Role of Gender and Social Power in Creating Narrative in Gaudy Night and in Measure for Measure

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A narrative is defined as ‘a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.’ Whereas the law is defined as ‘the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.’ What is the correlation? Well, as Julia Peters professed, the law is a kind of storytelling in which derived from broader social storytelling. Stimulated by multiple narratives, but controlled by one ultimate master narrative which controls the proceedings of the law and how it is fundamentally understood and followed. The master narrative is constructed and validated by society as true and fundamental. Determining and guiding how stories and things are believed, understood and worshiped. With that being said, this could easily inflict harm onto society, through the creation of false narratives and biased perceptions. As seen in both novel Gaudy Night and play Measure for Measure, both illustrated how gender and social power play a huge role in creating and validating a narrative. While also implicating it into the justice system, by using it to define and illustrate to society what crime is, and how it should be handled or punished.

The master narrative is substantially constructed and validated by the elites, which is then accepted and approved by society. The elites are considered to be those with social and economic power, envied and praised by society. Seen as the standard of what they should be and strive for or in correlation worshipped and honoured above all. They tend to use this master narrative to obtain an upper hand within society while suppressing the minorities in the process. Radically due to this being a patriarchal world, in which men are predominately in control, they are the ones usually controlling the narrative withheld in society. While also endearing the power that comes along with it. Swaying it in their favour, while women and minorities are subject to prejudice and stereotypical narratives formulated against them. By depicting them as the enemy or criminal if they strive outside of the social norm outlined for them.

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As seen in Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, there was a narrative against intellectual and unmarried women. Who we’re depicted as broadly pathologized due to the social perception that education can cause criminal pathology in women. Based on the idea that overeducated women would become mentally and physically abnormal. Due to them not conforming to the social norms of the society of what an ideal woman should be, assuming that somehow education would make them more susceptible to crime. Which is, in all actuality a cover-up, of men’s insecurities towards women, fearing that they could quite possibly achieve more than them, surpassing them as the superior beings. Evidentially, as a result of this narrative, the attitude towards women in Gaudy Night was tense and unpleasant. Illustrated as ” Soured virginity’-’unnatural life’-‘semi-demented spinsters’-‘starved appetites and repressed impulses’-unwholesome atmosphere…’ (Sayers 83-4) emphasizing the ignorant and distasteful attitude towards intellectual women. This attitude soon resulted in vandal/harasser’s activities from the public believing this narrative, aiming to keep women ‘in their place.’ However, how is it that if intellectual women are deemed to be more criminal, that a married uneducated woman was the one inflicting such heinous crimes on individuals. Aren’t unmarried women meant to be the ones susceptible to crime, not a married woman? Well, clearly, this narrative is deemed as untrue. However, it did presumably encourage an individual to think her actions were justified and, therefore, somewhat okay. Illustrating how a narrative could taint someone’s decisions. Nonetheless, other factors contributed to her hatred and vindictiveness towards educated women, but undoubtedly this narrative aided her views.

Much like Gaudy Night, in Measure for Measure, women are seen as inferior to men. Lacking an identity outside of both men and marriage, presuming marriage and homemaking as their sole purpose, and career. Who are taught too cater to men and preserve their innocence until marriage. Indeed each woman in the play is controlled by the forces of patriarchy, no matter their social standings, they are limited to the males in their life. Blamed and even punishment for the actions of their male counterparts. For in the world of the play, pregnancy out of wedlock is illegal, and marriage is depicted almost as a punishment opposed to a joyful union. Consider as the only option for saving women’s presumed tarnished reputations and gives them a position they would otherwise not have had. But what about the prestige of men, are they not questioned are they not blamed. Well, their privilege generates a new course of action and punishment for them. Surely whether people are mindful of it or not, narrative, no matter how severe or significant structures and advises society. Influence individuals’ decision making, perception, and moral judgment, all these things are tied up into narrative, and progressively into our justice system. As Sara Cobb professed,

‘narrative shapes the social world in which they circulate, reflecting and refracting the cultural limits of what narratives can be told, in what setting, to whom. From this perspective, they structure how we make sense of ourselves as members of a community, but they also structure how we understand right and wrong, good and evil.’ (296)

Demonstrating the importance and influence of a narrative in society as essential in guiding our thought process. As seen in Measure for Measure, a pregnancy outside of wedlock was illegal and punishable to death. Sex outside of marriage was seen as disgraceful and inappropriate. Undoubtedly a narrative constructed from a perception of sex as in pure outside of marriage and, therefore, injustice, which was then adhered to and implemented into their justice system, as prohibited.

