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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

Violence in Shakespeare's Works

Violence takes many forms in the works of Shakespeare, including warfare, murder, suicide, rape, and mutilation, and it appears to serve a variety of purposes. As an issue of critical debate, Shakespeare's use of violence has been both attacked and defended by modern analysts. While some scholars study the ways in which Shakespeare's use of violence reflects the attitudes of his time, others focus on the implications of the reaction to violence in Shakespeare's works by modern audiences and critics.

In his review of Shakespeare's use of violence, Jonas Barish (1991) identifies several categories into which violent episodes may be divided, including sword play and warfare, sacrificial killings, self-inflicted injuries, sexual violence, and comic violence. Barish argues that unlike his predecessors, Shakespeare did not seem to be "addicted" to violence. Rather, he observes in Shakespeare a gradual decline of violence for its own sake and an increasing tendency to equate violence with disorder and tyrannical behavior. Only in Titus Andronicus, which features both cannibalism and an excess of sexual violence in the rape and grotesque mutilation of Lavinia, does Shakespeare seem to "wallow" in violence, according to Barish.

Other critics focus more concertedly on the violence perpetrated against women in Shakespeare's plays. In her examination of Othello, Sara Munson Deats (1991) maintains that the play both legitimizes violence and negatively stereotypes women. This legitimation and stereotyping, argues Deats, "underlie the phenomenon of wife battering." Deats goes on to note that the psychological portraits of abuser and abused as depicted by Shakespeare have changed little in the twentieth century. Similarly, Emily Detmer (1997)'analyzes the pattern of domination in The Taming of the Shrew. Detmer stresses that despite Petruchio's physically nonviolent "taming" of Kate, his domination of her is an inherently violent act.

The political purpose of violence is another area investigated by critics. Derek Cohen (1993) explores the use of violence, by a monarch in Henry V. Cohen argues that in this play, violence serves the aims of the monarchy and is "employed ... in the service of order and success." Henry V methodically uses warfare as a means of realizing political success. Cohen also notes how Henry threatens the captured French citizens with sexual violence in order to seal his victory and prevent further resistance. Although Henry has been attacked as a Machiavellian ruler, Cohen suggests that the play seems to assert that violence has been used appropriately and that the instruments of violence have fallen into the "right" hands. Taking another approach to the politics of violence, Leonard Tennenhouse (1989) examines the parallels between violence in Shakespeare's plays and politics in Elizabethan England. He explains that the Elizabethan concept of political power resided in the body of the ruler, Queen Elizabeth, and he argues that as Elizabeth's health deteriorated, Elizabethans struggled to separate the concept of the power of the monarchy from the "female aristocratic body." Tennenhouse maintains that the violence done to the female aristocratic body in plays such as Hamlet demonstrates the attempt of Shakespeare and Elizabethans to relinquish the idea that political power and the body of the ruler were inextricably entwined. While Shakespeare's true intentions will never be known, his use of violence within his works will continue to incite debate, and although moral conclusions and modern implications may be advanced and attacked, it may be agreed that on some level, violence plays an integral role in Shakespeare's works.


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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10503

Jonas Barish (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Shakespearean Violence: A Preliminary Survey," in Themes in Drama: Violence in Drama, 1991, pp. 101-21.

[In the following essay, Barish examines the theme of violence as it appears in Shakespeare's plays,...

(This entire section contains 10503 words.)

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and suggests that throughout his career Shakespeare gradually lost interest in gratuitous violence and increasingly connected violence with disorder and tyranny.]

We live, as we are often told, in a violent age, and it would seem that one of the things about the Elizabethans and Jacobeans that make us feel close to them is their own fascination with violence. As long ago as 1940 (in Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, 1587-1642) Fredson Bowers cited numerous instances of violent behavior in society at large—of private duels fought in disregard of the laws forbidding them, of grudge assassinations performed by hired ruffians, of the use of lingering poison and other stealthy forms of murder for disposing of one's enemies—to demonstrate that the playwrights who brought violence onto the stage were not being merely melodramatic, not merely catering to the appetite of their audiences for bloody deeds remote from their experience, but realistic as well.1 In both epochs we find not only the omnipresent fact of violence, but a kind of fixation on it, extending not only to violence itself but also to the representation of violence. Something about physical injuries inflicted on human bodies seems to exercise a kind of mesmerism, both over Shakespeare's generation and our own. A hasty survey, therefore, a provisional taxonomy, of Shakespearean violence may not be out of order on this occasion.

