Discuss Shakespeare Has No Heroes, But Only Heroines

In his works, Shakespeare has treated of every shade and type of woman hood, ranging from Miranda, representing simplicity at one extreme, to Cleopatra, the eternal courtesan, at the other. Much has been written to eulogies his penetrating insight into the female mind and heart.

Heroines in Tragedies and Histories:

Everyone is familiar with John Ruskin’s sweeping generalisation that “Shakespeare has no heroes, but only heroines”. The remark is applicable only to his comedies: It is certainly not true of his tragedies and histories. The tragic heroines are helpless, pathetic figures, eclipsed by the towering personality of the hero. Ophelia fails to understand the real greatness of Hamlet, never speaks a word of her love, weakly surrenders to the will of her father, and becomes the cause of tragedy all-round: Desdemona, beautiful, virtuous and devoted, has not even a word to say in her defense, and flutters like a helpless butterfly in the “talons of a fiend”. Cordelia, saintly and innocent is equally weak, pathetic, and helpless. Lady Macbeth, no doubt, can incite her husband to murder by the “velour of her tongue”, but she too, breaks down under the strain, turns somnambulist, and we get the heart- rending spectacle of the sleep-walking scene. Portia of Brutus, can rip open her thigh to convince her husband of her power and strength, but the strain of knowing his secret proves too much even for her. Cleopatra, the Egyptian coquette, is the only exception to this general rule: she, of course, is a match, in every way, to the great and majestic Antonio, the descendant of Hercules.

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A similar condition of things obtains in the English Histories. In the rough struggle of interests, parties, and nations, with the country torn within itself, or given over to foreign strife, the women are defrauded of their rightful share of joy and happiness. The histories offer, says Gordon, “a harsh and unfavourable soil for the characteristic virtues and brighter graces of women.” The atmosphere of these stories of royal wars at home and abroad, is not conducive to female happiness. A woman is most happy when she presides over her family and gets the tender affection and loving attention of her dear ones. This is denied to the woman of these plays. Constacean, Elizabeth, Margeret, Katherine of Arragon, the Queen of Richard II, all have to mourn and suffer, some the loss of children, some of husbands and brothers, and all of love. They are all wives of men of action who are too preoccupied and, therefore,

they dwell an unhappy discontented life in the suburbs of their husband’s good pleasure, merely:

To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,

And talk with you sometimes,



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