Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shakespearean women and archetypes

As I was reading Anna Jameson's Shakespeare's Heroines: Characteristics of Women Moral, Poetical, and Historical, I was struck by the similarities between that 1832 text and Diane Dreher's 1980 book Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare. Both books organize women into strict archetypes that, while they make studying for endeavors like this one easier, also erase a certain degree of variance and complexity that limits the gender roles the texts seek to examine. Jameson's earlier text is much more bardolotrous than Dreher's--in the introduction to the second edition, Jameson notes that she re-inserted quoted passages she thought extraneous to the first edition due to the emotional response they would elicit in readers who "recognized and loved them as they would dear, domestic faces." To sacrifice narrative and critical concision for the readers' emotion in this case is to say that Shakespeare as an author creates characters that we are to know rather than to analyze, that he understands the universal human experience (I'm ventriloquizing here--I don't think such a thing exists) in ways we cannot do ourselves.

This attitude towards authorial timelessness both does and does not apply to Shakespeare's women in Jameson's text. She identifies four types of female characters in Shakespeare: Characters of Intellect, Characters of Passion and Imagination, Characters of the Affections, and Historical Characters. I'll return to the first three momentarily, but the last category seems particularly strange. Though Shakespeare himself is allowed to transcend his existence as a historical person of a specific place and time, the characters he based on living women are not, despite being from many different times and places (Cleopatra, Margaret of Anjou, and Lady Macbeth are examples). This double standard seems to give Shakespeare an almost godlike power while erasing the complex humanity of the women discussed. Indeed Jameson repeatedly refers to Shakespeare as "our author," a phrase which carries connotations of divine auctoritas.

The three other character types, while also broadly drawn, don't seem as blatantly hypocritical in their viewpoints. Portia and Beatrice are two examples of Characters of Intellect, and in her discussions of them, Jameson notes that it is often difficult for women to be considered smart in male arenas (Portia at trial) and that some types of female intelligence seem to be about ultimately submitting to male authority (Beatrice is the only one who can verbally spar with Benedick, but such a show of independence is to lead to normative patriarchal marriage). The fact that Jameson makes a criticism similar to Mary Wollstonecraft's in discussing ideological prejudices built into modes of educating women makes me a bit more willing to listen to her.

The Characters of Passion and Imagination, not coincidentally, are mostly Shakespeare's younger girls: Juliet, Perdita, and Miranda are among them. This section is where Jameson is most obviously a writer of her time. There are numerous addresses to the reader as "dear," "gentle," and "kind," as well as lots of interjections of "O!" and "Hark!" when Jameson gets to a particularly romantic or exciting bit of one of the girls' stories. As I was reading this section, I noticed that Jameson's attitude toward these girls mirrors my own as a younger person, as well as that of most of my students whose only previous experiences with Shakespeare have being in either high school classes or personal reading. Juliet and Miranda are lovers trapped by circumstances and their journeys are fraught and romantic. While this view is an entertaining one, it overlooks both the youthful ignorance and the social machinations that contribute to those characters' situations. I'm not sure where this commonality in view point comes from, whether it's somehow natural to read female characters as a woman as vessels for vicarious experience, or whether this view is transmitted without attribution early in our educations, much like A.C. Bradley's readings of Shakespeare.

Older tragic and semi-tragic heroines make up the Characters of the Affections (Desdemona, Cordelia, and Hermione among them). They are women who we are to pity because they seem to meet ends they do not deserve. It is here where Jameson is most pro-feminist, even as she assumes a natural propensity for empathy in her female reader. She repeatedly says that these women are forsaken by male power systems that, though they purport to exist for the women's protection, actually serve to oppress them without letting them defend themselves (Lear's misunderstanding of Cordelia's answer to who loves him most, Desdemona's answer of "Nobody, I myself" at the end of the play, and Hermione's unfair trial).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And now, Amazons!

I'm pretty positive I'm going to get a prelims question about Amazons, so I'm going to use this space to work out how I would answer that. I read Kathryn Schwarz's book Tough Love: Amazon Encounters in the English Renaissance, and the main thrust of her argument is that, while the academic party line about Amazons has always been that they represent a militant alternative to femininity, the way in which these women are presented in literature almost always includes them occupying a role typically coded as traditionally feminine (wife, mother, person that is concerned with beauty standards, etc.), thereby making their feminine position more complicated than popular belief would suggest.

The primary texts on my reading list that deal with Amazons are Spenser's Faerie Queene and Fletcher and Massinger's The Sea Voyage. FQ's Amazon is Radigund. She's actually queen of a tribe of Amazons, and the poem sets her up as a foil for its other female warrior, Britomart, Knight of Chastitie and hero of Book III. The poem seems to delight in have women fight inverses of themselves (Una and Duessa and Britomart and Malecasta are other examples of this) in order to prove how thin the line between appropriate and inappropriate femininity is. This also makes me think of Virginia Woolf's comments on how patriarchal literature triumphs when female characters hate each other. In addition to both being women warriors, Britomart and Radigund pass as men in various ways. Britomart's gender is ambiguous when she is dressed in armor and other trappings of knighthood (this is why Malecasta must "feel if any member move[s]"), and Radigund defies physical femininity because of the myth of Amazons removing one or both of their breasts in order to be better bow hunters. For this reason, they are linked and one must defeat the other. When they fight," they hackt and hewd their privy if such use they hated." The poem makes the point of saying that these women are wounding each other genitally, and of comparing the spots of blood to the menstrual cycle--these women are not fulfilling their roles as they should, and this is reflected easily in how they treat their physical bodies. Britomart's potential for transgressing gender norms is undercut later, however, when she defeats Radigund and only rules the Amazons long enough for the men to arrive and the appropriate order of patriarchy to be established. Indeed, her entire quest of knighthood is actually a quest for heteronormative marriage, as her ultimate goal is to marry Artegall. Like Shakespeare's Viola and Rosalind, Britomart's crossdressing is not the rebellion it seems to be.

Schwarz reads Britomart's role in FQ as within the Lacanian mirror stage (she doesn't perform a Lacanian reading of the character; she uses the mirror stage as a jumping off point). When Britomart sees Artegall in the magic mirror, Schwarz says, she sees an object of agency and "takes on the armor of alienating identity in order to obtain what she desires." This fits within the path of the mirror stage Lacan articulates, but unlike the Lacanian model, the individual agency Britomart seeks is within someone else, not herself. In this way, Radigund also acts as a similar agency-filled mirror. In order to become one with the image of the first, Britomart must defeat the second.

Though Schwarz does not cover The Sea Voyage, I think her mirror theory could work there as well, though in a slightly different way. The play covers activities on two islands: One inhabited by Portuguese Amazons, and one recently occupied by British fortune hunters. The men who are looking for gold left England because, being younger sons, they needed to find a way to survive outside of the system of primogeniture. Thus, their masculinity is doubly threatened by the Amazons' sexual appetites since it was already challenged by their home country. The foreign mirrors the familiar. The islands also mirror each other. One is dominated by men, the other by women female. One is bare, and the other is rich in food. The Amazonian women have a sexual appetite that mirrors the English men's appetite for gold, and the play does not shy away from depicting this brazen female sexuality. In one scene, Clarinda dominates Albert and talks of riding him like a horse. The play is also interesting due to its depiction of the female homosocial. In addition to being sexually frank about their exploits when they are talking together, the women make a deal with the men that they will have sex with them in order to continue their tribe, and that they will keep any female children that result and leave the male ones with their fathers. This is yet another mirror--like their fathers, some of these children will be without their families in satisfaction of strict gender roles.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tottel's Miscellany, A Disease of Virgins, Macbeth, and Shakespeare after Mass Media

This is crazy long. Sorry.

Tottel's Miscellany (actually titled Songes and Sonettes) was originally published by Richard Tottel in 1557 and is the first published anthology of English poetry. It was incredibly popular and went through many printings, a few of which changed the composition of the book considerably, which has contributed to its being overlooked as a usual inclusion to the period's typically studied poetic canon. The book contains poems by Wyatt, Surrey, and a number of "uncertaine authors." While some of the poems do follow Gascoigne's prescription for the "sonnet" (Fourteen lines broken into three quatrains and a couplet with an ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme--what would come to be called the English sonnet), most of them do not.

Helen King's A Disease of Virgins: greensickness, chlorosis, and the problems of puberty uses period and current medical knowledge to explain and disprove myths about greensickness, a Renaissance disease attributed to virgins whose cure was thought to be marriage followed soon after by pregnancy. Though physician Johannes Lange's 1554 description of the disease as "peculiar to virgins" was largely accepted, King argues that this attribution had less to do with the disease's actual characteristics and more to do with a social desire to both medicalize and prescribe femininity (I'm using the word "medicalize" as Rich does in Of Woman Born in order to describe how the female bodily experience is somehow distanced from the woman's physical body through medical procedures). King also notes that using "greensickness" first and "chlorosis" second in the title of her book both privileges the popular over the clinical as well as shows the close diagnostic link between those two categories in the Renaissance. Other important points:
  • Greensickness and the humors - linked to being hyper-sanguine and thought to have a strong connection with the onset of menstruation. When you're greensick, you're too much of a woman (Galen thought that this disease would cause menstrual blood to force itself out of as many pores as possible. I think the French feminists just found their new superpower of choice!).
  • Greensickness and food - Chlorosis was later diagnosed as a type of anemia, the cure for which is a diet heavy in iron, which means eating foods like fragrant dark greens and red meat. These foods are heavy and not feminine. In this way, greensickness has a relative in anorexia nervosa (See my post on Unbearable Weight for more).
  • The progression of greensickness - While first thought to be a digestive disease as the previous note suggests, it becomes strongly tied to virginity with Lange's letter in 1554, which argues that virginity blocks the flow of blood and must be removed (broken hymen, blood on sheets, from marriage to pregnancy, greensickness is cured).
  • Greensickness and Shakespeare - King mentions the disease's widespread literary uses. Were I to be asked to discuss its presence in Shakespeare's plays (I'm sure I will be), I would point to Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra. In the first, Polonius--who I love to hate--calls Ophelia "a green girl." He is literally referring to her inexperience in the ways of romance while trying to learn more about her relationship with Hamlet, but his clear desire for her to be an appropriate woman so he may rise socially makes me think "green" can also be read as "greensick" there. In the second, soldiers refer to the drunk Lepidus as greensick as a way to say that Cleopatra is feminizing (read: ruining) Rome with her ladylike Egyptian influence. In a play that sets up binaries to ultimately question them, I think that's significant.

