Feminist research on the role and importance of women in world culture, both in the past and in the present, plays a huge role in the scientific literature in Europe and the United States. Although gender rights movements are traditionally discusses as a modern phenomenon, the roots of feminism can also be found in the Renaissance. Tens and hundreds of articles, monographs, and collective research have been devoted to the position of women in the Renaissance. Many authors note the plight of a woman if she did not belong to a higher society and, nevertheless, sought independence. Shakespeare as one of the most important figures of the Renaissance is also vividly discussed in the context of gender. Some emphasize the Shakespearean attitude toward women that is filled the constant sympathy of the English playwright to his intellectual heroines. Some even speak of Shakespeare as a man who, if he was not a feminist, clearly and vigorously sympathized with feminism. In this connection, the question arises: in what way did Shakespeare portray women? Levenson in her article The Society of Women in the History of Othello from Shakespeare to Verdi examines the changing image of Desdemona in order to acquire a better understanding of the role of women in the Renaissance. There is a lot of controversy on this topic, which requires further clarification. This essay argues that Renaissance, as seen from the example of Shakespeare, symbolized the start of the social empowerment of women, nevertheless, the understanding of this empowerment was limited, if compared to modern feminism.
The empowerment of women during the Renaissance was foremost the consequences of larger social and political changes. The larger social and historical context that Shakespeare was a part of affected the author’s understanding of women and their role. Shakespeare lived in an era when England was experiencing economic and political growth, and when the country felt the need for change and reform. The humanistic ideology, which was reflected in the works of Thomas Moore, urgently demanded the reform of women’s education, a radical change in attitudes toward women, and if not political, then intellectual equality with a man (Levenson). In England, humanistic ideology was closely intertwined with Puritanism. Puritanism also sought to reform marriage and attitudes toward women in general. Calvin and Luther developed the Puritan idea of ​​the purity of marriage. Puritan literature of the 16th century is full of debates about the role of women in the family (Berry & Patsy). The Puritans protested against forced marriage, against marriage for money, against family betrayals, and against physical abuse in the family.

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The way Shakespeare as a representative of English Renaissance emphasizes the limited opportunities of women in the private sphere of life and their strong dependence of men. Shakespeare completely lacks a doctrinaire Christian attitude toward a woman as a lower being subjected to the tyranny of a man. Shakespeare casts doubt on the traditional idea of ​​medieval philosophy about the inherent sinfulness of women (Hall 55). In the tragedy of Othello, he seems to respond to the idea that the cause of the sinfulness of a woman is in a bad husband. The tragedy of Desdemona also lies in the complete lack of personal freedom for women, and Shakespeare effectively emphasizes it in his play. As Desdemona herself rightfully notes, her father put her in front of a hard choice – to follow him or go to Othello, and she cannot reserve the right to be close to both her father and her husband, but must, through the lens of the feudal law, move from one to another.

But at the same time, the understanding of feminism during the Renaissance was limited. The Puritans saw in their wife only a good partner and a good companion. But they were judgmental towards the behavior of women that can be classified as ‘too free’. In London, many women wore men’s clothing and even weapons, which aroused the outrage of the church. Puritanism was also against women’s acting in the theater because there men and women had to change clothes during the play. In the time of Shakespeare, there was also a tradition of courteous attitude to a woman, based on glorifying a woman as a deity, and not on recognizing her as a real terrestrial being, inherent in weaknesses, illnesses, the birth of children, etc. This tradition of “idolizing” a woman, turning her into an idol, received unexpected support from a neo-platonic attitude toward love, which glorified spiritual love as opposed to physical love.

In conclusion, as seen from the example of Shakespeare, symbolized the start of the social empowerment of women, nevertheless, the understanding of this empowerment was limited, if compared to modern feminism. The empowerment of women during the Renaissance was foremost the consequences of larger social and political changes. The larger social and historical context that Shakespeare was a part of affected the author’s understanding of women and their role. The way Shakespeare as a representative of English Renaissance emphasizes the limited opportunities of women in the private sphere of life and their strong dependence of men. Shakespeare completely lacks a doctrinaire Christian attitude toward a woman as a lower being subjected to the tyranny of a man. But at the same time, the understanding of feminism during the Renaissance was limited and did not include the understanding of a woman as a being who is politically, socially, and economically equal to men.

    References
  • Berry, Cicely and Patsy Rodenburg. “Shakespeare, Feminism and Voice: Responses to Sarah Werner.” New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 49, Feb. 1997, p. 48.
  • Hall, Kim F. “Uses for a Dead White Male: Shakespeare, Feminism, and Diversity.” New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 41, Feb. 1995, p. 55
  • Levenson, Jill L. “The Society of Women in the History of Othello from Shakespeare to Verdi.” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 81, no. 4, Fall2012, pp. 850-859.
  • Magarey, Susan. “Feminism as Cultural Renaissance.” Hecate, vol. 30, no. 1, May 2004, pp. 231-246.