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Patriarchy in Early Modern England

One of the things considered by modern day liberal critics as a source of problem in the old world is the socio political design, particularly the presence of patriarchy. In many countries, patriarchy is the extensive control, domination and sway of the male figures in the society that is very encompassing and intrusive. It already pushes women and the women image in the sidelines and makes them marginalized in the social order of things and is prevalent.

There was a time in England where the manifestation of patriarchy was very extensive that literary critics and historians thought that writers of that time were heavily influenced by this particular social feature. In particular are male writers and their works which are considered as significant contributions to the world of literature.

In the past, literature critics have already focused on several notable works to establish the arguments about patriarchy and how this is reflected in the literary works, how the authors talked about patriarchy, how the authors presented the ideas of patriarchy, how the authors justified the presence of such gender-based socio-political feature of the life during a particular time in a particular place, and the repercussions that go along with the actions of defying such socio-political order.

Thomas More and William Shakespeare are just two of the very popular writers not just of their time but even today. How they view and talk about patriarchy is important because they will and can influence other people’s thinking about patriarchy, the world and the social order. Because of this, critics believe that this is a good jump off point for the analysis of patriarchy and its representation in literary works.

Because the paper will discuss patriarchy focused on the era of early-modern England, it will do so by referencing the several different texts relevant to that particular time; and that includes Thomas More’s Utopia and William Shakespeare’s plays namely “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Julius Caesar”, in the hope of being able to establish solid argument on grounds presented in these works and how they are representative of the real world and real situation. Patriarchy Patriarchy has been a very strong value inside many cultures.

England was one of the countries that demonstrated patriarchy through the exercise of excessive power by the male figures in the society as compared to their female counterparts. There are many historians and critics in the past who already wrote about patriarchy in England through non-fiction works. Even in several popular works of fiction, the authors were able to capture the essence of patriarchy present in England at the time, thus, allowing these particular literary works to be used as reference in establishing the presence, power and extent of patriarchy in several English societies at the time.

William Shakespeare and Thomas More are two important fictionists from England who have not just captured the attention of the readers but have also captured the essence of patriarchy in the country, particularly during their era. In one of his many works, Louis Montrose, as quoted by Levin, explained that the impact of the patriarchal system in place in England and is reflected in several works of fiction including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” includes the stifling of the roles of the different women in the society. “The play suppresses any traces of the seductive and destructive powers of women.

” Their works display how patriarchy was at work. Even with the fact their contributions were works of fiction, still, there is still a ring of truth about its content on patriarchy and the works act as representation of what actually happened in England and how patriarchy was being practiced in the country during the time. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar’s displays the patriarchal characteristic of the story that reflects the persisting patriarchal influence that has influenced England and English writers and their perspectives.

Just looking at how Shakespeare has created the women characters in the play (who are all to weak and dependent on the men) and how the men are exerting control over the lives of the women in the play, reflect the extent of patriarchy in the story and the extent of the influence of patriarchy over English mindset which in turn shapes literary writing during that time. In the play, Calphurnia – who is Caesar’s wife – was suffering from the problem of infertility.

The act of Marc Anthony touching Calphurnia because he believes that this can cure Calphurnia and her infertility represents the idea that man is the solution to the problems in the society and women are just mere features of the society that depend on the actions of men upon them for the women to be ‘cure’ or helped from their problems. That the women are helpless is also reflected by the actions of women in the story. One of the powerful scenes depicting the women’s lack in strength in character and dependence on the male patriarchy is the suicide of Portia midway (or close to the end) of the play.

Perhaps the most glaring example of all of the idea of patriarchy in the play is power in the social order and turn around of events in the story which are all placed in the hands of male figures – from Julius Caesar to Brutus to Marc Anthony. Shakespeare has made the male characters powerful and wielding of the influence and ability to change and shape history while delegating women on the sidelines as mere spectators who are simply affected by how things turn out, not having any ability to influence change.

Throughout the story, the tug of war and struggle as well as the exercise of political and personal power, was centered on the male characters only, that even in the simplest of things, women during that time were presented as powerless. This reality was exemplified in Calphurnia’s inability to persuade Caesar to just stay home and avoid the impending murder, and the inability of Portia to share the thoughts of her husband Brutus regarding Brutus’ plans which are central in the play.

Caesar was perceived in the play as all too powerful, very influential and very noble – a representation of the male figure in the society; while no woman was accorded the same consideration at par with that which Caesar and the other male figures hold. Calphurnia and Portia’s similar predicaments – as women always begging their husbands – represent one of the major weaknesses in the social women’s role, a characteristic that heightens the sense of male patriarchy in the English society during the particular time period and even years later.

The political and personal manifestation of patriarchy in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is more straightforwardly delivered. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, begins by projecting a frankly patriarchal outcome in which Hermia’s desires must give way to the social need. ” For example, Egeus was dictating who his daughter Hermia should marry, which is a typical characteristic of patriarchy, then and now.

