Compare and contrast the significance of masculinity

Compare and contrast the significance of masculinity in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by William Shakespeare (1599) and ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding (1954).

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Masculinity is a core driving force in both ‘Much Ado About Nothing’(MAAN) and ‘Lord of the Flies’(LOTF), as male characters dominate both texts. Golding consciously chose all male characters in order to replicate society as he claims “If you land with a group of little boys they are more like a scaled-down society than a group of little girls will be.

” Therefore, Golding’s novel offers an insight into patriarchal society and masculinity at a societal level. Much Ado also examines masculinity at a social level as the play is dominated by male characters and their homo-social bonds. Both texts are structured around male relationships and their breakdown. Masculinity is underpinned by conflict throughout both as the characters’ masculinity is determined by dominance and social hierarchy. The male characters have dominance over the effeminate characters which strengthens their homo-social bonds and subsequently status.

Masculinity in both texts is intrinsically linked to status which motivates the main conflicts in both. MAAN begins following a victory in war. This war is incredibly significant to all the men of the story as their status is defined and reinforced by their efforts. Claudio gains a high status and good reputation, which helps establishes him as a man of note and aids his transition into manhood through marriage. Similarly, in LOTF status is gained through the violent act of hunting.

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In Act 1 Scene 1, a messenger brings news to Leonato that “Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine called Claudio.” This is then followed by the comment that Claudio was “doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion”, the savage imagery of a ‘lion’ alludes to the violent and primal nature of war. In this quotation, Shakespeare is idolising the violence of war, as a ‘lion’ is regarded as regal and dominant. As Shakespeare begins the play by talking about Claudio’s reputation, it shows the significance of a man’s war status in the wider society as the messenger and Leonato discuss his prowess admirably. Furthermore, the significance of the male’s war based masculinity contrast with the initial “world, largely feminine in character” that Everett identifies. The men disrupt the feminine peace of the countryside, much like how men disrupt the plot through the pain caused by Don John and Claudio. Claudio’s gain of this status as a man is significant to the plot as it causes Leonato to respect Claudio and allow him to marry his daughter, and is significant in motivating Don John’s villainy causes Don through jealousy towards Claudio’s status. Smith points out that the play’s structure is based on male relationships, as Don John’s villainy is a crucial blocking feature in the comedic structure and argues that Don John seeks to reaffirm his own masculinity and Hero is simply the means of regaining his masculinity not the actual object of his frustration. Masculinity is also interwoven with status in terms of the honour code at the time, the male characters all strive to be men of honour and their actions are incredibly dictated by what society accepts from men of the gentry. Honour for men is associated with violence, which links to the savagery of ‘so-called’ civilised masculinity. As violence is viewed admirably in the text as War and Honour define the men’s status. The conflicts within the text are motivated by men aiming to honour what it means to be a man at the time.

