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MASARYK UNIVERSITY BRNO

FACULTY OF EDUCATION
Department of English Language and Literature

Shakespeare's Portrayal of Women


Bachelor thesis

Brno 2011

Supervisor:

Author:

Mgr. Jaroslav Izavuk

Zuzana Dudkov

DECLARATION
I declare that I worked on my bachelor thesis independently and that I used
only the sources listed in the bibliography.

.......................................................
In Brno April 2011

Zuzana Dudkov

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Jaroslav Izavuk for his kind
guidance, patience and valuable comments.

Bibliografick zznam
Dudkov, Zuzana. Shakespeare's Portrayal of Women. Brno: Masarykova
univerzita, Fakulta pedagogick, Katedra anglickho jazyka a literatury, 2011.
43 s. Vedouc bakalsk prce - Mgr. Jaroslav Izavuk.

Anotace
Bakalsk prce je zamena na zkoumn hrdinek v tragdich Williama
Shakespeara: Romeo a Julie, Krl Lear, Hamlet, Othello. Clem tto prce je
co nejvstinji charakterizovat, analyzovat a take porozumt jejich
osobnostem v kontextu anglick renesance a tehdejch zvyklost. Prce by
mla vykreslit portrt eny v obdob Renesance a zpsob, jakm jsou eny
vnmny tehdej spolenost.
Teoretick st je vnovna popisu a charakteristice eny v obdob renesance.
V nsledujc sti jsou uvedeny hrdinky tragdi Shakespearovch souasnk
jako je napklad John Webster, Thomas Middleton a William Rowley.
Dvodem je utvoen pedstavy tehdej eny oima ir patriarchln
spolenosti.
Praktick st se zabv popisem, rozborem a analzou jednotlivch hrdinek
ve uvedench tragedi.

Klov slova
Gender, hrdinky, textov analza a analza charakteru, rozdln a spolen
znaky

Bibliography
Dudkov, Zuzana. Shakespeare's Portrayal of Women. Brno: Masaryk
University, Faculty of Education, Department of English Language and
Literature, 2011. 43 pages. The supervisor of the Bachelor Thesis Mgr.
Jaroslav Izavuk.

Annotation
The Bachelor Thesis is focused on the analysis of female characters in William
Shakespeares tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello and King Lear.
The aim of the thesis is to examine, to characterize but also to understand their
personalities in the broader context of standards depending on the Renaissance
period and contemporary customs.
The theoretical part is devoted to the description and characterisation of
women during the Renaissance period. The following part is dedicated to the
presentation of tragic heroines of Shakespeares contemporaries: John Webster,
Thomas Middleton a William Rowley. The reason is to create the image of
women through the eyes of wider patriarchal society.
The practical part deals with the description, examination and analysis of the
heroines of those above cited tragedies.

Keywords
Gender, heroines, textual and character analysis, different and common
features
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.INTRODUCTION

2. THEORETICAL PART

10

2.1. Renaissance Wives and Daughters

10

2.2 Women in Renaissance Tragedy

12

2.3 Shakespeares Tragedies

14

3. PRACTICAL PART

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3.1 Characters of Passion


3.1.1 Ophelia
Authors Inspiration
Beloved Daughter and Sister
Unfulfilled Love
Insanity
Funeral
Importance of Ophelia in the Tragedy
Conclusion
3. 1.2 Juliet
Authors Inspiration
Innocent Girl
Love at First Sight
Heroic Womanhood
Loneliness
Desperation
Tragic Victims of Destiny
Importance of Juliet in the Tragedy
Conclusion

16
16
16
16
19
20
21
22
22
23
23
23
23
24
24
25
27
28
28

3.2 Characters of Afffection


3.2.1 Cordelia
Authors Inspiration
Portrait of the Woman
Speaking is Silver, Silence is Golden
Fool
Fatal Reappearance
Importance of Cordelia in the Tragedy
Conclusion
3.2.2 Desdemona
Authors Inspiration
Girl Becomes a Woman
Desdemona and Othello
Disillusion

28
28
29
29
30
31
32
33
34
34
34
34
36
37
6

Importance of Desdemona in the Tragedy


Conclusion

38
39

4. CONCLUSION
40
5. TABLE OF CONTENTS

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1. Introduction
William Shakespeare represents a quite controversial figure of the Renaissance
period. A number of different contradictory and conflicting views about him
are shared among people and critics. Even Shakespeare himself who is
shrouded in the cloak of vagueness and uncertainty is surrounded by a great
amount of unanswered questions, prompts to his analysis. Therefore, it is not
surprising that countless multitudes of people try to penetrate deeper into his
works carrying the seal of Shakespearean ambiguity and answer to some
emerging questions. The attitudes towards Shakespeares personality but also
towards the interpretation of his works diverge and proceed in diverse
directions. Such a contrast could be seen in Ophelias interpretation. For some
critics she impersonates an obedient, pure girl unable to act according to her
discretion but for others she is perceived in completely different light. Rebecca
West claims that Ophelia was not a correct and timid virgin exquisite
sensibilities but rather a disreputable young woman (19).
I was also intrigued by this ambiguity of Shakespeares works and I wanted to
express my own opinion about this matter. For this purpose, I have chosen
four heroines from Shakespeare's tragedies: Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet
and King Lear. I was studying selected characters and I tried to understand
their personalities in the broader context of the standards depending on
Shakespeares time, which is marked together with the personality of
Shakespeare in his works. The thesis is focused on element studies of women
because the importance of heroines are in some works underrated even though
they remain the motivating power of the plot and complete the tragedy of the
whole work.
It is not a coincidence that all studied women are selected from Shakespearean
tragedies. The main reason for my choice of the tragic heroines is that that
their characters are not transparent at the first glance and that is why the author
reveals them to the audience gradually as the play progresses like a triumphant
unveiling of a statue. Even after the end of the spectacle or after a deeper
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examination of the tragedy, when the work seems to be thoroughly exposed, it


is still not possible to see it from every angle and thus it is up to the audience
or a reader how much attention they are willing to pay to the master piece and
how they are able to gather all the information to create a coherent portrait.
The Bachelor Thesis is divided into two parts: the theoretical and practical
part. The theoretical part deals with a theoretical description and
characteristics of women in the Renaissance period. In this part I would like
to highlight the tragic heroines of Shakespeare's contemporaries, such as John
Webster, Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. The reason is to create the
image of women through the eyes of wider patriarchal society.
The practical part centres on the study of Shakespeare's heroines of the
aforementioned tragedies. The practical part is divided into two sections
determined by particular qualities of emotion which prevail in each selected
character. To clarify and separate the female characters and their significances,
every single character is divided into several sections. These sections include
the authors inspiration for the character, how the heroine is seen as such, what
are the main qualities of the character, the highlights of some turning points,
the death, and the importance of the character for the play as well as the
conclusion. They also contain the chronological process of each heroines
development in the plot. Analyzed heroines are selected from the same genre
deliberately because of the homogeneity of the author's view. Due to the
suggested division of chapters it is possible to quantify mutual and diverse
aspects of characters, which can therefore lead to their comparison.

