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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
Re: Female Freedom in Comedies
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0786  Tuesday, 1 September 1998.

[1]     From:   Chris Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Sunday, 30 Aug 1998 11:33:48 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0783  Q: Female Freedom in Comedies

[2]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Aug 1998 09:28:01 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0783  Q: Female Freedom in Comedies


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <
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Date:           Sunday, 30 Aug 1998 11:33:48 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0783  Q: Female Freedom in Comedies
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0783  Q: Female Freedom in Comedies

Sim Shattuck---it's probably Linda Bamber's---well, she being the one
who got published with it first, I guess.....

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Aug 1998 09:28:01 -0400
Subject: 9.0783  Q: Female Freedom in Comedies
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0783  Q: Female Freedom in Comedies

Sim Shattuck writes:

>I need to know whose idea it is, as expressed in the Norton Shakespeare,
>that cross-dressed female characters get the freedom to move about
>because a third party (not the man or woman in question, but an Other,
>like Shylock) makes male/female opposition unimportant until the Other
>is defeated, ie, Shylock, Malvolio, etc.  Any and all help on this
>subject appreciated.

An interesting theory, whose proponent I do not know.  It seems to me
not quite right though. Certainly female characters do not go into male
costume spontaneously or only for a lark in the plays. And a bad
situation often has a human agent. But it is not clear that the cause is
the shambling shape of an Other (= a villain? -- are all villains
Others? and v.v?) who so stresses the commonwealth that "ordinary"
tensions are abandoned in emergency.  Shylock is a good enough instance,
I suppose, and one could argue that Duke Frederick is the cause of
Rosalind's disguise (though she says it's fear of rough encounters on
the public highway), but Malvolio is a less good one, since Viola
resolves to adopt male disguise before we even hear of him, and
certainly before she encounters him, nor is he ever really her direct
antagonist or she involved in the action around him. One could, I
suppose, count his in effect keeping back her clothes as a sort of
metaphoric nod to this structural role, though that looks like
stretching a point to me.  And to call Proteus an Other seems to me to
reveal a plasticity in the term which makes it almost useless.

Even more shaky is the assertion that male/female opposition is first
made unimportant when (which is also why) women are (can be) disguised.
On the contrary, such oppositionality is often heightened at such times,
not only in Bassanio and Gratiano's remarks in the courtroom about their
wives, or in Ganymede's travestying of the characters of women, which
prompts Celia's indignation, but even more in relation to Imogen's
disguise as Fidele, and the storm of misogyny unleashed by Postumus
towards her.  Oddly enough, the best case for this argument seems to be
Benedick's switching sides in Much Ado, as close as Shakespeare ever
comes to a male analogue to such female cross-dressing, though again,
one could hardly claim that male-female relations were rendered
unimportant by Don John in that play.

But possibly these are just the points Sim Shattuck wants to make and
just needs to know whom to address. There I can't help. Sorry.

Best to the List,
Tom
 

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