Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shakespeare: A Feminist by Any Other Name by Jody Gehrman

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Shakespeare: A Feminist by Any Other Name
by Jody Gehrman, author of Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty

Since my book Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty featured a plot loosely modeled on Much Ado About Nothing, I'm going to address one of my favorite topics: the Bard's peculiar and idiosyncratic brand of feminism.

Granted, the guy lived like four hundred years ago, so of course nobody called him a feminist back in the day. Nevertheless, I think Willy had a little insight into how the female brain works, which put him way ahead of his contemporaries; he certainly knew how to craft compelling, complex and powerful female characters.

I'm an English professor at a small community college and we're hitting finals this week, so I don't have any energy left to bore you with an extensive dissertation on the topic. If you'll humor me for a few minutes, though, I will provide a breakdown of some of my favorite Shakespearian women and why:

Portia from The Merchant of Venice: This cross-dressing, clever vixen actually had the guts and the know-how to save her man's best friend from having his heart carved out of his chest. Sounds like a horror-movie heroine. Nope, Shakespeare!

Katherine from Taming of the Shrew: Okay, I've always found the ending to this play super disappointing and perplexing. All the same, who can deny that Kate is a kick-ass, independent iconoclast right up until Act IV, Scene 2?

Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing: Geena, my protagonist in the Triple Shot Betty series is based on this character (the sequel, Triple Shot Bettys in Love, comes out in January--sorry, shameless product placement there). Beatrice and Geena are both super smart sarcastic types with attitude. I just took Shakespeare's version and gave her a skater-girl, espresso-slinging makeover.

Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Come on, she's Queen of the fairies! How cool is that? Also, she's got a gorgeous, exotic name, right? And okay, so she falls for a jackass temporarily due to some Puckish interference, but who among us can't relate to that?

To find out more about Jody, visit

Poll! Feel free to go into the comments section and sharing your views, especially if you're an avid Shakespeare reader.


Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

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Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether I would think of him as a feminist. =/
I didn't realize that this book was based on Shakespeare though. haha. Awesome. =)
Great guest blog.

Amee said...

I voted "Hmmm...not sure" because I would say yes and no! Like Jody says, his female characters are strong and independent for their day, but the plays also have misogynistic elements.

If I were writing a term paper, I would probably argue that the female characters in the tragedies often seem to progress the tragedy. For example, Lady MacBeth makes sure MacBeth is going to kill Duncan. And when he falters a bit, she steps in and finishes the job (meaning she planted the weapons on two guards to make it appear they did it).

Even the females in the comedies also get a bum rap. In The Comedy of Errors, Adriana is told (by another woman for that matter) that it is her jealousy that is screwing up her marriage. In Two Gentlemen of Verona, Sylvia is almost raped by her fiance's best friend, who is then immediately forgiven for it without a thought as to how Sylvia feels. The guy gets away with attempted rape!?

So yeah, the plays feature strong female characters but they still take the back seat to the men.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

What an interesting guest post!
I said yes, but that's just based on what I've read and remember of Shakespeare and this guest blog. Honestly, I guess i'm not totally sure..but I still think for the time, Shakespeare featured a lot of women and they werne't all totally hopeless, so that's awesome!


ellie_enchanted said...

I voted no, because although Shakespeare wrote some strong female characters, others were a lot worse off.

I think that The Taming of the Shrew is the best example of this. I mean, come on: you've got the strong, independent female character - who then has her personality crushed.

But I will say that, for his time, Shakespeare did write surprisingly strong females.

MySharonAnne said...

I voted no. I thought of Desdemona who let her husband Othello kill her without putting up a fight.

Alessandra said...

I don't think that Shakespeare was a feminist. Very interesting post, though :) I loved Much Ado About Nothing, and this makes me think I'd love this book.

Liviania said...

I voted "hmm." His works seem like a mix. As you pointed out, look how Taming of the Shrew ends!

As for A Midsummer Night's Dream . . . what about Helena's spurn me speech? (Of course, in the end Demetrius ends up having to marry his stalker happily due to Puckish influence.)

Nurin said...

Hmm for me too. :) Great post, Jody's just too awesome.

Sarah Woodard said...

I voted hmm. Sometimes he had strong female character and other times not so strong.

Jodie said...

On one hand there's Juliet, although she dies she does defy the system to do what's right for her and avoid conforming with her parents/society's wishes. On the other hand there's Desdemona who after a truely awesome begining becomes the wetest heroine ever. Sure she was up against a master manipulator and her husband is totaly to blame for her death but I still find myself wanting to slap her into shape.

Lenore Appelhans said...

I sure wish it hadn't been finals week, because I would have read a whole dissertation on this topic :)

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