Macbeth is the second play I'm teaching in my current course on Women in Shakespeare, and I've really enjoyed going through it with my students. It's an excellent text through which to explore how female agency and female embodiment conflict, and that has been a throughline of our discussion of the play thus far. Like Richard III, women are either wives or witches, and there is a since that the former inevitably become the latter. Other than the witches, the only women who figure (semi-?) prominently are Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff. The first instructs her husband to school his face to hide his heart (like Gertrude, she "knows seems"), and the majority of my students see her as the guilty party even though her husband commits the physical acts of murder, because she spurs on the idea of those actions. We've talked a lot about the play's many uses of the word "do," and whether thinking is action or not. For them, thinking seems to be doing more than doing is doing. I've been wondering how this relates to the Cartesian mind/body split, with which Susan Bordo begins her discussion of how the female body becomes culturally subordinate. My students' model reverses this association, making the mind female and the body male, thereby aligning with the standard active male/passive female dichotomy, with a side of "woman as duplicity" thrown in. I tend to agree more with Janet Adelman, who says that both lady Macbeth's fear and her power stem from the way she treats maternity. She knows motherhood and its social position (" I have given suck..."), but she is also savvy enough to recognize that that position and its accompanying feminine norms limit her agency (breasts filled with gall, ripping the hypothetical babe's gums from her breast and bashing in its head in order to be able to commit murder).Though Adelman sees social subversion in this ability to discern and use norms to her advantage and I do also, I'm not sure I agree 100%. I do think Lady Macbeth has a power that men around her cannot comprehend (a power that Cixous or Irigaray would respect for its incomprehensibility, even as they would likely not approve of her negative invocation of bodily fluids), I think the subversion of this power is limited because she enacts it by enforcing an extremely rigid (no pun intended, I swear) masculinity on her husband. She tells him to be a man a lot, saying that he is "too full of the milk of human kindness" and that she must inject her spirit into his ear in order to win him to her point of view. That second thing literally means she wants to convince him by talking to him, but when "spirit" and milk appear just a couple of lines apart, I don't think I'm entirely remiss in reading "spirit" as "semen" as well. Not entirely. Shades of the other meaning are there, at least.

The witches also bend gender, what with their beards and their appearing not of the world. Notably, none of these women have autonomous first names (something that Lady Macbeth's Daughter, the YA adaptation I'm reading for the dissertation immediately remedies in its quest for a female community with both agency and autonomy), so while they play with gender in some ways, they reflect strict patriarchy in others. That brings me to Lady Macduff. She too wishes her husband would man up and protect their child instead of fleeing to England, and she laments her gendered response to the situation in the following passage:
Whither should I fly?
I have done no harm. But I remember now
I am in this earthly world, where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly. Why then, alas,
Do I put up that womanly defense,
To say I have done no harm?
Like Banquo's description of the witches, she is in the world without saying she is of it. She also mimics their comments on the lack of logic to action in their society--"to do harm is often laudable, / to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly" sounds an awful lot like "fair is foul and foul is fair." While it's easy to see how Lady Macbeth's comments on embodiment and her famous "out, out damned spot" speech, with its spell-like commands, link her to the witches, Lady Macduff's passage above proves that even fairly normal, less power-hungry wives are doomed to go the way of the sorceress eventually. This dichotomy with no way out is mirrored in the Ophelia/Gertrude madonna/whore split: the former only avoids the latter's fate (being "a breeder of sinners" in an "enseamed bed") by killing herself. Though some would say this lack of female choices is lessened in Shakespeare's comedies, I would disagree (See my posts on The Roaring Girl and Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedies for more on that).

Other topics to discuss in Macbeth: The female role in fate(weird=wyrd=weyard), Why young boys in Shakespeare fare almost as badly as young girls in the character development department

Richard Burt's Shakespeare After Mass Media is a collection of essays (Burt is editor) that aims to discuss the ways "mass media" (what Doug Lanier calls "popular culture"--and with similar Marxist caveats in place) changes Shakespeare as cultural currency. The essays feel well-written and collaborative with the exception of Burt's introduction, which coins the distasteful word "Shlockspeare" for such cultural enterprise. Like Lanier's book, this one touches on all sorts of appropriations (I'm using the loaded term rather than the more neutral "adaptation" here because Burt's book seems to be about "culture wars" whereas Lanier's focus is more general and for a less specialized audience), from Klingon Hamlet to Broadway to the ever-present Branagh. I liked Lanier's book better from a teaching standpoint, but Burt's was more entertaining for me personally. I particularly enjoyed the essay on Branagh's films and British nationhood, which argues that the actor/director's Renaissance Films production company, pretentiously named as it may be, did a great deal to reclaim Britain's place in a list of powerhouses of cultural influence by " making the manners that revitalized Shakespeare for a postmodern audience," and then had the difficult job of defending those manners from everyone who came after. Another favorite was Fran Teague's article (and I'm not just saying that because I've studied with her, I promise, though my teaching persona owes a great deal to hers) on Shakespeare on Broadway, which examines how low and high culture oscillate in such musicals as Kiss Me, Kate and West Side Story concurrently with art common to misunderstood cultural groups (jazz, camp and drag, etc.).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

I read the 10th anniversary edition of Adrienne Rich's 1976 work, and I am shocked (perhaps at this point in my reading list, I shouldn't be; I feel like I say some version of this in every entry now) at how much worse several problems she names are now, thirty-five years later. I'll get back to that later in the post, but first I'd like to discuss the book's title and style of composition, since I think those are what distinguishes it from other books that try to do the same thing. Rich (as the book's title lays out) talks about two kinds of motherhood: the bodily (more-or-less), essential experience, and the medicalized, (more-or-less) socially constructed institution. I say more-or-less here because Rich makes a point in many of the notes that revise the second edition to correct broad assumptions, most of which are based in her own euro-American, cis-gendered, heterosexual experience. Because this is a text that combines theory with experience, and because i realize that i have to struggle to reconcile the privilege i receive as a white, educated, cis, heterosexual woman with the prejudice I feel being a woman in a patriarchal society and a woman with a disability in an often ableist society, I really appreciated both that Rich wasn't shy about discussing the ways the multiple identities we wear as people intersect and the fact that she made sure to acknowledge her own privilege the second time around. A lot of authors of second editions spend a lot of time criticizing their detractors (I'm looking at you, Judith Butler!), so it was refreshing for me to see Rich engage in some mea culpa. No one is the same ten years after a project. Perspectives change. That's life. EDIT: I'm thinking back, wondering if I've noticed male theorists doing this, and how I'd react if I did. I'm not sure I'd like it, or know what to do. Perhaps I myself am stereotyping female expression...

It is this invocation of personal experiences that really gives weight and gravitas to the book, I think. Stats and studies about PPD read less drily when their mise en page is interrupted by Rich's own journal entries recounting playdates in which, with their toddlers toddling in an adjacent room, young mothers discuss the news coverage of a local woman's infanticide, how they connect to her rage, revel in it, and feel ashamed, all at once. Susan Bordo takes a similar tack in Unbearable Weight, which also resonated with me a great deal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Powers of Horror and Shakespeare and Popular Culture

So I didn't really get Powers of Horror. I understand that the abject is a position between subject and object, and that confronting that you exist in such a social space is a scary thing. I get that Kristeva is responding to Freud and Lacan's views of woman-as-lack, and that she's against collective identity politics within broader feminism. That's really all I've got. After Cixous, Clement, and Wittig, Kristeva was a big letdown for me. I feel like she was taking all of the emotion in the other French feminists' work and covering it up with unnecessary theoretical jargon. Blah. I don't want to talk about that on my exams, and will try not to.

