Women in the Age of Shakespeare

Women in the Age of Shakespeare

Women in the Age of Shakespeare

Women in the Age of Shakespeare


Portia and Kate, Ophelia and Desdemona, Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth-the beautifully realized women in Shakespeare's plays continue to captivate us, relevant and revealing even today, centuries after their creation. They also offer a window into the realities of women's daily lives across the social spectrum during Shakespeare's own time.


Weird Sisters
(weird < Old English wyrd, fate)
That Macbeth fellow and his biographers got it
all wrong. They saw old women with a taste
for exotic stews and an uncanny eye for character
and turned them into messengers from hell.
Still, we remember which one killed the king.
How easy it is, though, to forget
that we are also Cleopatra wielding
the power of the queen’s X, Portia
dispensing justice in a cloudburst. Even
Ophelia, in a different life, might have grown
grey and wrinkled. Fierce with experience,
she might have dreamt of flowers.

Nadine S. St. Louis, Weird Sisters

Since their first appearances under the auspices of boy performers, Shakespeare’s “women” (and his plays) have been adapted by every succeeding era. Praised as “well-developed”—even “realistic”—his female characters have both shaped and been reshaped in relation to changing ideas about women. Succeeding generations of readers and viewers of the plays have posed the question of how— and even whether—Shakespeare’s women do in fact speak to the experiences and cultural expectations set for women, both in Shakespeare’s own time and in later ages and places.

This book introduces students and general readers to some of the issues related to the study of women in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras in general and Shakespeare’s works in particular. Central questions will include the following: What sorts of women are represented in the plays (and what kinds of women seem missing)? What rules seem to govern the actions of female characters? In what ways does early modern patriarchy constrict or restrict them? In what ways do they resist patriarchy? In what ways do Shakespeare’s female characters seem to collude with patriarchal power? What—and whom—do we mean by “Shakespeare’s . . .

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