Construct and Character: Literary Tropes and Societal Expectations in Shakespeare's Heroines
Elizabethan drama heavily features male leads, with female characters often developmentally neglected or presented in constrictive and discriminatory stereotypes. However, William Shakespeare sets himself apart by developing heroines who display features of being whole, round, and interesting characters, significant in their accurate portrayal of elements of the feminine experience that ring true in any era. In Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Juliet defy expectations for female literary constructs by volitionally taking control of their situations while remaining desirable and feminine. In King Lear and Othello, Cordelia and Desdemona challenge Elizabethan expectations for women, but still fail to save themselves as a result of a constrictive and gendered society. All four plays present women who are complex and interesting as well as literarily and dramatically significant. As both constructs and characters, Shakespeare’s women can be seen to break stereotypes and provide a metaphor for the feminine experience that is relevant both in Elizabethan England and today.