On to more adaptation theory. I really love Doug Lanier's Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture. If I teach my course on Shakespeare and adaptation again, I'm definitely assigning excerpts. I f the course were a specialized Senior seminar, I'd assign the whole thing. He condenses years of trends and scholarly debates into 167 readable, engaging pages that still manage to both highlight important theoretical cruxes (Is popular culture really "of the people"? Why are the anti-Stratfordian debates important? Is "Shakespop" about how we see Shakespeare--and what/who is that?--or about how Shakespeare sees us?) and use specific examples to try to explore those questions. As a teacher, I really like the sections in which he puts on a Marxist hat and questions the goals of the culture industry's uses of Shakespeare. His section on The Compleat Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is a particularly good example of what we use Shakespeare for and why. In this play, a bardolatrous academic extolling the virtues of proper Shakespeare morphs into a televangelist, this history plays are one long football game, and (my favorite bit) Titus Andronicus is a cooking show. Lanier says that such a critique shows us "what Shakespeare looks like when it is stripped down to its main points" as well as how we feel popular culture allows us to place ourselves within texts we would not have personal access to otherwise. He also covers fan fiction, YA lit, porn, and other genres I'm particularly interested in as "Shakespop" (his term) due to the ways the blend high and low cultures.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Lesbian Body

More French feminism, y'all. Monique Wittig's The Lesbian Body is a series of poems in which she seeks to articulate bodily experience from a lesbian perspective, often invoking images of the Amazon tribe to represent what Adrienne Rich and others have called the life of the "woman-identified woman." The poems in this volume are rich and lovely, and I noticed two important things about the way they are written. First, Wittig never uses the word "I" unquestioningly. She wrote the poems in French, and instead of writing "je" ("I"), she writes "j/e" in order to express what she sees as the naturally occurring fragmentation and multiplicity of femininity. This linguistic choice seems to me to be a visual representation of the philosophy Irigaray articulates in "This Sex Which Is Not One": Though psychoanalytic critics like Freud and Lacan have said that woman's multiplicity or doubleness (her "know[ing] seems," as in Hamlet's accusation of Gertrude) is bad and a mark of her inferiority, we as women should joy in our double selves because they give us complexities that patriarchal society fears and does not understand. These complexities belong to us and us alone, and therefore should be respected and nourished, not shamed and hidden.

The second thing I noticed is thematic. Wittig expresses a joy in the bodily similar to that of Cixous, Clement, and Irigaray, but hers is different in that it is much more visceral. Cixous tries to get messy with her loud, self-interrupting exhortations to "Write!" and her many liquid metaphors of overflowing words and writing with milk ("The Laugh of the Medusa," "Sorties"), but Wittig surpasses her easily. She takes common romanticisms like the desire to get closer to one's lover by crawling under her skin and literalizing them in her poems, peeling back her lover's dermis, exposing vessels and globules of fat inch by inch, and worshiping those parts in an empowering series of blazons that seem anti-Petrarchan in their emphasis on the wholeness of the tiny parts that makes up this beloved woman. If anybody out there is looking for some feminist romance (and you all should be), give The Lesbian Body a read.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Newly Born Woman

Time for a round-up of French feminist texts. First I read Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement's The Newly-Born Woman. It is divided into three sections: The first, by Clement and titled "The Guilty One," examines the two female types--the sorceress and the hysteric--and explores links between them. The link between the sorceress and the hysteric, according to Clement, is that they are "women suffering for women"(4). As in the other texts I read this week, both Clement and Cixous see something in the feminine that is foreign and incomprehensible to those outside of it, and they say that this lack of understanding is what makes women social transgressors. Instead of punishing women for these transgressions (Cf. Freud, Lacan), The French feminists I read this week agree that women should own the things the patriarchal hegemony sees as wrong ir outside their system, should rejoice in them. Clement uses the metaphor of the tarantella (a "spider dance" usually performed by women that is "a monster that brings healing" and a "madness that cures") to describe this process. Cixous echoes this thought in her essay "The Laugh of the Medusa." The last thing that I want to discuss from this section is that Clement says that women's stories, while thematically repetitive (as in the link of the persecution of the sorceress and the hysteric), cannot be seen as ahistorical. We must instead theorize what the sociopolitical changes behind similar feminine diseases (greensickness in Helen King, hysteria in Freud/Lacan, anorexia in Bordo) can tell us about how those societies construct women through diagnoses.

The second part of the book is Cixous' "Sorties," which she begins with a list of binary oppositions like sun/moon, good/evil, white/black, noting that all of them can be replaced with the corresponding male/female, where male is privileged and female marginalized. In this vein, she famously refers to women as "the dark continent," saying, " It is still unexplored only because we have been made to believe it is too dark to be unexplored." The sanity of femininity is all about one's standpoint. My favorite part of the essay discusses what it's like to read as woman (Cixous is well-known for her descriptions of ecriture feminine, or woman's writing). She speaks of the frustration of having to pick and choose traits to emulate from male-created female characters: " I could never be Ariadne, but I longed to be Dido, but she was too passive." This is why, as she says in "The Laugh of the Medusa," "woman must write woman, and man, man."

The third and final part of the book is titled "Exchange," and it is literally a conversation between Clement and Cixous in which the discuss their differing views of what ecriture feminine can and should be. Seeing feminist scholars include readers in such a conversation was so refreshing to me, a real counterpoint to the antagonism patriarchal society (both in literature and in life) seems to often pin to female homosocial relationships. This book has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my prelims prep thus far.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Winter's Tale

I've never liked A Winter's Tale. It infuriates me the same way Othello does, in that there would be no problems if this man who is jealous for no reason at all would just talk to his wife and listen to what she says. I understand that were that to happen, there would be no plot. I'm willing to give Othello a pass and see it as a rich commentary on the impossibility of communication across genders, though, and I just can't do that with A Winter's Tale, for several reasons:
  • Genre - This is a tragicomedy that supposedly transitions from tragedy to comedy when A MAN GETS BRUTALLY MAULED BY A BEAR (If you've heard the famous phrase "Exit, pursued by a bear," this is where it comes from). I do not agree that this is the height of hilarity. I am much more willing to admit that the play is at its funniest during scenes when Jacobean nobility's hypocritical fondness for the pastoral is poked fun at.
  • Chronology - I'm no stickler for the Neoclassical Unities, but the only reason at all that sixteen years need to pass is for small children to grow into marriageable teenagers. Even if it wasn't based on something Robert Greene already wrote, it'd be horribly telegraphed and obvious. I know it's pastoral and fantasy and all that, but COME ON.
  • Gender (obviously) - SO MANY PROBLEMS HERE. Hermione is imprisoned even though she's truthful the whole time, but Leontes is allowed to change the rules of her trial whenever he wants. Paulina is the only person in the whole play willing to call Leontes on his nonsense, and she gets rewarded with disgrace at court and a dead husband (see note on bear above). When she gets remarried at the end, it's to Camillo, who is basically just standing there and also a liar and a spy. Not my kind of happy ending, no siree. That's not even talking about the whole Hermione-as-a-statue plot, which is obviously problematic from a feminist perspective. How does Leontes finally recognize he was a jerk to his wife? He LITERALLY objectifies her. Gross. I also have issues with the fact that Perdita radiates natural high-class vibes or something. How is that a thing?
I do not like this play. Blurgh. Tomorrow, I will be smart and formal again, maybe.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Richard III

There are three major angles from which I need to consider this play, given my current research interests:

  1. Historically - This play completes the tetralogy begun with Henry VI parts 1-3. It is important for me and other Tudor scholars because it lays out the historical beginnings of Tudor rule through the defeat of Richard III by Henry Tudor (who will become Henry VII, marry Elizabeth of York, and give birth to Henry VIII) at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
  2. On Gendered Lines - Like most of the histories, there's not a huge female presence here. Most notably, there's Margaret of Anjou, who is grafted into this play anachronistically (at this point in history, she's already dead) mostly so she can shout really awesome curses at people. The best of these is not in this play, but in 3H6 (the "molehill speech" wherein Margaret captures the usurping York and mocks his pretensions for ruling by placing a paper crown on his head). The other notable woman in the play is Lady Anne, who marries Richard after he has killed her husband and father-in-law ("Was ever woman in this humor woo'd? / Was ever woman in this humor won?," Richard wonders.). While Richard seems to think that Anne is weak and unaware that he is marrying her to broker power, I'm not so sure she's that naive. The last interesting thing about women in this play is that they're either witches or wives (or in the case of Lady Elizabeth, wives who become witches upon the death of their husbands). That's a troubling dichotomy, but one that makes a bit of sense given the history plays' subject matter: nation-building power within a largely patriarchal society.
  3. In terms of childhood: The princes in the tower are Shakespeare's best-written young boys (we get adolescent princes and courtiers who have to reform, like Prince Hal, Orlando, Romeo, etc., but very few little boys that deal with similar pressures). It seems like most of what I read about them treats their death a priori (they're like Ophelia in that way...hmm), but I think that that isn't giving enough credit to the fact that they can participate in Richard's linguistic games, that they are aware of the political machinations going on around them. They are the only characters who are able to respond quickly to Richard's word games.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Dialectic of Sex and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Despite writing almost two centuries apart, both Wollstonecraft and Firestone begin at the same assumption: Women are thought to be naturally inferior to men, and this is a problem. Firestone (like deBeauvoir before her) sees this inferiority as stemming from the physical, so she calls for a revolution that centers on disconnecting women from their biological obligations, childbearing chief among them. She advocates for cybernetics, babies born in labs, and socialized health and childcare, among other things. She follows a Marxist mode of thinking that says progress cannot be achieved without an overthrow of current ideologies. Indeed, she criticizes Marx and Engles for what she sees as their merely tokenizing inclusion of women within their economic theories. While I think Firestone (like all true radicals) is a bit too idealistic, I do think she makes valid points about how women are sometimes oppressed by their own bodies. I'm definitely a supporter of childcare in businesses, as well as the addition of paternity leave to the traditional maternity option (something Firestone doesn't directly mention, but would almost certainly support due to its removal of the maternal body from mandatory direct childcare responsibilities).