2. Theoretical part
2.1. Renaissance Wives and Daughters
The goal of this chapter is to introduce the socio-cultural background of the
16th and 17th century from the perspective of wives and daughters. It can be
claimed that the Renaissance audience perceived the main conflicts of William
Shakespeares plays in different way than the audience in 21st century. While
comparing the woman of 21st century and Elizabethan woman and her role in
the marriage many diverse aspects can be observed.
Hilsk believes that Renaissance playwrights and poets inherited the Christian
understanding of marriage as a sacred law and it is without any exaggeration
to say that all Christian thinking about marriage, family, love and erotic
images was based on the higher order and authority, which the woman had to
undergo. Wifes disobedience to her husband or father was not regarded just as
a private offense, but as a violation of divine order (543).
In the Christian concept of love and marriage from St. Augustine and St.
Jerome to tracts of Shakespeare's contemporaries, two repeated key principles
around which everything else revolves are: the requirement of obedience and
the prohibition of any severity in love. The emphasis that Christian thinkers
put on the moderation can be seen as a concern or fear of desire (Hilsk 543).
The strong sexual or erotic desire was dangerous. Hilsk adds that it was a
destabilizing element that threatened this small church inside the man, the
sort of sacred community, which has been or should be marriage and family
(543).
From today's perspective, it is surprising that excessive erotic desire to be
dangerous in itself. It was not sinful just outside of marriage, but also inside
the marriage. These ideas were incorporated without major changes by the
Reformation in the 16th and 17th century. The English Reformation was also
inspired by these ideas and they appeared both in the thoughts of the Anglican
Church authority, and in contemporary treatises on marriage and love.
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At the time when Shakespeare was working on Othello, a tractate called A


Godly Form of Household Government by John Dod and Robert Cleaver was
published. It faithfully reflects the widely shared patriarchal notions.
According to this tractate, the woman must be dutiful wife to her husband,
because any disobedience could affect the order in the household and brings
the chaos into the marriage and family relations. It do not have to be
mentioned that chaos was the opposite of the Renaissance idea of divine law
and synonymous of decay, destruction and death (Hilsk 544).
Contemporary tracts and pamphlets dealing with the theme of marriage and
love life published during William Shakespeares life put the emphasis on the
value of chastity and fidelity (Hilsk 544). At the same time it always
expressed a fear of female sexual desire, which was kind of the unpredictable,
subversive power that threatened the many family foundations, society, and
the divine order. This fear of female sexuality was for the Renaissances
characteristics of marriage and love quite crucial and of course this particular
aspects influence a majority of Shakespeares tragedies including Othello,
Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet a King Lear.
Actually, many manuals were provided as a practical guidance on how to
achieve a harmonious marriage. These included positions as gender and age
equality. The husband should not have been too old and it was equally
essential that the low-born noble man took a woman and vice versa. An
important condition for a harmonious married life was, according to
contemporary ideas, home. Renaissance authors manuals on marriage and
family pointed out that it was the woman who created the home.
It is notable that the duty of women to keep house, to be modest and not to
speak much was very closely connected. A woman who was unstable and who
did not spent much time at home was regarded as dangerous because she made
her husband unsure about her fidelity to him. Similarly, excessive
talkativeness was damnable and suspect because it was associated with
freedom, self-confidence, and rebelliousness potential for infidelity. Secretive
woman was a kind woman, while a woman too talkative and bantering
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represented rebelliousness and evilness.

2.2 Women in Renaissance Tragedy


Literal critics of the Renaissance drama have been more and more interested in
the heterogeneity, contrast, division and diversity that influenced society.
Women characters in Renaissance drama usually break a moral rule. Even if
the particular sin is based on true or not, the woman is under frequent and
merciless control of the family, church and state. In the White Devil the author
presents the combined operation of these three aspects against the heroine,
Vittoria. However every one of them, Websters Duchess of Malfi, Bianca in
Middletons Women Beware Women (1621), Beatrice-Joanna in Middleton
and Rowleys The Changeling (1622), break the rules of female manners and
take the consequences (Loomba 39).
Ania Loomba suggests that early modern Europe saw the burning and torture
of women as witches, drama of Renaissance period makes it comprehensible
that witch is a category sufficiently variable to cover every type of aberrance
and disobedience (39).
The theory of spiritual chaos of Jacobean drama that utterly associate female
defiance with a degenerate social order results in a contribution to suppress all
notions of defiance that women in the audience could have (39).
1. John Webster: White Devil
The author brings on the stage a woman who does not only afraid of
expressing her opinion but who also represents a dominant character who
dares to face other people thanks to her expressiveness and eloquent
abilities. The revelation of her intelligence and arguing skills while
opposing to her complainants prompts beholders to believe her adaptation
of the certain affairs. The convincing potential of her speech reaches such
an extent that she succeeds in rising spectator understands and support. At
the end she is murdered by her chidren.
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2. Thomas Middleton, William Rowley: The Changeling


In this play the author introduces a heroine called Beatrice-Joanna whose
name signalises a dual personality: Beatrice is a Petrarchan name meaning
purity and recalling Dantes chaste passion, and Joanna was apparently
one of the commonest names among servant girls at the time (Loomba,
96). At the beginning she impersonates a goddess. She is not conscious of
her sexual vulnerability. Her arrogant and spoilt manner of behaviour
encourages her illusory feeling of power. The character of Beatrice-Joanna
changes a lot from the beginning to end of the tragedy. By the end of the
tragedy her personality progresses a lot and she changes into a woman of
moral sense. Loomba says that, both naivety and arrogance are stripped
from her by DeFloress reminder that as a woman she is displaced from
the privileges of her own class (Loomba 96).
Push! Fly not to your birth, but settle you
In what the act has made you, yre no more now.
You must forget your parentage to me:
Yare the deeds creature; by that name
You lose your first condition, and I challenge you,
As peace and innocency has turnd you out,
And made you one with me.
(III.4)
3. Thomas Middleton: Women Beware Women
The womans sexual transgression in the tragedy Women Beware
Women is shown in terms of her literal movement away from the symbol
of privacy, the home (Loomba, 68).
She was but one day abroad, but ever since
Shes grown so cutted, theres no speaking to her
(III.1)
It can be claimed that the main characters, Bianca and Leantio, are another
variety of William Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet. Despite the fact that
Biancas tendency towards the sensual transgression is caused by society,
she is abused, she is perceived as a woman who becomes a victim but also
as a woman who take an active part concerning the sin.

