Monday, October 1, 2012

A Symbolic Rebirth

I was shocked when I read about the Friar’s proposal to redeem Hero’s honor.  Why would he find it necessary to fake to her death?  I wonder if the women in Shakespeare’s audience would have been horrified or pleased with this plan.  Was it common for women to become nuns if their reputations were somehow tarnished?  I decided to closely interpret the Friar’s scheme, and to meticulously analyze Hero’s character in order to better understand the status of women in Shakespeare’s time.  What message is Shakespeare trying to convey through Hero’s character? 

Basically, the Friar develops a scheme that involves concealing Hero’s existence.  He asks Leonato, who is utterly distraught over the accusations made against his daughter, to tell everyone that Hero died of shock and grief.  As he states, “The supposition of the lady’s death will quench the wonder of her infamy.  And if it sort not well, you may conceal her, as best befits her wounded reputation, in some reclusive and religious life” (4.1.237-41).  Thus, Friar Francis predicts that when the accusers hear that an innocent woman died, their anger will morph into regret.  If this is the case, Hero can safely return to the world.  If not, she can be quietly placed in the convent and become a nun.  It seems as though Hero must be symbolically “reborn” in order to re-enter society.  Friar Francis orders Hero, “Come lady, die to live.  This wedding day perhaps is but prolonged.  Have patience and endure” (4.1.253-54).  This successfully exhibits the importance of a woman’s chastity, for Hero’s name must be cleaned in order for her to figuratively come back to life.  Interestingly enough, despite the fact that it is Hero’s personal future on the line, she does not respond to the Friar’s suggestion, for it is Leonato who agrees to take his advice.  He proclaims, “Being that I flow in grief, the smallest twine may lead me” (4.1.249-50).  Again, this illustrates the inferiority of women.  Hero is his property, and he has authority over any matter that concerns her.        

It is interesting to note that Hero does not even attempt to angrily fight back against the allegations.  She simply takes a submissive stance and does not try to prove her innocence.  This portrays the idea that women were inferior to men, and that their opinions/words meant little.  It makes me further question the significance and irony of Hero’s name.  When I first looked at the names of the play’s characters, I originally guessed that Shakespeare might have named her in order to symbolize some sort of heroic behavior that she performs late in the play.  However, she is certainly not a “hero;” she is docile and does not fight back.  Therefore, I am guessing that the women in the audience probably did not view her as a feminine hero who rebels against patriarchal authority.  Nevertheless, perhaps women did view her as heroic because she is intelligent, and strong, since she keeps her mouth shut?  Since our society today is so different in terms of equality between men and women, it is hard to determine the reaction of Shakespeare’s female audience.  Personally, I am alarmed that such a drastic plan has to be designed in order for Hero to be “permitted” back into her society.  One of Shakespeare’s intentions of the play might have been to depict how significant patriarchal authority truly was in his society.  Could he have been questioning the severity of this authority, or was he simply trying to illustrate a fact?                           


Anonymous said...

Your post made me think of something I had not yet concidered. The reason Shakespeare gave Hero that moniker. It might be that Shakespeare was sending a message to the females in his audiences that to truly be heroic women must concede to the men in their lives. Hero doesn't battle and fight to win her reward of innocence. She quietly concedes to let the capable men determine her fate. I'm not sure this is the case though because Shakespeare wrote strong women characters who are rewarded in the end. In Midsummer Night's Dream Helena gets her man and the outspoken Beatrice gets a love match. Although one could look at Beatrice being married as way of shutting her up!
The first time I read this play I thought it was a bazaar choice to scheme that Hero died. After Tuesday's lecture regarding rebirth, it makes sense. It's actually practical. Even in today's world who wouldn't want to be reborn after being associated with something terrible, whether it be factual or not.

Cyrus Mulready said...

This is a very nice exploration of the issues raised by Hero's transformation and "rebirth," Krystal! It's interesting to me that so many of our bloggers this week are drawn to this question. I think you are right to connect this to bigger questions about the play and its original audience--how would they have viewed Hero? Was she as weak to Shakespeare's audience as she is to many of us? Is her behavior expected? One of the great achievements of Shakespeare is that he raises these questions without resolving them for us--allowing our readings to grapple with the problems raised by the plays.