Was Shakespeare Sexist or Did He Just Have a Small Penis?

When it comes to Shakespearean literature, you could not find a bigger fan than me. Most freshman in high school despise reading Romeo and Juliet because they simply do not understand. But me? I raised my hand to volunteer for every part to read aloud in front of the class. Sophomore year, my love grew fonder. My best friend and I decided to eat edibles before my English class and with just our luck, we were picked to perform a scene from Othello as Desdemona and Emilia. I do not think I have had that much fun since then. This made me realize that even on drugs, I adored Shakespearean literature. After that, I stopped borrowing the school’s books and decided to buy my own copy of each play we were going to read together. My senior year, I decided to take Mr. Scanlan’s Shakespearean Literature class and it made me not want to skip class! (I was a troubled youth, if you haven’t gathered that by now) My journey continues as a fan of literature that is not fully appreciated by my generation.

            Now, after saying how much I adore William Shakespeare’s work, he also writes the women in his plays horribly! It sounds to me that someone broke Shakespeare’s heart and he never recovered so he is taking it out on the women in his plays. It is said that when he wrote Sonnet 18, he was not speaking of his wife but of his mistress. Scandal! Now lets take a deeper look into the female characters in some of William Shakespeare’s plays.

  1. Juliet-

Of course, I had to start with the most well-known! Juliet, only thirteen at the time, falls in love with Romeo who she secretly marries. Juliet fakes her death after devising a plan to be reunited with Romeo. However, the plan’s directions did not get to him in time. He kills himself because he believes she is actually deceased. After waking up and realizing Romeo has killed himself, she kills herself as well to be with him. Yes, I do admire the dedication and love they share for each other but why make this the ending? Juliet is treated like a pawn in her father’s life as he wants her to marry someone who is a Capulet. Juliet knows that if she were to live while Romeo is dead, her father would force her to marry a man she does not love.

  • Ophelia & Gertrude-

This play is mostly known for Hamlet’s monologue in Act I, scene ii where he contemplates the happiness in his life and absolutely drags his mother’s name through the mud. Hamlet makes his mother out to be a whore who did not mourn for the passing of her husband. When she gets in the middle of the feud between her new husband, Claudius, and Hamlet she drinks the poisoned wine that was meant for Hamlet. She died at the hand of the two men that were closest to her.

At the beginning of the play, Ophelia tells us of the romantic letters Hamlet has sent her telling her of the love he has for her. Ophelia tries to return the letters given to her to Hamlet, but he refuses to ever have written them. Hamlet calls her a whore and tells her to go to a nunnery. Ouch. This drives Ophelia insane. She dies later on in the play by falling in the river while picking flowers. The theory is that it was actually suicide but who else knows besides Shakespeare?

  • Desdemona-

Most of the incidents in Othello are caused by the sneaky moves of Iago, who is jealous of Othello’s success in the military. Iago plants the thought in Othello’s head that his wife, Desdemona, is being unfaithful. He goes mad with rage. When confronting her in their bedroom, she denies all accusations. Othello does not believe her and, out of anger, smothers her in their own bed. Another death that could have been avoided if it a certain male character did not open his mouth, or better yet, exist.

  • Cordelia-

I read King Lear during my own time, even though I wish it was part of the curriculum in my high school classes. King Lear tested his three daughters to see who loved him the most so he could divide his kingdom equally. Cordelia, the only daughter who actually loved her father, said nothing and was banished. After the two other sisters got the land from their father, they shunned him but Cordelia remained loyal. She tries to rescue her father who, by this time, has gone mad and does not recognize her. Edmund orders death by hanging for King Lear and Cordelia and then changes his mind. His decision was made too late and Cordelia is hanged. She dies because her father failed to see the one daughter of his that truly loved him. (Also, just found out they made a movie in 2018 and there is a TV show on Amazon Prime! No idea how accurate they are but I am definitely going to be watching them!)

  • Lavinia-

Holy shit. This poor girl. Lavinia is being fought over by two brothers but when Aaron the Moor suggests they rape her instead, they decide that that is a great idea. Afterwards, they sever her hands and cut her tongue out of her mouth to prevent her from testifying against them. Lavinia tells her father who assaulted her by showing him the story of Philomel and writing the men’s names in the sand. Lavinia’s father kills the two brothers, has their remains baked into a pie and served to their mother and the Emperor. At the end of tale pf Philomel, the father kills his raped daughter to defend his honor. Titus, completely mad, stabs Lavinia to protect his own.

