Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation

By Helen M. Cooper; Adrienne Auslander Munich et al. | Go to book overview

Lorraine Helms


"Still Wars and Lechery":
Shakespeare and the Last Trojan Woman

Concidit virgo ac puer.
Bellum peractum est.
-- Seneca, Troades

Throughout Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, Thersites' bitter cry echoes and reechoes: "Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion" (5.2.194- 95). It is a cry from which Shakespeare scholars long turned in disgust, dismissing Troilus and Cressida as vicious and cynical, a cruel misrepresentation of both Homer's heroic warriors and Chaucer's courtly lovers. For commentators who have turned to Troilus and Cressida in the aftermath of twentieth-century wars, the play has become a "great dispute about the sense and cost of war, about the existence and cost of love"; its action seems "all part of the game of war" and its arguments "all ceremonies of rededication to the code that maintains the war." On the eroticized battlefields and in the militarized bedchambers of Troilus and Cressida, we have come to see the bleak and violent sexuality our world has bred from martial pomp and circumstance. 1

Yet Shakespeare's "great dispute about the sense and cost of war, about the existence and cost of love" rises from the traditional discourse of the Trojan War. Even in its earliest literary formulations, the "matter of Troy" was distant and mythical, without fixed ideological content. When, in the later tradition, Rome and London fancifully traced their ancestry to the vanquished Trojans rather than the victorious Greeks, they could celebrate neither the rape of Helen nor the fall of Troy as a nationalistic exploit of martial prowess. Nor had the legends ever fully silenced the voices of the Trojan women. Even through the mediated texts of Homer, Euripides, Virgil, and Chaucer, the Trojan women speak of contradictions in the narrative and dramatic representation of war. This "matter of Troy" is the prehistory of Troilus and Cressida. It is not by devaluing but by assimilating it that Shakespeare arrives at his bitter appraisal of "wars and lechery."

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Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Notes xix
  • War and Memory 1
  • Arms and the Woman: The Con[tra]ception of the War Text 9
  • Notes 23
  • Works Cited 23
  • "Still Wars and Lechery": Shakespeare and the Last Trojan Woman 25
  • Notes 39
  • Works Cited 40
  • Rewriting History: Madame de Villedieu and the Wars of Religion 43
  • Notes 55
  • Works Cited 57
  • Southern Women's Diaries of Sherman's March to the Sea, 1864-1865 59
  • Notes 75
  • Works Cited 77
  • Civil Wars and Sexual Territories 80
  • Notes 95
  • Works Cited 96
  • The Women and Men of 1914 97
  • Notes 118
  • Corpus/Corps/Corpse: Writing the Body in/at War 124
  • Notes 159
  • Works Cited 164
  • May Sinclair's The Tree of Heaven: The Vortex of Feminism, the Community of War 168
  • Notes 179
  • Works Cited 182
  • Combat Envy and Survivor Guilt: Willa Cather's "Manly Battle Yarn" 184
  • Notes 201
  • Works Cited 203
  • "Seeds for the Sowing": The Diary of Käthe Kollwitz 205
  • Notes 221
  • Works Cited 223
  • A Needle with Mama's Voice: Mitsuye Yamada's Camp Notes and the American Canon of War Poetry 225
  • Notes 241
  • Feminism, the Great War, and Modern Vegetarianism 244
  • Images of Love and War in Contemporary Israeli Fiction: A Feminist Re-vision 268
  • Notes 277
  • Works Cited 280
  • Nuclear Domesticity: Sequence and Survival 283
  • Notes 299
  • "Epitaphs and Epigraphs: 'The End(s) of Man'" 303
  • Notes 319
  • Works Cited 321
  • A Bibliography of Secondary Sources 323
  • The Contributors 331
  • Index 335
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