many profoundly intelligent, courageous, and morally "righteous" female characters.

 

He shows us women who are flawed, of course, as all human beings are flawed.  Victims?  Certainly, as we all are: victims of the multitude of circumstances (including a misogynist society) that make up the life of a human being.  But "inferior"?  Try explaining that to Beatrice, or Cleopatra, or Isabella, or Juliet, or Lady Macbeth, or Olivia, or Portia, or Rosalind, or Tamora, or Volumnia (to name just the first ten that pop alphabetically into my head)…

 

And, since you (I) brought it up: how about the magnificent Kate?  A woman so strong, so confident, so smart and funny and spirited that the only alternative left for the men in her life who felt they needed to own her was a non-surgical lobotomy.

 

It's a common, dangerous mistake to confuse the words and actions of a playwright's creation with those of the playwright.  However, I'm prepared to believe that William Shakespeare had a lot more in common with his "shrew", than with those who would have her "tamed".

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