INTRODUCTIONBefore I go into the analysis of the thesis I deem it worthy toconsider what feminism(s) is looking for when it is applied to a text. Thus Ibegin with an introduction of feminism and its traits. The sources of feminismare seen in the 18th century and in the Enlightenment specificallywhen there was a controversy over gender differences and issues of equality.Feminist movement however, goes back to the nineteenth century and the modernattempt to analyze literature by the tenets of feminist criticism has begun inthe early 1960s. Feminism is not really a one dimensional movement focusingonly on presupposed superficial aspects and this makes difficult to have afixed definition. Also it really varies from country to country and even from onecritic to another. It consists of a wide range of different movements includingpolitical and social movements combined with some unique ideologies that sharea common goal.
Its main goal is said to be defining, establishing and reachingpolitical, economic, personal and social equality of both sexes. For instanceproviding the foundation for education and professional opportunities for womenis one concern of feminists. Feminists have been struggling to claim somerights that they claim comes natural to every human being; the right to vote,to have public positions, to have jobs, earn their wages as fair as men, toreceive equal education and many other rights which had been and maybe stillare taken away from them by the dominant authority. Beside these social andpolitical rights, feminists also have been trying to protect women from bodilyinjustice. They always objected against and tried to save women from rape,sexual harassment and also domestic violence. As I mentioned earlier feministmovement has several various aspects and one of the leading figures of thismovement Elaine Showalter introduces an interesting division that delicatelydepicts this diversity. She divides the history of feminism into threedifferent phases: the feminine phase (1840_1880), the feminist phase(1880_1920), and the female phase stretching onward to the present. As Ann B.
Dobie states in her book Theory into Practice An Introduction to LiteraryCriticism, in the first phase female writers imitated the maleconventions in literature. In the second phase women started to protest theirsubjugation and struggled to gain and secure their rights. The third phasefocused on the female experience in art and literature. Feminist critics werelooking for the manners of depiction of the female characters in the works ofmale writers to detect any kind of misogyny. But later on this feminist readingof male writers gave way to another so-called movement in feminist criticism.Now they have changed their subject of criticism to the writings of femalewriters. This females reading females is called gynocriticism by Showalter andhas been supported widely among feminist critics.
Alongside this division thereis another yet more adopted division which divides feminism into several waves.The first wave feminism occurred during 19th and early 20thcentury and mainly focused on legal aspects and particularly on women’ssuffrage. Second wave feminism began in the early 1960s in US and extended itsconcern from legall issues to a wide range of issues like, sexuality, family,the workplace, reproductive rights, and inequalities. It also paid attention tothe domestic violence and marital issues and rape. Third wave feminism began inthe early 1990s in the US. It called for individualism and diversity and aimedat redefining what it means to be a feminist. In around 2012 the fourth wave offeminism began.
This wave is closely associated with social media. Its mainfocus is justice foe women and objection against sexual harassment and violenceagainst women. One interesting branch of feminism is materialist feminism_coined by Christine Delphy_ and it views gender as a social construct. Theyportray the utopian woman as treated socially the same and that she is not theobject of reproduction but an equal participant.
This theory is Marxist in thatit considers the dependence of women on economic and social class to be able toescape the limits of their sex and freely pursue their desires. William Shakespeare who was also known as the Bard of Avon, is generallyconsidered Britain’s national poet and greatest dramatist of all eras. He wasborn in Stratford-upon-Avon. Although his works are very widely known almosteverywhere, his personal life is full of ambiguities and mysteries. His workshave been playing many places for more than four hundred years.
His ideologyjust like his personal life is not explicitly revealed anywhere and the mostauthentic source for us to analyze and realize his life and thought is hisworks containing his poems, sonnets and plays. He wrote most of his known worksbetween 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories andthen tragedies including some of his well-known works like Hamlet(1599-1602), Othello (1603), King Lear (1605-6) and Macbeth(1623) which are also some of the best written works in English. Now that Ihave established the feminist point of view and the writer, I am going todiscuss if Shakespeare was a pro-feminist or anti-feminist. As you read the works of Shakespeare, specifically his play, onething is for sure that feminist or anti-feminist, he is mostly a humanist. He tried to and succeededin exploring the best and simultaneously the worst traits of human beings.