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2.3 Shakespeares Tragedies


Shakespeare uses a specific style of writing and an unusually wide register of
human experience, which is included in his works. The characters appearing in
the plays are very diverse, such as: Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othelo, Iago,
Rosalind, Ophelia, and more. Their diversity gives Shakespeare's stories thrill
and ambiguity. He rarely thinks up his own stories. Mostly he was inspired by
somebody elses stories or legends and then he completed the speech. It is
claimed that the unique language he used has no competition in the English
drama. According to Hilsk, Shakespeare was able to encompass both
Renaissance rhetoric and poetics, but in this area he displays also visionary
skills. For example in the comedy Love's Labour's Lost he manages to
anticipate the modern linguistic experiments of the Avant-garde. Long before
Edward Lear who is also called Lewis Carroll he works with nonsense and
uses a variety of puns and allegories (29).
Shakespeare creates a unique language of love in his supreme tragedies
affecting the language of heaven, and his verses are characterized by delicate
musicality. Shakespeares way of expressing is diverse and unrepeatable and
"He works with a contemporary erotic overlord slang and with monumental
royal jambe as well (29).
Shakespeare was characterized by the fact that he does not give the spectators
and readers and gives a clear result, but leaves it up to the individual to make
his or her own opinion about the particular issue. He is a poet who tells the
human stories, but not a painter of ideas. His plays are notebooks of a
Renaissance thinker who works with the reader and asks him for his own
views, which is reflected in the timelessness of Shakespeare's plays.
He prefers using of reflections and mirrors, which can be understood as an
image or imitation of reality but also as subject of imagination, ideas about the
world, the law of nature and man and the relationship between reality,
presence and history.

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Shakespeare's unique language, the ambiguity of the characters, allegories, and


symbols make the author's work complicated, contradictory but also
mysterious.

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3. Practical Part

3.1 Characters of Passion


3.1.1 Ophelia
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows
O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
(III.1. 164-167)

Authors Inspiration
It is assumed that the name Ophelia could be taken from a famous Italian
pastoral novel called Arcadia where the name Ophelia belonged to a male
character. However, the portrait of the tragic Ophelia as such was probably
influenced by memories of Shakespeares childhood. When he was sixteen
years old, a young unmarried girl, Catherine Hamlet, drowned herself in the
river Avon not far away from the town of Stratford, and this unhappy event
firmly engraved in boy's fantasy, which after years created the vision of a
touching girl called Ophelia (Sldek 410).

Beloved Daughter and Sister


Ophelia represents the character of a young, naive and innocent girl who comes
from a noble family of Denmark. She is a daughter of Polonius, the Lord
Chamberlain of Claudiuss court. It is evident that she is not familiar with
matters of state and she spends her spare time by doing the needlepoint and by
gathering flowers. In general, she does not talk too much and when she does,
the audience has the impression of the intention that she hides her feelings.
Therefore, it can be supposed that Shakespeare wanted the readers to think
about the complexity of her character and not just to get the clear character
description through long dialogues. Nevertheless, even these few words help
to understand her personality. Although at first glance she seems angelic and
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very fragile, sometimes her sexuality breaks through the surface.


Since her childhood, Ophelia was raised by her father according to the actual
traditions of obedience. She is used to blindly follow orders of someone else
and in this case, people who have the strongest authority over Ophelia are two
men, her father and brother. Consequently, it may be inferred that she
symbolizes a mentally weak woman who is not experienced at all, and her
inability to make a personal opinion leads to the fact that she is easy to
manipulate.
In the scene where the brother, Leartes, asks her to discourage herself from
getting closer with Hamlet, she begins to hesitate about Hamlets love. Leartes
does not want Hamlet to let Ophelia down. It can be assumed that his attitudes
towards Hamlet were inspired by his father who is in permanent contact with
Kings family.
LAERTES:
For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favours,
Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood;
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting;
The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
No more.
OPHELIA:
No more but so?
LAERTES:
Think it no more.
(I.3. 6-13)

Shortly afterwards, Polonius also wants to learn about the relationship between
Hamlet and his daughter and despite her deep love for Hamlet, she is willing to
obey fathers orders. She stops seeing him and she does not accept his letters
any more. Observing how Ophelia depicts Hamlets feelings for her, no
mention about her affection for him can be found.
POLONIUS:
Marry, well bethought!
'tis told me, he hath very oft of late
Given private time to you, and you yourself
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous.
If it be so as so 'tis put on me,

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And that in way of cautionI must tell you,


You do not understand yourself so clearly
As it behooves my daughter and your honour.
What is between you? Give me up the truth.
OPHELIA:
He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.
POLONIUS:
Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
OPHELIA:
I do not know, my lord, what I should think.
(I.3. 96-110)

Her father and brother love Ophelia enormously and they make great efforts to
protect her. But a question may be raised whether the father and brother act in
this way in order to protect Ophelia or to protect the reputation of their family.
Polonius fears that his daughter could be seduced and abused by Hamlet just
because of Ophelias indiscretion which would have serious consequences for
the good name of the family. According to the unwritten rules of high society,
the whole family would be put in a bad light.
LAERTES:
Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmast'red importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.
The chariest maid is prodigal enough
If she unmask her beauty to the moon.
Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes.
The canker galls the infants of the spring
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.
Be wary then; best safety lies in fear.
Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.
OPHELIA:
I shall the effect of this good lesson keep
As watchman to my heart.
(I.3. 32-49)

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Unfulfilled Love
At first, the young love between Ophelia and Hamlet develops very hopefully.
Hamlet proves affection for Ophelia who reciprocates his love. However, the
modifications of Hamlet's state of mind have a dramatic impact on their
relationship. In deeper analysis of Hamlets speech, it could be assumed that he
still has deep feelings for Ophelia and eventually, after the revenge of Hamlets
father, he would like to get together with her.
Ophelia is forced by her father and the King to find out whether her refusal to
continue the relationship made Hamlet insane. After having heard Hamlets
response, the King believes that there must be another cause of his madness.
But it can be observed that Ophelia is very disappointed with Hamlets
confession. She is not able to protect herself against him and the answers
without any self-confidence prove her inner pain. Moreover, nobody cares
about her feelings; she remains lonely without any support although her father
is present at this moment.
HAMLET:
Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform
honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of
honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was
sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did
love you once.
OPHELIA:
Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
HAMLET:
You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot
so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I
loved you not.
OPHELIA:
I was the more deceived.

