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Shakespeare’s Women

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It was a title of respect and admiration that female Viragos acquired. Shakespeare in his characterization of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Goneril in King Lear has played upon the very nature of the term ‘Virago’. He has not only associated the word with the gender transgression but also has used it to uphold the norms of misogyny prevalent in his times. He concentrates on the masculine aggression of his ‘femme fatal’ to infer that Virago indeed is not excellent or heroic, but is the very cause of the social anxiety. This anxiety finds its roots in the origin of Viragos sustained by the violation of the cultural norms. Some critics like Shapiro regard Shakespeare’s characterization of the Viragos as a feminist move. although I am more inclined to agree with Irene Dash (1997) that “Shakespeare manipulated the notion of Virago for he wrote for the male entertainment” (1). Indeed it would be historically incorrect to regard him as a feminist. Nevertheless, with his deep sensitivity of human character Shakespeare brilliantly portrays the condition of women within the patriarchal society as depicted in the characterization of Lady Macbeth and Goneril.
Both these ‘femme fatal’ show masculine aggressiveness as required by a powerful female Virago. however, their limit lies in their feminine position within the male dominated society. Shakespeare seems to portray the social anxiety caused by this ‘femme fatal’ by focusing upon the intelligence of his women characters. In the characterization of Lady Macbeth, we have an archetypal ‘femme fatal’ who manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness. She is guided by no uncertainties like her husband and shows a remarkable strength of will. Like a Machiavellian character, she works through the position of her husband. Her first glimpse defines her character – she is seen plotting the death of Duncan by cajoling her