Shakespeare and the Portrayal of Women: Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1512 Words
Date:  2022-02-22

The Representation of Women in Shakespeare's Plays: A Comparative Analysis of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare sightsees how the plays Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet portrays women. He wrote Romeo and Juliet to demonstrate the role and expectation of women in society as opposed to men. According to him, women were expected to be subservient to their husband and at the same time provide care for the children. On the other hand, Shakespeare presents women in Macbeth as mentally strong. He asserts that women can be able to speak their own minds, shows their aspirations, and their inner strengths that men lack in connection to the evil and dark side of life. Shakespeare portrays female characters as opposed to men by putting his focus on how men use women as a method to get what they want.

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In Romeo and Juliet women are seen as possessions by their husbands and fathers. They are anticipated to conform to societal prospects and their gender roles. There is unfair treatment of women as it is conveyed through characters such as Lady Capulet who represents the traditional side of love and Juliet a young girl who is growing according to the expectations of the society. In Macbeth Shakespeare portrays the evil and powerful character in Lady Macbeth who is a representation of women. Lady Macbeth is more committed to become a hero and depict the code of manliness through war, revenge, power, and honor. Scholars denounce that she demonstrates the character of monstrous women who will prefer bloody aspiring over the traditional feminine ethics (Norouzi 2) In the two plays, there are different motives that are brought out. In Romeo and Juliet, women are oppressed by men and societal values whereas, in Macbeth play, they are striving to establish their authority by actively participating in masculine activities.

The Role and Expectations of Women in Society as Portrayed by Shakespeare

In both plays, characterization establishes traditional values and how they are used to portray women in different perspectives (Sen n.d). Shakespeare introduces Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet to show how traditional roles culminated among women who are in a relationship. When young women lack a voice in society, they are harmed and channeled to harsh conditions, which make them dark heaven light. On the other hand, Shakespeare introduces three witches in Macbeth to show the alignment of struggle from harsh and harmful conditions that women experience. Their influence permeates power and dominance through various instances in the play where they create chaos and disorder. They denounce their intentions through their reliant words hence making their plans to be accomplished. For instance, when Macbeth received a letter, there is a clear demonstration of demanding forces and power to control her husband. Women accept more masculine authority into their lives in order to address their traditional injustices.

Shakespeare's representation of women and the manner which his female roles are construed and enacted have become subjects of strong interest to the readers due to its unique nature. For example in Hamlet, which was written during the era of Elizabeth 1. (1601-1602). Shakespeare wrote a similar plot as Old Hamlet's death which causes changes to heirs of the throne, however, the main query was who would take over his position on the throne.

During the time when Elizabeth 1 was in power, Shakespeare portrayed women a different way than men. In the context of marriage, a woman was projected to obey her husband and a father was supposed to be the head of a family household (Das n.d). Further, men were supposed to nurture their households in an effective way and treat their wives with dignity. Shakespeare also uses Gertrude in the Old Hamlet book to show that women require to have a man near them in order to gain a respectable status and for guidance in the entire family life. Shakespeare further uses Ophelia to display that women are nurtured to be respectable for their men and have the notion that whatever they are told is going to be in their best interest.

In the reality, the men in England were treated as inferiors to women, however, Shakespeare uses the situation in many of his plays to display women as second-fiddle to men and further it can be seen when men develop most of the effect and storylines within the play. Women play an integral role in the Hamlet by William Shakespeare, since he represents them in his plot development. Women are quite easily influenced and did not have a say over men during the Elizabethan era (Hussein n.d). A good example is "Ophelia who is the first woman who gets manipulated by her father, Polonius, to spy on Hamlet. The father does the act in a unique way by setting her up in a hall, where Ophelia is meant to meet Hamlet Polonius and King Claudius and spy on them. Ophelia falls into the whims of her father regardless of being in love with Hamlet." Her father is able to persuade her that Hamlet does not actually love him.

Role of Women in Elizabethan Times

During this period those women were supposed to get married, those who choose to be single were often likened to witches, the women were supposed to respect their men and do all the household chores which include nurturing their children in a respectable manner (Naranjo n.d). It was further viewed as a sin when a woman disobeyed a man and the punitive action was through beating. Another thing that was unusual during the Elizabethan era as opposed to the contemporary period is that women were supposed to avail dowry to the husband before the marriage took place.

Women during the era of Elizabethan were submissive to men and also subservient on their male relatives to offer support to them (Hussein n.d). In terms of education they were supposed to be tutored at home as there was no formal education for girls, women could not be heirs to the possessions of their father (except female royals), women were not supposed to join the Army or get involved in male-dominated activities, they were only permitted in act in "Masques" and not in the theatres.

During the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare championed a patriarchal society and considered women as the weaker sex and protection is placed in high regard when it comes to the life woman (Norouzi 17). Since acting was regarded as not fitting for women, young men were able to play major roles in most of the plays written by Shakespeare. Upon the parent giving consent, it was legal for Elizabethan girls to be married at the age of 12, something that is unusual during the contemporary world. The education that females received them was purely based on domestic chores in preparation for their marriage life.

While seldom to what influenced Shakespeare to portray women in this manner, the plays are a representation of female roles and how they are enacted in society. Therefore, the heroism with Shakespeare encompasses the ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth and the exploitation of Lady Capulet and Juliet who commonly show how society portrays women and how they can display their great intelligence to achieve their personal independence. With the gallery of women, Shakespeare champions favorable treatment of females and the positions of power they occupy in society. Shakespeare was not free with the misogynistic inclinations of his country's culture (Norouzi 23) Even if women are introduced to the world with the existing patterns of behavior they are supposed to be independent by defying societal morals. Shakespeare develops his characters to portray the influence of femininity and how its history is portrayed by powerful female forces who although they are involved in sinful activities champion women rights.


In conclusion, the main discussion in the essay has been how Shakespeare represents female characters as opposed to men. It is candidly seen through the Hamlet which has a similar setting to the old hamlet and many other of his plays where women are subservient to men and are also supposed to seek help from male relatives meaning the society that was represented during the Elizabethan period was a patriarchal society. During that period women had some dos and don'ts, for example, women were supposed to respect their men and do all the household chores which include providing for their children. Women were also supposed to get married and those who did not were viewed as witches. Some of the don'ts include women were not supposed to join the Army or get involved in male-dominated activities, they were only permitted to act in "Masques" and not in the theatres. Women were not as strong-willed persons during the Elizabethan time and did what they were required without prompting a fight or squabble.

Works Cited

Das, Pragati. "Shakespeare's Representation of Women in his Tragedies." Prime University Journal 12 (2012).

Hussein, Marwa S. "Passive Obedience as a Destructive Factor for Female Characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet." (2010).

Naranjo, Fairouz Hussein, and Estefania Logrono Cejas. "THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARE'S TRAGEDIES."

Norouzi, Fatemeh. Feminine gender anxiety within a patriarchal structure in Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I. Diss. Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU)-Dogu Akdeniz Universitesi (DAU).2013.

Sen, Surajit. "Credibility of Women Characters in the Selected Tragedies of William Shakespeare."

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Shakespeare and the Portrayal of Women: Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. (2022, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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