6
Shakespeare s Timeless Women

The female characters we encounter in Shakespeare's plays are not the same ones that appeared in the original productions. In the theatre, we rarely see them portrayed by male actors, but even in reading the women we imagine represent the end product of over four hundred years of modernization to redefine their roles in terms of new conceptions of women's nature and women's roles in the world. Not all of Shakespeare's women have changed to the same degree: in some cases they have been easily recruited to serve as role models—both positive and negative—for women born hundreds of years after their original creation. In other cases, they have required more updating because the fit between the roles they originally had and the roles postShakespearian readers and revisers have imagined for them is less than seamless. An examination of the roles that have been most drastically reshaped both in theatrical production and in readers' comments can tell us a great deal about the history of women's roles in the disparate worlds in which the plays have been performed and read. Paradoxically, however, this implication of Shakespeare's female characters in the process of historical change has tended to occlude their own historicity, as they served, and continue to serve, in everchanging guises as models of an unchanging, universal female nature. It is also important to recognize that this process of updating Shakespeare's female characters and the consequent occlusion of their historical difference did not begin with post-Shakespearian revisers. Shakespeare himself often updated the women he found in his historical sources to shape their roles in forms that made them recognizable in terms of his own contemporaries' expectations about

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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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