Wollstonecraft zeroes in on education as both the root of and the solution to the problem of supposedly naturally occurring female inferiority. There are a few passages of her work that really struck me:
  1. "Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of property, will obtain for them the protection of a man...( excerpt from Kolmar and Bartowski 64). My grandmother used to say to me "The man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she wants." I thought it was funny as a kid (and in a different way later after she passed away, when I heard it repeated in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding), but coming to feminism made me consider how the ways women are taught to gain power in relationships can actually keep them subordinate by playing into gender stereotypes. I love that Wollstonecraft goes straight to social construction in 1792. There is nothing new under the sun, indeed.
  2. "The most perfect education [will]... enable the individual to attain such habits of virtue as will render it independent. In fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise of its own reason. Cf. EM conduct books, the phenomenon of greensickness (or later, hysteria, or even later, anorexia/bullemia). Elizabeth I was only able to learn "unfeminine" virtues because of her class position. Sadly, the view of feminine education Wollstonecraft decries is gaining ground again in conservative religious communities through the Stay-at-Home Daughters movement.
  3. "In the education of women, the cultivation of understanding is always subordinate to the acquirement of some corporeal accomplishment" (65). In EME, this is true for most all women except some lucky high-class ones (Elizabeth, Lady Mary Wroth, etc.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi

I had never read John Webster's The White Devil before reading it for my exams. I have one other play by him on my list, The Duchess of Malfi, which I read way back in an undergrad Ren. Drama course, so I'm excited to revisit that now that I have more knowledge about the drama of the period. All this is to say that I was laboring under some preconceptions about Webster and his work that I have now revised a bit. Chief among them is that Webster is all about doom and gloom--T.S. Eliot famously wrote a poem in which he characterized Webster as "see[ing] the skull beneath the skin" when he crafted characters. This is not inaccurate, but it is incomplete. As far as revenge tragedians go, Webster isn't morose just to be morose. It's clear that the violence, double-crossing, and death in his work isn't just about titillation, but about the fact that actions have consequences, and that evil grows evil just as good grows good. He also seems to me to suggest that evil is naturally occurring in people, but that may be my own Calvinism coloring my reading.

The White Devil is the story of an affair between Brachiano, a duke, and Vittoria, a woman who is initially married to one of his courtiers. In order to be with her, Brachiano conspires with some of his followers to kill his wife and Vittoria's husband. What's most interesting to me is the way these murders occur. Brachiano knows his wife kisses a portrait of him every night before she goes to sleep, so he gets someone to poison it. She kisses it and falls over dead. Likewise, he knows Vittorio's husband is a bit of a show-off, so he has his henchmen set up a test of strength that ends with a broken neck. Ultimately, both parties are killed by their adherence to traditional gender roles.

As the play progresses, Vittoria begins to see how her society constructs confining gender roles for her to which Brachiano does not have to comply. As she is being tried for adultery, she mentions that he pursued her, and that she was pressured into a relationship with him by her social climbing brothers (there's some SERIOUS homosocial commodification of women in this play; there are a handful of conversations where two or more men alone in a room discuss how they can best use Vittoria for their own gain). She tells the judge that prosecuting her would be forcing someone to submerge themselves in water and blaming them when they drowned. She knows how her world works, that as a woman, she has few choices available to her. Despite her awareness of social machinations, she and Brachiano are eventually killed by Lodovico, who Brachiano banishes at the beginning of the play. Male power is what's important; women are at best, unfortunate casualties of male agendas, and at worst, temptresses (or devils) who set those dastardly agendas in motion.

The Duchess of Malfi also considers how female power looks when male homosocial power is hegemonic, but in a slightly different way. We also get a woman with two brothers in this play. The titular Duchess is not on very good terms with the Cardinal and Ferdinand, due to the fact that they want to control her estate and she wants to liver her own life. In keeping with this desire, she secretly marries Antonio, her steward, whom she loves despite his low station. Their relationship is discovered by Bosola, her master of horse, who suspects that she may be a) involved with Antonio and b)pregnant and feeds her apricots to see if she will go into labor. She does, and the two are eventually banished with their children. Like in The White Devil, there are many conversations in which Ferdinand and The Cardinal (sometimes together and sometimes with another man) discuss ways to manipulate the Duchess to serve their own agendas. Also like in The White Devil, the slur of choice for an unruly woman is "whore," despite the fact that the Duchess marries Antonio by (an entirely legal, though private) handfasting. Because she doesn't do what the other men in her life want her to and instead exercises power that is individually hers, she's a whore. Her brothers eventually kill both her and her husband, leaving their son to become heir against the wishes of his father (who knows all too well the corruption within the Italian government). This ending seems a bit positive, but also suggests that uncontrollable cycles are continuing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Second Sex, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Metamorphoses

The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir's landmark exploration of how women are made, not born, lays the foundation for Judith Butler's affirmations that both sex and gender are socially constructed. I've already paraphrased the book's most famous statement, and indeed I am most familiar with the "Childhood" and "Womanhood" sections of the book in which de Beauvoir's chief endeavor is to interrogate what would come to be standard psychoanalytic viewpoints on gender, most of which boil down to women's physical states contributing to their natural psychological inferiority. This connection likely contributes to her desire to disconnect women's social roles from their physical bodies, a desire which is countered by the later work of theorists like Kristeva, Cixous, and Irigaray. One thing that she agrees with Freud and others on that is actually an important holdover from sixteenth-century anatomy is the fact that children are effectively genderless up to a certain age, that manhood is the default (normative) resulting gender, and that womanhood deviates from that masculine norm. While psychoanalysts think that this has to do with women's own recognition of their physical inferiority as contained in unconscious revelation (penis envy, Electra complex, etc.), deBeauvoir says these notions are not biologically natural at all. Rather, she maintains that they are constructed by a patriarchal hegemony that insists on their essentialism in order to leave the notions unquestioned. These themes are established in Galenic anatomy, and Susan Bordo argues very effectively that they hold strong in the twenty-first century in narratives of anorexic women, who read female secondary-sex characteristics as weakness. That common thread is both sad and interesting to me.

Twelfth Night and As You Like It - I've been hearing for years that these two plays are the same play, and while I had acknowledged their obvious commonalities (female characters cross-dressing, pastoral escapism, marriage endings, plucky woman sidekicks) I always felt that the two differed in tone in that the former was more social serious and the later was much more grounded in the pastoral tradition, what with Orlando's bad poetry on the trees and the homosocial, courtly love flavor Ganymede brings to the mix. While I still think that difference exists, I am no longer convinced that it is an important one, mostly because I have read Middleton and Dekker's The Roaring Girl next to those plays now. Moll Cutpurse is so much more transgressive and progressive than both Viola and Rosalind for several reasons. First, she doesn't cross-dress to pass as a man; she does so in order to take advantage of the freedoms afforded the wearers of men's clothes. her visible femininity is still apparent, so she openly criticizes ways that gender is socially constructed, unlike Rosalind and Viola, whose ultimate goals are heteronormative marriage. Second, Moll recognizes how marriage can trap women, and that the social mobility it may afford them is possible not worth its cost when she says things like (paraphrasing here) marriage is just a swapping of places wherein a maiden trades one head for a worse one. For me, this statement negates the supposedly transgressive ending of Twelfth Night in which Orsino asks "Cesario" to remain in men's clothes for their wedding; at that point, what could have been about female empowerment is now about male sexual fantasy.
Last and most important is the issue of class in all three plays. Maria and Celia have their own plats, but they mostly serve as comic relief, diversions from the slightly more serious entanglements of their social betters. They are not given the opportunities to move up in rank that Rosalind and Viola are. Indeed, in Maria's case, class positions are so stringent and internalized that she cruelly mocks Malvolio's social-climbing efforts. On the contrary, the three merchant mistresses in The Roaring Girl, while they do occupy secondary plots, also offer a more nuanced vision of how constructions of class and gender overlap, as well as being aware of how they can use those constructions to their advantage. This is most evident in Mistress Gallipot's affair with Laxton.

Ovid's Metamorphoses - I actually read this a while back, along with Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. I waited to post because I was a little overwhelmed with all the raping. In addition to that motif, Metamorphoses also shares themes of Petrarchan inversion and miscommunication with those two poems. What struck me the most was the matter-of-fact was that rape is discussed in Ovid, as if it is a fact of life. In many cases, the god rapist (usually Jupiter, though Hades does this too) tells his female conquest that she is lucky to be raped by someone of such a high station. There's also not a lot of moral judgement present in the text, though that's true with most of its events.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Part Two

