Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare and Shaw

By Lagretta Tallent Lenker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Never an Innocent Relationship

Shaw’s John Tarleton wisely intuits that within the hierarchical structure of the patriarchal nuclear family, father and daughter relationships, although often tender and nurturing, are rarely completely innocent, rarely totally devoid of the need for ego gratification or the struggle for power. Shakespeare and Shaw also recognized this constant of our culture and even as the fathers and daughters in their dramas sometimes exploit their relationship for subversive reasons, so, in a somewhat different manner, the two playwrights also exploit this fictional relationship within their own plays for their own subversive purposes. Thus, although they frequently depict the father-daughter relationship as a site of education and even as a source of redemption, they also exploit this relationship to interrogate conventional attitudes toward gender, family, and society. Close inspection of their plays discovers subtexts undermining this quasi-sacred relationship, and the presence of these subtexts implies that both dramatists co-opt the supposedly transcendent bonds of familial love for a more temporal objective—the subversion of perceived authority. Given the strict climate of censorship in which both authors wrote, I suggest that the two playwrights’ decision to dramatize this apparently simple, natural kinship bond is, in reality, a calculated, yet subtle exploitation of the complex tensions endemic to the most basic of social institutions, the family. During the Victorian and early modern eras, therefore, the “family,” and particularly the father-daughter relationship, provided an ideal “cover” for debate on the politically and socially charged issues that contributed to the angst of both fins de siècle.

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Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare and Shaw
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: The Ages of Shakespeare and Shaw 15
  • Chapter 2 - Daughter as Passive Verb 49
  • Chapter 3 - Daughter as Active Verb 71
  • Chapter 4 - In Care of Thee 121
  • Chapter 5 - Never an Innocent Relationship 141
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 193
  • About the Author 203
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