Introduction

This book situates Shakespeare's representations of women in a variety of historical contexts ranging from the early modern English world in which they were first conceived to the contemporary Western world in which our own encounters with them are staged. In so doing, it also challenges some of the assumptions that currently shape our efforts to understand Shakespeare's representations of women historically.

The last thirty years have witnessed an impressive and very influential body of scholarly work on this subject, but I believe it is time to reconsider the stories that that work has produced. When I use the word 'stories' here, I do not mean it in a pejorative sense to imply that the work produced by recent feminist/historicist scholarship is merely fictional or that it can be replaced by a factual history that could somehow avoid the telling of stories. As Hayden White argued over twenty-five years ago, all history writing is a form of story-telling because it necessarily requires the selection and arrangement of evidence to construct a meaningful narrative. As White explained,

no set of casually recorded historical events can in itself constitute a story: the
most it might offer to the historian are story elements. The events are made
into a story by the suppression or subordination of certain of them and the
highlighting of others, by characterization, motific repetition, variation of
tone and point of view, alternative descriptive strategies, and the like—in
short, all of the techniques that we would normally expect to find in the
emplotment of a novel or a play.

One of the effects that White attributes to this process of emplotment is particularly relevant to our attempts to construct a historical context for Shakespeare's women. Once the story has been constructed, he proposed, whatever historical data it incorporates will become familiarized:

The original strangeness, mystery, or exoticism of the events is dispelled, and
they take on a familiar aspect, not in their details, but in their functions as a
familiar kind of configuration. They are familiarized, not only because the

-1-

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Shakespeare and Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Illustrations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: A Usable History 7
  • 2: The Place(S) of Women in Shakespeare's World 26
  • 3: Our Canon, Ourselves 48
  • 4: Boys Will Be Girls 72
  • 5: The Lady's Reeking Breath 95
  • 6: Shakespeare S Timeless Women 112
  • Further Reading 138
  • Notes 145
  • Index 161
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