How did Shakespare portrays gender role in act IV, scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act 4, scene 1 is supposed to be a wedding scene, but the actions of men turn the scene close to tragedy.

The sociologist Talcott Parson says there are two types of gender roles in marriage: total integration (man and wife are equals and share duties) and total segregation (man and wife are unequal and split duties).  Shakespeare's play is a satire upon the latter, where men dominate and the women remain uneducated, stay in the kitchen, and take care of the children.

Women of this time were possessions of men, first fathers and then husbands (who were sometimes the same age).  Women were classified according to sexist double standards.  According to men, there were two types of women: Quiet and UnQuiet.  To be Quiet is to be a Virgin, is to be an Angel, is to be a Good Wife.  Accordingly, to be Unquiet is to be a Wanton woman, is to be a Devil.  In other words, a woman's tongue was synonymous with sexual promiscuity and infidelity.  Women, like children, were meant to be seen and not heard.

In Act 4, scene 1, we see mainly men talking.  The veiled Hero is relatively silent and defenseless.  Her only words are supposed to be "I do."  When she is accused of being a wanton woman, she tossed about from Claudio back to Leonato.  Her only defense is:

O, God defend me! how am I beset!

What kind of catechising call you this?

She calls upon her spiritual father to defend her because even her earthly father (and his brother, her uncle) cannot adequately defend her against such accusations.  (Benedick will do it later).

There is much irony in Claudio's protests against Leonato.  He says:

O, what men dare do! what men may do! what men daily do, not knowing what they do!

Claudio says this to Leonato, thinking he has been deceived by a woman, but it is Claudio who has, in reality, been deceived by Don John and the male, sexist society at large.  Shakespeare uses these words to comment on the misogyny of men against women and to point out the double standards in society, especially the institution of marriage.

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Much Ado About Nothing

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