Shakespeare for the Eighties

Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare

by Lisa Jardine
Barnes and Noble, 224 pp., $28.50

Shakespeare the Director

by Ann Pasternak Slater
Barnes and Noble, 244 pp., $23.50

The Artist and Society in Shakespeare's England: The Collected Papers of Muriel Bradbrook, Volume I

by M.C. Bradbrook
Barnes and Noble, 177 pp., $24.95

The Book Known as Q: A Consideration of Shakespeare's Sonnets

by Robert Giroux
Atheneum, 334 pp., $17.95

Troilus and Cressida

by William Shakespeare, edited by Kenneth Palmer
The Arden Shakespeare, Methuen, 337 pp., $6.95 (paper)

Troilus and Cressida

by William Shakespeare, edited by Kenneth Muir
The Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 205 pp., $19.95

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare, edited by H.J. Oliver
The Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 248 pp., $19.95

Henry V

by William Shakespeare, edited by Gary Taylor
The Oxford Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 330 pp., $19.95

From time to time one hears somebody asking how it can be that the output of Shakespeare studies actually increases Shakespeare studies actually increases every year; why don’t they exhaust the subject? Nothing could more clearly reveal the questioner as a layperson. Within the clerical institution that concerns itself with these matters, Shakespeare remains a privileged text. A few weeks back the British playwright Trevor Griffiths said to me on a television talk show that there were at least thirty (or was it three hundred?) British dramatists alive today who were better than Shakespeare. It was his way of establishing his status as an extreme heretic. We all respect Mr. Griffiths, of course, but if he wants to change anything he will have to do better than that. He might as well walk down Piccadilly with a placard announcing The End.

Because very large numbers of people are compelled to study Shakespeare, or to go through the motions of doing so, many thousands of pastors are gainfully occupied in helping them to do so, or seeming to be doing so. A proportion of these workers must get tenure and improve their position in the hierarchy; they can do so only by writing books. These books must at least appear to say something new, and there is an endless sequence of new fashions, each generating the next, which develops or challenges its predecessor. The mode of the Seventies was predominantly feminist; the first two books under review offer a corrective response to extremist versions of that fashion; I can now comment on the revisionist position, and anybody who wants to can comment on mine. This is known in the profession as a Shakespearean Research Opportunity, and it helps to explain why people who wonder why we never exhaust the subject are simply working with the wrong model.

Linda Bamber’s book Comic Women, Tragic Men begins with a brief history of feminist criticism since Kate Millett’s breakthrough in 1970, and runs through the list of feminist Shakespeareans since that date. Lisa Jardine does the same thing, for each wishes in her own way to qualify and correct the work of the pioneers. Both take issue with Juliet Dusinberre, whose Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (1975) discovered that the myriad-minded one was deep into “Renaissance feminism,” and Coppelia Kahn, who found that Shakespeare’s maleness inescapably affected his drama, which is nevertheless worth attention as a representation of his masculine anxieties about identity (Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare, 1981). Between the extremes of a feminist Shakespeare and a male chauvinist Shakespeare there is obviously much room for maneuver; and the existence of this new critical tradition also means that one need not dig very deep into the bottomless deposits of prefeminist criticism. Bamber’s allusions to the androcentric era before 1970 tend to be selective and cursory; it seems symptomatic that she attributes John Holloway’s excellent book The Story of the Night (1963) to John Hollander, an entirely different poet-scholar. It is…

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