Motives of Woe: Shakespeare and 'Female Complaint': a Critical Anthology

Motives of Woe: Shakespeare and 'Female Complaint': a Critical Anthology

Motives of Woe: Shakespeare and 'Female Complaint': a Critical Anthology

Motives of Woe: Shakespeare and 'Female Complaint': a Critical Anthology

Synopsis

This anthology recovers a tradition of writing to which some of the greatest medieval and Renaissance poets--women as well as men--contributed. Centering on Shakespeare's neglected A Lovers Complaint, it includes "female"-voiced lyrics, chronicle poems and fictional letters by a range of authors from Chaucer to Aphra Behn and Henry Carey. In his scholarly introduction, Kerrigan outlines the development of 'female complaint', indicates how cultural pressure shaped it, and argues that the time is ripe for a reevaluation of this literary kind. Shedding new light on Shakespeare and the conventions of historical, pastoral and epistolary discourse, Motives of Woe will be of interest to scholars of medieval and early modern studies, as well as to general readers.

Excerpt

This book began as an essay on Shakespeare A Louers Complaint. It expanded when it became clear that a proper evaluation of that neglected poem would only be possible if the literature of 'female complaint' known to its early readers was recovered. the result is a collection, even larger in scope, which keeps A Louers Complaint at its centre (giving sources and analogues which should have been assembled long ago), but which also prints a range of texts of great potential interest. During the period covered by this anthology -- c.1300 to 1729 -- thousands of complaints involving 'male' figures were written, and the kinds of loss and frustration which they record are various. Fewer plaints featuring 'female' characters survive, but they form a definite corpus not least because so many of them focus on the erotic and maternal experiences which, throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period, made up (especially as far as men were concerned) the core of women's lives. There is such a wealth of lively and absorbing material in the subgenre that selection has led to the exclusion of texts of substantial merit. Those who regret omissions ought not to assume that their favourites have been set aside without qualms. the Introduction is designed in part to help readers unfamiliar with medieval and Renaissance writing decide which works not included here would reward further attention. It has, above all, been difficult to choose between texts which illustrate recurrent properties of 'female complaint' and those which claim a place on their own terms. in the end quality of writing has been the decisive criterion, and only one poem -- Matthew Stevenson 'Sapho to Phaon' -- is included on account of its revealing incompetence.

It is not possible in the Introduction to an anthology to give a fully contextual and theoretical account of 'female complaint'. My chief aim has been the modest one of showing how far the texts selected are representative of, or stand out from, currents of literature little explored since the eighteenth century. It might seem an obvious and straightforward task to list the characteristics of 'female complaint' and explain how the subgenre varied through time. the danger lies in misrepresenting the way generic factors bear upon composition, and in obscuring the ability of literary kinds to discover and realize their potential as they evolve. Genres do not spring fully armed into the world, and, in most writing of permanent value, generic features are not so much reproduced as rediscovered, from new angles, out of need. the Introduction therefore uses particular texts, within a broadly chronological account, to suggest how guiding features of 'female com-

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