(III.1. 120-129)
It is obvious that even at this difficult moment she says very little. When
Hamlet quits, the only revelation of her feelings in the whole tragedy can be
brought to notice. These feelings of frustration, betrayal and even disillusion
gradually bring her to knees.
OPHELIA:
O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!

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The courtier's, scholar's, soldier's, eye, tongue, sword,


The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

(III.1. 159-170)
Probably it is not a coincidence that while talking about Hamlet, Ophelia
unintentionally predicts her own destiny. Her voice will jangle, like sweet
bells, she will be soon, that unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth that
blasted with ecstasy.

Insanity
As Hilsk states, Hamlet kills Ophelia before he kills Polonius' body (508).
Having experienced Hamlets cruel humiliation and hearing about Hamlets
murder of her father, Ophelia begins to feel very confused. She does not have
any strength to alleviate her suffering and she goes insane. In this state of
madness, she reveals her opinion on young men who are, according to her, the
epitome of the exploitation and unfaithfulness:
OPHELIA:
Indeed, without an oath, I'll make an end on't!
[Sings.]
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do't if they come to't
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled me,
You promis'd me to wed.'
(He answers:)
'So would I 'a' done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.'

(IV.5. 63-71)
20

Hilsk suggests that Ophelias character is associated with two important


themes of water and flowers. Her flowers carry ambiguous meaning that
balance between traditional or flower speech and the feminine sensuality.
Ophelias violet is a traditional symbol of melancholy, fennel the symbol of
flattery, columbine the symbol of ingratitude and infidelity, rue the symbol
of mourning and wishes. However, the wreaths woven of wildflowers, which
decorates Ophelias body resembling to a bride of the death, have obvious
sexual connotations. The theme of water traditionally stands for madness and
grief of women and girls (518).
LAERTES:
Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
It is our trick; nature her custom holds,
Let shame say what it will. When these are gone,
The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord.
I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze
But that this folly drowns it.

(IV.7. 201-207)
Funeral
PRIEST:
Her obsequies have been as far enlarged
As we have warranty. Her death was doubtful;
And, but that great command o'ersways the order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged
Till the last trumpet. For charitable prayers,
Shards, flints, and pebbles should be thrown on her.

(V.1. 219-224 )
This speech clearly displays the customs of the Victorian era, when, according
to a law, suicides could not have a proper Christian funeral because their
action was considered to have been a serious sin. Considering the fact that the
person who killed himself or herself could not confess the sins, committing
suicide was considered to be more serious offense against the church law than
the murder of another person. But even during this period, two exceptions
existed. If a madman did not realize what he was doing, it was still possible to
21

organize a church funeral.


While closely examining the text, it can be suggested that this case is not about
a concession made by the Church because of Ophelias madness, but it is done
under the pressure of the most influential person, the King. When the king
decides to circumvent the supreme law of the Church, it is then obvious how
important Ophelias character is. Even after the death, the author sets a high
value on her character. The King takes advantage of Ophelias death so as to
manipulate Learthes in order to become the King's sword.

Importance of Ophelia in the tragedy


We could not deny a great importance of Ophelias role in the story. Her death
results in an unexpected twist in the plot towards the end of the tragedy. When
she dies, both her brother and Hamlet have nothing to live for any more.
Finally, the king gets "the tool" to kill Hamlet. As Leartes remains the only one
member of his beloved family and he has nothing to loose, nothing restrains
him from the revenge of his fathers murder as well as of the subsequent state
of insanity of her sister caused by Hamlets acts. By the end of the play, it is
the character of Ophelia who is regarded as the tragic climax of the story.

Conclusion
Ophelia finds herself in a position of a single woman within a patriarchal
society which is the main reason why she is often pulled apart by orders and
suggestions proposed by her father, brother, the King and Hamlet. Her
personality is torn to pieces by two commands: the need to obey her father and
the voice of the heart that belongs to Hamlet. At the moment when these orders
do not succeed or disappear she does not know what to do and she is lost.
Consequently, she goes mad and dies, which is the only way for her to deliver
herself from patriarchy.

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3. 1.2 Juliet
And yet I wish but for the thing I have.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

(II.2. 138-141)

Authors Inspiration
The play Romeo and Juliet is based on a poem called The Tragical Historye of
Romeus and Juliet written by Arthur Broke. It is a translation of an Italian story
Giulietta by Matto Bondello. Both works depict the story of a tragic love of two
real people who lived in Verona. Shakespeares main inspiration was Brookes
story. It is assumed that he did not use the original story by Bondello at all. The
name of Juliet occurs as an example of faithful love (Spencer 217 218).

Innocent Girl
When the play begins, Juliet is perceived as a charm, vulnerable and immature
girl who has not reached her fourteenth birthday yet. She acts as an innocent and
nave child. Meanwhile, the audience can notice neither intensity nor complexity
of her character.

Love at First Sight


William Shakespeare paid exceptional attention to the character of Juliet. She
is considered to be the central point of interest and focus of the whole tragedy.
For the first time, Romeo meets Juliet in Capulets house at the fair. In noisy
environment of the carnival, among many tables and dancing couples, Romeo
sees Juliet and they both fall in love at first sight which is a common
phenomenon used in Shakespeares works. But this particular meeting is a
unique theatrical event because it is a sonnet that will play a major role there.
In the middle of the noisy celebration, the author creates through the sonnet a
very intimate space for the couple. Juliet is charmed by the unknown boy.
23

ROMEO:
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
JULIET:
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers kiss.
ROMEO:
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
JULIET:
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
ROMEO:
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do!
They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
JULIET:
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers sake.
(I.5. 98-110)

Heroic Womanhood
The contentious theme of forbidden love evokes Shakespeare to centre the
play on Juliet because women are believed to be able to arouse stronger
feelings concerning either love or hate. It is comprehensible that she, as a
woman, is associated with deeper passion than Romeo.
Through their love Juliet blossoms into a real heroine. Consequently, her
adulthood is attained thanks to her heroism. But it should be added that unlike
many other heroines, she behaves like a heroine without perceiving it. It is the
inseparable part of her personality. Whenever a possibility occurs, she cannot
act differently.
The most impressive Juliets love confession to Romeo is based on paradox of
images of light and dark. When Romeo says goodbye to Juliet and the lovers
have to be apart, the light of the day turns into the darkness of the night.

