Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Thursday 27 October 2016

Shakespeare400 - 10 of the really great female roles in Shakespeare's works

Published 20/04/2016 | 07:00

John Bell (L), who plays King Lear and Susan Prior (R) who plays his daughter Cordelia, rehearse for the upcoming Bell Shakespeare Company production of King Lear at the Sydney Opera House on March 9, 2010
John Bell (L), who plays King Lear and Susan Prior (R) who plays his daughter Cordelia, rehearse for the upcoming Bell Shakespeare Company production of King Lear at the Sydney Opera House on March 9, 2010
Sophie Pondjiclis (right) as Emilia in Othello.

By Erin Fox

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Shakespeare's leading ladies are some of his most unforgettable characters. Any actor would aspire to the roles of Viola, Rosalind or Lady Macbeth. Yet the loyal sidekicks and supporting characters shine just as brightly as Shakespeare's most beloved heroines. From the virtuous to the feisty, we look at 10 great Shakespeare women.

Cordelia (King Lear)

Cordelia's refusal to join her sisters in an insincere display of emotions ordered by King Lear gets her banished. From here she has the opportunity to live her own happy ever after with the King of France. Instead she proves herself to be the worthiest daughter, showing that actions are stronger than words and returns to the mad King when her sisters abandon him.

Celia (As You Like It)

She mightn't have as many lines as her cousin but Celia is every bit as smart, witty and brilliant as Rosalind. She stands up to her own father when he threatens to banish Rosalind under pain of death. Also, it is Celia's idea for the two cousins to run away into the forest of Arden. Loyal, supportive and devoted to Rosalind, Celia is the ultimate BFF.

Emilia (Othello)

Emilia is another great Shakespeare bestie. Her devotion to Desdemona is stronger than her loyalty to Iago. She stands up for Desdemona when Othello aggressively challenges her fidelity. Her sisterly loyalty shines strongest at the end when she - at the cost of her own life - abandons her loyalty to her husband, revealing his lies and exposing him for the villain that he is.

CLEOPATRA (Anthony and Cleopatra)

She's manipulative, she's way too clingy with Marc Antony, she kisses a woman to death and she can talk. With 678 lines, Cleopatra has the second most lines after Rosalind in the ranks of Shakespeare's leading ladies. And she may be clingy with Antony but she does love him. She kills herself with a snake bite to the chest rather than betray the love of her life to Caesar.

Lady Olivia (Twelfth Night)

As a rich noblewoman with her own household, Lady Olivia has no reason for getting married except for love. Naturally she doesn't respond to the affections of the pining Duke Orsino. When she does fall in love, she doesn't wait around to be wooed; instead she goes about getting her man in her own unique way, even dragging him to the altar.


(The Taming of the Shrew)

With her fiery temper and sharp tongue, Katherine was labelled a shrew because she spoke her mind without caring what anyone thought. So it's hard to believe that someone as strong as her could be so easily "tamed". It's more believable of her character that she realised she could get her own way more easily by playing along to Petruchio's game.

Mistress Ford and Mistress Page (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

When Falstaff attempts to seduce both Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, the delightfully mischievous wives concoct a series of pranks to teach him a well-deserved lesson. They continuously manage to outsmart him and humiliate him, even recruiting more participants in the grand final prank.

The Nurse

(Romeo and Juliet)

The Nurse is more of a mother to Juliet than Lady Capulet is. Juliet's happiness is everything to her that she abandons her sense of duty to the Capulets so Juliet can marry Romeo. Despite Juliet feeling betrayed by the Nurse when she suggests she forget Romeo and marry Paris, her actions are carried out with Juliet's best interests at heart.

Imogen (Cymbeline)

Imogen mightn't be one of Shakespeare's most celebrated characters yet she has 594 lines of dialogue, the third highest of all his leading women. She holds her integrity when she's irrationally accused of being unfaithful to her husband. She's passionate, loyal, sarcastic and brave from the beginning to the end.

The Bear (The Winter's Tale)

"Exit - pursued by a bear" is one of Shakespeare's most famous stage directions. While the gender of the bear was never specified, let's just assume she was a Mama bear protecting her cubs.


Irish Independent

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