Women's roles in Shakespeare's time were quite limited, despite the fact that a woman ruled England at the time of William Shakespeare. The Elizabethan society was highly patriarchal, and women were expected first and foremost to be wives and mothers.
Women were considered the weaker sex and in need always of being protected. They had little autonomy and few rights, as their lives were primarily guided by their fathers, husbands, or even sons. When married, women were expected to bear children, for childbearing was considered an honor and a duty. Most women bore children every few years, but because so many children died in infancy, families were not necessarily large. As head of the household, the husband was allowed to chastise or punish his wife, and often women were not allowed to inherit property.
Although the society was patriarchal, there were women who were highly educated. However, women were not allowed to enter into most professions. While women were permitted to write—providing the subject was suitable—acting was considered unsuitable for women. For this reason, young men played the female roles in plays during Shakespeare's time.
Despite these limitations, English women generally enjoyed more freedom in the Elizabethan Age than during previous eras.