Women In Shakespeare Henry V And Merchant Of Venic

eShakespeares presentation and portrayal of his female characters in TheMerchant of Venice and Henry V follows a typical pattern that is present in allof the Shakespearean plays that I have read so far. When looking closely at thefate of his female characters, this pattern becomes even more evident for itrepeats itself no matter how different the plays are. For instance, Henry V andThe Merchant of Venice are different in every respect. The female characters notonly come from different backgrounds, they also have very differentpersonalities. However, as different as these plays and their characters are,the female characters end up suffering the same fate. It doesnt seem tomatter whether they are born into a life of peasantry, nobility, or come fromroyalty, 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 Shakespeareswomen reflect his societys attitudes or that of his own. Henry V isdefinitely geared more for the male audience. There are only two or three actsin which a female character is present at all. When we first get a glimpse ofKatherine, she is trying to learn the English language. This scene is supposedto be somewhat comical, but are we really supposed to believe that while thereis a war raging throughout her country, that all Katherine is concerned about isthe fact that she cant speak the language of her enemy? This scene in whichwe get our first glimpse of Katherine is somewhat degrading to her character aswell as misleading. This leaves the audience with the inaccurate perception thatKatherine, and thus all women in general, care very little about whats goingon around them, and more about making themselves presentable. Afterall, isntKatherine the “Grand Prize” that will be awarded to the winning side? I findit very insulting that Shakespeares only significant female role in the wholeplay, is being used as a ” Prize” to be given away.

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Shakespeare doesnteven try to hide the fact that he is setting Katherine up as a prize. I findthis kind of arrogance to be offensive and very belittling to women. While themen are off fighting the battle, Katherine, the future Queen of France, does notappear to be a bit concerned over the fate of her own country. Instead, shereadily accepts her fate as she prepares herself for the role of Queen ofEngland. This play is very biased and one-sided.

Most of the English men areportrayed as noble, humble and superior to the French. Henry himself can do nowrong, and is portrayed through out the play as the best leader that the Englishhave ever had. This image that he can do no wrong and is as close to beingperfect as one can get, only holds up if you dont go digging around inHenrys past, in which he had been portrayed as a spoiled, pampered partyingboy. 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 Frenchwoman. The fact that Shakespeare subjected Katherines character, (she, whohad 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 theargument that Shakespeare had very little respect for women.

Katherinecharacter, 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, andpersonally, I wish it had been The last act, in which Henry easily manages towin the affections of Katherine, is a weak attempt on Shakespeares part toend the play on a an uplifting note. Its a shame that Shakespeare put it inat all because it definitely changes the way I feel about this play, inparticular, as well as the others. The women characters in The Merchant ofVenice are treated with much more respect than Katherine had been. However, Ihave a feeling that its only due to the fact that Shakespeare thinks less of”Jews” than he does women. The Merchant of Venice, does have a strong castof women who play very important roles throughout the play. These women are muchmore impressive than those found in Henry V. Portia, in particular, is by farthe superior one of the play.

Like Queen Elizabeth herself, Portias characteris a blending of femininity and masculinity. Portia has great strength ofcharacter, a quick wit, and is very well educated in the affairs of the worldaround her which is not a common theme in Shakespeares women. She is in everyrespect far superior to the fools she ends up being surrounded by. This mightnot have been the case if it werent for the fact that she, with all herintelligence and wit is still being dictated by a male. Her dead father dictatesher life through his will. I guess Shakespeare does not miss an opportunity toput even the most superior of all women in her place as he does just that toPortia.

For all her power, riches, and strengths, she still is no better thanthe man she marries. Her new husband, Barsenio, is no match for her, and yet heis handed over everything that belongs to her, including her soul. AlthoughShakespeare gives the very best of qualities and traits to the female characterPortia, he knows that in spite of her superiority and domination over all theother characters including the male characters, he can later strip her of allher greatness at any time, and does just that at the end of the play.

What Ifind so unbelievable is the way that Shakespeares women just hand overeverything including themselves, no questions asked, to a man they hardly knowand yet willingly and happily marry. I have a hard time believing that women ofhis day did this duty so graciously. Portias portrayal of being such a strongfigure and at the same time, a woman who is subservient to her times, makes mequestion whether Shakespeare really knew what was gong on in the minds of theElizabethan women. Just the fact that he disguises his women characters up asmen in order to bring them to higher levels, leads me to believe that he is justmaking it all up as he goes along.

Dont get me wrong, I love most ofShakespeares work. Its just his female characters that I have a problemwith. When reading Shakespeare it is easy to question what his motives mighthave been. Scholars have been doing this for centuries. We will never be sure asto whether or not Shakespeare was reflecting the times or his own feelings. Onemust keep in mind when reading Shakespeare that hs writings are not historicallyaccurate and therefore most likely only reflect his views on things. I only hopethat is the case, for I cant imagine women ever being so passive.

Could wehave really been the passive beings that Shakespeare portrays women as, Iseriously doubt it. Kelley Vickers-Sullivan Engl. 141-Mid-Term Essay March 30,2000 Youve Come a Long Way Baby! Shakespeares presentation and portrayalof his female characters in The Merchant of Venice and Henry V follows a typicalpattern that is present in all of the Shakespearean plays that I have read sofar.

