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Analysis Of Gender Roles In Shakespeare’S Society Due To Behaviorism

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Screaming children, disordered households, and numerous chores were a few of the things women in ancient times had to contend with. A woman’s main position in society was at the home, where she cared and tended to all the everyday assignments that a house in any class required. It was very different from the man’s role, which was to work daily to provide for his family. Up to as early as the mid 1900’s, men and women had very distinct positions in society. Male was the definably dominant gender in the early ages, dating back thousands of years to the hunter-gatherer period. It was established early on in society that men were more dominant, even in the lower classes. Men were the leaders of their community, while women respectively had simple roles of governing their own homes and taking care of their families. Gender roles in a society were established from the early years of Earth itself, and it was through a child’s upbringing that they learned the distinctive boundaries between men and women’s roles in a community. Perhaps one of the best examples of this definable boundary was in the 1500’s, in Shakespeare’s time and community. Due to the behaviorism in Shakespeare’s society, gender roles of that time were extremely defined and frequently untrue; these same roles have shaped society throughout the ages and are often the sources of stereotypes today.

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Behaviorism plays a part in everyone’s life and was an especially significant factor in gender roles in Shakespeare’s time. The concept of behaviorism has been studied and experimented with for hundreds of years. The essential idea is that a person begins as an empty slate with no previous ideas or standards they are set by. That person is then shaped by their surroundings and set in ideas such as what is right or just by those who raise them or those who they encounter. “In classical conditioning, if a piece of food is provided to a dog shortly after a buzzer is sounded, for a number of times, the buzzer will come to elicit salivation, part of an emotional response. In operant conditioning, if a piece of food is presented to a dog after the dog makes a particular motor response, the dog will come to make that motor response more frequently. For Staats, these two types of conditioning are not separate, they interact”. This shows how a person can be designed to respond to a certain stimulus, not just with a material item, but with ideas or laws as well. This conditioning was especially fixed in Shakespeare’s time to where women and men knew their place and has even carried into parts of today’s society. “The learner starts off as a clean slate (i. e. tabula rasa) and behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Both positive and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again”. This again shows how a person is easily molded by their surroundings through mainly nurture instead of nature. The average person is largely affected by their community and by those who raise them, so their own ideas and thoughts usually stem from those taught to them by society, which would explain the uniform ideas of a man and woman’s role in a community. These roles are not as dominant as they were in Shakespeare’s time, and yet it continues to play a substantial part in everyone’s life.

A man’s behavior and thoughts in Shakespeare’s society were mainly the effects of their upbringing. Through behaviorism, a man’s judgements and ideas were largely a reflection of society’s notions of men and women. ‘That’s why girls get pushed up against walls- they’re weak. So what I’ll do is push the Montague men into the street and the Montague women up against the wall”. In this scene of “Romeo and Juliet” two servants, Sampson and Gregory who are Capulet, are joking about raiding the Montague House. Here they announce they will kill the men and rape the women because the women are too weak to fight them. This shows some of the ideas men had of a woman’s place in society and of women in general. This behavior can be seen in some of the older characters in the play, which demonstrates that the young men were taught these ideas through those older than them in their community. ‘ ‘This is the love I feel, though no one loves me back. Are you laughing?’ ‘No, cousin, I’m crying. ’” In this scene, Benvolio is laughing at Romeo’s sadness and tears over his lost love. This shows the preconceived ideas in Shakespeare’s time that men were not supposed to show so much emotion, especially tears and sadness because it was considered weak. That same idea is still present today among men, who usually attempt to keep their emotions hidden for fear of being thought of as weak. Through society and their upbringing, men in Shakespeare’ time had very defined thoughts and notions.

