As I began our assigned reading of the Merchant of Venice for Friday I noticed something interesting that hit me as the topic for this final blog post. Fortuna, the goddess of fate and fortune, appears within a multitude of Shakespeare’s plays. While as a goddess Fortuna should have an ample amount of power, this potential portrayal of female strength is quickly diminished as it is shown as an intensely negative type of power that restricts masculine advancement and reflects the era’s view of gender and gender relations.
We see this view of gender and female power through Fortuna and her reception via other characters within the plays. While doing this evening’s reading I noticed that Lancelet begins to speak of fortune and does so in a very sexual manner in Act II, Scene II through lines 141 to 148. This seems to reflect the obsessive like attitude society had towards women’s sexuality in that time period. Much of a woman’s value was based around sexual matters. He then directly says to Bassanio, “Well, if Fortune be a woman, she’s a good wench, for this gear” (2.2.149-150). While Lancelet refers to a female fortune being “good” it doesn’t mean much because it is attached to the word wench. Once again a female with power is not only referred to negatively, but is also sexualized to degrade her even further.
We see this hatred and degradation of female power quite frequently in Hamlet, especially when Fortuna’s name is brought up. We hear an open call for hatred of Fortuna’s power over men and their fates when the First Player recites his speech, “Out, out, thou strumpet Fortune! All you gods, In general synod, take away her power, Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel, And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven, As low as to the fiends” (2.2.473-477). In this passage Fortune is called a whore and a call to take away the power she has is issued. In this we see the fear of female power and the reaction to it. The portrayal of this power is completely negative in that it causes nothing but pain and suffering, as well as its ability to constrain the power of men. In short, we see the view in this that the only things that can come out of female power are terrible things. Hamlet goes on later to curse Fortuna and call her a whore once more as she sheds favor upon Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the play instead of blessing him with the good fortune needed to fulfill his revenge.