Although William Shakespeare reflects and at times supports the English Renaissance stereotypes of women and men and their various roles and responsibilities in society, he is also a writer who questions, challenges, and modifies those representations. His stories afford opportunities not only to understand Renaissance culture better but also to confront our own contemporary generalizations about gender, especially what it means to be female. In his own time, Shakespeare seems to have been raising questions about the standard images of males and females, about what the characteristics of each gender are, about what is defined as masculine and feminine, about how each gender possesses both masculine and feminine qualities and behaviors, about the nature and power of a hegemonic patriarchy, and about the roles women and men should play in acting out the stories of their lives. Since feminist criticism today focuses on many of these same issues, we can bring such critical inquiry into the classroom by asking straightforward questions of and about Shakespeare's stories.
Defining what a female was supposed to be and do was an act of Renaissance culture, as it has been for other times. For Shakespeare, as well as for most of Renaissance society, women as the feminine represented the following virtues which, importantly, have their meaning in relationship to the male; obedience, silence, sexual chastity, piety, humility, constancy, and patience. However, gender characteristics were socially constructed and there was an easy cross-over of masculine and feminine traits to both genders.
Defining masculine and feminine characteristics allowed writers like Shakespeare to d...
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...society. The more reading one does about the period, the less clear the issue becomes.
Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. London: MacMillan Press, 1975.
Hancock, Emily. The Girl Within. New York: Fawcett Columbia, 1989.
Jardine, Lisa. Still Harping on Daughters. New Jersey: Barnes & Noble, 1983.
Lenz, Carolyn, Ruth Swift, Gayle Green and Carol Thomas Neely. The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism ofShakespeare. U of Illinois, 1983.
Papp, Joseph, and Elizabeth Kirkland. ShakespeareAlive. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.68-102.
Rose, Mary Beth, ed. Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Syracuse Press, 1986.
Schmitz, Connie C. and Judy Galbraith. Managing the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted: A Teacher's Survival Guide. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing Company, 1985. 32-33.
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