To what extent can one speak of Shakespearian “women”? Should we equate gender distinctions with that between the feminine and the masculine? Can one distinguish the notion of the “feminine” from discussions on the relationship between “women” and “girls”, sexuality and domesticity, agency and passivity? How did Shakespeare’s portrayal of the feminine evolve, between his early characters such as the prophetic Queen Margaret and later characters such as the stern, parrhesic Paulina? How did the examples of female rulers in early modern Europe influence the playwright’s depiction of women, notably queens and princesses? Is there a specifically English, British or Euro-centric approach to these questions both in the early modern era and in our own?
Iconic Shakespearean actresses such as Peggy Ashcroft (1988) have marvelled at the versatility and depth of Shakespeare’s feminine roles. Lady Macbeth, Beatrice, Ophelia, Queen Margaret, Juliet, Paulina, Desdemona, Volumnia, Lavinia… all are characters which have been variously represented, or objectified in Western culture, and whose names have now become easily recognizable emblems or concepts—even myths.
Ophelia, for instance, was obsessively represented by nineteenth-century artists such as Benjamin West (1805), John Everett Millais (1851-2), Eugène Delacroix (1853), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1868), John William Waterhouse (1889, 1994, 1910), or Odilon Redon (1905, 1905-8), which succeeded in transforming the luckless virgin into the epitome of the female victim in the Romantic imagination. Similarly, characters such as Lady Macbeth, Desdemona or Volumnia, have been used as case studies or illustrating clinical research, following Freud’s example with Sophocles and the “Œdipus complex”, to discuss the workings of castration, desire, jealousy, and so on. Others have used the feminine as a meaningful metaphor to discuss poetic genres (Berry 1999).
More generally, feminine characters in Shakespeare have arguably allowed critics and performers to discuss and explore issues constructing or affecting women, their identity, status or evolution both on- and offstage, in the early modern era or our own, giving rise to a host of novel interpretations of these questions in different disciplines, be it literary studies, gender studies, psychology, sociology and political science, or film and performance studies, among others.
Paradoxically, however, only male players were allowed onstage in the Elizabethan era, an age which also celebrated a “Virgin Queen” who spoke of herself as having “the body of a weak and feeble woman, but [the] heart and stomach of a king”. With this paradox in mind, this seminar will discuss the various ways in which Shakespeare exploited, helped create or, conversely, undermine, the myth of the “feminine”.
The seminar will welcome proposals on all of Shakespeare’s works (poetry and drama), as well as performances or adaptations (on stage, television or film), and “mythic encounters” between Shakespeare and various “feminine” figures (Hackett, 2009). The aim of this interdisciplinary seminar is to explore new critical directions and approaches, questioning a range of ideas and assumptions that have surrounded the issue of gender in Shakespeare’s works. We would especially welcome proposals with a European focus.
Deadline for Paper Proposals:
Please submit an abstract (200-300 words) and a brief bio (150 words) by 1 October 2012 to the convenors: Yan Brailowsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Victoria Bladen (email@example.com). All participants will be notified about the acceptance of their proposals by 1 November 2012. The deadline for accepted seminar participants to send their completed paper is 1 April 2013.
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