2
The Place(s) of Women in
Shakespeare's World:
Historical Fact and Feminist
Interpretation

Recent feminist Shakespeare scholarship has relied heavily on historical accounts of the place of women in Shakespeare's world, which is often invoked to ground interpretations of the playscripts in a foundation of historical fact. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that, as I argued in the Introduction, historical writing itself is a kind of story-telling. The reconstruction of past lives is finally an impossible task, compromised by the distance and difference that separate the history-writing present from the historical past it seeks to know. We look to the past to discover answers to the questions that trouble us here and now, but no matter how hard we struggle to recover the past as it really was, the questions we ask are the products of our own concerns, the answers we find, even when couched in the words of old texts, the products of our own selection and arrangement.

These difficulties are especially troublesome in the case of women. There are far fewer historical records of women than of men, and the questions with which modern historians approach the records that have been found are heavily fraught with present concerns and present controversies. On the one hand, because the experience of women tends to be occluded in the historical record, there is the temptation to universalize—to assume that the essential aspects of women's experience were always and everywhere what they are now

-26-

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