From available literature, it appears that Renaissance dramatists did not create a variety of female roles. This is explained by a few factors. First of all, women were seen as ‘others’ in the times of Shakespeare. Literature exploring that period of theatre development mentions women roles as ‘others’ on stage along with the roles of bastards, homosexuals, or foreigners. It still remains unclear why. That was the society of men, where everything was for men. It means that women were in the periphery as the part of the society whose perspective or interest was not important. Despite the fact there were many females among the audience, on the stage most roles were male.
Secondly, lack of female roles could probably be attributed to the fact that a woman on the stage was considered something indecent and all roles were created to be played by boys anyway. Young males wore wigs and dresses and performed the roles of women so that the women’s chastity was not compromised. Yet, knowing that boys would perform the roles may have prevented playwrights from elaborating female roles in their plays. Indeed, however good a young man might perform, he lacked femininity and would seem not that natural.
Thirdly, Renaissance dramatists did not create many female roles since women were excluded from the stage, which was probably also because women did not have enough oratorical training. Also, the morality of the patriarchal society was so harsh that by creating diverse roles of women, depicted in various (comic) situations, playwrights risked coming into a lot of criticism.
Besides, it may have been the Puritan-based and ideal vision of a woman as a housewife responsible for the running of the household above all. In addition, women were seen as imperfect beings in comparison to men. This deficiency prevented many playwrights from creating sophisticated roles of women.
This is evident by the fact that in Renaissance drama one may come across female characters who continually regret that they have been born women. They would rather like to be men and have all what men had. In Much Ado about Nothing (IV.i. 304), Beatrice is not able to show her solidarity with the hero because her being a woman robs her of the ability to act. She says, “Oh, God, that I were a man.” Similarly, Desdemona expresses a wish that “heaven had made her… a man” (Othello, I.iii. 163). Thus, it is possible to assume that the characters of women were not developed as independent and unique entities but created as projections of male’s vision of women as inferior beings.
The lack of female characters development is well illustrated by Shakespeare’s plays. In his plays, as critics have found, women characters are portrayed in two ways: either as witty, lively and cheerful characters that even outperform men – in comedies, and as somber, morally ugly and nightmare characters – in tragedies. There is not a character fully developed, which would reflect the real personality of a woman.
Let us explore roles of women in Shakespeare’s plays “The Taming of the Shrew” and “King Lear”. Katherine, the heroine of “The Taming of the Shrew”, is a woman character, which at a closer look is underdeveloped. While the plot revolves around Petruchio’s treatment of Katherine as a woman that needs to be changed in order to be a good companion to Petruchio, the very recognition of the fact that he succeeds in imposing his valued on her is too restrictive for Katherine’s character. A woman with a vigorous spirit and independent thinking becomes tamed and limited by the societal view.
Besides, it is a bit unrealistic that the woman is tamed through such weird methods which would otherwise lead to even greater confrontation. Especially, if to think that Petruchio tames Kate with some weird seriousness, as if she were some commodity of his. This leads to feeling a bit confused about the reality of the methods he chooses. As for the other women in the play, they are repressed towards its ending. This again exposes the lack of a variety of female characters. They are a mass, subject to societal norms and expectations of their role in running the house and raising children. The characters of Kate and Beatrice, which are portrayed in contrast, are just two of the vivid female characters in the whole play.
As for “King Lear”, there is a variety of female characters there, yet they suffer from some deficiencies, too. First of all, these characters are all subject to the patriarchal ideology, which at times deprives them even of humanity. The play was written so that the reader identifies himelf with King Lear who suffers from his daughters’ ingratitude.
It seems King Lear understands humanity as something attributive to males, expressing his antipathy to women. This attitude to women destroys 3 female characters till the end. This is how lack of elaboration of female characters subjects the play to one-sidedness. And, again the characters of women are ugly and more primitive than the character of their father.
To sum up, Renaissance dramatists did not create a variety of female roles due to a number of factors. Of course, there were certain roles, as illustrated by Shakespeare’s plays, but they were much less developed than those of men. That was a result of the societal order and ideology at that time.