Fantasies of Female Evil: The Dynamics of Gender and Power in Shakespearean Tragedy

Synopsis

In light of cultural materialist, psychoanalytic, and feminist theoretical investigations of literature, history, and culture, Cristina Leon Alfar examines what has been left out of a western scholarly tradition on William Shakespeare's "evil" women. Focusing on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter's Tale and drawing on early modern historical texts and documents such as Juan Luis Vives' The Instruction of a Christian Woman, Barnabe Rych's the Excellency of Good Women, Joseph Swetnam's The Arraignment of... Women and political commentaries such as The Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion, King James I's Letter, to the Parliament at Whitehall, and letters of Queen Elizabeth I, she argues throughout that by attending to the sociopolitical basis of the tragedies, the women characters traditionally identified as evil might instead be read as pressing against early modern popular beliefs about female nature, so that the tragedies stage a complex interrogation of the dynamics of gender and power. Cristina Leon Alfar is an Assistant Professor of English at Hunter College, CUNY.