Hisfemale characters are so lifelike that one might forget the gender issues. Itdoes not matter if they are brave and wise or naïve and repulsive, they actlike real women. And I think that no matter how Shakespeare depicted them, hewanted us to judge them by what they do and how they do it not by their gender.But I think even if we consider him a humanistit is worth analyzing his at least depiction of women. Although it might notand I believe that it will not conclude his beliefs on gender, it will reveal_at least_ his unconscious valuing of women. One character that is very much debated when it comes toShakespeare’s treatment of women is Katharina. Her depiction in The Tamingof the Shrew (1590-1592), is apparently a stereotyping of women and showingthem as being childlike and quasi-animal who need a male to “tame” them and show them the right path.
This raised many criticismsand it seems right to be so. But, if we consider the play as being a comedy andspecifically a farce, and consider Petruchio as the one who is the source ofmost of the absurd misogynistic disclosures, then the case is altered.Petruchio is not a representative of male.
He is a selfish and ridiculousperson and as florid as the untamable woman of the play. Of course the play hasin it the gender inequlity issues but don’t you think that this inequlitiesspreading from Petruchio’s mouth are actually satirizing the concept? Besides,at least Shakespeare bestows Katharina a voice of herself to express her innerthought about women being maybe as courageous as men but the weaker sex anyhow.As in when she says: Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,But that our soft conditions and our heartsShould well agree with our externalparts? (Act V, Scene 2, 165-168) Havingthe previous example in mind I chose one of his many masterpieces to discuss.
Lady Macbeth is another contradictory female depiction of Shakespeare. As it isso ostensible and interesting, she is really the mastermind behind almosteverything. She actually tries to be like a man to prove his strength forhaving royal power. This the case when she receives a letter from Macbeth abouta prophecy in which Macbeth is going to be the king and Lady Macbeth is drunkwith the dreams of power.
She acts like a strong man rather than a typicalwoman that many might expect. She persuades Macbeth in doing things, big thingin fact. She is the one who plots for the murders of the king and seducesMacbeth to realize her plans. Even when Macbeth is doubtful and scared, she berateshim that he is not acting like a real man and implicitly making the revelationthat she is more a man than the man himself is.
However, having all thisfeminist revolutionary traits and capabilities, she is the one who isresponsible for the Macbeth’s usurpation of the monarchy and the misfortuneswhich come later on. Also,she is at first portrayed as a hard and strong woman who is ready to, “pluckmy nipple from my child’s boneless gums, And dash the brains out, had I sosworn as you Have done to this” (Act ,Scene). Later on she is having nightmaresand she is the most vulnerable female you could portray to the point that shecommits suicide. How is this possible for that strong and iron lady to give into such uneasiness so easily? Materialist feminism might answer this questionby reasoning that even though Lady Macbeth is very strong at the beginning butshe eventually falls into weakness and this is the result of a patriarchalportrayal of her gender. Maybe they are right and maybe they are not. Anotherimportant point is again regarding the previous words of her when she say thatshe is willing to dash her child’s brain out. Although this shows her strongwill to do anything in her power to get done what must be done, it is to the eyesof the patriarchal society as well as even a mother, an act of unnaturalness.And I believe this unnatural of a normal mother to say such a thing but afterall Lady Macbeth in no normal woman and she is not supposed to be as notintended to be by Shakespeare.
Regardingthe society and women and why they cannot act, Lois Tyson has an interestingidea. He argues that the reason thatoppression of women is not recognized enough is that, “women’s allegiance tomen from their own social class, race, or religion always supersedes theirallegiance to women from different classes, races, or religions. In fact, women’sallegiance to men also supersedes their allegiance to women from their own class,race, or religion” (Tyson 97). What he means is that women are separated fromeach other. They are isolated and this hinders them and they cannot act or makeany notable change. For Lady Macbeth this is also applicable.
Although she is significantly strong andinfluencial, she does not have any contact with other females and this isprobably why she is not able to act and perform her plans. She is powerful butshe is alone. Unlike lady Macduff who is limited to domestic chores, she ismore intellectual and she tries her best to use her intellect to achieve her personalgoals.