  • "Taken together, the feminist critiques of gendered representations and of the politics of the material body can also be seen as an extended argument against the notion that the body is a purely biological or natural form" (33). This is where Bordo's tendency toward analysis of cultural artifacts like ads comes in really handy. It's easier for people--especially those new to critical thinking--to see sex or gender or race as social constructions once they can see how human-created culture informs our self-perception. In this way, she builds on both deBeauvoir and Butler.
  • "Many feminists remain agnostic or ambivalent about the role of biology and sexual 'difference,' justifiably fearful of ideas that seem to assert an unalterable female nature, they are nonetheless concerned that too exclusive an emphasis on culture will obscure a powerful, and potentially culturally transformative, aspects of women's experience (36). I like that Bordo advocates for a middle way here. I've often felt that to create an essentialist/constructionist binary is to neglect real people and how they live their lives. As I've said before, I think Butlerian performativity bridges a similar gap.
  • "These elements point to culture--working not only through ideology and images, but through the organization of the family, the construction of personality, the training of perception--as not only contributory but productive of eating disorders. A parallel exists in the formation of female hysteria" (50). Not only is it incredibly interesting that Bordo links anorexia with hysteria, but its also a very intelligent move on her part to say that such feminine diseases work to reinscribe gender norms by conforming to traditional roles. Were I to go back further to my period of study, I think I could say the same for greensickness.
  • "The current terms of the abortion debate--as a contest between fetal claims to personhood and women's right to choose--are limited and misleading. In the context of my analysis...the current battle over reproductive control emerges as an assault on the personhood of women" (72). I'm not entirely sure how the mode she sets up here is less of a limiting binary than the one she wants to break down, but I do think she's right. Galenic anatomy sees women as baby containers--any woman will do; it's the male-contributed form that's important--and recent pro-life "victories" like when a fetus "testified" in an Ohio court to prove its heartbeat suggest a similar idea, as do horrific prison conditions that force women to give birth while shackled to tables.
  • " [Anorexic] Cherry Boone O'Neal speaks explicitly of her fear of womanhood. If only she could stay thin, says yet another, 'I would never have to deal with having a woman's body; like Peter Pan I could stay a child forever.' The choice of Peter Pan is telling here--what she means is stay a boy forever (155). This idea that children are the same regardless of gender and that womanliness dirties things up is true in the English Renaissance as well.
  • "Women must develop a totally other-oriented emotional economy. In this economy, the control of female appetite for food is merely the most concrete expression of the general rule of governing the construction of femininity: that female hunger--for public power, for independence, for sexual gratification--be contained, and the public space that women be allowed to take up be limited (170). This is the entire point of the fighting in The Taming of the Shrew and The Tamer Tamed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Part One

Susan Bordo's landmark text of feminist body theory begins with the gendering of the Cartesian mind/body split, saying that society in general associates the (privileged) mind with the male sphere and the (marginalized) body with the female one. This tracks with the work of body-centered French feminists like Kristeva, Cixous, and Irigaray. From there, she covers a number of things that affect the way we view female bodies, such as plastic surgery, advertisements, psychoanalysis, food, eating disorders, and "postfeminist" thought. This book has informed my own work a great deal, and it's as readable a collection of feminist theory as I've ever come across. I use Bordo's excerpts and ideas a great deal in my own lower-level classes, particularly her stuff on advertising analysis. Because of all these things, I don't think it would be feasible or appropriate to summarize her very readable, incredibly personal, anecdotal book the way I have some of the others on my reading list. Instead, I'm going to offer ten passages I love from Unbearable Weight, along with my responses to them. For now, the first three:
  1. On shopping for bedding for her young daughter: "The designated boy's room is all in primary colors, the bedspread dotted with bats, balls, and catching mitts. The caption reads: 'I play so many sports that it's hard to pick my favorite.' Sounds like my daughter. On the opposite page, the girl's room is pictured, a pastel planetary design. The caption reads: 'I like stars because they are shiny.' That too sounds like my daughter. But Pottery Barn doesn't think a child can inhabit both worlds. If their catalogues were as segregated and stereotyped racially as they are by gender, people would boycott."YES. Stuff like this is why I frame my composition classes around cultural literacy, why we do things like examine arguments of pop songs and television commercials. These social constructions are fed to us so frequently and from so young an age that they become universals. Children should be able to do both "boy stuff" and "girl stuff" if they want. I'm also troubled by the active male/passive female binary in these ads, as well as the correspondingly gendered function/fashion split.
  2. Responding to author Sharon Lamb, who says that young girls in heavy makeup and revealing clothes are " silly and adorable, sexy and marvelous all at once," that they are "playing out male fantasies, but without risk": "22 to 29 percent of rapes against girls occur when they are eleven or younger. We might like to think that these rapes are the work of deranged madmen, so disconnected from reality as to be oblivious to the culture around them...The reality is, however, that these girls are much more likely to be raped by friends and family than by strangers, and that very few men, whether strangers or acquaintances, are unaffected by having a visual culture of nymphets prancing before their eyes, exuding a sexual knowledge and experience that they don't really have. Feminists used to call this 'rape culture.' We never hear that phrase anymore, do we?" I agree with Bordo's criticisms of Lamb, but some of this feels a tad close to victim blaming in that it doesn't hold rapists as responsible (or as explicitly responsible) as I think it should. As for the "rape culture" thing, that is an ever-present term in young feminist circles nowadays; I suspect we have Bordo to thank for its return to prominence.
  3. "The extremes to which the anoretic takes the denial of appetite (that is, to the point of starvation) suggest the dualistic nature of her construction of reality; either she transcends body totally, becoming pure 'male' will, or she capitulates utterly to the degraded female body and its disgusting hungers. She sees no other possibilities, no middle ground" (8) It shocks me how much this sounds like the 16th and 17thc views on the female body that Lisa Jardine talks about. Hunger, whether it be physical or sexual, is a complex place for female power. The more things change...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare, Part Two

Chapter Two - The Double Bind of a Renaissance Education and Reformed Religion
  • Jardine says that the Reformation brought with it " a triad of 'liberating' possibilities for women: Protestantism, humanism, and marital partnership" (38). These are not actually liberating, she says, because they create a "double bind" due to their existing within the patriarchal structure.
  • As long as a woman uses her intelligence or partial autonomy to illuminate that of her husband, she is an asset. If she uses those things for independent means, she is scorned and her education acts as a patina for her natural female baseness (cf. Duchess of Malfi, the sonnets to the Dark Lady).
  • We must read deeply and with a grain of salt so that we do not see the Renaissance as either totally misogynist or totally liberating (39).
The three supposedly liberating changes are not liberating because:
  1. marital partnership - Jardine says that the viewpoint that give and take in marriage in necessary supposes the natural inferiority of women. I'm not sure I agree here. I think I know what she's getting at (the need for centralization necessitates preexisting marginalization), but I think this may be an oversimplification, especially given her previous caution to the reader of immediately equating past periods with chauvinism. Her textual justifications: Aristotelian/Galenic anatomy, Proverbs 31
  2. Protestantism - "The woman's freedom to think and act for herself is carefully contained within a freshly romanticized picture of the family" (49). The Reformation closed the doors of the independent, female homosocial community that was the convent, while at the same time making women's only real security come from the nuclear family. Additionally, letting women participate in heterogeneous theological communities created the idea that women are the keepers of the moral code--one stereotype gives way to an opposing, but no less oppressive, one.
  3. Education - Liberal humanist education as mostly available to high-class women, because who else has the time to devote to learning? Education as a means of transcending natural womanhood (see Roger Ascham's comments about Elizabeth - "[She learned] purity, chasteness, and modesty of language to become more than a woman").
Chapter Three - "I am the Duchess of Malfi still": Wealth, Inheritance, and the Spectre of Strong Women

  • The chapter's big question: How do strong women of Jacobean Drama relate to their real life counterparts, who were "constrained by an ideology of duty and obedience" (68)?
  • What makes these women strong, according to Jardine? "Passion, sensuality, courage, cunning, and ambition" (68).
  • These strong women (Beatrice Joanna in The Changeling, Vittoria in The White Devil, the titular Duchess of Malfi) exist in male worlds written by male playwrights. Jardine says the plays make us accept male views of women. As a feminist historicist myself, I have to quibble with that. Make us? Want us to, perhaps, but not make us. Each reader possesses her/his own interpretive lens affected by a multitude of variables.
  • Jardine makes the point that one big way women like the ones listed above (and their real counterparts) got power was by intruding upon the male inheritance system (entailment) as needed. Sometimes a "tail male" was forsaken for a "tail general" in order to prevent division of land or entailment to a distant relative (85).
  • Something I thought was very interesting about this chapter was Jardine's suggestion that the closet scene in Hamlet owes its sexual undertones (or overtones, if you're Mel Gibson) to the fact that Hamlet looks at Gertrude's relationship with Claudius as a possible roadblock to his inheriting ruling power. If Claudius or Claudius' future offspring with Gertrude rules Denmark, Hamlet cannot. This wasn't something I had considered before, but it does go in line with readings that apply the play's instability to the Tudor succession crisis (despite the fact that Denmark was not ruled by primogeniture when the play is set) (92).

