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Masculinity, hegemonic masculinity, Shakespeare, gender criticism, toxicity, dominance, Renaissance, feminism

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In contemporary culture, men and women are dictated on how to respond to situations with strict adherence to their gender. It is from this norm that men are dictated to adopt characteristics like strength, dominance, privilege and independence. On the contrary, females are expected to be docile, submissive and delicate. However, we have evolved. Women no longer conform to the strict ideals imposed on them. As we have become more aware about the evils that restrict one’s freedom of expression, debates regarding the chains that tie men to their dominant roles have gained importance. Masculinity and its toxicity has been pointed out in many spheres like literature, music, politics and daily life. This brings one to the question: What is masculinity? Masculinity cannot be described on the basis of characteristics like strength and power. This brings us to another question. Is masculinity worth studying?
“My own masculinity is strangely separating from me, turning into my shadow, the place of my filiation and my fading. My attempt to conceptualize its conditionality becomes a compulsion to question it.” Homi J. Bhaba states that there was a “prosthetic reality-a ‘pre fixing’ of the rules of gender and sexuality”. Although this will vary from situation to situation, it is not something that a man can divorce himself from. It is a role that a man has to take at some point of time. To illustrate this, Bhabha gives us an example of how his father used to challenge him asking him a playful question, “Are you a man or a mouse” – thereby implying that the ‘binary’ was incompatible.  
The research attempts to show how the most canonized playwright is a victim of hegemonic masculinity. His works have been admired to date despite the incredulous treatment of women and the stereotypical representation of men.

The primary sources for this research paper are six literary works of Shakespeare, namely, Hamlet, Othello, Henry V, Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet. The research will be text based as it involves specific analysis of the above texts. The secondary resources will be research papers and essay that talk about the patriarchal figures in Shakespeare. However, instead of focus on the masculinity as a negative aspect, the researcher will also show how Shakespeare is able to mock masculinity in his works as well as reinforce it. ‘Masculinity in Shakespeare’ is built on the concept of Hegemonic Masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is defined as the practices that validates the male’s dominance over females and justifies their subordination. Hegemonic masculinity derives its meaning from cultural hegemony which goes on to show how masculinity is deeply entwined in the cultural aspect as well. Shakespeare, the most canonized playwright, finds himself being a cultural icon as well. 

Gender criticism started in the seventies veiling feminism as gender criticism started by pointing out the females in Shakespeare as the previous criticisms ignored the feminine. Gender criticism could be considered as New Criticism as it disapproves the theories preceding it and also stresses on the importance of close reading. This changed the attitude of how the readers perceived the female characters
Masculinity, being a toxic entity in itself, finds itself being percolated into the arts sphere very often. This is problematic as human beings tend to receive their ideologies and beliefs through art which goes on to say that any novel guilty of treasuring toxic masculinity could be seen as a threat or an abomination. Shakespeare, a name that our ears are accustomed to hearing very often, has written plays and sonnets that have sought glory and honour. He is the most celebrated poet and playwright. However, is Shakespeare guilty of enforcing masculinity which ends up being the impetus of an amazing climax in his plays? In order to answer this question, one will have to look at how Shakespeare entwines contrasting characteristics in his characters. 
For example, in “Hamlet” is a courageous character who is the epitome of masculinity in this particular play. The importance of masculinity is shown in the process of decision making. The deficiency of masculinity would change the character. It is impossible to think of Hamlet as a character that lacked “masculinity” since most of the actions that ensue after his decision making encompasses the masterpiece that Hamlet is. Othello is a character who has his actions powered by masculinity to the point that it forces him to murder his wife. However, here, masculinity is not celebrated. Although Othello seems to shine through his characteristics of strength, generosity and reflects a sharp naivety with his friends, it is his foolish trust that binds him to an evil force which forces him to do absurd things. Here, Shakespeare shows us how masculinity could be a driving force to push someone to his fall. The Taming of the Shrew is an offense towards women as it shows how every woman eventually becomes Desdemona who was once courageous and outspoken only to end up being a victim of hegemonic masculinity. Such characters are developed to display the norms prevailing in society at that period of time. Rome and Juliet, considered as one of the most romantic plays to be created, shows how arrogant and problematic masculinity in it even though the plays glorifies and justifies its prevalence in the play. To illustrate this, it is interesting to point out Coppelia Khan’s essay “Coming of Age in Verona” which highlights the gender differences in Romeo and Juliet. In this essay, she argues how the play is a depiction of a conflict between manhood as violence as a responsibility of the paternal figure. Manhood gains importance as a man leaves his family to unite with his lover. 
This argument sees Romeo, the main character, as having the freedom between two choices: He could cause conflicts on behalf of his father or make love. It is important to point out how in an essay about how problematic masculinity is, Khan manages to be governed by the norms society imposes on one. Her argument is problematic as it shows how “manhood” and the relationship with one’s father are two separate entities. Although Shakespeare is victim to problematic masculinity, one cannot deny how he questioned and challenged the existing representations of gender in society. Shakespeare has created male characters with female characteristics and female characters with male characteristics. This merging of genders has bought about powerful females like Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Kate. The Taming of the Shrew seems to support hegemonic masculinity as well as defy it. Kate, a stubborn character attracts a wealthy man because of her obstinate character. Unlike other classic plays where the male character is always drawn in by the females obedience and fragility. However, it ends up following the norm as the male protagonist subjects the female to humiliation in order to “tame” her. At the end of the play, we are introduced to Kate who is no longer courageous but timid and fragile. 

In addition, Shakespeare is taught in high schools and college. His influence has grown and his works have incorporated itself into every aspect of our life. We find ourselves quoting Shakespeare. We find ourselves drawing his works as examples of the canon. It is because of his power and popularity that we find a constant need to make sure that readers are aware about the masculinity portrayed in his works. The influence of toxic masculinity can lead to the longevity of patriarchy in our society which has been proved to hinder females and males from expressing their opinions without fear of being ostracized. In order to limit this, one must be aware of the patriarchal elements present in literary works. Awareness of such