Taking the plays mentioned above as examples, one can pick out two bright characters to explore the role of women. Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Isabella in Measure for Measure are the specimens of Elizabethan women who are treated as inferiors. What is also peculiar is that women weren’t allowed to choose husbands and were expected to tie the knot with those who were chosen by their parents as the most favorable and beneficial candidate. Otherwise the only way for women to preserve their chastity was to devote themselves to God and go to the nunnery.
Thus, Hermia who doesn’t want to marry the man her father has chosen for her, being in love with Lysander, stands at the parting. Theseus offers only two options to her: either to yield to her father’s choice” (Shakespeare) or to become a nun, retracting “the society of men” forever (Shakespeare). This conversation implies the idea that women need constant protection, and they must be protected either by their male relatives or by God in order to preserve their righteousness. Thus, nunneries in Shakespearean England were seen as the last resort for “pure” women who didn’t want yet to comply with their fathers’ will. However, looking at Theseus’ replies to Hermia concerning her possible option of becoming a nun instead of marrying Demetrius, one could notice that the duke doesn’t see the nunnery as a favorable option: “You can endure the livery of a nun, // For aye to be in shady cloister mewed, // To live a barren sister all your life, // Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon” (Shakespeare). These words seem to illustrate explicitly the duke’s negative attitude toward nunneries – the word “endure” alone implies negative opinion as it possesses negative connotations only.
Thus, to Theseus’ opinion, life in the nunnery is an unfavorable option. This might also be related to the conventional perception of women as created for childbearing and motherhood. If we adopt this view, it turns out that nuns are “fruitless” – as the moon to which they chant hymns is (according to Theseus). Addressing the second play under consideration, Measure to Measure, we see Isabella, Claudio’s sister, a nun.
First, this character embodies the image of an upper class women in Elizabethan England who would choose either marriage or the lifelong service to God. It
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