Shakespeare and Women: Twentieth-century feminist criticism has run thefull gamut in its estimates of Shakespeare's female characters--celebrated at one extreme as the visionary creations of a protofeminist genius, deplored at the other as the repressive fantasies of a "patriarchal Bard." The focus of this course will be an issue implicit in many of these debates-- the relationship between Shakespeare's fictional portraits of female characters and the positions of actual women, both in his world and in ours. For although Shakespeare's female characters were dramatic fictions, produced by a male playwright for performance by male actors, they still appealed to the tastes of female playgoers in his own time, and they have played important roles ever since in shaping our understandings of what it means to act like a woman. Questions to be addressed include : What do we know about the lives of actual women Shakespeare would have known--the women in his family, the women would have encountered on the London streets, at court, and among the audiences in his playhouse? What kind of work did they perform? How accurate is the current scholarly consensus about women's repression and subordination in that period? How have the theatrical representations and criticalresponses to Shakespeare's female characters changed over time? What are the historical and political implications of those changes?
Course requirements: a review article on recent criticism and scholarshipand a substantial paper (along with a class presentation) on a play ortopic relevant to the subject of the course.
Fulfills 1 & 5 requirements.