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Gender Roles: Shakespearean and Modern



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    During the Elizabethan times, there were many issues facing common people and William Shakespeare. An important issue that played a part in everyday life for Elizabethans, whether rich or poor, was the difference between men and women. Gender roles have been debated throughout history and are changing everyday. Although modern American gender roles are much more defined and different than Elizabethan times, if Shakespeare were to live today, his writing would have been very different. Gender roles are something that affect every aspect of life, in Elizabethan times and present day.

    Although the differences between eras may seem immense, modern America has similar morals and ethics to Elizabethan times. Marriage is a major way of life in both times and important to most people. Since the beginning of time, people have always looked for a companion that will care and love them no matter what (“Marriage and Family”). This is a similarity between Elizabethan times and today because finding somebody to love is a natural way of life, and almost all humans want to complete this task. Women today and in the Elizabethan times are very alike because they find a need to get married more than men do (“Chronobiology? ) Women feel the need to satisfy their biological clock with marriage and children, and they always will. For that reason, women in both eras are the primary care givers to children (“Chronobiology? ”) Even though women satisfy their children’s needs more than men do, men and women together have always loved their children to full capacity (“Marriage and Family”). Women and men’s behavior and jobs are something that society has always judged people by. The two genders each practice different things in their life, but some of their practices were the same as Elizabethan times and today (“Elizabethan Women”).

    Women in both eras think that it is important to display themselves nicely in front of people. First of all, women still practice good etiquette and care about their manners towards others (“Elizabethan Women”). Women in Elizabethan times, of course more severely, were also concerned about their manners and etiquette in front of others. Another thing that women take great concern in is their appearance (“Elizabethan Women”). Between plastic surgery and corsets, women have been going to any extreme to impress other people, men specifically.

    Even though men’s head-of-the-household status has changed greatly since Elizabethan times, they still have maintained the same type of jobs (“Elizabethan Family”). Men have always been the primary soldiers in war, despite the fact that there are some women in the army. Although the mental state toward gender roles has changed since Elizabethan times, the physical state of women and men has not changed. Therefore, men in the Elizabethan Era and today are the usual people that you will find in hard, physical labor jobs. In Elizabethan times and today, there is another issue facing gender roles besides the treatment of women.

    This issue is homosexuality, and heterosexual people have had many passionate feelings about it throughout time (Pricard 172). In the Elizabethan era, homosexuality was looked at as a disruption to the natural order of life. The Elizabethans also feared homosexuality because it was against the bible, and people were very religious in that era (Pricard 172). Since homosexuality was feared, people would take extreme actions, such as harassment or murder, to homosexual people. In Elizabethan times, these heterosexuals fighting against the homosexuals were not brought the courts because it was illegal to be homosexual (Pricard 172).

    Like Elizabethan times, there are many anti-homosexual people in modern America. These people will also take any action to try and keep America from having any homosexuals (“Homophobia”). This fear has gotten so horrible for some people; there is a phobia against homosexuals, called homophobia. Of course today, it is illegal to murder someone because they are homosexual, but people still harass them a lot (“Homophobia”). Homosexuals are fighting for their rights in court, but since the fear and hate of them is still bad for most people, they are losing (“Homophobia”).

    Considering women in Elizabethan times were looked at as weak and helpless, there are many differences between gender roles in Elizabethan times and today. One major difference is the way that husbands treated their wives (“Elizabethan Women”). . In the Elizabethan Era, men treated their wives as if they were servants in the household, making them complete all of the domestic chores around the house. This gave men the idea that women were their property, hence the thought that women were weak and helpless (“Marriage and Family”). In modern America, a man treats his wife with respect, and as equal as every other person in society.

    This gives off a different idea than Elizabethan times; this idea is that women are strong and confident. Men also had a head-of-the-household status in Elizabethan times, which gave them control of everything that went on in his house (“Marriage and Family”). In present day America, women are often the head of the household, because women usually tell men what to do and when to do it. Gender roles have changed to the highest extent since Elizabethan times, which gives women greater opportunities to contribute to society. Back in the Elizabethan Era, women were restricted to jobs only in the domestic field or housewives (“Elizabethan Women”).

