While Shakespeare had a deep sensitivity toward women, we cannot say that he was a feminist as we define the term today. Shakespeare was, in essence, a humanist, who explored the best and worst qualities of both sexes. Shakespeare's women act like real women, whether they display astonishing bravery and wit, repulsive ambition, selfish impulsiveness or pitiable naivety. And Shakespeare no doubt wanted us to judge them on their actions, not their gender.
Nevertheless, the character mentioned most when discussing Shakespeare's treatment of women is Katharina from The Taming of the Shrew, who many believe reinforces stereotypes of women as childlike and animal-like, in need of a man to tame them or guide them to salvation. This is unfortunate, however, because the play is a farce, and Petruchio, from whose mouth spews most of the ridiculous misogynist revelations, is as florid a character as his untamable female counterpart. What Shakespeare does give Katharina is a short but telling speech on her feelings about the plight of women everywhere, who may be equal to men in courage and intelligence but remain, insurmountably, the weaker sex.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world.
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts? (5.2.177-180)
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Was Shakespeare a Feminist?. Shakespeare Online. 11 November 2008. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/faq/shakespearefeminist.html >.