Feminism in Literature Questions and Answers

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Would you please help me with the names of some plays to which I can apply a feminist reading?  Ibsen's A Doll's House, Williams' The Glass Menagerie, and Miller's Death of a Salesman are excluded. The names of plays between which I can make a comparison would be useful.

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I would also suggest William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba. It was made into a film which is available on DVD. I believe the film won a number of awards. Then there us Long Day's Journey into Night starring Katherine Hepburn, also available on DVD.

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wordprof eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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An interesting approach for feminist study of drama, hinted at in the answer above, is how a female playwright handled the feminist issue vs. a male playwright.  "Men scripting women, and women who do it better" would include not only full-length portraits like Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and Shaw's Major Barbara, but also Megan Terry's Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dark Place and Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour. A lesser known but very powerful play is Marisha Chamberlain's Scheherazade. The comparisons reveal hidden assumptions that male playwrights make about female mindsets and social role, and the resentment that women have felt about male hegemony.  Feminism is eminently an emotional reaction more than an intellectual conclusion, and that makes the subject eminently stageable.   



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morningvictoria eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Three plays which explore the sexual victimisation of women, a key feminist issue, are Aphra Behn's The Rover (1677), Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance (1893), and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).  These plays are also especially interesting to compare as they span a large stretch of history so will enable you to consider the development of these issues over time.

Aphra Behn is considered to be the first female playwright, so her work is of particular interest to feminist readers.  The Rover is set during the hedonistic, morally-carefree Restoration period in England when the theme of sexuality was openly explored in the newly reopened theatres.  The play features several interesting female characters, including Hellena, who manages to outsmart her flirtacious and arrogant lover.  More seriously, however, Behn includes a scene towards the end of a play when a vulnerable female, Florinda, is nearly raped by a group of shameless men.  Behn's sympathetic presentation of Florinda clearly casts a critical light on the men's behaviour and questions the treatment of women in that era.

Another forward-thinking play is Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance.  Here, he presents an honorable "fallen" woman, known as Mrs. Arbuthnot even though she is unmarried, who was made pregnant in her youth by the powerful Lord Illingworth who then abandoned her.  Through the process of the play, Wilde slowly shifts the power from Illingworth over to Mrs. Arbuthnot, who begins the play as a social outcast, "a woman of no importance", but ends the play claiming her rightful dignity in the world.  With characteristic Wildean wordplay, she finishes the play commenting that Illingworth has now become "A man of no importance."  Wilde was clearly criticising the Victorian tendency to blame women in cases of sexual transgression.    

Finally, Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire might also be usefully compared to the previous two plays as Williams explores the sexual exploitation of Blanche by Stanley, culminating in the traumatic rape scene towards the end of the play in which "the inhuman jungle noises rise up", signalling the wild nervous breakdown of Blanche. 

All three plays present female characters sympathetically in order to call into question the gender assumptions of their historical contexts.

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