Shakespeare’s Women

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From the young and in love, to the old and wise, from the worryingly cranky to the grounded and gritty, Shakespeare’s women come in a wonderful variety. Asked to pick your favorite who would you choose?  Would you choose the witty if wary Beatrice? Or the young and tragic Juliet? Or perhaps one of the witches from Macbeth?

During 2010 we held an exhibition of portraits called ‘Shakespeare’s women’ showing portraits of some of Shakespeare’s characters. Some showed actors playing the roles and some were imaginative responses to the characters. We asked visitors to use a pin board outside to nominate the character they would most like to be. The results were very interesting ….

Most popular was Juliet with 408 votes. I wonder what it is about Juliet that we like so very much? So very much we would want to be her? I can certainly see the charm of being young and in love, and see something I might envy in her eloquence in crisis. But whilst we all want to find our Romeo, the ending up dead part is less of a lure.

Trailing behind in second place is Titania with 136 votes. With her strength and her magic it is easy to see what her charm might be. She can control the weather – the ultimate wish of many an English person or tourist, which would certainly be fun. Although she has to spend some time madly in love with an Ass it is a rather less dreadful fate than Juliet’s.

Cleopatra and Beatrice are next with 115 and 113 votes. There is a lot to like about both of these women, but Cleopatra’s death (compared with Beatrice’s happy marriage) did not seem to deter the voters.

Viola gets 88 votes, I think she would be my choice, although she suffers from thinking her twin brother drowned and suffers the pangs of what she thinks in unrequited love. She is also witty, clever and ends up with the man of her dreams. OK so perhaps she has sleepless nights wondering if her husband is still in love with her brother’s wife, but let’s hope Orsino’s love for her is genuine.

Kate from the taming of the shrew gets 82 votes. Be good to have her wit, but I am not sure I’d want her husband! Ophelia gets 63 votes, presumably from strong swimmers since the watery end is no deterrent.

So who were the losers? With only 1 vote were Bianca (sister of the demanding Kate, lots of people love her, but she probably has a chip on her shoulder) , Puck, (whom I always assumed was male, but hey why not!), Gertrude (come on you do get to be queen for a while, but to have a murderer for a husband and a depressive for a son, perhaps not), Hippoylita (Theseus never seemed that bad to me?)  and Rosaline (Romeo’s love before he met Juliet – I agree that would not be good!)

So who would you be?

The full list of votes are as follows:  JULIET  408, TITANIA  136, CLEOPATRA  115, BEATRICE 113, VIOLA 88, KATE  82, OPHELIA  63, PORTIA  62, ROSALIND  42, HELENA  36, JOAN OF ARC  30, HERMIONE   30, THE WITCHES  29, DESDAMONA  25, CORDELIA  19, HERMIA   16, MIRANDA  16, OLIVIA    13, NURSE  10, QUEEN KATHERINE   9, HERO  8, PAULINA   6, EMILIA    6, TAMORA   5, QUEENE ANNE   4, QUEEN MARGARET    4, GONERIL    4, PERDITA   3, ARIEL  3, ISABELLA   3, CELIA    3, REGAN  2, LADY CAPULET    2  with 1 vote each going to Bianca, Julia, Audrey, Puck, Mistress Quickly, Gertrude, Hippoylita, Rosaline (R+J) and Maria

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Innogen, Beatrice, Juliet!

  • Yes that would be an interesting thing to know, in fact I sort of think not many men voted at all. After all the question was who would you be, not who would you date! But I honestly have no idea! ^liz

  • Yeah! ^liz

  • Yeah! ^liz

  • It seems that there was no gender split on the voting which is a pity as I bet there’s a big divergence on votes. I could be wrong but I bet not many men voted for Juliet, for example. I suspect that Beatrice would also be more popular with women than men too – what a shame the votes weren’t split into male and female.

  • Beatrice every time!!

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  • Liz Woledge

    Yes I agree, I wonder if that was an age thing? That is most of the people who responded in that way, by taking a note on a pin board were young and didn’t identify with Gertrude at all. But why not Gertrude? I would rather be her than Regan or Goneril personally. Though I must say I am glad this is purely fantasy – I would rather be me than any of Shakespeare’s characters.

  • Liz Woledge

    You might like to marry her, but would you want to be her? Although I agree it is surprising that she didn’t get any votes. I was talking with some 15 year old children the other week about whether Lady Macbeth is a good wife and they were quite divided in what they thought. Some saw her as supportive and strong, others as manipulative and cruel. ^liz

  • One more comment from the male perspective. I keep wondering why Tamora, Goneril and Regan could get much more votes than say Gertrude. Whatever calamities they suffer can be found in a lesser degree in Gertrude’s life but at least once she does something great when disobeying Claudius even if this is not read as a self-sacrificial act.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a disgrace that Lady Macbeth isn’t on the list. “Foul is fair” she is, and she does nothing but support her husband in any way she can, and then pays the ultimate sacrifice because she happily gathers all his guilt to herself. I’d marry her in a minute – what a wife to have!!

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