Was Shakespeare a chauvinist, or was he just a product of his times? Throughout the years, this question has been discussed many times by many different scholars, and varying conclusions have been reached. In my opinion, Shakespeare was neither a chauvinist, nor a product of the times. The man we know as Shakespeare, (or for those who would argue that Shakespeare was not the actual author, we will say the man who wrote the plays) had an attitude about women, an appreciation for the female psyche, that was way ahead of its time. It is important to consider the sociological background of the family and of women in particular, during the general time of Shakespeares life.
During Shakespeares time, women were mere chattel, the possession of men, put on this earth for the sole purpose of serving a man. The following text, taken from The Goodman of Paris 1392 summarizes the wifes role in society, as presented by a Parisian man in 1392-1394. The Goodman of Paris had married a spectacularly young wife (she was fifteen at the time of the marriage, which represented a significant age difference between the Goodman and the young lady).
He moved the young woman, his wife, from her home and took her to an outlying area where there was virtually no one around who could befriend her, and no women around for her to talk to and learn from. As a result, there was a crisis in the good mans household: his young wife liked to plant flowers, cut roses, and sing and dance (what fifteen year old doesnt) but she was basically clueless as to what went on in a normal household.
"The Hand" is an intriguing story of a newlywed couple just beginning their fairy tale journey together. As the loving couple lay together one evening, the wife adoringly inspects her prince charming. She adores and admires him, and is well pleased with his physical beauty. It is at this point that she notices something awful about him. It is in plain sight, it is frightening, and monstrous. How ...
The Goodman begins his dissertation by attempting to reassure his young wife of his love for her, and he indicates that he has been happy with her behavior, and that he actually enjoys seeing her sing, dance, and care for the flowers. What follows, however, must have been an illumination; the Parisian goes into great detail about what constitutes the behavior of a good wife, and even provides household hints.