Essay on Shakespeare's Treatment of Women in Comedy and Tragedy

Essay on Shakespeare's Treatment of Women in Comedy and Tragedy

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Linda Bamber differentiates between Shakespeare’s treatment of women in comedy and tragedy. In tragedy his women are strong because they are coherent – ‘certainly none of the women in the tragedies worries or changes her mind about who she is’ – and the attacks which are made on them are the product of male resentment at this strength – ‘misogyny and sex nausea are born of failure and self doubt’ . The comic feminine on the other hand, is opposed not to men but to a reified ‘society’: ‘In comedy the feminine either rebels against the restraining social order or (more commonly) presides in alliance with the forces which challenge its hegemony: romantic love, physical nature, the love of pleasure in all its forms’ . Bamber also writes ‘ the comic heroines laugh to see themselves absorbed into the ordinary human comedy; the heroes rage and weep at the difficulty of actually being as extraordinary as the feel themselves to be’ . These moral characteristics ascribed to men and women take no account of their particular circumstances within the texts, nor indeed of their material circumstances and the differential power relations which they support.
When men are approved of they are seen as embracing feminine principles whereas women are denied access to the male and are denigrated when they aspire to male qualities. Marilyn French suggests that Shakespeare divides experience into male (evil) and female (good) principles and his comedies and tragedies are interpreted as ‘either a synthesis of the principles or an examination of the kinds of worlds that result when one or other principle is abused, neglected, devalued or exiled’ .
Shakespeare’s plays invite the audience to make some connection between the events of the action and the for...


... middle of paper ...


...of the primal sin of lust, combining concerns about the threat to the family posed by female insubordination. However the text also dramatises the material conditions which lie behind assertions of power within the family, even as it expresses deep anxieties about the chaos which can ensue when that balance of power is altered.



Works Cited

Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press)
Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen 16, no. 3, p. 13.
Jonathan Culler, Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), pp. 43-63.
Raymond Williams, Modern Tragedy (London: Chatto, 1966), p. 45.
The True Chronicle History of King Leir, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, The Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol VII (London: Routledge, 1973)


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