Male-Female Relationships in Shakespeare
The women of Shakespeare’s plays are a highly discussed topic by many critics. Shakespeare portrays various aspects of his female characters through their relationships with the men in their lives. Numerous Shakespearean females appear to be strong, independent characters and would not be perceived as such if it were not for their relationship or relationships with the men in their lives. Shakespeare likes to focus his attention on the relationships between fathers and daughters, as well as the relationship between husbands and wives. If it were not for these key relationships, the reader or audience member would not get as much insight into the demeanor of the female characters portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays.
Shakespeare’s most prominent male – female relationship is the father – daughter relationship. He shows this relationship in numerous plays and each is usually portrayed in the same manner: the father wants to control his daughter in every way possible. According to Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare, “Repeatedly, his plays depict the father at middle life, reluctant to release his daughter into adulthood and face his own decline, while she stands at the threshold of adult commitment in marriage” (Dreher 1). Therefore, most of the tension created between the fathers and daughters revolves around the impending marriages of the daughters. For example, in numerous Shakespearean plays, the father usually chooses his daughter’s husband, which normally does not bode well with the daughter.
The father – daughter troubled relationship usually stems from the daughter maturing and the father not being prepared to have his daughter not need him as much as when she was a little girl. Dreher states “The daughters must break the emotional strings that tie them to childhood, defying paternal authority to assert emotional independence” (5). One such example of “defying paternal authority” is Juliet and her father in Romeo and Juliet. Capulet does not want this daughter to speak to, let alone marry, Romeo because he is a Montague. However, Juliet defies her father and proceeds to marry Romeo. This act on Juliet’s behalf creates tension between father and daughter, which leads to added drama and turmoil throughout the play. Capulet basically disowns his daughter for her act of disobedience:
Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday
Or never after look me in the face.
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me!
My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blest
That God had lent us but this only child;
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her.
Out on her, hilding!
(Romeo and Juliet, 3.5.159-167)
Since Juliet’s father did not want to have anything to do with her...