    Now, women can explore any career option they are interested in, and have as much of an opportunity as men. This equality also comes in effect with politics. In Elizabethan times, women could not vote, and they especially could not run for any government position (“Job List”). Modern America permits women to have as much influence on politics as men. This influence includes voting, and even running for governmental positions (“Job List”). All of these career fields that are now available to women are normally only achieved through going to college and school.

    School was something that was only offered to boys in Elizabethan times (“Elizabethan Women”). If a girl wanted to receive an education, the parents of the child had to hire a home tutor. This caused most girls to not get an education, because most families were too poor to afford a home tutor (“Elizabethan Women”). College was another option that was only available to boys, and by no means, could a girl obtain a college degree. In modern society, for every one hundred women that attend college, there are seventy seven men enrolled (“Boys Statistics”).

    That statistic proves that women have come a long way in advancing their capability for knowledge. Although women’s jobs have changed drastically compared the Elizabethan Era, men have also come a long way. Men would never take care of the children or help around the house in Elizabethan times (“Marriage and Family”). Today however, men’s fulltime job can be a homemaker, which includes taking care of the children and doing the chores. While the men are at home, the women may be out working their job, and the men are perfectly fine with this.

    Unfortunately, homosexuality is viewed the same by some people in Elizabethan times and today, but there are some people who take a stand against the discrimination. Unlike Elizabethan times, it is not legal to kill a person of the homosexual nature (“Homophobia”). Although some people still harass gay people, there are other people that help gays take a stand against the harassment and violence. In Elizabethan times, all of the Elizabethans thought that homosexuality was wrong, and did not want it in their society (“Homophobia”). Today, homosexual marriages are legal in some states.

    Shakespeare wrote magnificent plays when he lived in the Elizabethan times. Even though the plays were great, they would have been even better if he lived in present day America and had America’s outlook on gender roles. Shakespeare mostly wrote about men and women falling in love (“Revisiting Gender”). However, today he could have written about gay love. This would have given Shakespeare a wide variety of story lines, and an interesting twist. Second of all, when Shakespeare wrote his plays, they usually did not show the man or woman’s occupation. Now, Shakespeare could make a whole play about men and women’s jobs (“Revisiting Shakespeare”).

    Since there are so many different roles that each gender can participate in society with, there is no end to how much women and men can do together. Shakespeare changed his character’s action to be a little bit more masculine because men were going to be playing them (“Revisiting Shakespeare”). This had a major effect on the play when you were watching it because you could not get the full idea of how beautiful the female character was actually supposed to be. In present day, Shakespeare could have easily written his parts for women more femininely, because there are tons of women on Broadway and in theatrical jobs.

    This would help generate the idea of what Shakespeare’s mind was thinking when he created the character. When Shakespeare was writing his plays, he took gender roles into great consideration, and made sure to follow the guidelines of a man and woman’s roles (“Revisiting Shakespeare”). In Elizabethan times, the plays followed those guidelines by making the man always have power over the woman. This enforced gender roles more in society. Today, Shakespeare would not have had to follow any guidelines, but writing what he wanted to.

    Although there are some similarities between Elizabethan times and today, women have come a long way in showing that they are equal to men. Between gaining voting rights and getting a good education, women can do anything that men can do. Modern America also permits men to play different roles than Elizabethan times, such as a housewife. Besides the normal gender roles, there are also homosexuals, which have experienced a lot of abuse. In conclusion, men and women have changed their roles in society considerably since the Elizabethan times, but they have still kept some morals and ethics the same.

    Works Cited

    Pricard, Liza. Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. London: Macmillan, 2005. 172. Stear, John. “What is Chronobiology?” Circadiana. 12 Jan. 2005. 11 Apr. 2008
    “Homophobia.” Anti-Defamation League. 9 Apr. 2008. “Marriage and Family.” Life in Elizabethan England. 26 Mar. 2000. 9 Apr. 2008
    “Elizabethan Women.” Elizabeth. 9 Apr. 2008 . Women’s Job List. 9 Apr. 2008 . Mortenson, Tom. “Boy Projects Statistics.” Boys Project. 26 Apr. 2006. 10 Apr. 2008
    Gerlach, Jeanne, Rudolph Almasy, and Rebecca Daniel. “Revisiting Shakespeare and Gender.” Willa. 1996. 11 Apr. 2008 .

    Gender Roles: Shakespearean and Modern. (2017, Mar 03). Retrieved from

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