Chapter Four: Shrewd or Shrewish? When the Disorderly Woman has her Head
  • "The scolding woman traditionally represents the irrational and uncontrollable in even the best-ordered male life" (103).
  • In their own times, scolds were brutally punished (bridles, ducking stools, etc.) and often tried as witches, but they appeal to our 21st. c. sensibilities. We don't want to think of them as socially complex, but instead as harbingers of a better age (104).
  • Wives are instructed to control their tongues (see James 3:1-18), but sometimes that was their only weapon. Woman's vocal power is illusory because it threatens disorder without freeing her from the responsibilities of the female sphere (106-7).
  • Domination gets bigger in Troilus and Cressida and Antony and Cleopatra -- shrews on a global stage! (114)
  • The female tongue is also a sexual instrument, and can have power like a penis (see jokes by both Petruccios in Shrew and Tamer) (121).
Chapter Five - Dress Codes, Sumptuary Laws, and "Natural" Order

  • Dress above one's station was unlawful (148).
  • Sumptuary laws also reflect the commercial threat of globalization (150)
  • Women's fashion as a drain on their husbands--one reason why Petruchio has Kate step on her cap (also jokes about (maiden)heads and headship there) (152).
  • Fashion in The Roaring Girl: Feathers, breeches, and tobacco (the things the merchant women sell and Moll buys) all flew in the face of sumptuary pamphleteers, and its comments on fashion (from the prologue on) make the play act as an intersection of "all society's nervousness where relations between men and women were concerned" (159-61).
Chapter Six - The Saving Stereotypes of Female Heroism

  • Depictions of Elizabeth portray anxiety about women in power (169)
  • Cult of Elizabeth - even though she was old, she still got painted up and fawned over and called Gloriana and Cynthia. Her power became a courtly joke (173).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Shakespeare as the Girl's Friend"

The tradition of using shorter, bowdlerized versions of Shakespearean plots as didactic tools for children is a long one, but one that does not reach its apex until the Victorian period. Katherine Prince details how children's periodicals helped construct rigidly gendered identities in this period: identities that encouraged “embracing adventure, exploration, and conquest for boys [and] self-sacrificing daughterhood—and eventually motherhood—for girls” (153). This gendering was made evident in the titles of the periodicals themselves, the most prominent of them being The Boy's Own Paper and The Girl's Own Paper. The latter published a special issue, The Girl's Own Shakespeare, in 1888. In addition to several short stories with Juliet, Ophelia, and other Shakespearean girls as protagonists, the issue reprinted an essay by Mary Cowden Clarke originally published the previous year entitled “Shakespeare as the Girl's Friend.” In it, Clarke extols Shakespeare as not only a great moral teacher, but also as a confidant whose understanding of a young girl's troubles extends beyond the boundaries of time:

To the young girl...Shakespeare's vital precepts and models render him essentially a helping friend. To her he comes instructively and aidingly; in his page she may find warning, guidance, kindliest monition, and wisest counsel. Through his feminine portraits she may see, as in a faithful glass, vivid pictures of what she has to evitate, or what she has to imitate, in order to become a worthy and admirable woman. Her sex is set before her, limned with utmost fidelity, painted in genuinest colors, for her to study and copy from or vary from, in accordance with what she feels or learns to be supremest harmonious effect in self amelioration of character. (Clarke 562)

The use of the word “essentially” in the first line of this passage suggests that for young girls, the deepest, most natural use of Shakespearean drama is not for entertainment or social commentary, but as a “helping friend” who serves a varied didactic function. I say that that function is varied because the advice described seems to come from both positive (“guidance” and wisest council”) and negative examples (“warning” and “kindliest monition”). The variance of tone lessens considerably when the division of power within the passage is examined, however. The repeated use of superlative adjectives (“kindliest,” “wisest,” “utmost,” “genuinest,” etc.) seems to paint Shakespeare as the pinnacle of wisdom from which the girl in question has everything to learn. Furthermore, the small amount of autonomy she possesses during this molding of self (“to study and copy from or vary from in accordance with what she feels or learns”) is immediately undermined within the space of one sentence whose ultimate goal is “self amelioration of character,” suggesting that the young girl's essential self is somehow bad or wrong and needs to be ameliorated in favor of a more acceptable femininity, a femininity best not only described, but created, by a man.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare

Preface: Lisa Jardine acknowledges that she wrote this book before feminist historicism was either widely published or labeled as an academic discipline, that she feels she owes a great deal to conversations with other feminist EM critics like Carol Neely and Coppelia Kahn, and that were she to undertake the book now, it would look quite different due to advances in the field. I was heartened by both her call for a community of feminist critics and her view of her work and the broader field of feminist historicism as ever-evolving. Sometimes I feel like critics are slow to realize the need for both of those things due to built-in academic prejudices that still privilege the model of the universally applicable individual genius.

Introduction: Jardine pinpoints trends in feminist scholarship of Shakespeare:
1. Shakespeare "held a mirror up to nature" in terms of the types of women he wrote. He does not privilege one social viewpoint over another, and his characters are varied in scope and type.

2. Shakespeare was a chauvinistic playwright from a chauvinistic society. There are two forms of this view, "non- aggressive" and "aggressive."
  • Non- aggressive: WS did his best not to be sexist, but was limited by the views and mores of his society.
  • Aggressive: WS was an obvious sexist. The author proceeds to point out instances of sexism in the plays and poems.
Jardine says that both of these views are too simplistic and, ultimately, presentist to accurately represent the scope of feminist historical scholarship. I agree. The first is too close to Bardolatry for my tastes, and the second seems too pat and easy, especially without being accompanied by some kind of examination of other documents of the period.

Chapter One - " As boys and women are for the most part cattle of the same color: Female Roles and Elizabethan Eroticism"

Jardine starts by debunking a myth that most high schools (mine included) are probably responsible for propagating: the fact that boys were playing female parts was not something EM audiences noticed; it was like scenery to them. I agree that this seems absurd, especially given the number of jokes about the practice in EM dramas (Cleopatra's line about "pip-squeak boys [putting her] i'th' posture of a whore," that joke about Helen of Troy in Faustus, and tons more).

She then discusses how crossdressing in theatres related to both sumptuary laws and anti-theatrical pamphlets, finishing the chapter by differentiating between two types of cross-dressing roles: those that are about the maleness of the boy actor, and those that are about the femaleness of the woman character as embodies by boys for titillation of audiences. As You Like It's Rosalind is one example of the former, and the bulk of Jardine's discussion of the latter centers around Portia and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice. She points out the number of instances in both plays where gender is poked fun at and questioned (Rosalind's taking of the name Ganymede and all of its homosexual/homosocial implications in the wooing lessons that follow; Portia's blushing and stammering in men's clothes before her triumphant speech). I had never really though about how the same stage practice reads differently in those plays, so that was interesting to think about.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Making Sex and The Roaring Girl

Since my last post dealt with Butlerian gender performativity, I wanted the next few texts I read to explore that concept in order to enable me to compare and contract how the theory is expressed in both primary and secondary texts. For some background about the social construction of gender in the Early Modern period, I went to Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex: Body and Gender From the Greeks to Freud (1990). In his chapter on Early Modern anatomical thought, he first establishes that the British Renaissance was a renaissance of classical modes and thinkers, and that the thinker who influenced Early Modern anatomy the most was Galen. Galen offers the one-sex model of anatomy.The Galenic model says that male and female genitals are the same except for their orientation: male ones go down and female ones go up. Women are "inverted men" (Laqueur 89). Otherwise, they're the same. This is important when discussing social construction of gender in EM England for several reasons. First, by calling women "inverted men," Galen establishes a male default from which femaleness is a deviation. Second, there being one primary sex does not suggest a binary model the way most of us think of gender (There's male and there's female and they're opposites and that's it), but instead provides an opportunity for that inversion to change (and indeed there are stories of women getting so overheated that their genitals spontaneously popped out, making them men), creating less of a gender binary and more of a gender continuum. This tracks with how people thought about men and women in the period not just theoretically, but practically. When young children were born, both boys and girls lived at home with the women of the house, and children of both sexes wore shifts (think long nightgowns). Men mostly occupied the public sphere, and young boys joined this sphere through school, apprenticeship, or service to a monarch around the age of six or seven. The physical marker of this social change was called "breeching"--when boys wore pants, or breeches, for the first time. These clothes were an easily visible physical representation of a social transition. Before this happens, boys are considered closer to women in their makeup because of clothing--all of which was considered an outward representation of an inward state, as evidenced by the seriousness with which sumptuary laws(laws governing who could wear what fabrics or styles and who could not) were taken. Boys were also considered to be closer in physical makeup to women due their residence in the domestic sphere( as in As You Like It: "As boys and women are, for the most part, cattle of [the same] color"(3.2). Hanging around women too much was considered a feminizing force (see the complaints from the Roman soldiers about Cleopatra's effects on Antony is Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra). Gender was scary in the EM period because it was visibly and socially malleable even as religious and scientific sources said it was natural and stable.

Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's The Roaring Girl (ca. 1610) is a play that points out just how scary this malleability can be, and how wide the social implications of that malleability can spread. It is a fictionalization of real-life cross-dressing thief Mary Frith, who is Moll Cutpurse in the play--"Moll" being shorthand for prostitute and "Cutpurse" referring to the fact that her method of choice for her thievery involves cutting her victims' pursestrings with a large sword. In the beginning of the play, young lover Sebastian is telling his beloved Mary (who is also "a moll" though not the "mad Moll" of the play's title, and the link between the name Mary and prostitution suggests the need for the virgin/whore dichotomy to stabilize gender) that his father has canceled their betrothal because he is now dissatisfied with her 5000 pound dowry and thinks she is a social climber. In order to distract his father from the fact that he still loves Mary and is seeing her in secret, Sebastian says he is in love with Moll Cutpurse, which makes his father devise a plan to break up their (nonexistent) union, thereby enabling Sebastian to see Mary undetected. Though Moll does not desire to enter into the institution of marriage herself because she thinks it "is but a chopping and changing, where a maiden loses one head and has a worse one in th'place," she supports and participate in the plan to rejoin the lovers, enabling them to marry by convincing Sir Alexander (Sebastian's father) that she has run off with Sebastian, causing Alexander to say that he'd like anyone but Moll to marry his son, which allows Mary to enter into her union with Sebastian as originally planned. I think that quote is so great because, in one pithy statement, she attacks the commercialization of women, the importance of virginity to a woman's worth, and the church's role in patriarchy.

