The Presentation of Gender and Sexuality

By Nnamani Mary Chinenye


The Presentation Of Gender and Sexuality
The Presentation of Gender and Sexuality
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Name: Nnamani Mary Chinenye
Reg. No.: 2015/200036
Department: English and Literary Studies
Course Title: Modern Comedy: Moliere to Soyinka
Course Code: 240
Date: Monday 26th June 2017


When speaking of gender, we know it is the state of being male or female and when we talk about sexuality, it has to do with the feelings and attraction one feels towards other people. Two themes in particular will continue to surface in both works. One of them is the literary representation of the female body in relation to that of the male; the second one is the ways that these women respond to these figurations of the body of early modern comedies. I will specifically spend the majority of this assigned topic in the questions of the presentation of gender and sexuality in Ben Johnson’s ‘Volpone’ and George Benard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’.

            In Volpone, female sexuality is examined in the characters Celia and Lady Would-be. These characters portray and reflect the misperception and low status of women in Renaissance Literature. Celia is known in the play to be religious, good, submissive and faithful to Corvino her husband who seems to control her and watch her movements. Corvino treats her far less like a lady and far more like a prisoner by keeping her locked in her room. He thinks of her as his most prized possession. We see that she was sexually harassed by Volpone and because of his act; the matter was taken to court where she appeals to heaven to expose him. She represents the Renaissance ideal of a woman: chaste, silent and obedient. Celia finally stands for herself in Act 3, when she protests Corvino prostituting her out to Volpone in other to gain his riches. After pleading with Corvino not to let this happen, her defense lies in Corvino again locking her away. She says to him, “Sir, let me beseech you, affect not these strange trials; if u doubt my chastity, why lock me up forever…” in this situation, Celia only hopes for a noble knight to rescue her from this situation. Luckily for her, one exists. In the Character of Lady Would-be, she is a repulsive female stereotype. She is Sir Politic’s wife. In contrast to Celia, who is confined to her home, Lady Would-be is given a lot of freedom, roaming Venice freely. Lady Would-be also contrasts with the Renaissance ideal of a woman, since she is an extreme talkative and well educated. She is skilled with language and makes constant literary references, but most of the men in the play (in particular Volpone) find her exceptionally annoying.

            In Pygmalion, Benard Shaw makes a point of highlighting gender loyalties in the play. Although, Mrs. Higgins initially is horrified by the idea that her son might bring a flower girl into her home, she quickly grows sympathetic to Liza. As a woman, she is first to express a concern for what will be done with the girl after they experiment the idea that her training makes her highly unmarriageable by anyone anywhere on the social scale. When Liza runs away from Wimpole St., she instinctively knows that Mrs. Higgins will take good care of her. Higgins mother sides with Liza before even her son, not revealing that Liza is in the house while Higgins is dialing the police. In contrast, relations between people of opposite genders are generally portrayed by Shaw as antagonistic. Higgins and his mother have a troubled relationship, as do the professor and Mrs. Pearce. Feddy and Liza get along better perhaps only due to his more passive, feminine dominion. In Shaw days, women are subordinate to men. They were regarded as property. Therefore, Eliza’s father is a good example of this attitude, selling Eliza to Higgins as if she was his property. This shows that inequality of the sexes is even greater than inequality between classes. The conflict reaches its climax when Higgins suggests that Eliza should marry. As to Eliza’s situation, she has to decide between marrying and going out to work. This reflects the contemporary beliefs that it was degrading for women to earn their own living. However, Eliza begins to rebel against Higgins by tossing the slippers at him. This can be seen as a way of release to the other ladies. Later on, Eliza marries Freddy, who is apparently superior to her, socially, not intellectually. Eliza, though, is eager to work and ignores conventions. Eliza’s behavior stands for women who struggled for their rights in those days.

            In conclusion, one can say that Shaw’s criticism and opinion is expressed in Eliza. Whereas females of the period were marked by some kind of helplessness, Eliza is an independent, self-confident character. She even uses language training to show superiority over Higgins.

About the Author

Nnamani Mary Chinenye

Nnamani Mary Chinenye

A student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Department of English and Literary Studies.


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