8 of Shakespeare's Great Women ...


8 of Shakespeare's Great Women ...
8 of Shakespeare's Great Women ...

There’s no denying that Shakespeare’s women are great characters. At a time when female actors were practically non-existent and female parts were played by men, nothing deterred The Bard from writing great roles and speeches for his ladies. Shakespeare loved women. He imbues his great female characters with all the qualities he so admired about the fairer sex, giving them twisting plots and engaging dialogue. Here are my favorites among Shakespeare’s women.

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Juliet – Romeo and Juliet

There’s no doubting that Juliet is the most famous of Shakespeare’s women and the story of the star crossed lovers is probably the most famous love story ever. The poor girl has to deal with family rivalry to be with the man she loves, a rivalry which produces a tragic ending. The story of Romeo and Juliet has been and continues to provide the blueprint for love stories of every genre.


Juliet embodies a timeless image of youthful romance and tragic love. Her character mesmerizes audiences with her depth of feeling, courage, and dignity even in the face of insurmountable odds. While her story is centuries old, its themes feel just as relevant today, touching on the struggle for independence, the quest for true connection, and the sorrow of love lost to senseless conflict. The pathos of her tale continues to resonate, inspiring countless adaptations across diverse mediums, forever capturing hearts with her enduring pledge of love.


Rosalind – as You like It

Rosalind is the female character Shakespeare gave the most lines to – 685 in all – and she dominates the play. She is also one of Shakespeare’s women with a very strong character and profound message. She fights and overcomes the limitations placed on women in the society of the time. She is strong and charming, a knowledgeable self critic with great self-awareness and a role model even for modern times.


Rosalind is one of the most beloved female characters in Shakespeare's works. Her 685 lines in As You Like It make her the most prominent female character in the play. Rosalind is a strong, independent woman who defies the gender roles of her time. She is witty, self-aware, and charming, and serves as a role model for modern women. She is a symbol of female empowerment, and her story is a reminder that women are capable of achieving great things. Rosalind's character is a testament to Shakespeare's skill as a playwright, and her story is a timeless reminder of the power of female strength and resilience.


Beatrice – Much Ado about Nothing

One of the great things about Shakespeare’s female characters is that he was never afraid of writing about strong, clever women. In Elizabethan England, women were still second class citizens and mostly without an education, but thanks to a charismatic and strong-willed queen, some women made themselves heard. Beatrice is sharp of mind and quick of wit and the endless verbal sparring with one-time (and future) lover Benedick throughout this play is excellent entertainment. (If you’ve never discovered the joys of Shakespeare, rent or download the movie version of this play starring Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson – I’m sure you’ll love it.)


Portia – the Merchant of Venice

Portia is my favorite among all the women in Shakespeare’s plays. As well as being one of the meatiest female roles (574 lines in total), Portia is rich, beautiful and turns out to be one very smart cookie. So she has to play the part of a man to achieve her great triumph (imagine what that must have been like for the audience – to watch a man playing a woman who is playing a man!), but she does it with resourcefulness, intuition and a very clever twist.


Portia is a character from William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. She is a wealthy heiress and is considered one of the most powerful female characters in Shakespeare’s works. Portia is known for her wit and intelligence, as well as her resourcefulness and quick thinking. She is also noted for her ability to disguise herself as a man and outsmart her opponents. Portia is a strong, independent woman who is capable of making her own decisions and standing up for herself. Her story is a timeless example of female empowerment and her character is an inspiration to many women.


Lady Macbeth – Macbeth

This is one of the least likable of Shakespeare’s female characters. Lady Macbeth is crafty and manipulative and by attacking the weaknesses and faults of her husband’s character, she coerces him into bloody murder. She is frightening and cruel, ambitious and ruthless – so much so that she wishes she were a man so she could murder Duncan herself. However, Shakespeare decided to burden her with a much softer characteristic – guilt! After the murder, she is a broken woman who never gains peace.


Lady Macbeth is one of the most complex characters in Shakespeare's works. Despite her ambition and manipulation, she is not without her own weaknesses. After the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth is consumed by guilt and regret, and never finds peace. She is a tragic figure who is driven by ambition and a desire for power and control. Lady Macbeth is a classic example of a strong female character in literature, and her story is often used to illustrate the consequences of unchecked ambition. Her story is an important reminder to readers that ambition, if left unchecked, can lead to disaster.


