Today marks the 456th birthday of William Shakespeare and the 404th anniversary of his death–For Shakespeare was born and died, supposedly, on the same day: April 23. Either way, today is all about remembering Shakespeare’s genius. For some, it rests in his play’s timeless appeal, for others in their complex language or insightful themes. If I was asked what I loved the most about his plays, I’d say it’s their strong female characters. For although Shakespeare lived in a time when women were seen as inherently inferior to men, he created strong, independent and intelligent female characters. Here are some of my faves:
Juliet (Romeo and Juliet)
Juliet is one of the youngest of Shakespeare’s heroines (she is only 13), but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t as strong and independent. This witty, intelligent and courageous girl clearly controls the action in the play. As the story progresses, we follow her growing from an obedient child into a confident young woman who knows what she wants. After all, it’s her who leads Romeo into proposing marriage and arranging the ceremony. In the famous balcony scene, she stands above him. Coincidence? I don’t think so. This is not only a tragic love story but also the story of a strong woman controlling her own destiny: “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Viola (Twelfth Night)
Viola is the man not only physically but also in spirit. Believing that her brother has died in shipwreck, she takes control of her own destiny, deciding to disguise herself as a page and serve duke Orsino. Throughout the play, Viola plays her role as Cesario so convincingly that no character guesses her real identity. While this leads to hilarious moments in the play, it also poses a more serious question: If women are inherently different to men, how can this woman in male attire possibly be mistaken for a man? The answer is, of course, that women are in every respect as strong as men and this is precisely what Viola proves.
Rosalind (As You Like It)
Rosalind is yet another of Shakespeare’s cross-dressed heroines. She has a passion for acting and uses her disguise and talent to play a little trick on the lovesick Orlando. She is full of wit and knows how to use language skillfully. She is also a loyal and true friend to Celia. In other words, she has all qualities of a great heroine!
Katherine (The Taming of the Shrew)
Katherine is one of the most ambiguous of Shakespeare’s heroines. On the surface, The Taming of the Shrew depicts the story of a woman brutally beaten into submission. It seems like by the end of the story Kate has transformed from an outspoken woman into a submissive wife. However, I think there is also another way to read the story. Katherine clearly hates the role as shrew that is given to her and she longs for love and attention. Petruchio helps her understand how society thrusts roles on people and how she can choose her own one. Her final speech isn’t a defeat. It’s a performance. And as such, it proves that Kate has understood the rules of society and can play along. She hasn’t turned into a submissive wife, but a clever player.
Have you read any of these plays? Who is your favourite heroine? Let me know in the comment section below!