1
A Usable History

In 1999, The New York Times Magazine devoted a series of special issues to topics relating to the coming millennium. The topic on 16 May was women's history, and although many subjects were addressed and many writers participated (some of them well-known authorities), most of the articles were remarkably consistent in contrasting the dismal past with the present achievements of women in such diverse fields as medicine, government, economics, religion, law, and education. As such, they expressed the dominant view of women's history in our time. I am sure the Times got its facts right, but other facts might have been chosen to construct an entirely different story. To choose only the most obvious example, although women in the Western democracies now have the right to vote, the highest elective offices in those countries are generally reserved for men. In Shakespeare's time, by contrast, England and Scotland were both ruled by female monarchs, and Catherine de' Medici was the regent of France. Neither story is complete. Shakespeare lived in a time and place when women were excluded from the universities and the learned professions, married women lost the right to their own property unless special provisions were made to preserve it, and wife-beating was regarded as a perfectly acceptable means of resolving domestic disputes. In that same time and place, however, aristocratic women managed great estates and wielded economic power comparable to that of the head of a large modern corporation; and women lower on the social scale were active in trades that are now regarded as 'traditionally male'. The construction of a historical narrative inevitably involves multiple selections. The records that supply the materials for

-7-

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Shakespeare and Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Illustrations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: A Usable History 7
  • 2: The Place(S) of Women in Shakespeare's World 26
  • 3: Our Canon, Ourselves 48
  • 4: Boys Will Be Girls 72
  • 5: The Lady's Reeking Breath 95
  • 6: Shakespeare S Timeless Women 112
  • Further Reading 138
  • Notes 145
  • Index 161
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