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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

Top 10 Shakespearean Girlbosses

It's Women's History Month and you know what that means: we're gonna talk about Shakespearean Women (although when am I not talking about them?)!!!


Today I'm going to count down the top 10 Girlbosses in Shakespeare's Canon! 'What's a #girlboss' you ask? Well, according to Urban Dictionary (so scholarly, right?): a Girlboss (noun) is someone who is lauded as being a feminist icon, despite the fact that they are actually extremely unpleasant or unfeminist.


So just to preface- most of these women are NOT, I repeat, NOT role models or good people. They're just iconic. Girlboss does not equal a strong female lead. Are some of the women on this list also strong female leads? Yes! But the two are not mutually exclusive!


Just a lil warning- this list might be a *touch* controversial...


10. Rosalind- As You Like It

*Gasp* not everyone's favorite strong female lead! The injustice! I LOVE my girl Rosalind, ok? But that does not excuse miss girl's bullying Phoebe. Like Ma'am there are other ways to let the poor girl down gently, but storming in there and calling her ugly and making fun of her? That's not very feminist of you.


9. Maria- Twelfth Night

OKKK this one is controversial because Maria is totally the under appreciated female character in this play. Viola (or even Olivia) would have been obvious choices for this, but our mastermind Maria over here deserves a place on this list! Not only does she successfully marry up in social class (drunkard as he may be), she cleverly orchestrates the entire Malvolio prank plot! Did you know that the iconic "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them" line actually comes from the letter she writes to fool Malvolio? Yeah she's a mastermind. Does she go a bit too far with the whole psychological torture bit at the end? Sure. But she's still my Girlboss icon.


8. Portia- The Merchant of Venice

I mean come on! She is so sly with her lil ring trick she pulls on Bassanio, like that's peak gaslighting. She also perpetuates a culture of racism in the court room scene, so we don't love her for that...


7. Volumnia- Coriolanus

This woman is the ultimate overbearing mother. She uses her son as a political pawn (because as a woman she can't hold power herself, so I get it). At the end of the play, she successfully convinces Caius Martius to not attack Rome, leaving her to be hailed as the savior of Rome and her son to be killed by the Volscians. She is a powerhouse of a character, but her relationship with her son is very ~unsettling~.


6. Katherine- The Taming of the Shrew

We all knew this one was coming. I personally think Kate is just so misunderstood, but that doesn't negate the fact that she's a girl boss who does have a bit of an attitude problem- she's still iconic though, just to be clear. She also preaches about the patriarchy at the end (due to the public humiliation and torture by her husband), so she isn't exactly to blame, but that's not very feminist icon of her.


5. Goneril & Regan- King Lear

Ah yes, the two evil sisters. This is pretty self-explanatory. They take advantage of their ailing father and manipulate and murder their way through the play. I love how much agency these women have, and how the use it, but we can't just gloss over what happens to their sister.


4. Cleopatra- Antony & Cleopatra

All hail the queen. Honestly she's earned her spot on this list for being a powerful girl boss who took her fate into her own hands. Ok did she know Antony was married? Yeahhhh, but we're not blaming her for that (also historically Antony was a major heart throb, so really no shade there). She was a powerful woman who maintained her dignity until the very end and I have the upmost respect for her majesty. She's a Girlboss because all the men were scared of her (and rightfully so). Period.


3. Margaret of Anjou- Henry VI parts 1-3 and Richard III

We all know I love Queen Margaret. What a journey homegirl goes through throughout her time in the canon. Personally, I think she peaks when she wanders through the court carrying the severed head of her lover. Or maybe it's when she catches York during a battle and then taunts him with a paper crown and a handkerchief stained with the blood of his son, and then orders for his death. That's iconic behavior. She's a mother who would do anything to protect those she loves, including her son, her lover, England, but not her Husband, Henry VI. I love her so much! Justice for Margaret!


2. Tamora- Titus Andronicus

Y'all this woman is unhinged. She's a mother and a queen out for revenge and power, and you really can't blame her... until she orders her sons to brutalize Lavinia. I can look past the affair, but as soon as she faces off with Lavinia early on in the play, a lot of sympathy for her is immediately lost. She also is incredibly cruel to her newborn later on in the play, not going to go into details there. This play is so full of misogyny, it's insane, but regardless of that, she's a crazy cool character! Absolutely unhinged in all the best and worst ways. I can't give her first, though, because what she does to Lavinia is truly unspeakable... but karma does come around I guess?


1. Lady Macbeth- Macbeth

Y'all knew this was coming. It should come at no surprise that Lady M takes the cake for being the ultimate Shakespearean Girlboss! We love a manipulative and resourceful queen (who dabbles in the occasional witchcraft). She's an ambitious woman who knows what she wants, and she'll do whatever it takes to get it. She's not a good person, she does horrible things, but still mad respect for her. The sheer power she possesses is intoxicating... there's a reason she's on every classical actress' bucket list. She is truly the queen of Shakespearean women and I will not be taking questions at this time.



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