Was Shakespeare a misogynist?

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enotes | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Shakespeare was forced to marry an older woman when he was eighteen years old. We can reasonably speculate that he shared the (male) opinion of women as irrational and dangerous, although expressions of gender bias were clearly curbed under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. There are numerous examples of women as "deceivers" in Shakespeare's plays, Cleopatra and Cressida for instance, and there are often works from which a "mother" character seems to be absent (King Lear, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice). The short shrift given to women, particularly older women, in Shakespeare's plays does not necessarily reflect an anti-female sentiment on the playwright's part. We recall that Elizabethan acting companies were comprised exclusively of males. That being so, Shakespeare may have labored to construct plays that would not put inordinate demands upon his male actors.

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