The thing that seems to differentiate this play from a number of cross-dressing comedies of the period like As You Like It or Twelfth Night (or even Book III of Spenser's Faerie Queene, though that's not a comedy) is that Moll cross-dresses because she knows men's clothes endow those who wear them with social power. This is in keeping with the way Butler says gender formulations should be questioned. The play's great number of fashion metaphors, the first of which appears in Middleton's epistle to the audience, shows this. She doesn't do it in service of her own desire to enter into traditional marriage, as Rosalind, Viola, and Britomart do. She wears pants, yes, but she doesn't try to pass as a man. By wearing pants but also doing nothing to physically disguise her womanhood, she confuses the people around her by being two things at once, or "not all man and not all woman" as Sir Alexander says. This destabilizes the stringent ways such people think about gender. At the play's end, Sir Alexander respects Moll and admits that public opinion about people can be wrong, so Moll is able to affect real change.

I think The Roaring Girl is a better protofeminist play than As You Like It or Twelfth Night for another reason as well: the way it exposes constructions not only of gender, but also of class. In embodying traditional pastoral escapism in their cross-dressing adventures, both Rosalind and Viola play at being of a different class. By the time their plays end, though, they are both married to men with high social stations. Everything is stable and playtime is over. These two plays could be said to explore class through Celia or Maria, but both those women are limited by their class positions. They don't get to move around to different social positions, they just tag along while Rosalind and Viola slum it. Conversely, the three merchant ladies in The Roaring Girl have their own plots that work to question the stability of class and the way it overlaps with the stability of gender, as in the fabricated affair between Mistress Gallipot and Laxton.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter

Judith Butler's biggest contribution to the field of gender theory is without a doubt her definition(s) of performativity. She first introduced this term in 1990's Gender Trouble, when she began to assert that feminism's central reliance on the category of "woman" was problematic because it relied on the established school of thought that maintained though gender was socially constructed, sex was biological(11). Butler disagrees, saying that both categories are the result of social construction, but also that it's more complicated than that. Things we consider as fixed categories may have carried different connotations not much earlier in our history, like pink for girls and blue for boys.In the Victorian period, the color associations were actually reversed, as blue was considered calm amd pink was considered a lighter, age-appropriate version of the masculine red. Because of this arbitrariness, Butler says identity politics should be abandoned in favor of politics that ask where sex and gender come from (21). That's the first chapter.

The second chapter critiques the notion of patriarchy, with its primary argument being that notions on which we depend in order to say that patriarchy is a norm against which feminism should rebel (such as Levi-Straussian kinship theory and Freudian Oedipalism) are also social concontructions, and by using their oppositional structures as a jumping off point for feminist response (in establishing either woman-dominant or separatist communities), we as feminists are unknowingly accepting presuppositions with which we disagree. The third chapter deals with the political implications of the work of Wittig and Kristeva. I'll discuss this chapter when I deal with The Lesbian Body (Wittig) and Powers of Horror (Kristeva), both on my prelims list. The last chapter questions whether gender-neutral pronouns (ze, zir, etc.) might be a way out of the problems Butler sees with conflation of sex and gender.

Then, in 1993's Bodies that Matter, she had this to say on the subject of how sex and gender are constructed:
Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that 'performance' is not a singular 'act' or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance. (95)
In saying that performance of gender is a conscious act that appears or becomes naturalized through repetition, Butler bridges the theoretical gap between feminists who claim gender is wholly socially constructed (cf. deBeauvoir's The Second Sex--"One is not born a woman, but becomes one.") and those who rely more on the existence of the innate and the bodily to determine femininity (cf. Irigaray and Cixous). In making performativity about simultaneous consciousness and reiteration, Butler seems to suggest that seeing social construction and biological essentialism as binarily opposed concepts is to oversimplify both theories. Instead, she provides a grey area that enriches both sides.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Freud's "Femininity" and Irigaray's "This Sex Which Is Not One"

In conformity with its peculiar nature, psychoanalysis does not try to describe what a women is -- that would be a task it could scarcely perform -- but sets about enquiring how she comes into being, how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition (Freud, 1933, p. 116).
Freud immediately says that woman is other, both in the quote above and in the introduction to his lecture, when he says that only men think about "the problem of women" because women themselves "are the problem" (114). He then argues against such dichotomous thinking, saying that psychology proves variation of strict gender norms due to the existence of things like motherhood (active caretaking) and manners and social graces which temper male aggression (115). He, like many feminists, actually blames socially constructed ideology for stringent gendered associations: "You have decided in your own minds to make active coincide with masculine and passive with feminine. But I advise you against it. It seems to me to serve no useful purpose and adds nothing to our knowledge" (115). Despite this seemingly progressive statement, Freud continues to assert the otherness of woman in his insistence that female/female bonds must be subordinated to male/female bonds following puberty, in order for normal psychosexual development to occur (116-7). If the relationship that
is most important for a woman's growth is an oppositional one, it seems to me that binary thinking follows fairly logically behind.

The connection between the importance of the oppositional relationship between father and daughter and the concept of woman as lack comes in the form of the castration complex, which occurs, according to Freud, when girls first observe male genitalia and
[t]hey at once notice the difference and, it must be admitted, its significance too. They feel seriously wronged, often declare that they want to 'have something like it too,' and fall victim to 'envy for the penis,' which will leave ineradicable traces on their development and the formation of their character and which will not be surmounted in even the most favorable cases without a severe expenditure of psychical energy. (118)
Though the "severe expenditure of psychical energy" described here seems to go along with Freud's claim that female does not necessarily equal passive, I think there's a huge difference between unconscious action and conscious socialized behavior. If that unconscious action to possess a penis can only be accomplished by socially prescribed feminine passivity, then it seems to me that the unconscious action is subordinate and Freud's argument falls apart.

Freud ends by describing both femininity and his knowledge of it as "incomplete and fragmentary," mentioning that though his discussion has centered on " women insofar as their nature has been informed by their sexual function" and that "an individual woman may be a human being in other respects as well." An individual woman may be a human being in other respects as well. This says that women, as a group, are not human beings, and that individual women only have some chance of not being completely overcome by their sexuality. UGH.

Irigaray responds to the common psychoanalytic assertion that the feminine exists only insofar as it is a negation of the masculine (this sex which is not one) by saying that in its variance and multiplicity (this sex which is not one), femininity is deeper, richer, and more complex than masculinity. She frames this debate, as Freud does before her, in terms of sexual pleasure. In referring to the psychoanalytic practice of viewing the feminine as a lack, she says that " the vagina is valued for the 'lodging' it offers the male organ" and not on its own terms (cf. Inga Muscio) (1).

She ultimately argues that instead of characterizing female multiplicity as negative (women's eyes "false in rolling"Shakespeare's Sonnet 20, Spenser's Duessa, etc.), we should glory in it, realizing that, unlike male sexuality being located mainly in the phallus, women's entire bodies are erogenous zones and even their genitalia is not only multiple (see also her "Two Lips that Speak Together") but also constantly stimulating itself: "she touches herself in and of herself without any need for mediation[like men need women or hands], and before there is any way to distinguish [commonly male] activity from [commonly female] passivity (1). Thus, Irigaray sees the possibility of power in the position of the woman in the psychoanalytic model. Fellow French feminist Helene Cixous applies this notion of enjoying female deviation from a male norm to the concept of writing in her essay "The Laugh of the Medusa."

Irigaray clarifies that it's not enough to just flip the power binary: [Though] the powers of slaves are not negligible powers, the master is not necessarily well-served. Thus to reverse the relation, especially in the economy of sexuality, does not seem a desirable objective" (6). She concludes the essay by saying that, while consciousness of such patriarchal formations is necessary for liberation, alternative social constructions (like lesbian separatism) could ultimately cause "history to repeat itself" in the form of "phallocratism" if power structures become the ultimate goal (7).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lacan's "The Mirror Stage" and "The Signification of the Phallus"

After reading these two essays again, I have noticed a few things about Lacanian theory that I had heard, but that had never really clicked in my head. In "The Mirror Stage as formative of the function of the I in psychoanalytic experience," Lacan postulates that the point at which a pre-verbal child can first recognize her own image in a mirror is both the beginning of that child's concept of a stable self and "an essential stage of the act of intelligence" (1). This definition of the mirror stage lines up with what I already knew about the theory. What's new to me is how that stage, given that it finds stability in instability by saying that self is self because self is not reflection, falls in line with Deconstructionist theory and semiotics. Deconstructionist semiotics teaches that all language both differs and defers; that we derive meaning from a unit of language both by comparing it to what it it isn't, and by thinking through its connections and mental associations with other words. Example: When I say "dog," you probably think "not cat," but you also (quickly and perhaps unconsciously) think "retriever or shepherd or collie or poodle or etc." "Dog" both differs and defers. Seeing this connection makes me dislike Lacan less, or at least respect the importance of his theoretical contributions more.

The second thing I had heard but never understood is that while most readers of psychoanalysis differentiate heavily between its Freudian and Lacanian iterations, Lacan considered himself a Freudian. This was unclear to me until I began to notice how many references to dream interpretation appear in "The Mirror Stage...". In dreams, Lacan says, we discover how our "fragmented bodies" as delivered to us through our reflections are a vehicle to the wholeness represented by the individual self. We dream of having mangled limbs or growing wings when we analyze the existence of our individual selves and try to separate "true" self from reflected or perceived self (4), and we dream of fortresses and journeys to locked and isolated places when we try to reconcile the true with the perceived (5). He concludes that there is really no difference between truth and perception in terms of the self, as the so-called true self is also filtered through perception(6-7).

