Beatrice of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
One of the most intriguing characters from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing must be Beatrice. An intelligent, well-spoken (and, perhaps more interesting, outspoken) young woman, she is an almost exact opposite of her cousin, Hero. What makes Beatrice so different than what one expects of a woman during Shakespeare’s time? Why did Shakespeare decide to make her such a strong female character? It begs the question of what women were actually like in the Tudor era, and if she was really so radical a character.
Beatrice is very different than the common expectation of women by people looking back on Shakespeare’s period and of the public of Shakespeare’s time in many ways. As previously stated, she is outspoken, intelligent and does not wish to be married. This is strange, considering that around the time that Shakespeare was writing (give or take a few hundred years), women were being restricted in their studies, writing and in society (Wiesner, 3). There are many examples of women being restricted by the law in society, as Merry E. Wiesner stated in her essay:
In regard to the basic obligations and duties of citizenship, little distinction was made between men and women; all heads of households were required to pay taxes… and obey all laws. Beyond that, however, there were clear legal restrictions on what the female half of the population could do. Women differed from men in their ability to be witnesses, make wills, act as guardians for their own children… These limitations appear in the earliest extant law codes and were sharpened and broadened as the law codes themselves were expanded. (4)
With societal views such as this, it was no doubt odd to see such a strong (understood to be) female character onstage during Shakespeare’s era. Not only is Beatrice rather different in those matters, but in her views on marriage as well. In the Tudor era (when Shakespeare was writing), the upper class married for political agendas, family advancement, and to secure the family status, if it could not be furthered. Most women did not have a choice in the matter of who they married, and by their mid-twenties, they were indeed married off to a suitable husband. Another quotation to show the importance of, and the view of marriage in the sixteenth-century (not long before Shakespeare wrote) comes from Alison Sim in The Tudor Housewife:
The economics of marriage was not the only pressure on children to marry where their parents directed. Sixteenth-century children, and girls in particular, were very much brought up to obey, and to believe that it was their duty to their parents… to marry the person chosen for them. It would have taken a very strong-minded girl indeed to have refused to follow her parents’ wishes. Girls who did refuse the partner offered could find themselves bullied by their parents. (3)
Obviously Beatrice is a strong character to state quite clearly that she does not...