Narratives are justified, validated, and respected by those cherished most by society. The stories created by the wealthiest person in power are heard the loudest and recognized universally. Most predominately, those voices are males. Historically and even at the moment, men are uplift and praised, their voices and opinions are honoured and respected. While women are demolished and looked down upon, they are silenced and overlooked. The same goes for the wealthy and the poor. But why is it that gender and social class as so much influence in the justification and vindication of an individual’s narrative and opinion? Why is it that their views are seen and respected over others? Well, as previously stated, due to this being a patriarchal capitalist world, the wealthy and men are at the top. And they will undoubtedly remain there because factually relinquishing some of their power and influence wouldn’t benefit them in the end. As seen in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Angelo, who was put into power temporarily by the duke, chose to enforce new rules. However, he also decided to flex his superiority by trying to manipulated and ultimately dictate the citizens of Vienna. When Isabella was pleading for her brothers’ release and innocence, Angelo saw it as an opportunity to court Isabella into being with him. An apparent exploitation of his power of egocentric behaviour of manipulating and belittling people, into getting his way. When Isabella threatens to expose him as a way of retaliation in helping her brother, Angelo, stated,

‘Who will believe thee, Isabel? My unsoiled name, th’austereness of my life, My vouch against you, and my place i’th’ state, Will so your accusation overweigh, That you shall stifle in your own report And smell of calumny. I have begun, And now I give my sensual race the rein: Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite, Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes that banish what they sue for. Redeem they brother. By yielding up they body to my will, or else he must not only die the death, but thy unkindess shall his death draw out to the ling’ ring sufferance. Answer me tomorrow, or, by the affection that now guides me most, i’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you, say what you can; my false o’ erweighs your true.’ (Shakespeare 2.4.161-183)

emphasizing his control and possible manipulation of narrative. A flex of his superior status and power, as untouchable in comparison to hers. Not only is Angelo a king, temporary he is a man, while Isabella is simply a middle-class woman. How could her word ever measure up to his? Inevitably any narrative he depicts, whether true or false, declines anything of Isabella’s.

The play title Measure for Measure itself refers to the inevitable carrying out of justice, as people getting what they deserve. But under whose rules, who’s narrative, who’s perception. Well, in this case, Angelo is temporary the most powerful person in the land of Vienna. He controls the narrative, the law, and, ultimately, the citizens. When put into power, he took the narrative and control into his own hands. Choosing to put certain things into action, firstly, by using Claudio’s death sentence as an example to the other Viennese citizens, of what is and isn’t accepted and what will fundamentally happen to those who break said rules. Something that is repetitively seen in society as well as the justice system, as a form of signifying supremacy, seen when superior people using other people as ponds to instil fear and obedience into citizens. Nevertheless, when discussing the role of narrative within the justice system, specifically within the investigation process and prosecution. Sara professed the ‘the courtroom is a place for ‘story-battles’ where each narrative works to disqualify the other and legitimize itself, in an effort to structure jurors’ decisions.’ (296) Emphasizing a definite shift in priorities, of what was presumed to be declaring the ‘truth’ to what is in actuality a battle of persuasion. In which ‘justice is not a function of truth, but rather a function of narrative construction and all the cultural politics that accompany that process.’ (Cobb 315) For justice is an outcome of an implication of a perceived narrative, which isn’t always undoubtedly the truth. But the ‘truth’ according to a story, acknowledged and approved by society, or, more specifically, the justice system/courtroom. Further solidifying the newfound immense ‘importance of controlling the narrative…’ (Brooks 3) as for that narrative will control the outcome of what is yet to come. However, unfortunately, this process of control is put above reality, the truth, and ultimately justice.

In conclusion, although the narrative is meant to educate, by helping us to understand the complexity of our own lives and those of others. It can also be reductive, simplified, and one-sided, limited to one specific group or topic, sequentially leaving others out. This simplicity and limitedness tend to produce a lot of prejudice and stereotypes. With that being said, it is this one-sidedness, ignorance, and bias that is easily and blind-fully implemented into our justice systems. Fundamentally we must carefully decipher what is indeed factual from what is undoubtedly nonsense because although the simplistic narrative might be easier to cope with, it the complex one that is needed to evolve and flourish.


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