Merchant of Venice

Women in Shakespeare


  • Schools often had "Male Only" signs
  • Women were able to learn reading and writing at village schools
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Upper class women had potential for better opprotunities

  • Gentry families were able to hire tutors
  • Some rich girls learned ancient literature and language like their brothers
  • Multiple pastimes: needlework, playing music, cooking, knitting
  • Even the wealthy had limits
  • Their education did not prepare them to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.
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Queen Elizabeth was the "Fairest of Them All"

  • She studied multiple languages, history, and mathematics
  • She was a role model for upper classes
  • Proved that a woman could rule a kingdom
  • Never got married- exception to the rule
  • Ruled alone for nearly half a century
  • “Marriage meant loss of power”
  • Her court was a large, chaotic assembly of ambitious young men
  • Alternated between a divine majesty and earthly woman
  • Never openly passionate about religion
  • Even though she was powerful, popular and wise, she couldn’t change the lives of her female subjects because she succeeded only in repudiating her identity as a woman
  • Male world accepted her because she was the exception among women


  • Were almost forced to marry due to difficulty of finding a well-paying job that they could obtain
  • Women were able to marry as early as 12 years old
  • Marriages were usually arranged
  • Divorce did not exist
  • Could only escape a marriage if the husband died or was killed
  • Women were burned if they killed their husband
  • Childbirth was very dangerous and many died after giving birth
  • Over 90 percent of all adults in 16th century England were married
  • Disobedience was a crime against religion

Political Rights

  • 16th century women could not vote, had few legal rights, minimal education and job opportunities outside of home
  • Property could not be titled to a woman
  • Often used to show or gain political power
  • Men were anxious to birth boys because of inheritance laws, but they were also happy to have daughters
  • Some women dress like/exhibited male qualities to gain more respect and freedom (ex. Portia)
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