Loneliness
When Romeo leaves, Juliet founds herself without anyone with whom she
24

could share feelings and emotions. There is nobody who would give her any
advice on what to do. A fourteen-year-old girl remains lonely under the
permanent pressure of the father who forces her to marry Paris:
JULIET:
Good father, I beseech you on my knees,
Hear me with patience but to speak a word.
(III.5. 162-164)

Then she looks for help from her mother, still a young woman who never
seems to show any interest in her daughter:
JULIET:
Is there no pity sitting in the clouds
That sees into the bottom of my grief?
O sweet my mother, cast me not away!
Delay this marriage for a month, a week;
(III.5. 205-208)

At long last, full of desperation and sincerity, Julie turns to the Nurse:
JULIET:
O God!O nurse, how shall this be prevented?
Some comfort, Nurse.
(III.5. 213-214)

Desperation
In the second scene of the third act when the Nurse of Juliet announces that
he is dead. Juliet thinks that the person who was killed was Romeo, but in
fact it was her cousin Tybalt who became a victim of Romeo. This initially
slight misunderstanding leads to Juliets very tragic outburst of desperate
emotions.
NURSE:
Ah, well-a-day! he's dead, he's dead, he's dead!
We are undone, lady, we are undone!
Alack the day! he's gone, he's kill'd, he's dead!
JULIET:
Can heaven be so envious?
NURSE:
Romeo can,
Though heaven cannot. O Romeo, Romeo!
Who ever would have thought it? Romeo!

25

JULIET:
What devil art thou that dost torment me thus?
This torture should be roar'd in dismal hell.
Hath Romeo slain himself? Say thou but I,
And that bare vowel I shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice.
I am not I, if there be such an I;
Or those eyes shut that make thee answer I.
If he be slain, say I; or if not, no.
Brief sounds determine of my weal or woe.

(III.2 39-54)
She seems rather distracted and she fails to be herself. The following speech is
not usual for her character at all. She speaks like someone else. This particular
way of speaking is rather typical for Romeo who speaks in the artificial
manner at the beginning of the tragedy when he talks with the conventional
rhetoric about unfulfilled love with Rosaline. This particular state of Juliets
mind represents her hopeless expression of her subconscious, which is more
complex than it could be expected.
JULIET:
O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In mortal paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O, that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!

(III.2. 76-88)
The turning point of Juliets unusual behaviour occurs when the nurse begins
to condemn Romeo because of the murder he has been accused of.
Consequently, to demonstrate her commitment to Romeo, Juliet returns to her
own way of speaking because she can not stand this condemnation; she defies
and she defends the lover. Furthermore, she proves the limitless devotion to
Romeo by forgiving him the murder of her beloved cousin.

26

Through the character of Juliet, the author proves his notable skills for the
introduction of vague and ambiguous language into the tragedy. Juliet
manages to speak in the ambiguous manner with the Nurse in the fifth scene of
the third act when lady Capulet is convinced that her daughter mourns for the
death of the beloved cousin Tybalt. On closer examination of the scene, it is
obvious that Juliet talks about Romeos expulsion from Verona.
JULIET:
Indeed I never shall be satisfied
With Romeo till I behold him dead
Is my poor heart so for a kinsman vex'd.
Madam, if you could find out but a man
To bear a poison, I would temper it;
That Romeo should, upon receipt thereof,
Soon sleep in quiet. O, how my heart abhors
To hear him nam'd and cannot come to him,
To wreak the love I bore my cousin Tybalt
Upon his body that hath slaughter'd him!
(III.5. 96-105)

Tragic Victims of Destiny


There is no doubt that Romeo loves Juliet. However, to make such a serious
decision of committing suicide is the most extreme proof of love not very
common for the mans character. Juliets inner emotions justify her choice to
kill herself as the highest representation of her feelings. Only the death can
assure the preservation of their love.
As the audience sees this immense love from Juliets point of view, they also
must see the irony in her depiction of their relationship which she rejects to
describe.
JULIET:
Conceit, more rich in matter than in words,
Brags of his substance, not of ornament.
They are but beggars that can count their worth;
But my true love is grown to such excess,
I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth.
(II.6. 30-35)

It is not possible to explain their deep love in words. While Juliet represents
27

the passion and imagination, Romeo stands for the action in the play. In other
words, the role of Romeo acts according to Juliets initiation.

Importance of Juliet in the Tragedy


Juliet represents the most important character in the tragedy. Consciously or
unconsciously, it is her who stands for the determiner of events in the play, not
Romeo. Through her temper and happiness Romeo emerges from a dream
world he has been living in. She saves his soul from being imprisoned under
the influence of counterfeit feelings and emotions. Her simulated death incites
him to kill himself and shortly afterwards their death results in a reconciliation
of the warring families.

Conclusion
In the course of history, love has driven men and women to strange extremes.
In this tragedy it is the love and passion that help Juliet to attain her
womanhood. She does not want to be dependent on parents any more. Being
prepared to take full responsibility for her actions, she expresses a desire to
make decisions about her own life and to emerge from unconditional
subordination to the parents. To prove her inner strength and devotion, she
allows Romeo to leave Verona because otherwise, he would be arrested and
convicted. Romeos love is the most important thing in the world for her. At
the end, she commits suicide, which is from a religious point of view one of
the most serious crimes, rather then to live without him.

3.2 Characters of Afffection


3.2.1 Cordelia
Mine enemy's dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire; and wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine, and rogues forlorn,
28

In short and musty straw?


(IV.7. 42-46)
Authors Inspiration
William Shakespeare found the inspiration for the tragedy King Lear in
several works. The primary source of the tragedy remains the Historia Regum
Britanie written in the twelfth century. In this particular adaptation of King
Lears story, the English writer Geoffrey of Monmouth brings on the stage the
role of Cordelia as the English Queen. But Cordelias name is probably
derived from the Spencers The Faerie Queene. Shakespeare was not the first
writer who dramatized the subject. The author of a play called The True
Chronicle History of King Lear and his three daughters which was performed
in public for the first time around the year 1594, eleven years before
Shakespeares adaptation (Spencer 325).

