Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code

By Carol Hansen | Go to book overview
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Epilogue

The question again comes to mind -- why Shakespeare's repeated interest in showing women falsely accused by the men about them? Cymbeline is not the last play to treat this theme; in addition to The Winter's Tale, Pericles contrasts Miranda's virgin innocence with a brothel, and in Henry VIII, believed by many critics to bear the last traces of Shakespeare's hand, Katherine appears as a saintly, maligned lady, and the final accolade falls not to Henry, but to Elizabeth, whose birth the final scene celebrates. Why does not Shakespeare tire of Patient Griseldas; is he trying to say something deeper about the fate of woman in a world ruled by men?

Like Barbara Everett, who focuses her attention on the role of women characters in Shakespeare's comedies,

my intention has not been to present Shakespeare as an earnest -- though early -- leader of the feminist movement, but only to suggest the development . . . of certain feelings and attitudes which are a constituent part of the plays as a whole, but which do tend to be most clearly expressed through the women in them. . . . The expression of humane principle, of generous and constant feeling, comes principally from the women -- whether we choose to see them as symbols merely of an area of the mind possessed by both sexes in common, or whether we see Shakespeare creating a world in which some kind of distinctively female rationale is able to have full play, and to dominate the actiotion."1

"Some distinctively female rationale," some, for want of a better term, feminine principle, does seem vying for recognition in Shakespeare's work. To suggest that the idea bloomed in the comedies may seem too flowery; let us say it took root there. And somewhere out of the fertility of the creative process, a sprout of an idea kept growing. It was this: church and society have sanctioned the authority of man; what of the authority of woman? It is a question that Chaucer's Wife of Bath asked earlier, as her last husband threw at her his tattered edition of Jerome's anti-feminist writings and made her

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