Women’s beliefs and behavior in the society Shakespeare lived in stemmed from their surroundings and upbringing. Identical to men, females in Shakespeare’s time were largely brought up with firm beliefs in their duty to society and the roles they would play. “Well, start thinking about marriage now. Here in Verona there are girls younger than you – girls from noble families – who have already become mothers” (Shakespeare). In this scene Juliet’s mother is urging her to marry Paris. This shows the idea in that society of a woman’s duty to marry young and produce offspring, even if it did not mean happiness or prosperity for the girl. This idea is still present in some parts of today’s society, where it is seen that women should find a mate at an early age even though through medicine and modern technology people live longer than in Shakespeare’s time. “But soon you’ll be doing a wife’s work all night long” (Shakespeare). Here the Nurse is telling Juliet she will be doing a ‘wife’s work’ when Juliet sneaks out to marry Romeo. This displays another idea that women fall under men in Shakespeare’s society. It was considered a woman’s duty to provide pleasure for a man in those times and is still considered in some countries and places today. It is through preconceived ideas from the early times that stereotypes of women are still seen today. The behavior and beliefs of women in the society of Shakespeare came about through the ideas of their surrounding community.

Gender roles in Shakespeare’s society were established long ago during the hunters and gatherers era. From the very beginning, men and women had very defined roles in their community. “Husbands were typically working farmers – the providers. Wives typically cared for the home and the children”. In the very early ages, men were responsible for the hunting and building while women cared for the house, children, and day to day chores around the home. Children learned from their parents and community the roles they would play based on their gender. Males were taught at an early age by older men how to hunt and build, and girls were taught how to prepare meals, care for the home, and care for the younger children. “Ideas of appropriate behavior according to gender vary among cultures and era, although some aspects receive more widespread attention than others”. Throughout the ages, many diverse cultures sprung up with different roles for men and women. However, the overall position of men and women in society stayed the same. In every early culture, women were almost always found around their homes, while men usually labored in the surrounding area. This is not entirely true today. Women nowadays are working far from home and are even running their own businesses. However, in many cultures, women are still the lesser gender whose role is to work at home and not be seen. This idea is still considered the right way by many: men run society while women care for the home. From as early as the hunter and gatherer period, men and women’s roles were very defined.

Although nature may play a part in the acceptance of gender roles in Shakespeare’s time, they were mainly affected by society. Nature is defined by an offspring’s inherited traits from their parents. Id, which is the impulsive demanding part of the psyche that allows a child to get their basic needs met, contrasts with the Super-Ego, which is the moral part of the psyche that some would call the conscious. The Ego balances out both. Some would argue that it is nature that establishes a child’s perceived role in society and that they are not affected by their surroundings as much as through their own psyche. However, while nature does play a small part in a person’s established ideas in a society, it is the society itself that develops and shapes those ideas within that person. “In the World Values Survey, responders were asked if they thought that wage work should be restricted to only men in the case of shortage in jobs: in Iceland the proportion that agreed with the proposition was 3. 6%; while in Egypt it was 94. 9%”. This shows not only the difference in cultures and ideas in certain countries, but also that some communities have deeply rooted concepts of men and women’s roles. For example, in Egypt’s culture, men are mostly raised with the idea that they are dominant over women due to their society’s upbringing. In Iceland, children are raised with the idea that men and women are essentially equal in their roles in society. “With the rise of the New World came the expected roles that each spouse was to carry out specifically. Husbands were typically working farmers – the providers. Wives typically cared for the home and the children”. Again, this shows the typical roles of men and women in early societies, but also that they were expected because of how each person was raised. Because one community had very defined positions for men and women, it was anticipated that the children would grow into those same roles through their parents and society. Even though nature plays a part in a person’s ideas of gender, especially in Shakespeare’s time, it is mainly through behaviorism that they are established.

In conclusion, the gender roles in Shakespeare’s society, due to behaviorism, were regularly untrue and defined; throughout the ages these roles have been shaped and developed and have become the sources of stereotypes today. Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” provides a perfect example of the different ideas men and women had of their own and each other’s position in society. From the very beginning, men were seen as dominant over women. They were the leaders of government and their communities. Women, on the other hand, were responsible for the household; they cared for the children and saw to the day to day activities. Today, women and men hold equal standings in society, though some regions still consider men over women. These roles were determined through behaviorism, which means that a person’s ideas and notions are shaped by their society. Men and women were taught at an early age the duty they had in their community during Shakespeare’s time. For example, it was a man’s profession to be successful in his career, and it was a women’s occupation to marry well and provide children. To live in Shakespeare’s time would mean office work or hard labor for a man, and yelling children and hard chores for tending the house for a woman.

31 October 2020

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