I saved the last two for the badass ladies.

  • Cleopatra-

One of William Shakespeare’s most complex characters. She is a powerful leader which is saying a lot during the time this was written. There are a few flaws in the ending of this play, but we will get to that. Cleopatra dies because of a man’s mistake. Antony, her lover, believes Cleopatra is dead so he falls on his sword and passes away. After Cleopatra hears of Antony’s death and refusing to be taken captive by the Romans, she kills herself by allowing a poisonous snake to bite her which results in her dying. Personally, I really dislike how she used a snake to kill herself. As an owner of two snakes, I adore these animals and they get such a bad rap! Once again, I admire the love and dedication these two have for each other, but wouldn’t you want to live on for them, to do the things they always dreamed of doing? On another note, it is really showing her strength when she refuses to be taken captive and surrender to her enemy.

  • Lady Macbeth-

If you have ever read Macbeth, you most likely started out hating Lady Macbeth. She convinces her husband to murder King Duncan of Scotland so that he can take his place. After helping him plant the murder weapon on one of the king’s guards, guilt and regret start to take over Lady Macbeth. She becomes depressed and delusional, sleepwalking through the night and washing her hands to remove the bloodstains that she believes is still there. Although it isn’t necessarily specified how she dies, it is assumed that she killed herself. Lady Macbeth wanted her husband to have more power than, even he, wanted. Too much ambition can cause negative results. I love that this play proves that women really can manipulate a man to do anything they want. Oh, did I say that aloud?

Overall, William Shakespeare has passed down so much knowledge throughout the years and we still could learn a lot from him. If I could go back in time and talk to him, I would ask him to make a character like Lara Croft or Wonder Woman but he might laugh in my face and tell me “More of your conversation would infect my brain.”. I have no idea what to believe in but if there is a place beyond death, please tell me he is there. I have so many questions.


“Shakespeare’s Love Life – Stuff About Shakespeare.” Shakespeare’s Love Life, sites.google.com/a/pvlearners.net/stuff-about-shakespeare/shakespeare-s-love-life. Accessed 6 May 2021.

Poetry Foundation. “Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s….” Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45087/sonnet-18-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day. Accessed 6 May 2021.

“No Fear Shakespeare: Hamlet: Act 1 Scene 2.” SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/nofear/shakespeare/hamlet/page_18. Accessed 6 May 2021.

Ed. “Suicide In Shakespeare’s Plays & Elizabethan Times.” No Sweat Shakespeare, 27 Jan. 2020, www.nosweatshakespeare.com/blog/suicide-in-shakespeares-plays.

Burrow, Gale Alana Friedman. “Shakespeare’s Tragic Women · Intepretations of Shakespeare: Images of Women · Interpretations of Shakespeare, or, What You Will.” © Special Collections, Claremont Colleges Library, 2016., shakespeareatclaremont.omeka.net/exhibits/show/intepretations-of-shakespeare/shakespeare-tragic-women. Accessed 6 May 2021.

Ed. “Shakespeare Insults: 55 Shakespearean Insults & Put Downs.” No Sweat Shakespeare, 28 Jan. 2021, www.nosweatshakespeare.com/resources/shakespeare-insults.

2 thoughts on “Was Shakespeare Sexist or Did He Just Have a Small Penis?

  1. This was really interesting! Now that you describe each main female character like this I can really see the pattern of them being killed off in every single play, either by a man or by themselves. What this feels like to me is Shakespeare romanticizing women tragically dying. It is evident he found that very compelling. So I guess that means he did use female characters as tools or some sort of symbolism much of the time in his plays.

  2. You know I thought that I had some of the best titles in the game, but I think you might’ve just won. This was so good lol. I appreciate the bravery to slander Shakespeare like this in a class taught by a professor who wrote a book about the book. I do think that your critiques are on point though. Shakespeare’s women are not written particularly well at all, and that’s still an issue these days. There’s this whole genre of memes on the internet that are just like snippets of men writing women, and they are my favorite things to cringe to lol. Female characters are still just plot points and objects of focus in so many stories, and it sucks. Great work!

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