Women in Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's Miranda in The Tempest

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Women in Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's Miranda in The Tempest

Treatment of women has evolved much since Elizabethan England. As a preface to the dissection of The Tempest – in particular, the character of Miranda, Shakespeare’s role for women as a whole must be addressed. According to Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz’s introduction of Woman’s Part, “patriarchal order takes different forms and is portrayed with varying degrees of emphasis throughout the Shakespearean canon” (5). In the midst of this patriarchy, where do women stand? What social assumptions guided the pen of the great English poet and playwright as he wrote The Tempest? Lenz discusses that “In the comedies women are most often nurturing and powerful; as their values
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By this statement, the primary source of power for Shakespearean women was their vaginas. It was because of their genitals that they lived, died, ascended or descended in the class structure. Juliet Dusinberre provides a corresponding commentary in her book Shakespeare and the Nature of Women:

“Playing down virginity as a virtue benefited women. A married woman can grow old with impunity. Late Elizabethan drama is full of jokes about virgins who have hung on to their virginity until its currency is devalued… A woman must know when to trade it in.” (49)

Apparently the Elizabethan age regarded a woman’s virginity as a form of currency. In England’s strictly classified social structure, currency wielded a large measure of power. A woman’s sexuality was something to be bartered, and when the time became opportune, sold and taken. In a modern context, this resembles veiled prostitution. But one must consider that because women were not primary workers amassing monetary currency, they were forced to resort to available means, and virginity was the force women had over men. In Shakespeare and His Social Context, Margaret Loftus Ranald remarks on this assumption:

“An unchaste woman lost her value on the marriage market; and if already married, she might corrupt the pure line

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