This predicament was supported by what can be considered as a long standing patriarchal culture which Egeus brought forward to pressure Hermia to follow his wishes and do as she was told, saying that as was custom in Athens, daughters should marry the man the father picked for her, and defiance to such practice would result to death. Like the concept of weakness in women found in Julius Caesar, some women in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” displayed dependence on men and the constant effort to win their favor, like the actions of Helena, who betrayed her friend in order to win back the favor of a male figure.

There is also the concept of punishment of the women figure even if she was already someone of high stature like the queen of the forest named Titania, who was punished by her king Oberon because of what Oberon perceived as Titania’s disobedience. Thomas More’s “Utopia” reflected patriarchal power and presence through its message that in a utopian society, everyone is equal.

What is disturbing here for feminist critics is that the idea of an equal society presented by Thomas More in “Utopia” was actually a society constructed with a characteristic of considering sexual discrimination directed against women as something that is natural and acceptable, thus bringing irony to the idea of utopian society equating fair and equal society. Critics blame Thomas More for introducing the idea of the creation of several other utopian societies patterned from his own work because it was More and his work who created the concept that the equal and fair world features sexual discrimination directed against women.

“Most mainstream utopias failed to make one important imaginative leap – they failed to expose the sexist discrimination with the patriarchal status quo and to envision true gender equality. ” This only worsened the perception on the state of patriarchal system in place in the country and made more people criticize more the patriarchal system and the ills that go along with it, especially everytime Utopia and the other utopias contribute to the idea of how patriarchal systems in place in societies are okay.

Despite the patriarchal societies in utopia’s discrimination against women, patriarchal system and sexual discrimination against women are natural and acceptable, considering that Utopia was expected to be a visionary work that is inventive, imaginative and moves away from current social forms that are sources of personal and political problems (like patriarchy). But it failed to do so since the story and the writer appears largely hinged on many old beliefs, tradition and customs, including the practice of patriarchy.

“In its striving for perfection, patriarchal utopia portrayed sexist discrimination as natural, perfect and eternal. ” Counter argument But there are those who argue that contrary to the claims that Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are representations of the presence of patriarchy in the society and how patriarchy is manifested. These stories actually reflect how women are becoming what some critics and historians describe as ideal and model rulers. Take for example, the case of Portia.

According to Murley and Sutton, Portia is not dictated by patriarchy. On the contrary, patriarchy is at place because Portia is stable and secure enough and powerful enough that she facilitates the maintenance of the status quo for her own personal ends and not because she is just merely dragged by the circumstances. “Portia maintains the forms of patriarchy while taking control of her own destiny. She might even be seen as the ideal democratic statesman in that she manages to maintain those traditions which are supportive of the social order.

” The same was the case in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, wherein Murley and Sutton believes that more central in the story is not the patriarchy and how it was manifested but how the story stressed the presence of a powerful and influential woman to re-shape the outcome of personal and political events. “The gods… have come under the sway of a competent woman, and the conventions of patriarchy and even religion are gently made to support marriages based on love and consent. ” Conclusion

While there are contrasting points raised in the idea of the representation of patriarchy through the works of William Shakespeare and Thomas More and how this in turn reflects the social order and social features of that particular world, place and time, it is clear that patriarchy is a dominant and present feature at least on the time of More and Shakespeare; in particular, patriarchy was closely tied to marriage, as was presented in the stories of Shakespeare. “Monarchy and patriarchy formed the main political and social power structures, and marriage provided the cornerstone of continuity for each.

” Thomas More’s Utopia, on the other hand, are also reflective of patriarchy. As Olin goes on to explain that “a good deal of freedom has been traded off for the elaborate system of constraints and strict and ritualized patriarchy in Utopia “, the author clearly cognizant of the presence of patriarchy in Utopia and aware of the negative impact that has impacted the creation of Utopia just to accommodate a socio political detail that has always been criticized by many for its negative effect on everyday life, culture and custom.

Patriarchy is a serious concern for socio political analysts who are analysing literary works and how this is presented there. “It would be a mistake to see the play as portraying patriarchy as merely a comic anachronism (Murley, Sutton p 50) ” because this is a serious concern and its representations in the literary works are not meant to merely entertain the reader through the twists in the story that patriarchy allowed to happen, but rather to act as proof for the presence of an important social issue.

Bibliography Gil, DJ, Before Intimacy: Asocial Sexuality in Early Modern England, University of Minnesota Press, 2006 Levin, R, Looking for an Argument: Critical Encounters with the New Approaches to the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003 Murley, J and Sutton, SD, Perspectives on Politics in Shakespeare, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. , 2006

Nostbakken, F, Understanding A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Student Casebook on Issues, Sources and Historical Documents, Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2003 Olin, J, Interpreting Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, Fordham University Press, 1989 Orgel, S, The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, Penguin Group, USA, 2002 Teslenko, T, Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ and Dorothy Bryant, Taylor & Francis, Inc. , 2003

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