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Comparing Sexuality in All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida

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Female Sexuality in All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida

Although strict chronology is a problematic proposition, most scholars believe that the problem plays - All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida - were composed in the period between Hamlet and Othello (Mabillard), a period in which Shakespeare was focusing his energies on his great tragedies. This fact, some believe, may help to account for the darker mood of these ostensible comedies. In fact, Boas, the critic who coined the term "problem play," originally included Hamlet in this grouping, since he found a similarity of theme and irresolution between that play and Troilus and Cressida (Thomas 2-3). Thankfully for modern students, critics have escaped that preconception and recognized Hamlet as a tragedy, plain and simple.

Any generalization of these three plays - even a necessarily broad category like "problem plays" - is inherently . . . well, problematic. The three plays are very dissimilar in tone, plot, and characterization. It is possible, however, to identify a few key commonalities between the three plays, and, more generally, in the cycle of work that includes Hamlet and Othello. The sheer carnality of each of these plays is difficult to ignore. Taken as a whole, whether or not one accepts the canonical chronology, these plays represent the evolution of a coherent view of female sexuality that contributes not only to the dramatic action of each play, but to a larger underlying thematic concern. Thus book-ended by two great tragedies, with which they share some common ideology, the problem plays offer an unparalleled opportunity to explore the concept of female sexualit...

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...speare Online. 1999-2001. <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/playchron.asp>.

Neely, Carol Thomas. "Shakespeare's Women: Historical Facts and Dramatic Representations." In Holland, Norman N., Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris, eds. Shakespeare's Personality. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Shakespeare, William. All's Well That Ends Well. Bevington 362-403.

---. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Bevington 1060-1116.

---. Measure for Measure. Bevington 404-443.

---. Othello, the Moor of Venice. Bevington 1117-1166.

---. Troilus and Cressida. Bevington 444-493.

Thomas, Vivian. The Moral Universe of Shakespeare's Problem Plays. London: Croom Helm, 1987.

Wilders, John. "The Problem Comedies." In Wells, Stanley, ed. Shakespeare: Select Bibliographical Guides. London: Oxford UP, 1973.
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