Portrait of the Woman


In general, the author presents two portraits of women. The contrast between
them is provided by King Lears daughters: the character of Cordelia on the
one side and Goneril and Regan on the other. As for Goneril and Regan, they
are impossible to be characterized as individuals because of so much
monotony concerning their nature and comportment. Without affection and
disgrace, both heroines are actuated by an intense and evil furiousness. On the
other hand, the youngest Kings daughter Cordelia is turned out to be the exact
opposite of her older sisters.
She is depicted as an obedient, beautiful and generous girl. Her role is also
significant for her deep affection. Moreover, to personify her quality of virtue,
Cordelia is described in a religious manner at every point and in every motion.
This relationship among siblings of the same gender is one of the recurring
themes in the tragedy. Three sisters whose desire is to gain the love and
attention of Lear prove evidence that they find it very difficult to relate to each
other.
29

Speaking is Silver, Silence is Golden


Observing the sisters speeches displaying the love to their father, it is
perceptible that whereas Goneril talks about the impossibility to put her
feelings towards him into the words, Cordelia has the courage to do what
Goneril blarneys. She is the only one who is familiar with true characters of
her sisters. In her eyes, they are perceived through heart in preference to the
reason. Thus, she dares to act or feel but she is not willing to pronounce what
Goneril and Regan intend to do. The more powerful the feelings are, the more
silent her mouth becomes.
GONERIL
Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e'er loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
CORDELIA
[Aside] What shall Cordelia do?
Love, and be silent.
(I.1. 55-63)
Even though Cordelia never says anything that would suggest her high
intellect, she is not able to prove her wisdom in any another way than by
acting. She seems to be too clever to manifest her intellect. When it is up to
her to express love to her father she does not know what to say. In fact,
Cordelias silence has a crucial impact. This silence appears to be a very
radical act of the whole tragedy because it becomes an inconspicuous code of
the emotional confession. She draws the attention to the insincerity of her
sisters by refusing to say what she was expected to. The following silence has
thus distinctive consequences. This silence method used by the author shows
that what is done and what is said has a hidden meaning.
KING LEAR
Strive to be interess'd; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
30

CORDELIA
Nothing, my lord.
KING LEAR
Nothing!
CORDELIA
Nothing.
KING LEAR
Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
CORDELIA
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.
KING LEAR
How, how, Cordelia! mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.
(I.1. 89-99)
Cordelia inherits her fathers stubbornness which paradoxically causes the
subsequent drama resulting in the separation regardless the fact that they are very
close to each other. The rate of this misunderstanding is amplified in the moment
when the King and his daughter start to exchange certain replicas that in the final
interpretation mean the same.
KING LEAR
So young, and so untender?
CORDELIA
So young, my lord, and true.
(I.1. 112-114)
Consequently, the angry King declares that Cordelia will get nothing from the
royal wealth. He then asks her suitors whether anyone of them wants to marry
such a poor girl. To his surprise, the King of France would like to and he gladly
accepts the Kings offering. When leaving the palace, sisters treat Cordelia
dismissively and without any respect.

Fool
As the audience is not in contact with the character of Cordelia who is offstage
during the middle part of the play, the author brings on the scene a new character
of the Fool who closely resemblances to Cordelia (Hilsk 604). They have
many things in common. Regarding the coincidence that he is not present during
31

Cordelias banishment and he leaves the scene before her return, their characters
could be easily switched over. Despite the fact that he is absent in the first scene,
it is obvious that he bears the injustice which was committed to Ophelia very
badly. After Cordelias expulsion he gradually fades away. This depiction of his
falling gives the spectator the opportunity to deduce how Cordelia comes up to
her banishment .

Fatal Reappearance
At the end, Cordelia reappears in the most emotive and touching scene with her
father. King admits that he was wrong and wants his favourite daughter to forgive
him. All of a sudden, the clarity of Cordelias character, her deep and silent
feelings, the despair and disgrace of the King are shown to the audience in
several sentences. The spectator is forced to guess from Cordelias brief speech
what a powerful outburst of emotions takes place in her head. By all accounts she
would prefer to become mad herself instead of him because of her dutiful
affection for her beloved father. She decides to tell him the simple truth in order
to relieve his pain.
KING LEAR
Where have I been? Where am I? Fair daylight?
I am mightily abused. I should e'en die with pity,
To see another thus. I know not what to say.
I will not swear these are my hands: let's see;
I feel this pin prick. Would I were assured
Of my condition!
CORDELIA
O, look upon me, sir,
And hold your hands in benediction o'er me:
No, sir, you must not kneel.
KING LEAR
Pray, do not mock me:
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
32

For, as I am a man, I think this lady


To be my child Cordelia.
CORDELIA
And so I am, I am.
(IV.7. 59-80)
Cordelias affection and feelings for King Lear are not judged by her distant
speeches and similarly, the resentment towards Goneril and Regan ought not to
be measured by her meek words. Thus, there cannot be more important and
typical of aspect Cordelias character than one sentence at the moment when both
she and Lear are made prisoners by the sisters. The bitterness of this situation is
really ironic. Even at such a crucial time she reduces the extensive feelings to few
phrases.
CORDELIA
We are not the first
Who, with best meaning, have incurr'd the worst.
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
Myself could else out-frown false fortune's frown.
Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?
(IV.3. 4-8)
The author allocates to Cordelias death a symbolic meaning. Regarding the fact
that her role is portrayed as a saint one, it could be assumed that she will end as a
tragic victim. Since the very beginning, her character is predetermined to die.
Apparently, she is put to death because the world is not good enough for her to
live in.

Importance of Cordelia in the tragedy


After the kingdom is divided between Goneril and Regan, they are entrusted with
power to control and influence directly what will happen. The role of Cordelia in
the play stands for the main starter of the plot. At the moment when she refuses
to obey Kings wish to describe the love for him, the action gains the speed. Lear
is obliged to spend the rest of the life under the patronage of two daughters who
blinded the old man by hypocritical flatteries which practically result in his
madness. The symbolic reunion of the father and daughter effects the re33

establishment of the kingdom but also the victory of love and mercy over the
malice and hate.

Conclusion
The character of Cordelia represents in the tragedy King Lear a heroine who lifts
and carries onwards the imaginary burden of humanistic heroes. She promises
the assurance for the hopeful future. She uses her quality of selflessness and
humanity in order to defeat the criminal condescension of her sisters. However,
despite of this fact or perhaps because of it, she has to perish because her blessed
soul belongs neither to the past nor to the present, but to the future. Cordelia is a
personification of a dreamlike and utopian promise that better times are coming
and even at the moment of her cruel death she looks up to the future.

