Violence to Women and Shakespeare

Essay by sophia_lispectator March 2006

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Some of Shakespeare's most violent plays were by far his most popular during his lifetime. Although modern audiences are often repulsed by its gore and brutality, "Titus Andronicus" was a huge success in Tudor England. And certainly it is no coincidence that Shakespeare often deviated from his sources to include more titillating details and include sensationalist melodrama into his psychological masterpieces. Hamlet's father is poisoned with a potion so potent that it immediately causes bubbling scabs on his body; King Duncan is lured to Macbeth's castle to be slaughtered in his bed, and so on.

There is a possibility of feminist psychoanalytic interpretation of Shakespeare's works. In Shakespeare's tragedies there is a shared fiction on the part of the heroes about femininity and about their own vulnerability in relation to women. Particularly in the tragedies, the characters link masculinity with control, strength and success, and femininity with weakness, loss of control.

The prospect of heterosexual union arouses emotional conflicts that give shape to the plot. From the point of view of Shakespeare's tragedies, women are regarded as extremely powerful and simultaneously extremely untrustworthy. They provoke fear in men, a fear that renders the men frail and fragile and they resort to violence so as to exhibit their physical strength and thus dominate women. The ultimate end of this domination is to restore the man's masculinity; because when a man perceives a woman with whom he is in any kind of close relationship as masculine, her masculinity breeds fear and the fear makes a man feel like a woman in the relationship.

Macbeth and Lear: of woman born

In "Macbeth" Shakespeare makes a fictional social order that is completely based on violent masculine domination and the suppression of the feminine side. Even more so than in Hamlet...