Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code

By Carol Hansen | Go to book overview

I
Introduction

In an attempt to understand the underlying assumptions held during the Age of Elizabeth, E. M. W. Tillyard summarizes the hierarchy of order in The Elizabethan World Picture, which begins with God on the first tier, followed by the angels, and ending with the placement of animals, plants, and minerals at the bottom.1 As in the medieval framework, man was placed somewhere between God and the animals, and being neither one nor the other became his predicament. Hamlet articulates his own ambiguous response to man's position when, in his speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he says:

What [a] piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals, and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me -- nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.2

(II.ii.303-10)

Added to this ambiguous placement in the hierarchy of order -- enough to create a kind of schizophrenia -- came the vexing problem of the position of woman, which failed to delight not only Hamlet, but most men of the period as well. Tillyard makes no explicit reference to her placement in the hierarchy, which may be seen as an index to his assumption that she somehow belonged to man's status, but, in fact, that assumption is not wholly true. When reading "The 2nd Tome on the State of Matrimonie," in Homilies (Church of England), Ceitaine Sermons Appointed by the Queenes Majestie, to be Declared and Read, by All Parsons, Vicars, and Curates ( London, 1595), we find a reference to woman's subservient position in respect to her husband:

-1-

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Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Preface vii
  • Table of Contents ix
  • I - Introduction 1
  • Notes 9
  • II - The Masculine Code 11
  • Notes 80
  • III - Speaking Daggers: A Study of Male Rage 83
  • Notes 105
  • IV - The Defiant Woman 107
  • Notes 161
  • V - Woman as Actor 163
  • Notes 182
  • VI - Epilogue 185
  • A Selected Bibliography 205
  • Index 213
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