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Thread: Wimpy women in Shakespeare

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Wimpy women in Shakespeare

    On another thread this made me think

    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    Yes, Kate is a strong willed, spirited and witty woman (could Shakespeare create anything less?)

    Generally, yes. But there are one or two female doormats in Shakespeare. Coriolanusí wife, Vigillia, is probably one although her problem isnít her unbelievably butch and driven husband, but her mother in law (who is also the root of Coriolanusí butch pride).

    But the two that stand out to me are Ophelia and Gertrude. They appear to have no individuality at all. Thatís probably why I find Hamlet over-rated Ė no interesting women parts.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 07-17-2015 at 04:18 PM.
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    Which is why Coleridge considered Shakespeare the greatest word-painter of women, because Coleridge believed women should be essentially without interiority and that their virtue was in how they reacted with their emotions to the male-propelled events taking place around them. He found this quality portrayed with the greatest purity in Shakespeare and even held up Ophelia as exemplary. I don't think Hamlet overrated, but the character of Ophelia is perhaps the element I'm least at ease with, but this is inevitable given Hamlet himself. Not even Shakespeare can do all things at once. Cleopatra's part in place of Ophelia's would be pretty amusing though.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Had Coleridge read As You Like It? Or Macbeth for that matter? Lady M and the witches do the propelling, I'd have thought.
    Previously JonathanB

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    I've always thought Macbeth was one of Shakespeare's best works. Really love it.

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    Lady Macbeth's life on the stage is still only reacting to her husband's situation, even if she is trying to manipulate it for her own ends. I think Coleridge could readily believe this was in the character of women. The point is women's importance resides in how they respond and influence the affairs of men (and in addition, Coleridge believes there should be more responding than influencing - hence he held Ophelia in high regard). Rosalind is meant to enchant us, because women are so charming, silly, and cute.
    Last edited by Eupalinos; 07-18-2015 at 10:50 AM.

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    We are all influenced by the thoughts that are current in our own time. Shakespeare in the late 1500s and Coleridge in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I can't judge the writings of Coleridge to those of Shakespeare, I don't know Coleridge well enough. What does JonathanB think?

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eupalinos View Post
    Rosalind is meant to enchant us, because women are so charming, silly, and cute.
    JonathanB thinks ye gods.

    I have not fitted into stereotypes of male behaviour all my life and I don't see why women should either. Rosalind is more in control at the end than any one else in As You Like It. Macbeth would not have murdered Duncan if it hadn't been for his wife. Coriolanus could have been a nice boy, helping his wife with the housework, if he hadn't been brought up by his ghastly mother to be an aggressive bastard. Lear could have had a peaceful old age if he hadn't given in to his nasty daughters flattery. Romeo was besotted with Juliet as much as the other way round.

    Coleridge was born near where I was in Devon. His father was vicar (parish priest) of Ottery St Mary and used to go out to the hayfields to read the Bible in the original Greek to the local agricultural workers. Clearly the family were off their heads.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 07-18-2015 at 05:08 PM.
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    Do you think being in control is what makes a human notable, or human? I don't object to Shakespeare or Coleridge. But there's a widespread claim that Shakespeare's female characters, because they are, within and slightly beyond the bounds of their society, 'powerful' (firmly in possession of will and influence), as profoundly inward as the male characters. They do not, and cannot, possess the intellectual depth of Hamlet or the pathos of Lear anymore than either of those men could have been peasants. Because only noblemen can have such depths in Shakespeare's time. Rosalind is not a global expression of the human condition as Falstaff is. Women are limited by narrower bounds than men; when they are greater, it is because they come near to transcending their limits while the men around them are falling below theirs. Almost all the instances you gave are examples of the negative effects of women on men. I'm not criticizing Shakespeare or Coleridge. No one is obliged to present things as we would wish them to be, or as they are. But to your line about stereotypes and Rosalind: Rosalind is exalted in her role where a male figure would probably have been portrayed as absurdly comical. And the answer would seem to be: when women behave like men it is charming (so long as they're young and likeable; it's usually awful if they're older and unattractive), but a man behaving like a woman is lowering himself. You don't find anything to object to in the fawning refrain that the women in Shakespeare are so strong, i.e. exert their will? Isn't there something wrong-headed in this notion of 'strength' on the one hand, and a condescending attitude in praising women or fictional women for having it? I'm sorry for steering the thread off-topic, but would like to read your answer.
    Last edited by Eupalinos; 07-18-2015 at 07:05 PM.

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanB View Post
    On another thread this made me think




    Generally, yes. But there are one or two female doormats in Shakespeare. Coriolanus’ wife, Vigillia, is probably one although her problem isn’t her unbelievably butch and driven husband, but her mother in law (who is also the root of Coriolanus’ butch pride).

    But the two that stand out to me are Ophelia and Gertrude. They appear to have no individuality at all. That’s probably why I find Hamlet over-rated – no interesting women parts.
    Gertrude? When her husband dies she marries the next king without further ado instead of moping in the background, which maybe makes her a Bad Girl, but not a doormat, I feel. On the other hand there's the Gertrude's bedroom scene - If any son of mine dared talk to me like that I'd have kicked him out of the room instead of calling him 'sweet Hamlet' and agreeing to all the crap!

    Ophelia - I can see what you mean, with her "yes, dad' to everything Polonius says, at an age when most young people have a healthy rebelliousness against the (often idiotic) advice of their elders and betters. But she's so tragically and poetically beautiful, especially in her madness, and she's definitely one of the reasons I love the play. And here's the thing about Shakespeare - even when he makes them wimpy they are still of an infinite variety!

    That leaves Virgilia, and there's nothing much to say, mostly because she has nothing much to say. As you say, she's completely overshadowed by her mother-in-law, and her few words expressing her pacifist, anti-violence stance are swallowed up in the quantity and forcefulness of Volumnia's lines. It seems like Shakespeare created her because he needed a wife (and son) for Coriolanus, but couldn't think of anything for her to do other than be a silent, chaste and passive wife, and then, when she refuses to stir out the door until "her lord returns from the wars", he has her friend Valeria mock her with these wonderful lines, "You would be another Penelope: yet, they say, all/ the yarn she spun in Ulysses' absence did but fill/ Ithaca full of moths."
    Last edited by mona amon; 07-19-2015 at 08:25 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    Gertrude? When her husband dies she marries the next king without further ado instead of moping in the background, which maybe makes her a Bad Girl, but not a doormat, I feel. On the other hand there's the Gertrude's bedroom scene - If any son of mine dared talk to me like that I'd have kicked him out of the room instead of calling him 'sweet Hamlet' and agreeing to all the crap!
    Mona, I don't know if I ever told you this, but you are just awesome!
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Thanks, Pompey!!!
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