When looking closely at the fate of his female characters, this patternbecomes even more evident for it repeats itself no matter how different theplays are. For instance, Henry V and The Merchant of Venice are different inevery respect. The female characters not only come from different backgrounds,they also have very different personalities. However, as different as theseplays and their characters are, the female characters end up suffering the samefate. It doesnt seem to matter whether they are born into a life ofpeasantry, nobility, or come from royalty, for they ultimately will end up beingno better than a piece of land, or cattle, or some possession that a man can ownand do with as he pleases. Scholars have been debating for centuries now as towhether Shakespeares women reflect his societys attitudes or that of hisown. Henry V is definitely geared more for the male audience. There are only twoor three acts in which a female character is present at all.

When we first get aglimpse of Katherine, she is trying to learn the English language. This scene issupposed to be somewhat comical, but are we really supposed to believe thatwhile there is a war raging throughout her country, that all Katherine isconcerned about is the fact that she cant speak the language of her enemy?This scene in which we get our first glimpse of Katherine is somewhat degradingto her character as well as misleading. This leaves the audience with theinaccurate perception that Katherine, and thus all women in general, care verylittle about whats going on around them, and more about making themselvespresentable. Afterall, isnt Katherine the “Grand Prize” that will beawarded to the winning side? I find it very insulting that Shakespeares onlysignificant female role in the whole play, is being used as a ” Prize” to begiven away. Shakespeare doesnt even try to hide the fact that he is settingKatherine up as a prize. I find this kind of arrogance to be offensive and verybelittling to women. While the men are off fighting the battle, Katherine, thefuture Queen of France, does not appear to be a bit concerned over the fate ofher own country.

Instead, she readily accepts her fate as she prepares herselffor the role of Queen of England. This play is very biased and one-sided. Mostof 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 bestleader that the English have ever had. This image that he can do no wrong and isas close to being perfect as one can get, only holds up if you dont godigging around in Henrys past, in which he had been portrayed as a spoiled,pampered partying boy. The French, in contrast to the English, are presented asarrogant, incompetent, and weak, very similar to what Henry had been not to longago.

There is, however, one thing lower than a Frenchman, and that is, a Frenchwoman. The fact that Shakespeare subjected Katherines character, (she, whohad 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 theargument that Shakespeare had very little respect for women. Katherinecharacter, 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, andpersonally, I wish it had been The last act, in which Henry easily manages towin the affections of Katherine, is a weak attempt on Shakespeares part toend the play on a an uplifting note. Its a shame that Shakespeare put it inat all because it definitely changes the way I feel about this play, inparticular, as well as the others.

The women characters in The Merchant ofVenice are treated with much more respect than Katherine had been. However, Ihave a feeling that its only due to the fact that Shakespeare thinks less of”Jews” than he does women. The Merchant of Venice, does have a strong castof women who play very important roles throughout the play.

These women are muchmore impressive than those found in Henry V. Portia, in particular, is by farthe superior one of the play. Like Queen Elizabeth herself, Portias characteris a blending of femininity and masculinity. Portia has great strength ofcharacter, a quick wit, and is very well educated in the affairs of the worldaround her which is not a common theme in Shakespeares women.

She is in everyrespect far superior to the fools she ends up being surrounded by. This mightnot have been the case if it werent for the fact that she, with all herintelligence and wit is still being dictated by a male. Her dead father dictatesher life through his will. I guess Shakespeare does not miss an opportunity toput even the most superior of all women in her place as he does just that toPortia. For all her power, riches, and strengths, she still is no better thanthe man she marries. Her new husband, Barsenio, is no match for her, and yet heis handed over everything that belongs to her, including her soul. AlthoughShakespeare gives the very best of qualities and traits to the female characterPortia, he knows that in spite of her superiority and domination over all theother characters including the male characters, he can later strip her of allher greatness at any time, and does just that at the end of the play.

What Ifind so unbelievable is the way that Shakespeares women just hand overeverything including themselves, no questions asked, to a man they hardly knowand yet willingly and happily marry. I have a hard time believing that women ofhis day did this duty so graciously. Portias portrayal of being such a strongfigure and at the same time, a woman who is subservient to her times, makes mequestion whether Shakespeare really knew what was gong on in the minds of theElizabethan women. Just the fact that he disguises his women characters up asmen in order to bring them to higher levels, leads me to believe that he is justmaking it all up as he goes along. Dont get me wrong, I love most ofShakespeares work.

Its just his female characters that I have a problemwith. When reading Shakespeare it is easy to question what his motives mighthave been. Scholars have been doing this for centuries. We will never be sure asto whether or not Shakespeare was reflecting the times or his own feelings.

Onemust keep in mind when reading Shakespeare that hs writings are not historicallyaccurate and therefore most likely only reflect his views on things. I only hopethat is the case, for I cant imagine women ever being so passive. Could wehave really been the passive beings that Shakespeare portrays women as, Iseriously doubt it.