3.2.2 Desdemona
If I do vow a friendship, I'll perform it
(III.3. 23)

Authors Inspiration
Othello is a tragedy inspired by an allegedly true novella called Un capitano
moro in the collection Hecatommithi by an Italian author Giraldi Battista Cinthio.
It is assumed that William Shakespeare used the original Italian version as a
primary source and there seems to be no other versions of the story. Desdemona
is a name adapted from a Greek name Disdemona, which could be translated
"unfortunate (Spencer 319 320).

Girl Becomes a Woman


Desdemona is a daughter of the Venetian senator called Brabantio. She is a
modest, gentle woman who represents the most straight and self-possessed
woman character of the tragedy. Regarding the language issue, she does not use
long and comlex sentences as men do. However when she speaks, every word
34

has a particular value.


Before the time when Desdemona is brought on the scene, the author presents a
method of introducing her character by a conversation among three people: her
father, Iago and Roderingo. Surprisingly, everyones opinion about her differs
markedly. The only person who considers Desdemona to be a woman of good
manners is her father. The others point out that she is not worthy of Brabantios
confidence any more because of her elopement with Othello.
To make this situation clear, Desdemona appears personally before the assembly
including the Duke of Venice. She destroys her idealized portrait of a shy and
innocent girl. She avows her real feelings towards Othello and denies the
imputation of having been seduced by him. After the courteous and honest
declaration of the obligation to her father, Desdemona utters several provocative
sentences proclaiming the transfer of her love from her father to her husband.

DESDEMONA:
My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor, my lord.
(I.3. 194-203)

Such a speech in front of the sovereign and many other important people
including her father proves her inner strength and independence. On closer
examination, it is clear that she breaks several strict social norms of that time.
Firstly, Desdemona, forgetting her household duties, is charmed by Othellos
tales telling about exotic countries and military achievements, begins to meet
Othello secretly. Secondly, she becomes engaged to him without fathers
permission and the marriage takes place shortly afterwards. She decides to marry
Othello no matter what. Consequently, it could be expected that the audience of
seventeen century might have been disapproved of her temper. Such an open35

minded way of thinking and acting was considered as inappropriate and


dangerous at that time.

Desdemona and Othello


Desdemonas affection to Othello really fills her soul with bravery and strength:
she is courageous to connect her life with a man for whom she has very deep
feelings and daring to suffer with him and for him. In her eyes, Othello stands for
the hero of several adventurous exploits who at the same time wants to feel love.
Desdemona is an exemplary woman to Othello and she proves her affection by
following him to Cyprus.
Her affection and devotion to Othello allow the audience to show another aspect
which is not in accordance with the conception of typical woman in the
renaissance period such as Desdemonas determination to overcome the standards
of sexual morality. She is not afraid of speaking about her willingness to satisfy
all husbands wishes and desires.
DESDEMONA:
That I did love the Moor to live with him,
My downright violence and storm of fortunes
May trumpet to the world. My heart's subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord:
I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honors and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.
So that, dear lords, if I be left behind,
A moth of peace, and he go to the war,
The rites for which I love him are bereft me,
And I a heavy interim shall support
By his dear absence. Let me go with him.
(I.3. 264-275)

There is no doubt about the unconditional love between Othello and Desdemona.
She is ready to be dependent on her husband. However, considering the context
of contemporary debates about marriage and sexual desires, her words sound like
the declaration of sexual independence.
Simultaneously, Desdemonas love for Othello is not just a game of intense
36

opposition. In deeper analysis, Shakespeares intention referring to a humanist


need of racial equality should not be ignored. White womans deep feelings to a
black man cannot be random in this case. The author points out that even this
relationship could survive if the racial prejudices would not exist.

Disillusion
When Othello dishonors Desdemona, she forgives him and tries to find any
excuse for his strange behavior. She cannot understand Othellos sudden turning
against her, she believes in him. To sum up, her character is so ingenuous that she
is not able to imagine the existence of guilt in other people.
Othello blames her for being unfaithful to him. Most importantly, he does not
hesitate and he flings the bitterest accusations at her. She is shocked and
paralyzed by his statements. Neither explanation nor opposition can be seen in
her reaction.
DESDEMONA:
Good friend, go to him, for by this light of heaven,
I know not how I lost him. Here I kneel:
If e'er my will did trespass gainst his love
Either in discourse of thought or actual deed,
Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense,
Delighted them in any other form,
Or that I do not yet, and ever did,
And ever will, though he do shake me off
To beggarly divorcement, love him dearly,
Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much,
And his unkindness may defeat my life,
But never taint my love. I cannot say whore.
It doth abhor me now I speak the word;
To do the act that might the addition earn
Not the world's mass of vanity could make me.
(IV.1. 170-184)

As time passes, Desdemona does not feel sure about her attitudes towards the
question of loyalty in the marriage. She gradually loses the illusion. While
preparing to bed she sings a very symbolic song telling about a woman who was
deceived by her husband. By this song, she admits that the guilt of unfaithfulness
really exists and that deep affection for a husband is endangered.
37

DESDEMONA
The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow.
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften'd the stones
Sing willow, willow, willow
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve
I call'd my love false love; but what said he then?
Sing willow, willow, willow:
If I court moe women, you'll couch with moe men
(IV.3. 43-59)

At the moment when she finds out that Othello really aims to kill her, she begins
to defend herself in a courageous manner by proclaiming her purity and
innocence. As the tragedy comes to the end, Desdemona reconciles herself to the
lost of her love. Nevertheless, she proves the never-ending loyalty to Othello
even in the moment of her murder. Being afraid of losing his love, she protects
him despite of the consequences of his action.
DESDEMONA:
A guiltless death I die.
EMILIA:
O, who hath done this deed?
DESDEMONA:
Nobody; I myself. Farewell;
Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell!
(V.2. 146-149)

Importance of Desdemona in the tragedy


During the play Desdemona embodies all the gentleness, the sweetness and
attached affection which is placed by the author in designed contrast with the
character of Iago is not afraid of abusing Desdemonas nature in order to take his
revenge on Othello for not having been promoted to the position of Othellos
lieutenant. He is very well aware that the most painful revenge would be carried
out through Othellos beloved Desdemona.
Also, it could be suggested that her death carries one of the most symbolic value.
38

Apparently, the authors intention is to point out that such a confident being
cannot survive in the society which is ruled by the selfishness, the envious
careerism, the warlike aggression and the racial prejudices.

