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2. Margaret Cavendish, Shakespeare Critic

Katherine M. Romack

Subject Literature » Shakespearean Literature

People Cavendish, Margaret

Key-Topics feminist criticism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631208075.2000.00004.x


In 1896, anti-suffragist Emily Perkins Bissell ridiculed the women's movement in an article entitled “The Mistaken Vocation of Shakespeare's Heroines.” It is an elaborate fantasy depicting an outspoken advocate of “progressive Womanhood” delivering a lecture to a “Twentieth-Century Women's Club” on “Shakespeare's attitude with respect to his heroines” (233). Published first in The Century Magazine , and a year later in the American Shakespeare Magazine (1897), her satire includes a transcript of the fictional “lecture” complete with invented audience response. The exuberant speaker, in Bissell's parody of feminism, decries “the whole structure of Shakespeare's dramas” which rest “upon the disenfranchisement of those heroines whom he is falsely supposed to idealize” (233). She opens her lecture with a brief critique of Shakespeare's reception: Doubtless you have been taught in youth, as I was, to consider him as an unsurpassed delineator of female character; doubtless Rosalind and Juliet, Portia and Cordelia, Ophelia and Imogen, Viola and Beatrice, have been held up to you as the ideals of a perfect Womanhood. Doubtless, also, you have believed it all, and never stopped to think that Shakespeare himself was but a man, and that his commentators have been men without being Shakespeares. The masculine conception of female character has thus been forced upon us. Shall we submit? (Cries ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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