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Forum Home > Shakespeare > Angels and Demons, Goddesses and Whores: Dramatic Depictions of Early Modern Women.

Dr Briony Frost
Member
Posts: 142

In responding to these questions, please feel free to use any of the characters from King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi. You may want to compare/contrast them in your answers.

 

1. a) Suzanne Hull has summarised that in all conduct books from 1475-1640 women were instructed to be "chaste, silent and obedient." Why do you think each of these qualities were necessary for Renaissance women (from the patriarchal viewpoint)? How would an unmarried virgin be expected to conform (i.e. to whom would she be obedient, etc)? A wife? A widow?

b) What threats were posed to the dominant patriarchal order by whores, nags/scolds, or cross-dressers such as Moll Cutpurse?

2. How do Cordelia, the Duchess of Malfi (and Cariola) conform to the expected stereotype of "virtuous" women? In what ways do they defy it? How 'transgressive' are their transgressions (in comparison to the behaviour of others around them)? Are they ultimately subversive or conservative?

3. In what ways are Goneril, Regan and Vittoria transgressive female characters? Are they at all conservative or virtuous?

4. How would you describe Cleopatra ? is she virtuous or a vixen? Is there a spectrum of transgressiveness/virtue?

5. Do you think critical reception of these female characters has changed over time? How/why?

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May 27, 2013 at 2:03 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

These look like excellent prompts, Briony. If no members respond in the next 5-10 minutes, I suggest we leave these thoughts 'on the table' and invite members to comment on any of them in the next week. As students are on half-term they may not be able to get online.

May 27, 2013 at 2:11 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Dr Briony Frost
Member
Posts: 142

Hi Neil,

That's absolutly fine. If people would rather have a discussion over the next week/two weeks about these prompts as a method of revision I can check back fairly regularly!

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May 27, 2013 at 2:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 837

Hi Briony, that's very kind of you, cheers! 

May 27, 2013 at 2:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Member
Posts: 59

Hello - sorry to have missed the time for this, Bank Holiday Roast was enforced.

In the case of King Lear and the love-test, is it arguable that two of those instructions - namely silent and obedient - clash? Goneril and Regan are obedient only by not being silent, whilst Cordelia, who says that she will 'love, and be silent', is disobedient. The primary (in the sense of first) problem that the women in King Lear face is that they cannot meet the expectations of Renaissance women in the impossible situation of the 'love-test'. They cannot retain their womanly silence and virtue whilst obeying Lear's wish for them to be verbose and superfluous in their expression of love to him?

Just an immediate thought!


Thank you very much for your time.

--

Jack May

May 27, 2013 at 4:11 PM Flag Quote & Reply

CJRO
Member
Posts: 22

Sorry, I have been a little busy over the past few days and suddenly remembered this just now.

 

In response to number four, I think Cleopatra is the man in the woman's body. I think she lacks clear virtue as she is ultimately is a manipulator and by Roman definition a 'gipsy' a 'triple-turned whore' and even 'the witch'. I think this selection of insults may wipe any appearance of virtue in the minds of the Elizabethan audience who would view the mentioned groups of people as degenerates. However, I don't feel it is fair to describe her as vixen either; Cleopatra can be sly and she has clear political motivations such as when she flatters Caesar, 'I kiss his conqu'ring hand'l, which does demonstrate a willingness to do things to benefit herself. Yet, she is never malicious in her actions, I feel she adopts an apologetic tone at times, 'I little thought you would have followed', which I feel makes it clear that Cleopatra is not acting in malice. I think what is certain is that Cleopatra acts in a way that gives her the power she desires, although the cost is her virtue as a woman. Thus, I feel Cleopatra is not so much the 'pit or pedestal' woman, but rather a new woman, a woman who embraces both aspects of her character.

 

With Cleopatra I do feel she is a Spectrum to some extent but ultimately she is 'marble constant'. I feel that shakespeare wants us to see Cleopatra as a constant, she is the constant transgressor; Cleopatra lures two Roman's into a culture they see as slaves, she shows masculine force when she hauls the messenger up and down and most prominently she is a queen and sole ruler of Eqypt in a world dominated by men. Yet, I think that Shakespeare does want his audience to understand this as a facade and I feel this is where we can begin to see Cleopatra's personal dichotomy. From Elizabeth Taylor's cleopatra it does seem that Cleopatra's decadence is no more than a mask, a bloody good one, but a mask to hide her womanly virtues which we glimpse only as she dies and finally subjects herself to make power 'husband I come'. I think this certainly reflects Elizabeth, perhaps Cleopatra the character is a character map of Elizabeth I, a Queen who appeared externally powerful. I do think though that Spectrum may be the wrong word for Cleopatra's character, she is the duplicit Queen.

 

 

 

I was also interested by your first promp suggesting that women should be 'chaste silent and obedient'. This is particularly interesting when considering 'Volpone' as Jonson presents both the desired female in Celia and then the opposite in Lady Would Be. I think Jonson uses the characterisations of the women to highlight the fault of the men and exposes that the men can be just as corrupt as women were viewed to be. For instance, Celia attempts to embody all three virtues; she remains virtually silent in the courtroom and obeys her husband's orders to essentially prostitute herself to Volpone - yet it is this that leads her to losing her chastity. Thus, I feel Jonson does construct a proto - feminist argument in demonstrating that the Corruption of Celia is not down to a female's inherent sexual desire but rather the corruption of the male. However, Jonson also offers Lady W.B who is less virtuous by Renaissance standards, opposing all three of the virtues listed. Perhaps then Jonson highlights that sinfulness and corruption is a wholistic human experience and cannot be pinned down on one sex.


Connor
May 30, 2013 at 7:52 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Dr Briony Frost
Member
Posts: 142

Jack May at May 27, 2013 at 4:11 PM

Hello - sorry to have missed the time for this, Bank Holiday Roast was enforced.

In the case of King Lear and the love-test, is it arguable that two of those instructions - namely silent and obedient - clash? Goneril and Regan are obedient only by not being silent, whilst Cordelia, who says that she will 'love, and be silent', is disobedient. The primary (in the sense of first) problem that the women in King Lear face is that they cannot meet the expectations of Renaissance women in the impossible situation of the 'love-test'. They cannot retain their womanly silence and virtue whilst obeying Lear's wish for them to be verbose and superfluous in their expression of love to him?

Just an immediate thought!


Thank you very much for your time.

Hi Jack,

A super observation here. Do you have any follow up thoughts on how that affects the construction of the three female characters here?

Best,

Briony

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May 30, 2013 at 8:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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