Conclusion
William Shakespeare presents Desdemona as a noble woman, a perfectly
educated daughter of a leading Venetian senator. She embodies a true tragic
heroine of that time: she marries a Moor against the father's will, against all
prejudices and without any hesitation she follows him on the island of Cyprus to
the war against the Turks. Her bravery and strength are also accompanied by a
boundless devotion. Unfortunately, she is as idealistic as her husband and they
both have no idea that the society could be engulfed by selfishness. What is more,
as she remains so inexperienced concerning the issue of marriage, she does not
manage to dispel the impending jealousy of her husband and quite on the
contrary, she unwittingly stirs it up. On the other hand, it would be exaggerated to
claim that it was just Othellos jealousy that kills Desdemona. She becomes a
victim of the naivety, of deluded belief in her husband and of losing faith in
human dignity.

39

4. Conclusion
On the basis of the analysis of Shakespeares female characters I've come in my
Bachelor thesis to the following conclusions.
William Shakespeare shows women in the unusual roles of a wide variety of
character features. His female characters are able to manifest female
emancipation and to resist the contemporary standards which does not respond to
a typical portrait of a Renaissance woman. The heroines of his tragedies are often
at the crossroads. Even though they make their own choices, their surroundings
force them to obey laws and rules of that time. Since the death of selected female
characters is always, either directly or indirectly caused by a man, a question can
be raise: How would have truly developed female characters, if women had freed
from male influence? This scenario was at that time unthinkable. Perhaps
Shakespeare himself was trying to suggest that social coercion of a woman could
become intolerable. The women silently suffering from lack of love either from
a lover or a father, without the possibility to freely express themselves and decide
for themselves, are driven to the margins of society is independent from a social
circles in which they live. It can be observed that with a growing position in the
social scale the heroine is increasingly oppressed by the rules and norms of that
time.
The Bachelor thesis focuses on the division of the heroines according to their
main character features. The characters of passion and imagination, Ophelia and
Juliet, are doomed to suffering from the beginning to the very end. Their
artlessness, innocence and naive ideas about make them look at the world through
rose-colored glasses. The subsequent awakening to the real world becomes the
major stumbling block. Although Juliet, unlike Ophelia, can make decisions for
herself and resist the former standards, she does not have any chance to succeed.
Their disillusion and surroundings disinterest in their feelings prompt the
desperate response on their parts. In comparison with Juliet and Ophelia,
Desdemona and Cordelia are ruled by the endless affection and it is the affection
that will cause their death. Desdemona becomes a victim of the affection for her
husband Othello and Cordelia dies because of the affection for her father.
40

The division into chapters according to the system described in the introduction
helps to understand which aspect influenced, or more precisely, could affect
William Shakespeares writing. This information can serve to a deeper
comprehension of the studied characters. The character analysis is followed by
several major turning points and images completing the characterization of the
particular woman. Obviously, this division predicates that although the observed
heroines are of different characters and face to various obstacles, all of them have
common features, that become fatal to their lives. All heroines come from the
upper social class and have no ideas about the real world until the moment when
they are forced by circumstances to confess that there is a harsh truth to face.
None of them is able to cope up with this situation and they head toward the
extinction.
.
In general, tragic ends of Shakespeares heroines are caused by two
circumstances. The first circumstance stems from the fact that the heroines
become victims of heroes who try to return through the unwavering personal
integrity and moral purity to old-world ideals that are crushed by historic
development. The second reason represents the courageous even utopian efforts
of male heroes to get nobility and build humanistic human relationships, which
can not compete against the fierce discipline of the new world dominated by
power and money. Despite being directed inexorably to a tragic end, all analyzed
heroines - Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona and Cordelia, remain winners. Catharsis
emerging in the tragic ending of the plays outlasts in the viewer or reader long
after the tragedy ends. For example, in Romeo and Juliet both warring families
reconcile over the death bodies of lovers, and together they build a statue of pure
gold symbolizing that cruel times and time as such can be overcome by the power
of love.
This bachelor thesis has been written with knowing that the meaning of
Shakespeare's plays is not something fixed that can be fully explained and given
to the audience as the final reproduction. We have to be aware that the
Renaissance audience perceived Shakespeare's plays quite differently than the
contemporary reader or viewer. It was due to the diversity of moral standards and
41

different opinions about women in the Renaissance, who lacked any female
emancipation. Perhaps it is the author's astuteness, apparent from a large number
of symbols, allegories and ambiguities which is timelessness and which surely
carries mystery throughout the centuries.

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5. Table of Contents
Primary Sources:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. S.l. : Thomas Nelson,
1997. Print.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Kenneth Muir. London and New York :
Routledge, 1972. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Kenneth Muir. Harmondsworth : Penguin
Books, 1968. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Brian Gibbon. S.l. : Thomas
Nelson, 1997. Print.
Secondary Sources:
Adams, Joseph Quincy. A life of William Shakespeare. London: Constable,
1923. Print.
Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare: the World as a Stage. London: Harper Perennial,
2008. Print.
Bamber, Linda. Comic Women, Tragic Men: a Study of Gender and Genre in
Shakespeare. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982. Print.
Dodd, A. Life in Elizabethan England. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1961.
Print.
Fripp, Edgar Innes. Shakespeare : Man and Artist. London: Oxford University
Press, 1938. Print.
Ford, Boris. The Age of Shakespeare. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982.
Print.
Harris, Frank. The Man Shakespeare and his Tragic Life Story. London: Frank
Palmer, 1909. Print.
Hilsk, Martin. Shakespeare a jevit svt. Praha: Academia, 2010. Print.
Hudson, Henry Norman. Shakespeare's his Life, Art, and Characters : with an
Historical Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Drama in England. Vol. 2.
4th ed. Boston: Gin and Company, 1872. Print.
Jameson, Anna. Shakespeare's Heroines. London: J.M. Dent, 1901. Print.
Loomba, Ania. Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama. Manchester Manchester
University Press: 1989. Print
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Shakespeare, William. Tragedie I. Trans. E.A. Saudek. Praha: Sttn


nakladatelstv krsn literatury, hudby a umn, 1958. Print.
Smeaton, William Henry Oliphant. Shakespeare, his Life and Work. London:
J.M. Dent, 1911. Print.
Spencer, Hazelton. The Art and Life of William Shakespeare. New York:
Harcourt, Brace, 1940. Print.
Stbrn, Zdenk. Djiny anglick literatury. Praha: Academia, 1987. Print.
West, Rebecca. The Court and the Castle. New Heaven: 1958. Print.
Wilson, J. The Elizabethan Shakespeare. London: Humphrey Milford, 1929.
Print.

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