Shakespeare: A comparison of the role of women in his plays, and in society at the time.

Essay by bluebellsUniversity, Master'sA+, May 2006

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If we were to look at studies today, we would have to say that feminist criticism is, unfortunately, not yet a methodology; these critics can be new, psychoanalytic, historical, or textual. Although feminist critics are, broadly, feminists, they are usually male as well as female, political as well as scholarly, theoretical as well as practical. Unlike Marxism or psychoanalysis, feminism lacks the single influential figure and the foundation of theoretical texts from which basic assumptions and methodology are created. Feminist criticism of Shakespeare is also deficient in its own unique subject matter. Even though critics of later literature brought women writers back into the canon, defined a female aesthetics, or consolidated a female literary history, the Shakespearean women were created by a man, and neither they nor their author have ever been invisible. Also, women are not the only subject of feminist critics of Shakespeare, who also examine topics such as war, marriage and the family, male identity, patriarchal structures.

Lacking a unique theory, methodology, subject matter, or style, feminist critics are united by a number of shared perceptions. These include the assumption that women have been subjugated by men and by the social and literary structures that they have devised; they believe that women not only deserve equal rights, but equal time, and equal voice. They dislike sexist criticism that ignores, misrepresents, or devalues women. They call attention to the nature of patriarchy and its effect on women's role in society. The distinguishing perspective of feminist criticism derives from such assumptions. However, its approaches and effects vary widely, as I will show by describing briefly - three modes of feminist criticism of Shakespeare. These are compensatory criticism, which focuses on strong women; justificatory criticism, which focuses on male power; and transformational criticism, which combines and extends the other two...