In William Shakespeare’s time, women weren’t taken seriously. Wives were objectified as shiny accessories and daughters as property to be traded and bartered for gain.
But art doesn’t always play by societal rules.
Shakespeare created a world in which women had a voice.
They showed immense power and strength. He made each female character unique and sometimes modern, where indomitable and independent protagonists emerged. Here are four unique female characters represented in his works.
Cordelia is portrayed in Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. The arrogant king retires from his position, leaving his three daughters different financial shares depending on how well they convey their love to him. Two of the daughters take advantage of this and dramatically claim how great he is, in hopes to get the most money. But Cordelia states she merely loves him because it’s her obligation as his daughter. The king kicks her out of the kingdom with no money. This results in her finding a husband that loves her for her, not her money or status.
Later, when her father ends up in prison and her sisters are hanged, she comforts her father and remains the strongest character in the story.
In The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s father dies and takes over his massive estate. In his will, he impedes a rule that any man who pursues her must pass a test of chance to receive his “blessing” to marry her. In the process, a judge is needed to settle a debate between the men. Portia disguises herself as a male judge and conducts the trial. She shows great wisdom and imposes power over the men who are seeking to have power over her.
In the tragedy Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is a powerful, independent woman, but in a very different way than the other characters. She persuades her husband, Macbeth, and coerces him to murder another character to gain political power. Stereotypical roles reverse as she manipulates her husband by belittling his lack of power and pressuring him with a sense of obligation to her. He submits to her powerful persuasion and, in the end, kills the man.
In one of Shakespeare’s most famous works, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is a young girl being traded off into an arranged marriage by her father.
She refuses to marry the man she is set up with because she loves Romeo, a rival to the family.
Despite punishments and familial expectations, she stands strong in her decision. This refusal is bold and shows what an independent woman she is, even at a young age.
Independent Women in Art
Even in times of oppression, when women were thought of only as a commodity, art holds the power to construct an alternate reality. It can give a voice to voiceless women and portray them as strong, independent women.
That is the power of art.
I depict strong women like these characters in my female portrait paintings. As a woman artist, I’m on a mission to empower and embolden women through my female portrait paintings.
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