Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare
Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare
Critics have long recognized the centrality of family relationships in Shakespeare's drama, but the shifting affections of fathers and daughters has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention only in recent decades. The focus of the critical literature has primarily centered on a few early romantic comedies, the late romances, and King Lear, in which daughters struggle to negotiate a passage into adulthood and marriage with their fathers' blessing, while the fathers struggle to relinquish these young women to other men—their future husbands.
Much of the reversal in critical sympathies may be attributable to the influence of feminist criticism. The earlier appraisals, dating to the 1970s and early 1980s, are typically more sympathetic to the fathers, finding the struggles between them and their daughters to be among the expected hurdles of normal family life, even if the particular plots in which they appear are atypical for Shakespeare, The later readings, however, are more likely to find a tyrannical possessiveness in excess of normal parental affection in the father's behavior—or, as the case may be, a capriciousness, coldness, or disloyalty unwarranted by the daughter's exemplary conduct. While some critics discern an incestuous desire for the daughter in the father's motivation, others see the father's possessiveness as a love corrupted by the power a patriarchal society confers on him. In these cases, the daughter takes on the aspect of a heroine, becoming the focal point of the play she inhabits.
As Shakespearean fathers came under less indulgent scrutiny, other father-daughter relationships began to attract more attention. In the most recent scholarly literature, Juliet and old Capulet, Ophelia and Polonius, and Desdemona and Brabantio move to the whims of patriarchy, willingly or not. To the extent that these daughters are helpless to change the terms of their fate, their tragedies have come to be presented as indictments of sexist oppression. The question that lies just under the surface of such analyses, then, concerns a post-modernist critical evaluation of Shakespeare, as some feminist scholars claim him to be a proto-feminist, while others assert that he remains within a tradition of patriarchy.
Mark Taylor (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "The Lords of Duty," in Shakespeare's Darker Purpose: A Question of Incest, AMS Press, Inc., 1982, pp. 84-119.
[In the following excerpt, Taylor focuses on the irregular control that fathers exert on their daughters in many of Shakespeare's works.]
The plot of As You Like It could be described as the simultaneous movements of two daughters—one, Rosalind, toward her father, and the other, Celia, away from hers. At the beginning Rosalind and Duke Senior are apart from each other. His brother has usurped his power and banished him from the court; she has remained behind as a companion to Celia. It is an unfortunate situation, not of their own contrivance, but it raises certain questions. When we first meet the two girls Celia is trying to cheer her friend up, asking her to "be merry," Rosalind answers,
Dear Celia, I show more mirth than I am mistress of, and would you yet I were merrier? Unless you could teach me to forget a banished father, you must not learn me how to remember any extraordinary pleasure.
It is an understandable sadness, but why, then, did Rosalind remain behind and not accompany her father in the first place? Furthermore, she does in fact cheer up almost immediately—she starts quizzing Celia about falling in...
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Comedies And Romances
John A. Hart (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "Father-Daughter as Device in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies," in Carnegie Series in English, No. 12, 1972, pp. 51-62.
[In the essay below, Hart assesses the function of the father-daughter device in Shakespeare's romantic comedies and the varied problems that arise from that relationship.]
Father and daughter relationships recur throughout Shakespeare's romantic comedies. He takes a common and a simple family relationship, recognizable immediately to his audience as emotionally powerful, and suggests variations upon that relationship until he has worked the vein as thoroughly as he can within that genre. He begins with father-daughter as a device for expounding plot in the early comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream; he develops it as a complicated contrast of ideal positions in The Merchant of Venice; and then in the later comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, he uses it to reflect upon and undercut the positions presented in The Merchant of Venice.
In The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, father-daughter is purely plot device. In the former, conflict between the two is perfectly clear: the Duke of Milan wants his daughter Silvia to marry Thurio, an unattractive...
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Lear And Cordelia
William B. Bache (essay date 1975)
SOURCE: "Lear as Old Man-Father-King," in CLA Journal Vol. XIX, No. 1, September, 1975, pp. 1-9.
[In the following essay, Bache chronicles Lear's growth throughout the play, from his desire for a son to his acceptance of his daughter.]
One of the genuine pleasures of reading Shakespeare comes from the vivid glimpses he gives us into the felt life of a play; that is, into the human life rendered by a play. If, however, we are not careful, Shakespeare's fine touches about human beings and their behavior trick us into making the romantic mistake of believing that these characters really lived. For Shakespeare shared with Chaucer the rare genius of being able to surprise us with shrewd insights into reality and thus to provoke our perception about reality. In part perhaps it is our delight in gossip, our relishing the hidden or unexplored or unexplained details about, for example, Desdemona or Lady Macbeth that engages us. L. C. Knights has alerted us to that danger in his excellent "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" But I like to think that it is enriching to indulge our fancy about these "real" people beyond the point of gossipy concern. For if we entertain guesses or speculations, we may perceive fresh meaning, and such meaning may lead us to a deeper understanding of the human significance of a Shakespeare play.
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Role Of Marriage
Richard P. Wheeler (essay date 1974-75)
SOURCE: "The King and the Physician's Daughter: All's Well That Ends Well and the Late Romances," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter, 1974-75, pp. 311-27.
[In this essay, Wheeler contends that, unlike the festive comedies, All's Well That Ends Well "presents an action in which parental figures are closely and actively involved in the steps that lead to marriage. "]
In his now classic formulation of "The Argument of Comedy," Northrop Frye called attention to the unusual turn Shakespeare gives the typical comic pattern in All's Well that Ends Well—and noted the difficulties this alteration has posed for critics:
The normal comic resolution is the surrender of the senex to the hero, never the reverse. Shakespeare tried to reverse the pattern in Alls Well that Ends Well, where the king of France forces Bertram to marry Helena, and the critics have not yet stopped making faces over it.1
This curious inversion of comic action is all the more remarkable in the light of Frye's suggestion that New Comedy dramatizes a "comic Oedipus situation" in which a young man (the son in the Oedipus triangle) outwits a father to win the love of a young woman. The heroine is unconsciously linked to an image of the youthful mother that a son...
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Blechner, Mark J. "King Lear, King Leir, and Incest Wishes." American Imago 45, No. 3 (Fall 1988); 309-25.
Analyzes the changes Shakespeare made to the source of King Lear in order to demonstrate his interest in the father-daughter incest motif.
Coursen, H. R. "Lear and Cordelia." Cahiers Elisabethains 40 (October 1991): 11-20.
Reviews several productions of King Lear that exist on tape, focusing in particular upon the relationship between Lear and Cordelia.
Godard, Barbara. "Caliban's Revolt: The Discourse of the (M)Other." In Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Margaret Laurence, edited by Colin Nicholson. London: Macmillan, 1990, pp. 208-27.
Argues that the mother is a figure of subversion in The Tempest and in Margaret Laurence's fiction.
Hansen, Carol. "Authority of the Father." In Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code. New York: Peter Lang, 1993, pp. 11-26.
Examines the parameters of masculine power as it is reinforced by social institutions, focusing primarily on the relationship between Lear and Cordelia to show how that power can be subverted.
Harding, D. W. "Shakespeare's Final View of Women." Times Literary Supplement, No. 4002 (November 30, 1979): 59-61.
Assesses the late romances...
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