A central tenet of feminist literary criticism recognizes the treatment of female characters as subjects, as human beings who act rather than who are acted upon. Accordingly, literary characterization need not always result in females who espouse the classic feminist “party line” or who achieve the expected “liberated” or even “happy” ending. Rather, the cardinal elements of subject-hood are often deceptively simple—such as having a choice over one’s own life and voicing one’s own opinions. In many patriarchal contexts, women are denied the elementary rights of the subject, forced instead into an object position—to conform to the will of others, especially those representing the law of the father. As previously discussed, incest and sacrifice are two such objectified or “passive daughter” contexts.
Fortunately for their female characters, neither Shakespeare nor Shaw limited himself to patterns of father-daughter interaction that depend on such objectification of the female. Both explore alternative paradigms wherein the daughter “acts out” her own choices and desires. The dramatists sometimes create plots that yield positive outcomes for the young females; but, just as often, they withhold the desired conclusion, depicting instead either tragedy (in Shakespeare) or tragicomic ambivalence (in Shaw). In both cases, even when the daughters’ wishes are granted, from a strictly feminist perspective the resulting scenario often represents a seemingly regressive, conventional closure, one unworthy of the bold exploits undertaken by the daughters. The active daughters of Shakespeare and Shaw do not always become “liberated” women in the modern sense, intent on forging brave new worlds for themselves and so-