LOTF is a text that primarily focuses on power and status between a group of boys and how this leads to conflict between the boys. Savage and civilised masculinity are not interwoven as in Much Ado but are rather placed as binary oppositions. With Ralph and Jack embodying these ideas, Ralph is symbolic of the structure and order of the civilisation the boys have lost and Jack represents the enticing danger of the new island life. Ralph and Jack’ masculinities are both defined by their status within the group and conflict, particularly Jacks. As for both boys, the respect from the other boys due to their status is of great importance to them. This is represented in their struggle for dominance, as their male rivalry between the two represents the conflict between savage and civilised masculinity. “The two boys faced each other. There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common sense”. Jack is associated with a primal masculinity of ‘hunting’ a traditionally masculine task, whilst Ralph appeals to the image of so called civilised society at the time ‘common sense’, they are symbolic of the inner turmoil of the expectations of modern masculinity in the 1950s and the cruel savage masculinity. The imagery of Jack and Ralph being different worlds is significant as they are similar yet simultaneously worlds apart due to their different viewpoints. They are also presented as constantly in each other’s orbits, “There was that indefinable connection between himself and Jack; who therefore would never let him alone; never”. The two are magnetised to each other due to the conflict and aim to dominate the other. There is also the implication that the two cannot exist without each other, reflecting how in society there is always a moral debate between what is right and what is wrong and the two constantly coexist in opposition. However, Golding’s experience in the war let him to have a more pessimistic outlook on the world and the moral good of man, seeing the constant struggle between good and corruption, as Golding saw the descent into war as proof of the potential for all to be corrupted into savagery. Golding views all men as having the internal struggle between good and bad within themselves, and explores how society can shape this struggle. This dynamic between the two is the crux of the book, as the story follows the descent into savagery in opposition to the civilised world the boys have left. The change to savagery in the boys is categorised by conflict, as the boys gain group status and identity through initially hunting which extends to outright violence. This is most evident in the fact that Jack was unable to kill a pig alone only within the group, as the group descend into group hysteria which motivates them to kill. This group hysteria is most commonly seen in the chants the boys use whilst killing, “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” The imperative tone used in these chants highlights the power of them, as they are instructing the children to commit violent acts. Chants of this form are present during all group killings including when Simon is killed due to mass hysteria causing him to be mistaken for the beast. In MAAN, Beatrice orders Benedict to “Kill Claudio”, also using an imperative tone to inspire violence. Men are made to prove their masculinity through killing highlighting the underlying savagery. The act of killing Simon is particularly significant as even Ralph and Piggy are part of it despite being the ‘civilised’ ones. Which highlights Goldings belief that all men have the potential to become corrupted. Golding’s outlook differs from Shakespeare’s as Shakespeare idolised the civilised masculinity and the war and honour it is based on. As in the 16th century there was a more unquestioning acceptance of society as a positive force, whist the war greatly impacted people’s outlook on the benefits of savagery and society. In MAAN Benedick challenging Claudio is seen as honourable and respectable as it is following the honour code.

Male homo-social bonds are crucial for both texts as they are the key relationships. The male homo-social bonds in both are reinforced through making femininity inferior, this is shown through the institution of marriage. As in MAAN the marriage between Claudio and Hero is about cementing male homo-social bonds. Smith points out that the Shakespearean romantic comedies are about a young man’s transition into manhood, wife’s are merely part of the male ritual and side-lined. The male characters support each other, as seen by Don Pedro’s input in wooing, leading Don Pedro to say to Claudio “And as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join with thee to disgrace her.”, Don Pedro is such an intrinsic part of the wooing process that he is also personally involved when problems arise. Furthermore, Claudio’s speech at the wedding shows the importance of male bonds in the marriage, “Give not this rotten orange to your friend”. Hero is commodified, reduced to a product that is exchanged between the two men, which is symbolic of the true power dynamics involved in the marriage. The marriage is an exchange between the men which Hero plays little part in, especially as a key reason Claudio is able to marry is due to his status gaining him respect in the eyes of other men including Leonato. Hero has little agency in the play, her actions are determined by the male characters despite Hazlitt’s claim that “Hero is the principle figure in the piece”. As seen in Act II Scene I, when her father tells her “Daughter, remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer”. The imperative tone shows Leonato’s control over Hero’s life as he dictates her choices. Leonato’s anger over Hero’s alleged infidelity reinforces the idea that her marriage is ultimately about him as Leonato is angry about the shame it brings. “Do not live, Hero, do not open thine eyes, For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die, Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames,”, Leonato would rather his daughter die than have the shame of the break of the homo-social bonds. Hero’s free will is repressed for homo-social bonds. The male characters dominate the feminine through focusing on the homo-social bonds and female characters being used throughout. However, Beatrice subverts this slightly as she is able to have more autonomy over her own marriage. In Act 2 Scene 1, Beatrice claims “Yes, faith, it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say, “Father, as it please you.”, the word ‘duty’ highlights it obligatory nature. Beatrice is presented as challenging patriarchal control, therefore, she has more autonomy over her decisions than Hero, who is more trapped into the patriarchy through her father. Marriages in the 16th Century tended to be arranged by the future wife’s father, hence why Claudio must appeal to Leonato, Beatrice subverts this and chooses her own husband showing her as a progressive female character. Yet ultimately Beatrice reverts to a submissive portrayal of women at the end of the play, as after she is married her speech is drastically reduced, alluding to how women are silenced in marriage by men. Marriage is significant in reinforcing male domination in MAAN, as women subvert to a submissive role and marriage is arranged through homo-social bonds.

