Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Intellectual and Cultural Context- Women and Misogyny

In Shakespeare's Cymbeline there is a violently misogynistic tirade

"There's no motion that tends to vice in man but I affir
It is the woman's part.... The woman's; flattering, hers;deceiving hers;
Lust and rank thoughts; hers, hers; revenges
Ambitious, covetings, change of prides, disdain
Nice longing, slanders, mutability"  

This speech shows a set of ideas that were disturbingly common during the Jacobean period. 

The idea that women were inherently sinful is found in the first book of the Bible. In the story of Adam and Eve. God was angry at Eve's disobedience and devises a punishment. 

"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children: and they desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." 

The story was used as 'both the justification and the cause of woman's subjugation." (Dympna Callaghan) An example of this is the Elizabethan text The Praise and Dispraise of Women where the author remarks "Eve did first transgress, whose fault brought us in thrall." 

Women had a clear hierarchical position and were subordinate to men. A Godly Form of Household Government describes it as 'a monstrous matter... for the wife to rebel against the husband... a disobedient wife is like a body refusing to obey its own head." The Place of Pleasure by William Painter makes it clear that women were expected to be submissive and deferential. "as soon as she steppeth out of the right tract... thrust herself into infinite troubles" 

The early modern women notes Lisa Jardine 'has no means of escape: any single act which does not square with this emblem of passive and dutiful behaviour condemns the individual as fallen from the pedestal." 

During the Jacobean period it was common for women to defend themselves in ecclesiastical courts from accusations of being a 'whore', just as Vittoria does in the play. 90% of cases concerning a female plantiff involved her sexual reputation

Women were defined primarily according to their relationships with men, whether daughter, wife or widow. This idea central in the Book of Genesis- God creates Eve by taking a rib from Adam. The independent, assertive woman was seen as an aberration: the masculine woman bold in speech and impudent in action was described as 'most monstrous.' in the Man Woman (an anonymous pamphlet in 1620) 

Webster depicts a highly sexist and patriarchial world. B and Francisco dominate their respective dukedomes + characters like I are symbolic bargaining tokens rather than active individuals in their own right. Play is skewed towards a male perspective. Male characters are allowed long soliloquies whilst female characters are not. Also all female characters would be played by male actors. 

Play gives expression to misogynistic ideas
  • Monticelsco invective against whores in the trial scene
  • Flamineo has a sexist commentary throughout
A key theme is the deceitful and duplicitious nature of women. Vittoria is repeatedly deceptive. 
But, just because Webster depicts a misogynistic world it doesn't mean that he endorses its values. Vittoria is a strong and potentially sympathetic female characters whose victimisation at the hands of powerful men might provoke outrage and indignation in the audience. 

Although v. few people spoke out about the oppression of women; the play could be ambiguous. 

This was a central debate shown in the pamphlet war in 1615 started by the publication of An Arraignment of Lewd, Idle , Froward and Unconstant Women by Joeseph Swetnam. It was an odd mix of jokes, historical anecdotes, biblical references and misogynistic invective aimed at 'the ordinary sort of giddy-headed young men.' 
Swetnam denounced women condemning them as animalistic, dishonest, disloyal, deceptive and uncontrollable.  

The pamphlet provoked anti misogynistic responses, mostly by women, The satirical play Swetnam the Woman- Hater, Arraigned by Women was published in 1620. The latter was performed at the Red Bull Theatre by the Queen Anne's Men- same company + theatre that staged TWD- but an inversion of the trial scene. 

In his pamphlet he writes: 
  • "The beauty of women hath been the bane of many a man, for it hath overcome valiant and strong men"
  • Then who can but say that women sprung from Devil? Whose heads, hands and hearts, minds and souls are evil, for women are called the hook of all evil because men are taken by them as fish is taken with the hook" 
  • "in their beds there is hell, sorrow and repentance." 
  • "women devour them alive, for a woman will pick thy pocket and empty thy purse, laugh in thy face and cut thy throat."
  • "They are ungrateful... and cruel yet there were by God created and by nature formed, and therefore by policy and wisdom to be avoided. 
  • "aim more at thy wealth than at thy person." 

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