Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare and Shaw

By Lagretta Tallent Lenker | Go to book overview
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Daughter as Passive Verb

Although they never condone them, both Shaw and Shakespeare dramatize the passive daughter or patriarchal methods of father-daughter interaction, those in which the wishes of the father subsume those of the daughter. Such patterns deny the possibility of any prolonged, meaningful exchanges between the members of this pair because of the unequalness in power inherent in the two participants involved. In keeping with patriarchal dictates, the father must be obeyed—the very foundations of society, both publicly through the state and privately through the family, depend on this premise. And yet, the father is not always right. When his own ego is served before the needs of his family, the results often turn tragic, benefitting neither the father nor his daughter. To paraphrase Lawrence Danson, Shakespeare [and Shaw] make sacrifice a harsher business than their characters imagine (191). This cautionary slap at the power politics of the patriarchal nuclear family is the message of Shakespeare’s tragedies and the romances discussed later. Shaw’s admonishments of the same societal elements (often reflected in his audiences’ expectations rather than in his characters’ actions) take a lighter tone, comically depicting the foibles of spiritual as well as biological fathers and daughters attempting to get the balance of their relationship right, but as often noted in Shavian criticism, Shaw’s most strident messages are frequently couched in his best wry humor (Morgan 1–3). Neither playwright accepts the passive models of father-daughter interaction as correct or as the only means of developing this relationship. Both authors portray fathers sacrificing daughters, but undercut the success of this enterprise by having the fathers regret their own actions and


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