Shakespearean Drama - Women in Renaissance

Term Paper, 2005

10 Pages, Grade: 2


List of contents

1. Preface

2. Renaissance and Gender Theories
2.1 Renaissance
2.2 Gender theory in ancient Greece
2.3 ‘Gender’ during the age of Renaissance

3. Gender in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
3.1 Introduction
3.2 ‘unsex me here’ – Lady Macbeth
3.2.1 Lady Macbeth’s attitude towards the murder
3.2.2 Lady Macbeth’s motherly features
3.2.3 Lady Macbeth and her husband
3.3 Thunder and lightning. ‘Enter three Witches’
3.4 Shakespeare’s destructive women

4. Conclusion

5. Literature
5.1 Primary Literature
5.2 Secondary Literature
5.3 Online Resources

1. Preface

This term paper has the women of Shakespeare’s time in focus with a special interest in the figure of Lady Macbeth in his play “Macbeth”. My goal to achieve will be to draw a line between the understanding of women in Shakespearean England and his forming Lady Macbeth as a destructive female figure in this drama. Macbeth was written predominantly as a stage play around 1605/06. The significance of gender and sex in this play is most obvious in the conception of Lady Macbeth. In Shakespeare’s former plays women had only minor roles with a lesser quantity of speech acts. Although Lady Macbeth still has merely a third of her husband’s lines, she is still the second largest role of the play. But focus should not only be laid upon quantity as such. Concerning the reception of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it becomes clear that Lady Macbeth’s central role as wife, seductress and passive leader of events make her nearly as important as Macbeth himself.

2. Renaissance and Gender Theories

2.1 Renaissance

The term Renaissance (<French>: rebirth) refers to a cultural and literary movement dating back to the late 14th, 15th and 16th Century. It first became popular in Italy, from where it spread throughout Europe. The main interests of the Renaissance scholars were the ideas and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. The Middle Ages were seen as a cultural and intellectual decline in contrast to ancient civilizations. Following this stage, the belief grew, that Europeans had rediscovered the superiority of the ancient world. Renaissance was seen as the rebirth of ancient culture. The period marks the gradual shift from medieval to modern times. The views of renaissance were also influenced by the concept of humanism. Renaissance humanists saw the worth of every individual. They used Greek and Roman literature for education and thought this is how society could be improved. The models of Renaissance and Humanism had influence on science, literature, art, philosophy and society.

2.2 Gender theory in ancient Greece

To get a whole picture it is necessary to also see how women were treated in ancient societies, since Renaissance culture saw itself as the rebirth of those ancient models.[1] In fact the state of women seemed to have worsened after the Middle Ages. It is likely to think that this must be connected somehow to the ancient culture. Thomas von Aquin, Plato and Aristotle are all examples of ancient Greek Philosophers and they have one thing in common: they either wrote about women as a minor human being or they didn’t mention her at all, as a sign of exclusion from everyday life. Plato’s works about love do not include much about women. In fact he didn’t see her as a subject to love, education or friendship.[2] As result of Plato’s views Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote in the 15th Century, that women were not capable of love in the sense of Plato, for they are of a minor physique and a simple mind. Aristotle even went one step further in claiming women as being were false men, varieties of men or even monsters.

2.3 ‘Gender’ during the age of Renaissance

Gender or sex had a great number of definitions especially during the centuries of Renaissance. Gender, first of all marks the state of being a male or female. One first notices the lexical similarity of the words male and fe male. This introduces the biblical belief, that the woman is a modification of the man (same similarity: wo man) . Besides the story of the making of man and woman, the bible suggests this also in saying men when referring to all humans. Secondly, the etymological definition of the words man and woman is from special interest and shows how it is subject of changes. Concentrating on the 17th Century, the word woman was related to “womb-man” (“that kynde of man that […] hath the womb of conception) [3] or “wif-mann”, “man-woman” or “Amazon”. The etymology of the Century underlines the view of women as a variety of man. Those beliefs are very obviously influenced by ancient texts, which were used for education. The state of women in everyday life was therefore not very easy. In 15th Century England women’s rights were defined by men. The book of Common Law and the Book of Common Prayer didn’t give women the right of legal grounds and even forbid women to witness against men before court. In domestic life a woman was absolutely dependent on their father and husband. The estimation that women are morally and intellectually weak was based on the Fall of Adam and Eve[4] in the Bible. Of course, Renaissance had other thinkers which had a totally different conception of women. They were more modern and went even as far saying women are superior to men. Of course, they were a minority and didn’t shape everyday culture.


[1] see definition of Renaissance 2.1


[3] Baron, Dennis: Grammar and Gender. New Haven. 1986. p.29-35.

[4] use for reference: Märten, Doris: Shakespeares ‘Fiend-like Queens’. Carl Winter Universitätsverlag. Heidelberg. 1992. p.8.

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Shakespearean Drama - Women in Renaissance
University of Erfurt
Shakespearean Drama
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Shakespearean, Drama, Women, Renaissance, Shakespearean, Drama
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Sabine Reich (Author), 2005, Shakespearean Drama - Women in Renaissance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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