This alone shows her willpower and her capabilities as a woman in apatriarchal context. Thus here again Shakespeare creates a woman and portraysher as intellectual, powerful and influential, a woman who tries to be like mento gain the power which is conventionally related to men, but at the same timeshe is a seducer and her power and strength collapses into madness. As I havementioned this collapsing of her is viewed as the result of a patriarchalsociety from a materialist feminism point of view.
Now, let us review this. Wehave on one hand a strong-willed, ambitious, influential woman, on the otherhand we have a patriarchal society which through its stereotyping portrayal ofwomen and isolating them and separating them from each other brings this womanto her downfall. Having this in mind is Shakespeare stereotyping the woman asweak, seductive and unnatural or he is stereotyping that patriarchal societyand showing it as the reason of her being considered unnatural and restrictingher and isolating her and by this causing her to collapse?Allthese aside we have to accept that Shakespeare inherited a misogynisticattitude towards women. As it is seen in many works of Renaissance, women arestereotyped as seductive and main reason for a man’s sin.
Even it is said inthe religious teachings in the book of Genesis that Eve was the reason of Adam’scorruption. Thus I suppose this kind of portrayal of women is not purelypersonal but social. Let us examine another instance of this stereotyping whichwas dominant and was depicted by Shakespeare in his Othello. Venetianunmarried girls were considered their father’s property and perhaps theirhusband’s property as soon as they are married. Most Venetian men suppose thatwomen are intrinsically wanton and maybe this is why Othello is easilyconvinced that Desdemona is unfaithful to him. This belief was socommon andusual that not only the ordinary people but the writers of the time wereaffected by it. The society as whole is male dominated and it is seen in thecircumstances of all the three female characters.
Desdemona, Emilia and Biancaare true to their love but still not trusted by their men. Women seem to bejust an object of satisfaction to men. Emilia once says “They are all butstomachs, and we all but food, they eat us hungrily, and when they are full,they belch us” (Act 3, Scene 4).
Womenare also seen as a commodity that the husband wins as a prize. Iago in aninstance says “‘Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack: If it provelawful prize, he’s made forever “(Act 1, Scene 2). As you can infer Iago seesDesdemona as a wealth in the appearance of a wife for Othello. Once again inthe court of Duke Desdemona was treated as an object. Othello says “For suchproceeding I am charged withal, I won his daughter” (Act 1, Scene 3).
Thisdemonstrates how he thinks of her as a commodity that he has won. Also,Brabantio says “She is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted” (Act 1, Scene 3),which makes her into an object that has been stolen from his house. In anotherinstance Iago says, “Awake! What ho, Brabantio! Thieves, thieves! Look to yourhouse, your daughter, and your bags! Thieves, thieves!” (1.1) Again in thisinstance we see that Iago considers Desdemona as her father’s property and whenshe is eloped with Othello he says that she is stolen from Barbantio. Even herown father has the same ideology of Desdemona as in when he say to Othello, “Lookto her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and maythee.” (1.3) Here we see another unfair stereotyping of women.
Barbantio claimsthat even his own daughter who has ran off with Othello will also deceive andbetray Othello. This idea of women being sexually unfaithful was common amongthe men like the idea of them being seductive. In another instance Othello usesfinancial metaphor to talk about his relation with Desdemona and says: “Come, My dear love, the purchase made, thefruits are to ensue; the profit’s yet to come ‘tween me and you. — Goodnight.”(2.
3.) Also when in Cyprus, Iago says “You rise to play, and go to bed towork.”(Act 2, Scene 1) We see then that Iago thinks of women as prostitutes andtoys for sexual pleasure. This explains the issue of women’s sexual promiscuitywhich is a recurring theme in the play.
Two of the female characters of theplay are eventually killed by the hands of their husbands; Emilia accused of dishonestyand Desdemona of infidelity.But,one interesting and important thing to be considered is the concept of effeminacy.Let me elaborate on the point to argue my point.
The men in the play who haveobtained some feminine traits are victims. Rodrigo for example who lovesDesdemona and there is no masculine quality in him becomes an object ofexploitation for Iago. Iago says “I have rubbedthis young quat almost to the sense, and he grows angry. Now, whether he killCassio or Cassio him, or each do kill the other, every way makes my gain. LiveRoderigo, He calls me to a restitution large of gold and jewels that I bobbedfrom him as gifts to Desdemona.