Katherine – the Taming of the Shrew

Bad-tempered, ill-mannered, rude, opinionated and feisty, Katherine is destined to be an old maid as no man can get close enough to charm her. Enter Petruchio who “tames” her through humiliation, neglect and ignoring her. Despite this, Katherine actually comes out of the experience with a voice that had previously not been listened to and a new found quiet dignity.


Katherine from William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is one of his most iconic female characters. She is a strong-willed, independent woman who refuses to conform to the expectations of men and society. She is unafraid to speak her mind and has a fiery temper. However, she is also intelligent and capable, and her character arc shows her growth and development throughout the play.

At the start of the play, Katherine is presented as a shrewish woman who has been declared unmarriageable due to her bad temper. She is determined to remain single and independent, and her refusal to submit to a man's will has earned her a reputation as a shrew. Enter Petruchio, a man determined to tame her. He uses humiliation, neglect, and ignoring her in an attempt to break her spirit.


Viola – Twelfth Night

Viola is another of those females in Shakespeare’s plays who disguises herself as a man. However, unlike others, she’s not really a scheming minx; just a girl in love. Viola is actually pretty likable without any real serious faults. Ok, she sets in motion a convoluted plot of various in love/out of love scenarios, but all works out well in the end.


Viola's situation begins with a shipwreck where she believes she has lost her brother Sebastian. Stranded in a foreign land, Illyria, she uses her wit and assumes the identity of "Cesario," entering into the service of Duke Orsino. Ironically, it is through her male persona that she's able to express her honest feelings and thoughts, which she might not have been able to do as freely in her female form. Her disguise leads to a comedic entanglement of desires and identities, revealing the fluid nature of love and personality. Ultimately, her intelligence, loyalty, and genuine heart make her endearing to all.


Imogen – Cymbeline

Not one of Shakespeare’s better known plays, but definitely one where a female character plays a pivotal role. Imogen is awarded 594 lines of dialogue (the 3rd highest of all Shakespeare’s leading ladies) in a story that contains love, betrayal, connivance and chivalry. Imogen is beautiful, wise and resourceful and good job too because she needs her wits about her as a plot based on a test of fidelity plays out around her.

I know this list doesn’t provide in-depth information about Shakespeare’s female characters but I hope it has given you an insight and motivation to read one of his plays. He writes women incredibly well, even if it is usually the men that get all the attention in literary terms. Are you a fan of Shakespeare or maybe you’re going to give him a try?

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Where Thoughts and Opinions Converge

Just my opinion, but Shakespeare's female characters are integral characters in his dramas and comedies: Lear's three daughters, Hamlet's mother, Othello's Desdemona, in addition to the women already named. Of course they are defined by the Elizabethan Era, but their faults and flaws, like Shakespeare's male leads, lie not in their stars but in themselves...also important to remember that the actors who played these women were usually men

Another great adaptation from play to movie is the Taming of the Shrew (one of my favorites) with Elizabeth Taylor as Kate. You (Neecey or anyone else who is interested) should check it out! It's amazing.

I was part of a production of As You Like It...So knew the play back to front. Rosalind was a great character and I am glad you made this list and that she is included in it!

Fantastic examples! I, for one, have always had an admiration towards Ophelia from Hamlet, although she wasn't a pro feminist woman, I've always felt she knew she had this sort of power over Hamlet- and that, I found so intriguing! She's more powerful than the reader sees! Great article!

This is actually my field of study at college, so I'm very surprised that Isabella from Measure for Measure was not included on this list! She's a very strong and admirable female character. Also, I can't say I'm a fan of Juliet, but I'm less of a fan of Romeo haha. If anyone is interested in a great film version of Twelfth Night I highly recommend the 1996 film directed by Trevor Nunn.

Shakespeare's women are all either manipulative or unbearably subordinate; he plays right into the Madonna/whore dichotomy on top of that his only well formed/ three dimensional characters are men Shakespearean women are more like plot devices, if you want an inspirational or realistic woman read some Ibsen

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