In LOTF the male social bonds are also reinforced through repression of feminine characteristics, as the boys’ homo-social bonds help create their masculinity and the masculinity is based on the subordination of the effeminate. Khan and Wachholz argue that “by teasing the feminine Piggy, the boys illustrate their flight from the feminine.”. Golding describes Piggy as “an outsider not only by accent … but by fat, and ass-mar, and specs, and a certain disinclination for manual labour”, his effeminate body, disinclination for traditionally masculine tasks and lack of father figure mark him as feminine. The boys “flight from the feminine” means that the boys attempt to reinforce their own masculinity as a group by dominating the feminine. The boys’ bonds are strengthened through their bullying of Piggy. During the introductions, Piggy is given his nickname of ‘Piggy’, which causes “A storm of laughter” and Golding describes how “For the moment the boys were a closed circuit of sympathy with Piggy outside”. The phrase “closed circuit” shows the power of the boys’ bond as they are joined together, this is also seen later in the novel as the boys begin to lose their individual identity and become merely the hunters. Part of Piggy’s bullying is likened to Connell and Messerschidt’s ideas of hegemonic masculinity, as Piggy is seen as of a subordinate masculinity that does not fit in with the other boys’ ideas of what it is to be a man. Piggy is put down as part of reinforcing the dominant ideas of masculinity, hence why the boys flee from Piggy. The boys’ dominance and rejection of femininity are significant of masculinity on a societal level, as the island setting acts as a microcosm for wider society. The boys’ domination of the effeminate reflects attitudes towards gender in the 1950s, as gender roles were more rigid at the time and there was greater acceptance for male domination compared to now. Both texts explore how homo-social bonds are reinforced by dominating the feminine / effeminate characters, as male domination is supported by a subordinate position of more feminine men and women. In LOTF bullying the more feminine Piggy joins the boys together and maintains the hegemonic masculinity of society in the new island.

Masculinity has great significance in MAAN and LOTF as the plot in both are motivated by the homo-social bonds. As the marriage in MAAN, which is a key part of any Shakespearean comedy is a cementation of male homo-social bonds rather than a union between man and wife, as shown by Don Pedro’s input in wooing and Hero’s lack of choice over who she marries. Hero’s character is very subordinate as seen by her lack of agency and influence within the play, as the females are used for male aims. The male homo-social bonds in LOTF help the boys re-establish their masculinities following the hegemonic model of wider society. As the boys’ bond is established and strengthened through cruelty, in terms of hunting and in dominating the effeminate Piggy. Masculinity also has significance in terms of the conflict of the texts, as both texts reflect a struggle between a civilised masculinity and a savage masculinity. As in MAAN there is an emphasis on honour and war, which causes conflict between the men in the assertion of masculinity. As Don John’s villainy is motivated by his lack of masculinity from losing in the war, and honour brings conflict between the men when Benedick is ordered to kill Claudio. In MAAN, Shakespeare focused on admiring the civilised masculinity without realising it is based on an underlying savagery. LOTF brings the two masculinities into a direct opposition by personifying them into Jack and Ralph, Golding is more critical of both masculinities as he portrays both as succumbing into depravity at times. The conflict between Jack and Ralph is the main crux of the plot showing the importance of masculinity, similar to the disruption of Don John is also crucial to the plot of MAAN.

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Compare and contrast the significance of masculinity. (2019, Dec 09). Retrieved from

Compare and contrast the significance of masculinity
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