Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare

Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare

Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare

Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare

Synopsis

This book proceeds from the assumption that Shakespeare, so often perceived as the one writer who appears to have transcended the limits of gender, inevitably writes from the perspective of his own gender. From this perspective, whatever represents the Self is necessarily male; and the Other, which challenges the Self, is female. The author's approach gives us a fresh understanding of both Shakespeare's characters and the structure of the plays. The author defines genre in terms of the nature of the challenge offered by the Other to the Self. Using specific plays and characters of Shakespeare, the author shows how in tragedy the Other betrays or appears to betray the Self; in comedy the Other evades the social hierarchies dominated by versions of the male Self; in romance the Other comes and goes, leaving the Self bereft when she is gone and astounding him with happiness when she reappears. History is defined as a genre in which the masculine heroes confront no challenge from the Other but only from each other, from other versions of the Self. The book consists of a long theoretical introduction followed by chapters on comedy, history, and some individual plays: Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and The Tempest.

Excerpt

Contemporary feminist criticism was born in 1970 with the publication of Kate Millett Sexual Politics; but the critical stance of this book has been notably avoided by the dozens of women who have been writing as feminists since then. Millett's posture is hostile to the authors she interprets; she finds them guilty of male chauvinism and invites our angriest responses to their work. The logical conclusion of such criticism is silence. If these authors offend us, we should refuse to write about them, refuse to teach them, refuse to do our part in keeping them alive in the culture. Obviously Sexual Politics creates a problem for literary feminists, most of whom are in the business of teaching, discussing, and writing about literature. Some feminists have chosen to concern themselves exclusively with women authors, but most continue to be interested in male authors as well. How is a feminist to write about literature by men without proposing her own silence? How is a critic to write as a feminist without dismissing her subject, if her subject is writing by men? Everyone who worries about these issues comes up with a different answer. My own subject in this book is Shakespeare, and the book itself must be my best answer to these questions. But perhaps it is worth acknowledging here that my own answers have been partially shaped by my resistance to the ground-breaking work of other people in my field. In this book I am in reaction against a tendency for feminist critics to interpret Shakespeare as if his work directly supports and develops feminist ideas. In Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, for instance, Juliet Dusinberre argues that Renaissance feminism is a major influence on Shakespeare's work; in "'O my most sacred lady': Female Metaphor in The Winter's Tale," Patricia Gourlay finds in The Winter's Tale "the triumph of female values over the masculine social order"; in The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage, Coppelia Kahn reads The Taming of the Shrew as an . . .

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