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Masculinity is a concept that can be hard to grasp. It is a series of signifiers and traits that are often haphazardly thrown together into a crude and occasionally misshapen form, which is then labeled ‘man.’ These signifiers can change over time, but the basic structure has remained the same for a remarkable length of time. Men are providers, they are protectors, they are strong and persistent and hard-working and they never let their emotions get the better of them. This is, at least, the understanding of men in the English-speaking world, a world that has been shaped by the writings of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s works have much to say about the role of men in society: what a man should be, how he should behave, how he should think, feel, and act. In these, he mostly reinforces the standards of his time (Henry V), but he subverts them in a few ways, namely that men in his works are permitted to show emotion (Hamlet, Brutus), are punished for rushing to violence (Parolles, Othello), and in many ways find themselves ruled by the women around them (Bertram, Macbeth).


This paper was presented in partial fulfillment of Shakespeare (ENGL 4223) taught by Dr. Jay Curlin.