Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Impact of Feminism in English Renaissance Studies

This book, edited by Dympna Callaghan, attempts to find a middle ground between "revisionist" and "exclusionist" feminisms. The introductory essay by Callaghan herself poses the rite of marriage as a place that both revisionists and exclusionists could claim for themselves. The revisionists might claim marriage as a site in early modern culture where (most) women exercise choice and agency, where their cultural performance and action is a prerequisite for the existence and continuance of a "ritual on which the social order is founded" (2). The exclusionists might, rightly, remind us that "marriage is an institution not much associated with women's emancipation," a tool of the patriarchy that was often blunt and brutal.

Callaghan appreciates the fact that revisionists take a more comprehensive view of culture, allowing for women's roles in cultural performance where past scholarship has only focused on their absence in theatrical and literary performance. She takes issue, however, with the fact that revisionists are "oblivious to, or in denial about, the structural inequities in early modern . . . patriarchy" (6). A marriage of revisionism and exclusionism, or, as Callaghan calls it, a post-revisionist feminism, might create a more "nuanced picture of women's simultaneous participation in and exclusion from early modern culture" (7).
By taking into account the ways in which women participate in culture on multiple (and sometimes invisible) levels, by acknowledging that women as well as men have a stake in the patriarchy as the system which organizes not only their lives but also their world, and by integrating feminist scholarship with other modes of knowledge-making, this edition attempts to pioneer post-revisionist feminism.

Essays:

Jonathan Gil Harris: This essay reclaims "material culture" scholarship, with its focus on objects and bodies, by engaging it with poststructuralism and Marxism. He makes connections between academics writing about the early modern female body and the authors of √©criture feminine in the 1970's who "insist on a diachronic, dynamic conception of bodily materiality" that is missing from current "material culture" scholarship.

Heather Hirschfeld: This essay uses Freud to discuss misogyny in revenge tragedy, a genre which, Hirshfeld argues, necessitates "a spectacle of specifically female penitence" (17).

Sasha Roberts: This essay discusses the ways in which feminism and formalism might have common ground. Women writers, especially those of miscellanies, included misogynist tracts in their books, countered by a range of writing on women.

R.S. White: This essay looks at the way current cultural appropriations of Ophelia (as a victim of the patriarchy, as a woman with specific mental pathologies) represent a "botching" (a mending, patching) of the play for today's culture.

Jean Howard: This essay looks at the genre of city comedy as one more amenable to feminism; since tragedy and history have so few women characters, more "domestic" genres such as city comedy helps us re-chart the position of women in early modern period and then re-read tragedy and history through that lens. She looks at the terms "wife," "maid," and "whore" in brothel comedies and how these terms are not mutually exclusive or permanent.

Kate Chedzgoy: Women's lives were transformed by shifting of local and national boundaries; how did women deal with dislocation from one area to another?

Kimberly Anne Coles: Sometimes women writers write like women writers not because they are "essentially" feminine but because femininity is a performance that they might gain something from, as in the case of Amelia Lanyer writing specifically proto-feminist poetry in order to distinguish herself from male poets competing for the same patron.

Pamela Allen Brown: An essay about the indeterminability of a woman's pregnancy in a painting, and how we attribute certain sexual/gender stereotypes to her.

Patricia Parker: This essay argues that Shrew is about humanist arts and learning, and that Bianca may not be the perfect submissive daughter/wife all along that we have assumed, but that her mastery of music may indicate a mastery that Katherine is denied.

Frances E. Dolan: The lack of female ghosts in revenge plays may indicate the invisibility of the "specter of Catholicism" during the early modern period, an invisibility which we are beginning to see through as we see Catholics everywhere.

Deanne Williams: An article about Frances Yates, anti-feminist scholar, and intersections between her life and her scholarship on Elizabeth I which, despite her personal politics, is more amenable to feminist agendas than the remarks of Virginia Woolf, an actual feminist.

Natasha Korda: An essay about the ways in which women contributed to the economy of the theater.

Jennifer Panek: Widows remarried because they wanted to have sex. Really. But maybe not for the reasons early modern propaganda assumes they want to have sex.

Grace Ioppolo: A study of Penelope Rich's letters to QEI and Robert Cecil.

Gail Kern Paster: Sometimes women cry because of hormones. We are uncomfortable acknowledging this fact. Biology has been demonized in feminism.

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