With close reference to William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and wider reference to Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, explore the presentation of female protagonists. In William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing and Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the audience is introduced to female protagonists who face misogyny, social control and power struggles.
In Much Ado about Nothing, Beatrice, although constructed in a time where women were mere objects, manages to conduct a ‘merry war’ against oppression and dent the patriarchal ego.Whereas Maggie, the ‘Cat’ in Williams’ play, can only manipulate it to satisfy her own needs, despite being in a society less authoritarian than the Elizabethan era. Both women exist in a male-dominated world, but differ in the role they choose to construct for themselves; even today’s modern audience can relate to Beatrice, with a personality and wit that transcends her era, whilst Maggie reminds us, instead, of a time when the womb ruled over feminist ideals. Much Ado About Nothing and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are separated by centuries and thus it would be expected that Beatrice be far less liberated than Maggie.
However, despite the period, Beatrice is more unconventional, exhibiting bold disregard for society’s proprietary expectations as depicted in the vocative, “Signor Montanto. ” The noun phrase illustrates Beatrice’s sexual freedom, as she uses innuendos to portray her wit, whilst also revealing her knowledge of typically masculine activities such as fencing. Beatrice often uses typically ‘male’ speech to portray her own thoughts and opinions, evident in the utterance, “But for the stuffing – well, we are all mortal.
The parenthetical end focus coupled with the ambiguous noun ‘stuffing’ portrays both the masculine confidence in Beatrice’s speech and her scathing assessment of Benedick’s virility. This is especially unusual when considering that women were usually the target of bawdy humour; it is as though Beatrice uses the enemy’s ammunition against them, but with a deadlier aim. In stark contrast, Maggie’s attitudes to masculinity and marriage seem to adhere to conventional expectations, despite the more modern context.
Her use of the adverbial phrase, proclaiming her union with Brick as “totally childless and therefore totally useless! ” illustrates, through repetition of the intensifier “totally”, Maggie’s frustration. Despite this compliance with society’s rules, Williams makes it apparent that the idea of being an equal to her husband is attractive to Maggie. She is often the dominant speaker in their conversations, attempting to control Brick, and the turn taking, several times in the play.
This is similar to Beatrice’s need for control, as she is often seen dominating the turn taking and gaining control over Benedick through her manipulation of his language. She responds to his declaration that any suitor of hers would receive a “predestinate scratched face” by claiming his modifer “scratched” and using it in verb form in order to insult him. Her declarative “Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such a face as yours were. ” is a symbolic seizure of power and demonstrates the influence she has in Messina, and over men, at this point in the play.Her’s, however, is a power based in humour due to the play’s comedic nature whereas Maggie’s linguistic power stems from a darker and more emotionally fragile place. For example, Maggie strives to manipulate Brick’s fears of his own possible homosexuality by attempting to goad him into proving his masculinity through procreation. The play’s repetition of the noun “crutch” in reference to Brick’s physical weakness and sexual ambiguity serves as a visual taunt to Maggie in her failed quest to fulfil her emotional and physical needs. Both protagonists also differ in their attitude to men and masculinity.
Indeed, Beatrice almost has a misandrist outlook. Being free from the dominance of a father has made her aware of the freedoms women are denied. It is with contempt and annoyance that she hears ideas on male authority and what makes a man, leading her to mock in the declarative “Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face. ” The noun ‘beard’ illustrates Beatrice’s attitude to the idea of manhood and marriage, rejecting the Elizabethan symbol of masculinity through the noun phrase by explaining marriage is impossible if it is with a ‘man’.This modern mind-set looks beyond what society attributes to masculinity, scorning those who follow society’s rules instead of creating an individual mind.
She presents the idea that she would never marry to please anyone but herself, with the transitive verb ‘endure’ portraying that she is independent, not wanting to be under the patriarchal weight of a husband. Her most notable male interactions are with Benedick, her rival and future lover, and Don Pedro, the person with the highest authority in the play.It is important to note that, whilst Don Pedro is the person Beatrice is the most respectful to, his personality is not one of a man who abuses his power, and he seems to see her as an equal of sorts “Your grace is too costly to wear everyday.
