ENGL3000 - final essay - ENGL-3000 Shakespeare for...

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ENGL-3000: Shakespeare for Non-Majors Dr. Rachael Deagman Final Essay Assignment: Topic #2A 11.20.15 The Roll of Gender in The Taming of the Shrew The theme of gender roles is something that appears quite often in William Shakespeare’s plays. As a playwright in Elizabethan England, the society in which Shakespeare lived had very strong, defined ideas for the roles that men and women should play in a functioning society. While Elizabethan England experienced many social changes of the Renaissance, its general culture was still dominated by the hierarchical system of the Middle Ages (Singman 10). Within that hierarchy, another dominant social structure was patriarchy, or a system of society in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Both the concepts of hierarchy and patriarchy were justified and carried out through the religious beliefs of the time period. So while the population held specific places in society, men and women individually assumed vastly different roles. In fact, gender was often a greater factor in determining roles than class due to ambiguity in class definition, and the fact that defining gender was simple, obvious, and relatively invariable (Singman 17). From a young age, men were expected to learn to work and establish themselves financially, while women learned household skills. Men were expected to be financially independent and stable prior to choosing a wife, especially in the upper-class (Singman 50). This establishment of clearly defined gender roles in Elizabethan England is something that Shakespeare both examines, and challenges in Taming of the Shrew. He used characters to show that though historical gender roles have been defined and rooted in the past, they are not absolute truth. He used his recurring theme of appearance vs. reality to demonstrate just how flawed assumptions regarding gender roles were at the time. Shakespeare challenged 1
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the idea of gender roles in this comedic play by first examining the assumption of what was considered masculine or feminine, and then challenging that assumption by showing characters that contradicted Elizabethan perceptions regarding gender. In the opening of Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare both reinforced and challenged gender roles during the Elizabethan time period. In the Induction 1, Christopher Sly makes his first entrance into the play. He is being thrown out of a local tavern for failing to pay his tab, but what is significant about the scene is the reversed gender roles. The person kicking Sly out of the bar is actually a woman, taking on an abnormal position of power over Sly, a man. Sly yells at the woman, saying he will not pay for the broken glasses and suggests that she, “go to thy bed and warm thee,” which is the first instance of overt sexism in the play (Induction.i.7). Rather than submit to Sly’s ranting, the woman responds that she will call the police and have him jailed. In this very opening scene Shakespeare establishes not only the superiority men felt they
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