It's when I get to "The Signification of the Phallus" that I start to get really upset. Because the phallus is significant (in that it contains signifiers semiotically, but also in that it is considered important, in the more common sense of the word) and woman is lack, "Woman finds the signifier of her own desire in the body of him to whom she addresses her demand for love’ (577). Like the child in the mirror, she is because she is not. It gets tricky, though, because for Lacan, woman is the site of the impossible return to the realm of the Real (unity of self and unconscious that only happens pre-birth). The French feminists turn this around and mine power from it. More on that tomorrow when I discuss Irigaray and Freud.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Shepheardes Calendar and Antony and Cleopatra

I would argue that both Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar (1579) and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra are about establishing stringent binary oppositions only to dismantle them later, thereby questioning any stability those organizing principles may have possessed. The twelve stories in the Shepheardes Calendar are arranged (as the titles suggests) from January to December, beginning with the hope of Spring's rebirth and ending with the other end of the life cycle: death. Many of these months examine opposing viewpoints or conditions. January begins with Colin Clout, who has just been rejected by his beloved Rosalind, journeying from the country into the town. Now only is the pastoral juxtaposed with the more industrious city, but love is also contradictory in and of itself, as Colin laments that it should "breede both joy and payne, " cursing and blessing his meeting Rosalind by turns (54, 49-51). February opposes youth and age, with the young Cuddie wishing for the frivolity of Spring while the aged Thenot asks him to be patient, saying that the fertility rituals Cuddie wishes for are a young man's game, a silly public display that he is glad to be rid of. Though Cuddie does not heed the warnings he is given at the end of the poem, I get the sense that he acts so not from any failing of character, but becuase hes role in the cycle of life is to be young and kind of stupid. If he did not fulfill this role, the natural order of the Calender would be disrupted. Spenser's deliberately archaic language (a trope he uses to slightly different, more nationalistic effect in The Faerie Queene) helps cement the "It's always been that way, it will always be that way" stasis that the poem both thrives on and confuses.

March, as the beginning of Spring, touches on two boys' stories of romantic knowledge, and things get really interesting in April, when Hobbinol (a shepherd) sings a song of Colin's love of a woman named Eliza who is "Ycald in Scarlot like a mayden Queene / And Ermines white" (lines 58-9, page 73). The colors and fabrics associated with this "mayden Queene" are a not-so- subtle nod to Queen Elizabeth I, thereby placing the Queen at the center of a homosocial triangle created by the two opposing young men. This placement of the Queen within a pastoral motif mirrors many royal parties of the period and glorifies a form that, as it praises the natural, is quite reliant on artifice. May centers on a Protestant/Catholic worship debate that never rally gets settled, and the rest of the poem frames Colin's pursuit of Rosalind various ways, with December causing him to conclude that he is like fruit that fell off the tree before it really had the chance to ripen, since he is old but unlucky in love. Therefore, though the whole poem tries to say that it is youth and love that are compatible, it ultimately contradicts itself, choosing to end the poem by saying that mortality is the only stable fact; all the other rules we make for ourselves are negotiable.

Antony and Cleopatra works to dismantle binaries as well : masculine/feminine, logical/emotional, Roman/Egyptian, and normal/excessive are the big ones, and the play wants us to think that all the words on the left and all the words on the right line up with one another, that Rome is tough and strong and cool-headed and Egypt just wants to get laid and then cry about it. Or at least the play wants us to think that's what it wants to do. At first. Except that Antony cries an awful lot, and Cleopatra is pretty good at getting stuff done in her kingdom, even when she uses some stereotypical feminine wiles to do so. Some of the other soldiers attribute this to Cleopatra's corrupting influence, and then they all get scared of being feminized to the point that when Lepidus gets rip-roaring drunk to celebrate the formation of the Triumvirate, the other men refer to his hangover as greensickness--a form of anemia that Early Modern medicine attributed to virgins, the cure for which was sex ASAP (and preferably sex that resulted in pregnancy). At worst, women are all things negative in the world of the play. At best, they're bargaining chips, as in the case of Antony's marriage of political alliance to Octavia.

Not that this sexism is limited to Romans in the play, or to dudes in general. The moment that Cleopatra hears of Antony's marriage to Octavia, she sends her attendants to gather information about the woman in order to prove that she is more beautiful and younger than Antony's current wife. Even though Cleopatra is often frivolous in similar ways, she dies with dignity, on a throne, refusing to witness her kingdom's downfall. With this ending (and because Antony's death happens much earlier, letting Cleopatra's death occur in Act 5, when tragic climax deaths usually occur), a woman who has embodied Egyptian excess embodies Roman logic and ruling ability. Everything the play relies on for its stability is made unstable in the end.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Another Prelims Update

Since I last posted, I have read the following:
  • Shakespeare's Pericles (1607/8) - I have a feeling I'm going to need to come back to this one, particularly when I get to Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice, due chiefly to conflicts between a young woman's filial duty and her view of her spiritual calling. I also see parallels with The Tempest (Dreher says both Marina and Miranda are "redemptive daughters" as are all the daughters in Shakespeare's Romances), though I think Pericles is less of a straightforward romance due to the complications introduced by the incest plots between Antiochus/Thaisa and Pericles/Marina. Other things to consider: Pericles thought to be cowritten with George Wilkins. WS responsible for just over 800 lines, most of those concerning Pericles and Marina. This seems to validate the filial duty connection I'm seeing with some of his other works. Lastly, there's obvious shades of Oedipus, what with taboo sexuality being prophesied and proven unavoidable or fated. Not sure what to do with that, but I think I should know it's there, at any rate.
  • Shakespeare's Hamlet (1600) - This is the first play I'm teaching in my Women in Shakespeare class in the Fall, so I'm thinking about it on multiple levels. I know I want to point to the publication year and relate that to questions of Elizabethan succession. Indeed, the play begins with a question about identity (Bernardo's "Who's there?" to Francisco upon the changing of the watch), and that unsure tone continues until its body-strewn ending. All the play's characters are trying to figure out their places in a rapidly changing world, and none of them do this very well. Bradley says Ophelia is sheltered and naive, but I think he overstates that case, especially given that she seems to both understand and respond to Hamlet's innuendo prior to The Mousetrap, and because of how frank and accusatory she is after she goes mad, when she passes out flowers. Perhaps she is freed to do so by her madness, but that seems empowering to me. Bradley reads it as wholly tragic, speaking of her eternally surrounded by delicate flowers in the minds of readers. I think he's patronizing. I'll talk about Gertrude when I cover Janet Adelman's book Suffocating Mothers, as well as when I read Lacan and Freud, which should be next week sometime.
  • Shakespeare's Othello (1603) - Need to mention animal imagery and the importance of storytelling/mysticism in connection with Daileader's discussions of "jungle fever." To contest/explain Bradley's distaste for Emilia, point to her protofeminism, as well as her understanding and use of figurative language (prove she understands Iago and can use his linguistic tools). If Desdemona is "wholly passive" as Bradley claims (and I think she is, mostly because of her response to "Who did this to you?": "Nobody. I myself."), I don't think it's because of her loving nature, but because of a naivete and a wish for escape. He actions are coded and passive because they are feminine and love-related.
  • Diane Dreher's Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare (1986) - Dreher discusses different types of daughters and fathers in Shakespeare's plays. Will edit this to provide more detail in the next few days once I organize my notes better.
  • A.C. Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy (1905) - Bradley's mode is often called "character criticism," as he refers to the plays' characters as though they were real people, speculating often on their internal motivations and asserting that, while it may be impossible for modern readers to know these motivations for sure, Shakespeare did without a doubt. I'm not sure this is true (couldn't he have been being purposefully ambiguous?), but my biggest bone to pick with Bradley is his tendency to oversimplify the female characters he discusses, even those he admits are important and often improperly read, like Desdemona and Ophelia. I do agree with his assessment of Iago, who he says is a great villain because he's a fantastic observer of people, and that his downfall comes when he , in his desire to know these people and his motivations, does not truly know himself or his own motivations. I think this fits with Iago's refusal to "speak word" at the end of the play because he controls his environment as much as he can in that moment, just as he has all along, but, in the wake of the play's awful violence, all of which is the result of a lack of cross-gendered communication that he put in motion, further silence comes across as childish and petulant, even as Iago himself reads it as the end to a sophisticated master plot.
  • Eve K. Sedgwick's Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) Sedgwick uses the term "homosocial" to refer to same-sex friendships, noting that the line between such relationships and homoerotic or homosexual ones is thin and tenuous. Because of the threat of this overlap, women are often employed as mediators in male homosocial relationships, creating a relational triangle in which it appears the two men are focused on the affections of the woman. Sedgwick argues that such relational formations erase and devalue women while purporting to center and elevate them. Cf. Shakespeare's sonnets to the young man, Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Petrarch's sonnets and the courtly love social structure.
  • Celia Daileader's Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth (2005) - Daileader coins the term "Othellophilia" to refer to the cultural obsession with romantic or sexual relationships between black men and white women, saying that such a preoccupation stems from a desire to divert attention from the much more historically accurate "slaveholder's secret"--the frequent rape of black female slaves by their white owners. Stereotypes: hypersexuality, exoticism, "jungle fever" as a result of both of the previous stereotypical characteristics.
This brings my total texts read to 16/99. Slowly making progress!