Date of Award
Program of Study
Unlike the stereotyped image of women in the Elizabethan era, in which women should submit to men’s control, Desdemona in Othello, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and Marina in Pericles present their powerful and brave characteristics when facing male dominance. More specifically, all three young women — Desdemona, Isabella and Marina — negotiate sexual and marital arrangements with their language intelligently, despite the fact that they sometimes lack self-determining power in the plays. That is to say, Shakespeare gives women rhetorical power while in certain circumstances, men cannot be persuaded. Such contradiction within how Shakespeare depicts his female figures leads to the question this thesis explores: whether Shakespeare’s plays are pro-feminist or tools of patriarchal oppression. I would argue that he treats the three women in both advanced and patriarchal ways. Desdemona displays her autonomy on the matrimony; Isabella and Marina use silence to express their unwillingness to men’s proposal. Instead of submissive behavior, kneeling for them is a measure to defend their reputation and rescue the life of others as well as themselves. On the other hand, Shakespeare weakens their rhetorical power when women face a man with desire for them, valuing men’s honor more than women’s honor. In his plays, the honor of women can be challenged in public while the honor of men is worthy of defending, even if at the cost of their life.
Xu, Mingyue, "Contradictory Shakespeare: An Investigation of Female Protagonists in Othello, Measure for Measure, and Pericles" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.