Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender, in the series New Casebooks, edited by Kate Chedgzoy 2001. Read in November 2010.
The title of this book was tantalizing and I looked forward to being enlightened on many subjects that interest me generally and connected to Shakespeare. The following quote from the intro sounded promising: (a teacher turned down tickets to a production of Romeo and Juliet because of the cost but in the papers this was reported as a protest against play’s content); this affair…”and Baz Luhrman’s film both…vividly [demonstrate] how anxieties about gender, sexuality, race, class and cultural hierarchy intersect on Shakespearean terrain, and thereby [underline] why Shakespeare’s plays and his continuing iconic status remain a matter of concern for the politically motivated critics whose work is included in this volume” (p. 4).
And there are many interesting essays in the book. The first one for example by Kathleen McLuskie shows how feminist critics who consider Shakespeare’s plays to be misogynist are wrong. She explains: “In tragedy his women are strong because they are coherent…and the attacks which are made on them are the product of male resentment at this strength….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 they feel themselves to be” (pp. 25-26). She then goes on to analyze King Lear and Measure for Measure.
Another essay looks at how The Taming of the Shrew has been seen throughout the ages; several look at the question of homoeroticism in the plays; Hamlet, Macbeth and other plays are examined. Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin take an interesting look at Henry V’s wooing of Katherine (shown in Olivier’s film as romantic and cute, in Branagh’s version as much more tragic and problematic) and how it, “as a kind of rape” in the history plays “illuminates the dark underside of the emergent conception of marriage as the proof of manhood and the necessary basis for patriarchal authority” (p.93).
Essays on Shakespeare and the questions of state politics and ethnic politics are also included in this book.
The anticipation of “Oh wow!” was not exactly fulfilled in my reading of the book but it is consistently interesting, useful in the analysis of Shakespeare’s plays and well worth reading.