Essay on Women in the Plays of William Shakespeare

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Women in the Plays of Shakespeare

By paying close attention to the woman's part in Shakespeare's plays, we can see his works with a new perspective. But we must remember that we are examining a male dramatist of extraordinary range writing in a remote period when women's position was in obvious ways more restricted and less disputed than in our own period. Sandra Gilbert writes in The Madwoman in the Attic that literature is defined as a mirror held up to society and nature, "the mimetic aesthetic that begins with Aristotle and descends through Shakespeare implies that the poet, like a lesser God, has made or engendered an alternative, mirror-universe in which he actually seems to enclose or trap shadows of reality" (Madwoman 5). While some artists do not necessarily duplicate in their art the "realities" of their culture, they may exploit them to create character or intensify conflict, or struggle with, criticize, or transcend them. Shakespeare, it would seem, "encompasses more and preaches less than most authors, hence the centuries-old controversy over his religious affiliation, political views, and sexual preferences" (Lenz 4). His attitude toward women are equally complex and demand as much examination.

As we begin to study the female characters, we must overlook the male superiority that patriarchal misogyny implies in the literature of his era, as evidenced in many studies. In "Shakespeare: on Love and Lust", Charney explains the stance taken by critics such as Janet Adelman in "Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest", and Kahn's "Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare". He claims that these two authors, as many others do, view Sh...

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... mother, wife, nor England's queen" The Roles of Women in Richard III". The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Galye Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

Park, Clara Claiborne. "As We Like It: How a Girl Can Be Smart and Still Popular." The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

Schoenbaum, S. "The Life of Shakespeare." The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Ed Stanley Wells. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women. Sandra Gilbert. New York: Norton and Company, 1996.

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