Shakespeare in Love, the award-winning masterpiece starring Joseph Fiennes as the Bard and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow as his lady love, is perhaps one of the best depictions of the life and roles of Elizabethan era women. It was a male dominated society
Elizabethan women had little or no control at all over their destinies. Normally, it was a male who made decisions for the Elizabethan era women, without as much as a consultation with or affirmation from the women involved. In the case of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Viola, it was her father who promised her to an aristocratic family, without asking her whether the marriage suited her.
Did Elizabethan women get educated?
The women of the Elizabethan era were given education only if they were members of the nobility. Otherwise, they had to stay home and learn to run the household. For Elizabethan era women of noble birth, education included knowledge of several languages, including Latin, Greek, Italian, and French. However, even noblewomen were not allowed to go to university and were only taught by tutors who visited them in their home.
Gender roles during the Elizabethan era were clearly defined, with men reigning superior over women. Men really had such great influence over women. While a man went out to work, a woman at that time was only expected to keep the hearth – to stay at home and manage the household duties in the family.
From birth, Elizabethan era women were taught how to govern a household and perform domestic duties so that when they married, which was expected of them regardless of their class and ancestry, their husbands would be proud.
Marriage in the Elizabethan Era
Speaking of Elizabethan marriage, women were also expected to provide a dowry, which could be any amount of money, goods, or property that was to be their contribution to the marriage.
Once married, a woman during the Elizabethan era was expected, perhaps even pressured, to have and raise children. During the time, the mortality rate among infants and children were high, so even though the women gave birth often, families were not always large in number.
While marriage was a highly coveted state, especially among women of lower classes, not all Elizabethan era women married. For single women at the time, the nunnery was a place suggested. When monasteries were dissolved, however, the only place for single women during the Elizabethan era was in domestic service.
Women’s dependence on men
All throughout their life, the women of the Elizabethan times were made to become dependent on a male relative – father, brother, uncle, husband, or other. Even religion dictated the fate of women, as obedience of a woman to a man was greatly emphasized.
It is interesting to note that while the rest of the women citizenry of England during what people call the Golden Age were given to the decisions of the male members in their family and were only limited to household duties, it was a woman who sat on the throne as queen of the land.