The role of gender is always a big part in Shakespeare’s plays; it intertwines with sexuality and sense of natural power. Two great plays to look at for a contrast in portrayals would be A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III. The view of women in both of these plays is that of knowledge, power, and strength yet placement by society counters all of that.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, women are portrayed both by Helena and Hermia as well as the Amazons. These characters are quite the representation of women and my viewpoint of them has changed significantly since we first read the play. There is still the basic understanding that the social normality is not followed by Helena and Hermia; the Amazons are still understood to be found to be self-sufficient and the equals to men. In Richard III, Lady Anne, Margaret, and Queen Elizabeth are all knowledgeable, aware, and capable of foreseeing the path on which Richard is on. The way in which I view how Shakespeare worked these female characters and their roles have changed since originally read and seems deeper than I had thought before.
The Amazons are powerful and full of strength; they find no need for men, they find power in their wisdom, strength, and each other. Having these women in the same play as Hermia and Helena seemed quite important because all of these women found power in themselves and stood up for what they wanted and believed in. The women in Richard III were all more capable of understanding and seeing the reality of Richard, they may have gotten tricked by his words and fallen to his will at certain points but they learned from it and knew his evil was great. All of these women show that Shakespeare was completely aware of women, of their seeing what men couldn’t see, of their understanding and their own social workings which proved them to be strong and capable of being independent. But the way in which the plots of these plays took course would show that no matter what, women had their place.
Women were to be tamed and conform in the end to societal structures which placed men above women. It’s as though Shakespeare was aware that it is possible for women to be more than just idle bodies in dresses but he knew and generally agreed to the social norm that women were to have a certain place. They could venture out and explore to an extent, but even the Queen of the Amazons was tamed to societal ways and the other women lost the zest they had for their own voice. Shakespeare creates female characters knowing their being limited but he does so to show and reiterate the reality of his time: that women had their own minds but they were to follow a certain structure nonetheless. I found it interesting that a great mind like his could know that there was more that women offered, he showed just some of it in his work, and yet he didn’t let his female characters flourish to the potential that seems there could have been if their independence and voices were shown and heard.