Shakespearean Women and Their Fathers

Throughout the vastly different plays we have studied this semester one thing that keeps reoccurring is a father’s interest in his daughter’s chastity.  Women, especially daughters, in Shakespearean plays are often tools of manipulation, or they are seen as objects of value, they serve a purpose in the advancement of the plot, essentially.  From the perspective of a modern female reader, it is hard to read these plays without seeing William Shakespeare as a sexist pig.  The idea of “father knows best” continually resurfaces in his works.  Whether or not Shakespeare truly believes this sentiment, I am not sure, but a lot of the time things do not end well for daughters that do not listen to their father’s advice.

For example, Desdemona follows her heart and marries Othello, the Moor of Venice.  He is completely other, and although he is a well-respected member of the Venetian army, Desdemona’s father does not approve of this marriage.  Othello is accused of using magic to seduce Desdemona.  Of course, he did not; Desdemona fell in love with him because he told her stories.  Their love was honest, but Othello was an idiot, listened to Iago, and strangled his innocent and loyal wife.  There is this overwhelming feeling that if Desdemona just listened to her father and did not marry Othello she would not have been killed. 

In contrast to the events of Othello in The Tempest Miranda always listens to her father.  This may be because her father is all she has ever known.  They lived together alone on the island with only Caliban as the only other form of human contact until the shipwreck.  Miranda immediately falls in love with Ferdinand, probably because he is one of the only men she has seen.  She does everything her father tells her to and she lives happily ever after.  She is certainly better off than Desdemona ever could have been. 

However, there are times when Shakespeare’s female characters actually are better off not listening to their father.  In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Hermia does not listen to her father and ends up with her true love, this would have never happened if she was obedient.  However, to against her father was a dangerous act.  Even when women are successful in these plays there is always risk that is taken, and sweet relief when these characters’ lives do not end tragically.        

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One thought on “Shakespearean Women and Their Fathers

  1. Pingback: Love of a Father | The Prince

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