Yes, yes, I know, entire books have been written about William Shakespeare’s depiction of women in his sonnets and plays, and those books could fill whole libraries. This is not that. This is simply one fan–not a scholar–commenting on his favorites among the many women in Shakespeare’s plays, and why:
Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing
At every turn, Beatrice (above, played by Katherine Hepburn), the leading role in Shakespeare’s comedy, not only speaks with wit but triumphs verbally over every man she encounters.
Cordelia, King Lear
I once named a dependable car after the king’s faithful daughter who refuses to use her love as a tool for advancement, saying, “I am sure, my love’s/ More richer than my tongue.” Banished, she marries the King of France and then leads an army back home in an attempt to rescue her father and save the day. It ends badly but she’s the best person in the whole kingdom.
Katherina, The Taming of the Shrew
Kate, as she is called throughout the play, is mercurial but riveting–and though she is “tamed” in the end, she never surrenders the spotlight.
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth
If Merchant should have been titled Portia, so Macbeth should have been titled Lady Macbeth. She is the powerful center of the play’s action.
Olivia, Twelfth Night
Maybe it’s because I saw Mark Rylance’s delightful and award-winning portrayal of her on Broadway, but the vulnerable-but-in-charge Olivia is one of the few sympathetic noblewomen Shakespeare created.
Paulina, The Winter’s Tale
Paulina is a minor character but a major force in The Winter’s Tale. She stands up to King Leontes with power, wit, and integrity.
Portia, The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice should have been named after Portia, not the merchant Antonio. She steals the show and makes it clear that she is the smartest person in Venice.
Queen Margaret, 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, Richard III
Shakespeare portrayed Margaret as strong, ruthless, and intelligent woman who thoroughly dominates the men around her–especially her husband. Even when her temporal power is lost, in Richard III, she prophesies against her enemies with beautiful fury–and all of her prophecies are fulfilled.
Rosalind, As You Like It
Rosalind is disguised as a man throughout the play (which in Shakespeare’s day would, at one point in the plot, have had a male playing a female playing a male playing a female!). But she manages everyone around her, including making the boy she wants to marry into a man who is worthy of her.