Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/37952
William Shakespeare’s plays are notoriously multi-dimensional, as are his characters. In this paper I argue one of the crucial topics related to his work that becomes more integral with the rise of each feminist wave: the role his female characters as catalysts. In comedies, the female heroines and their intentions tend to be straightforward, but in tragedies their influence is a delicate and subtle art form. To exemplify their roles as catalysts I turn to three pairs of characters from six different plays, analysing them through three separate lenses. Since there were not many options for women in the Elizabethan era, I chose the three primary archetypes: wife, mother, and villain. To analyse the role of wives, I look to Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and Katherina from The Taming of the Shrew and explore the way they subtly move the play along as catalysts. Meanwhile, to analyse the role of mothers I turn to Gertrude from Hamlet and Tamora from Titus Andronicus—two very different characters yet alike in that they catalyse action, spurring the characters around them into violent act. Finally, to analyse the role of villains, I examine the ways in which Lady Macbeth from Macbeth and Goneril from King Lear both incite the main male characters into action and stimulate their own masculine traits.
This thesis will seek to demonstrate through close reading of the text, and the examination of key scenes, to point out the exact moments when these women step into the role of a catalyst. Adaptations are particularly useful, as they amplify the catalytic effect. The central argument of this paper is that Shakespeare’s female characters do not always have to be the protagonist to be essential to a play – they can be just as powerful as catalysts.
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