Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 184. Monday, 22 March 1993.
Date: Monday, 22 March 1993
Subject: New on the SHAKSPER FileServer: PRIVATE PARTS
As of today, SHAKSPEReans may retrieve PRIVATE PARTS from the SHAKSPER
FileServer. PRIVATE PARTS contains the preliminary notes for an essay on
gender identity in Shakespeare, contributed by a new member to the SHAKSPER
Conference -- Al Cacicedo.
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[The following are some very preliminary notes for a longish essay on gender
identity in Shakespeare.]
The centrality of women in Shakespeare's work, and in particular of the
question that appears as the title of Mary Beth Rose's influential essay,
"Where Are the Mothers in Shakespeare?"1, has become a commonplace of recent
studies of Shakespeare. On the other hand, as a participant in a recent SAA
seminar put it, given the relative scarcity of mothers in the plays, perhaps
one ought to focus attention on the fathers in Shakespeare.2 Immediately,
however, one runs into profound ambiguity. Consider, for instance, Lear's
words as he begins to understand just how thoroughly he has lost status and
O how this mother swells up towards my
Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing
Thy element's below. (2.4.56-58)3
The Riverside edition glosses "mother" as hysteria, but then "hysteria" is the
womb itself.4 Perhaps one should understand the term figuratively, as meaning
that Lear begins to feel the "errant womb" that signals his impending madness.
And yet my inclination is to take the passage literally: Lear really does feel
the female organ inside himself, displaced from its properly submerged position
and rising to strangulate him. To Rose's question, then, I answer as Juliet
does when the Nurse, coming from her conference with Romeo, irrelevantly asks
where Lady Capulet is:
Where is my mother! why, she is within,
Where should she be? (2.4.58-59).
I first came across a literal reading of Juliet's remark in an avowedly
psychoanalytic context, an essay by Elenore and Robert Fliess.5 Recent work,
however, has allowed me to reconceive the psychological perspective of the
Fliesses in a more material and historical mode. Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex
has demonstrated in detail the physiological and medical ideas that underlie
Renaissance assumptions about female and male genitalia.