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).

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