As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women

By Penny Gay | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The quasi-Utopian closure which is thought of as characteristic of Shakespearean comedy is a patterning which is easy enough to derive from the text in the study, but which may, as we have seen, undergo more or less radical questioning when the written text is retextualised by actors in a theatre before an audience of their contemporaries. Malvolio’s threat may remain a disturbing possibility, Kate’s submission may be profoundly depressing. Isabella, after all she has been through, is ambiguously silent as the Duke proposes marriage. Arden is patently not the ‘real’ world, and even the union of the intelligent and knowing Beatrice and Benedick takes place in a society built on demonstrably hollow foundations. Furthermore there is always the possibility that the production’s indulgence in the carnivalesque—through cross-dressing, social topsy-turveydom, or physical playfulness—may not finally be contained by the narrative’s movement towards incorporation. Audiences’ memories of the pleasures they have experienced in the theatre often remain turbulent, deliciously disturbing, and thus potentially revolutionary. 1

The uniqueness of Shakespearean comedy is that it operates powerfully on us through the play of a paradox: a conventional (patriarchal) community is revitalised by the incorporation, through the institution of marriage, of the remarkable energies of a charismatic female presence; yet she has spent much of the play flouting patriarchal protocols. The Stratford productions of the 1950s worked hard to convince us that their heroines were ‘feminine’, ‘ladies’ at heart; by contrast, actresses of the 1960s and 1970s found it relatively easy to assert their spiritual strength, buoyed up as they were by the progress of feminism on so many fronts. In the decade and more of Thatcherism it was not so easy, and the

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As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Plates viii
  • Preface x
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Twelfth Night 17
  • 2 - As You like It 48
  • 3 - The Taming of the Shrew 86
  • 4 - Measure for Measure 120
  • 5 - Much Ado about Nothing 143
  • Conclusion 178
  • Notes 180
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 205
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