In “Much Ado About Nothing” Shakespeare focuses on the roles of women in the patriarchal society. He contrasts two women, Beatrice who is strong, outspoken and independent with her cousin, Hero, who is considered the ‘ideal woman’ as she is submissive and innocent. Through both women’s experiences in a men’s world, Shakespeare shows that those who stand up for themselves and don’t let men objectify and restrain them are better off.
Hero is considered an ideal women because of her gentle, soft-spoken nature and is described as a “jewel” and “the sweetest lady I have ever looked on” by Claudio who falls in love with her almost instantly. However, this love quickly turns to hatred when he trusts the word of don Jon over the supposed love of his life and believes that Hero is cheating on him. When Claudio confronts Hero of cheating, instead of being heartbroken and miserable, he is disgusted by her actions and the fact that he almost married such a woman. This scene represents the way women were misunderstood, misjudged and mistrusted in the Elizabethan era and hints that Claudio’s love for Hero was shallow and that he simply liked the idea of having an ‘ideal woman’ as his wife. Hero’s father is also quick to believe Claudio over his own daughter and threatens to disown and kill her before even finding out the truth. This treatment shows that most of the men including her own father no longer care about Hero once they believe she is no longer “chaste” and “ideal”.
Beatrice on the other hand, defies the Elizabethan stereotype by speaking up and refusing to let men define and dominate her. She defies Elizabethan stereotypes by taking her future into her own hands and deciding when and who she wants to get married to. While this behaviour was shocking and outrageous to not only the other characters but also the Elizabethan audience, she also earned their respect and admiration. This is shown by the way her uncle treats her in comparison to Hero whom he simply orders around. Leonarto knows better than to treat Beatrice in the same manner and simply settles for saying “Well niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband” instead of forcing her to get married to the highest bidder. The other men also are willing to have conversations with her and listen to what she has to say. This demonstrates how women do in fact have power that if they are willing to stand up and fight for rights and equality, men will eventually treat them with respect and as equals.
At the end of the day however, it seems that no matter how strong-willed and independent a woman is, she simply won’t receive as much freedom and rights as a man. Shakespeare demonstrates this outrageous unfairness in society when Even Beatrice is forced to accept this when she realises that she can’t confront and battle Claudio he wrongs her cousin. She is absolutely outraged by the apparent shortcomings that come with her gender stating “if cant be a man with wishing, I will die a woman with grieving.” Also, the ‘happy ending’ of the play occurs when Beatrice is ‘tamed’ into the domestic life signified by Benedick claiming to her “I will silence you with my lips.” This ending was most likely written to satisfy the Elizabethan audience by showing that all was well in the world again. While Shakespeare did not go for entire equality, he still managed to demonstrate the idea was desirable and viable light.
The role of women in society is an important theme in “Much Ado About Nothing.” By placing feminist ideals into Beatrice Shakespeare shows that even though she isn’t an ‘ideal woman’ according to social standards her personality and characteristics are definitely ideal.