But I beseech your grace, pardon me. ” The intensified postmodifier objectifies Don Pedro as she remarks that he could not make her happy and that a union between them would curtail her freedom. In contrast, Maggie, though contemptuous of Gooper, is mainly willing to bend to the power of man, especially her husband “I don’t mind makin’ a fool of myself over you! The prepositional phrase ‘over you’ signifies that she is prepared to do anything to please, or to capture, her husband. Her dignity when it comes to Brick is dispensable as is clear in her willing reference to the noun “fool”. Beatrice, however, rejects this idea of bending to the needs of the male. Her reference to clothing symbolises that she would have to take on his identity if they wed and, therefore, her rejection of this is indicative of her need to retain her independent character.Contextually speaking this positions Beatrice as happily existing outside societal norms. However, for the first time she also apologises for her words, the end focus on the verb phrase ‘pardon me’ denoting that she does have respect for men, as long as they earn it.
Maggie’s ideas on masculinity are more malleable than those of Beatrice as she is prepared to compromise for personal gain. The juxtaposition of the verbs ‘overpowered’ and ‘love’ with the end focus on the imperative toned adverb ‘truly! in her declaration to Brick “I didn’t want to be overpowered by you […] but now I’m stronger than you and I can love you more truly! ” indicate the difference between male and female domination, with the ‘love’ Maggie speaks of being a metaphor for the control she will gain over him. Beatrice’s uncle, whilst having enough control over the compliant Hero, appears to have no influence whatsoever over his niece and can only serve to remind her of her female duties throughout the play, such as in the simple utterance “She mocks all her wooers out of suit. The idiomatic phrase ‘out of suit’ encompasses one of the common themes in the play that clothes construct identity, therefore the imagery of Leonato’s declarative is one of Beatrice’s mockery being strong enough to demolish a pursuer. Her strength and independence holds even when she is at her most weak, unwilling to give Benedick a chance of wooing her when she is defenceless, evident in the simple sentences, “You have no reason; I do it freely.
” The adverbial “freely” denotes her liberty and reluctance to be controlled in the slightest way.It is interesting that Beatrice does not feel the brunt of any female responsibilities until Hero is accused of infidelity when male power attracts her in her helplessness. Her interjection “O God that I were a man! ” portrays her vulnerability and despair for being born a woman. This is first time Beatrice acknowledges a stereotypically female need for someone else, although this is, perhaps, indicative of Shakespeare’s move toward the comedy’s inevitable ‘happy ending’; an ending in which male and female co-exist in apparent equality.In ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Maggie, for all her faults, is easily the most likable of the females in the play.
Big Daddy’s assessment of the women in his household in the metaphor, “…they look like a couple of cats on a hot tin roof. ” exaggerates the women’s determination to outlast the other in the battle for his heritage. The idea that the women of the play are like ‘cats’ implies that they are cunning creatures whilst the adjectival phrase “a hot tin roof” indicates the precarious role women adopt in society; their identity in constant flux at the hands of the whims of the patriarchy.In both plays, the female protagonists are complex and portrayed in a linguistically ambiguous manner. One of the greatest differences between Maggie and Beatrice is that Beatrice is not prepared to lie to herself.
Maggie is the bitter result of a life lived in jealously and she would do anything for the opportunity of the ‘ideal life’; Beatrice is not burdened with this prospect. She is still her blunt, witty self but in her acceptance of Benedick, we note some of her power is gone, evident in the simple utterance, “Peace, I will stop your mouth. The verb phrase “stop your mouth” coupled with the modal “will” denotes the coupling of Beatrice and Benedick with silence, their ‘merry war’ being stilled with the loving act of a kiss. Beatrice’s manipulation of language and refusal to conform makes her stand out as a forerunner of feminist ideals. The play’s ending allows her to retain a level of independence but the Elizabethan context requires that she conform to the patriarchal ideal of marriage.
Her union with Benedick is one based upon both characters recognising and accepting each other’s flaws.Theirs is not a blind marriage in the vein of Claudio and Hero but one based upon mutual respect and genuine affection. In contrast, Maggie superficially appears confident but her apparent dominance covers a web of insecurities woven through her desire to conform to the typically female roles of successful wife and mother. Her desire to conform whilst simultaneously attacking masculinity through her attempted annihilation of Brick demonstrates her paradoxical nature.
In her pursuit for a baby, she ignores that she is dooming herself to a life of misery, forever being unsatisfied and powerless. The double modification in the utterance “Oh, you weak people, you weak, beautiful people! ” portrays that Maggie finds the helpless appealing. The irony is, of course, that this exclamatory is as applicable to her as it is to any of the other characters. Ultimately both women must overcome a personal struggle, at the centre of which is the question of how women are meant to carve a place in a society which continually seeks to undermine and control them.