Discussion of the presentation of women in "Much Ado About Nothing" - How might different audiences react to this presentation?

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In "Much Ado About Nothing", women are presented in a number of different ways. Some conform to the behaviour expected of women at the time whilst others rebel against their unequal status in a patriarchal society.

In most cases the women in the play behave according to their social standing. Generally speaking, the lower the status, the greater amount of freedom. Two women in the play, Hero and Margaret, illustrate this point well. As the daughter of Leonato, a wealthy and powerful governor, Hero is quiet, polite and respectful. Margaret however, is only a servant in Leonato's household. Therefore she has more freedom as she is not expected to honour her family name. Beatrice, another female character in the play, does not fit into either of these categories.

Life for women in Elizabethan times was perhaps better than it had been in subsequent centuries. The Elizabethan view of women may seem harsh by today's standards but the basic principles were based upon those written in the Bible.

The man of the household held more responsibility as he went out to work to earn a living or work his own land. Women were expected to bear a child, a considerable honour, every two years and as a consequence were nearly always pregnant. The male head of the household was expected to care for his wife during this time. A man had the legal right to chastise his wife but this is not to suggest all husbands were tyrants. Most marriages were happy and were an attractive if not essential career for women especially in the upper classes where marriages involved complicated arrangements over money and property. Few other options were open to women: they could not become heirs; they could only be educated by a tutor and could not attend university;...