” (Act 5, Scene 1)AlsoOthello himself who used to be a hard man and an experienced warrior becomeseffeminate after marrying Desdemona. His hardened warrior attributes are fadingaway and he is overwhelmed by many unfamiliar emotions. Iago is the one whoexploits this weakness of Roderigo and Othello to get what he desires. Thusmaybe it is not only the female sex which is the victim of that society. Maybeit is in fact the quality of femininity whichis the real victim. Thus I could claim that Shakespeare was not trying toportray the female characters as weak and object but he tried to show theweakness which is caused by a lack of some qualities and those qualitieshappened to be male qualities.
It is ostensible as I argued that even the menwho lack the manly qualities are as much victims as the women themselves are.But it does not justify the common stereotyping of women being seductive andsource of mischief. And also this does not mean that Shakespeare invented them.Maybe he just reflected honestly what was going on in the society. Imagine ifhe did had done the opposite or at least he had not portrayed the women as theyhad been really being portrayed in the real life of the time.
Then wouldn’t hebe accused of dishonesty even by the feminists themselves?Afterthe analysis of these female characters can we confidently decide if Shakespeareis anti-feminist or pro-feminist? I do not think that we can. One importantthing to consider is that the concept of feminism did not exist back then thus,we cannot call him a feminist. But, can we say that he was a protofeminist?Yes. Because he did show an understanding of the conditions of women and the mistreatmentof them by men and he actually by his characterization as I have discussed inthe previous paragraph, implied the notion that women are not necessarily thelower or weaker counterpart. In other words he created seemingly protofeministfemale characters.Butof course some argue that this disobedience and willfulness of his femalecharacters were actually a means to his end. The end they argue is to achievethe comic effect which he was looking to create. I personally cannot acceptthat a character like Lady Macbeth or Desdemona for instance were supposed tocreate a comic effect.
As an example of intellect consider Portia in TheMerchant of Venice. She has more wit than the male characters and she savesAntonio’s life using that wit. Thus I cannot accept that their willfulness and clevernessis a tool to show them as fools; not always at least.Consideringthe play which is the best case for a feminist to claim that Shakespeare was a misogynist,The Taming of the Shrew, one might argue that this is a clear exampleand symbol of female submission to male. But is it really? Besides the argumentthat I have made on Petruchio’s character there is an argument on Kate herselfthat puts the whole argument in a blurry state. We cannot_ at least I cannot_ really decide that Kate is really sincere ormostly sarcastic. Also, she in fact gets as much as she gives.
Thus can we saythat Petruchio is taming her? Or, is she taming him? Or, they are both tamingeach other? To me it seems more like they are equally participating in theprocess of taming.Anothersignificant and widely known female character that Shakespeare created and whonicely fits into my discussion is Juliet. In the play Juliet has equalimportance to the course of the play and even maybe more. Although she isstereotyped as silly and foolish maybe, she is actually the intellectual counterpart.She speaks over Romeo, she chides his soft and oversentimental words and forfeminist’s attention, she gets to have the long soliloquy expressing her excitementafter her intercourse with Romeo. Even her family is denounced for trying toforce Juliet to marry the one whom they want, but Juliet herself is nevercondemned of trying to be a normal woman with natural desires. Ofcourse I cannot neglect Shakespeare’s weak female characters, actually Ibelieve that I should not.
Ophelia is one of the only two female characters inShakespeare’s Hamlet. She is a young woman who is treated so bad andportrayed as childlike and weak by the men around her _Shakespeare included_that she falls into the pit of insanity. In another play named All’s WellThat Ends Well, there is Helena. Helena is a female doctor who is very muchtalented but she is depressed about a guy not liking her back and wastes herlife being heartbroken because he won’t date her.
And a lot of other examplesof this sort and the strong and wilful type that brings me to my opinion.Ican firmly say that by this different types of women, Shakespeare’s women arenot all weak or invariably strong. Before all that, they are human. They areeither strong or weak or both.
They are women as they are not as Shakespearewants them to be or represent.