English 90sw. Shakespeare's Women

Instructor: Marjorie Garber
Day & Time: Tuesdays 9:45-11:45am
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

Juliet, Rosalind, Portia, Ophelia, Isabella, Cressida, Cleopatra, Cordelia, Imogen, Volumnia, Lady Macbeth—the women of Shakespeare’s plays have become iconic figures, cited, admired, critiqued, and invoked in every generation. But in the English public theater of Shakespeare’s time no women were permitted to appear onstage. All these famous roles were played by boy actors; Shakespeare wrote their words and their stories—parts so often celebrated for their truth to nature-- knowing they would be performed by young men. In the cross-dressing plays, in which the heroine disguised herself as a boy, the boy actor would then be playing a girl playing the part of a boy. When actresses began to perform in Shakespeare’s plays, at the end of the seventeenth century, they immediately began to make the roles their own, and productions of Shakespeare were dominated, over the years, by female stars. In the mid-twentieth century feminist critics and theorists drew renewed attention to women and gender in Shakespeare, producing a rich and diverse set of books and articles, many now regarded as classic. And in what might have been anticipated as a telling reversal, contemporary directors and performers have staged productions in which major male roles, like King Lear and Prospero, are played by women.

The seminar will read and discuss a number of Shakespeare’s plays, together with criticism, theory, and stage history, to see how women—characters, actors, critics, audiences—have shaped our understanding of Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare has influenced ideas about women, both over the years and in the present day.