By violence I mean (following the dictionary) the inflicting of physical pain or injury by one person on another, often with the implication of excessive force, so that one might think of poisoning someone's drink as less violent than shooting or stabbing him, even if the end-result—death—were the same in both cases. Such violence, in Shakespeare as in other playwrights, may occur either before our eyes in stage action, or be reported as offstage action, or appear in the language alone. To me the most horrifying moment of violence in Shakespeare might well be Lady Macbeth's boast of what she would be capable of if bound by an oath: 'I have given suck, and know / How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me; / I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash'd the brains out, had I sworn as you / Have done to this' (I.vii.54-9).2 Perhaps even more repellent, because we not only hear it in the language but see it performed, is the quenching of Gloucester's sight, in Lear. Lady Macbeth horrifies us because of the betrayal of innocence, helplessness, and trust involved, coupled with the appalling kind of agency whereby the smiling infant becomes the weapon of its own destruction, the wall or stony earth no more than an indifferent auxiliary. The cruelty against Gloucester makes us shrink because it puts us so intimately into the skin of the victim; Cornwall's language—Out, vild jelly!' (Lear, III.vii.83)—makes us feel our own eyes being enucleated on the point of his sword.

Compared to his predecessors, however, Shakespeare seems not much addicted to violence. He rarely goes in for bizarre or outlandish forms of it, as do a number of earlier and later playwrights. He has little to set alongside such things as the flaying of Sisamnes ('with a false skin'), the shooting of the young son of Praxaspes, followed by the cutting out of his heart and its presentation to the grieving father, in Preston's Cambyses; Hieronimo's biting out of his own tongue and spitting it on the ground in order not to reveal the secret he has sworn to keep—an act of madness, of course—in The Spanish Tragedy (here I think we should imagine the Elizabethan actor as spitting out a bit of raw calf s liver); the running against the bars of his cage so as to dash out his brains by Bajazeth the Turkish Emperor and then his wife in Marlowe's Tamburlaine; the writhing of the wicked Barabas in the cauldron of boiling oil in The Jew of Malta; the thrusting of the red-hot spit into the anus of the king in Edward II, if this sickening threat is indeed meant to be carried out before our eyes.

Shakespeare, as I say, on the whole avoids such perversities and bizarreries; even his most sadistic torturers rarely gloat over their own cruelty. His most frequent episodes of violence involve swordplay, often duels between mortal enemies: Richmond vs. Richard HI, Mercutio vs. Tybalt, Romeo vs. Tybalt, Hal vs. Hotspur, Hamlet vs. Laertes, Edgar vs. Oswald, Edgar vs. Edmund, Macduff vs. Macbeth, Guiderius vs. Cloten, Palamon vs. Article, etc. In most of these cases a rough equality, of age and rank and status, obtains between the adversaries, so that the encounter takes on some of the character of a trial by combat, a feudal contest conducted according to mutually understood rules. Romeo defeats Tybalt, Macduff defeats Macbeth, Hal Hotspur, and Edgar Edmund not so much because of superior swordmanship as because of their ethical superiority: they are the virtuous characters; they are in the right, and their malicious opponents in the wrong. In so doing they implicitly revalidate, one might say, the medieval legal concept of trial by combat, which in point of historical fact had long since lapsed.

The contest between the half-brothers in Lear is of course designed explicitly as a trial by combat, but so also is the earliest and in many ways the most striking of such confrontations, which takes place between commoners in a partly comic episode. In 2 Henry VI, Peter, the Armorer's apprentice, has accused his master of treason, and been ordered to meet him in combat before the king as a test of truth. Younger than his master, and inexperienced in fighting, Peter is sure he is about to be killed by his swaggering opponent, whose neighbors are already toasting his victory. Peter, terrified at the prospect, settles his earthly affairs: he bequeaths his apron to Robin, his hammer to Will, and his money to Tom, before asking God's blessing. The two combatants then assail each other, evidently with sandbags attached to sticks—clownish weapons—and 'Peter strikes him down', whereupon the Armorer at once confesses his treason and dies. The king concludes the scene: 'Go, take hence that traitor from our sight, / For by his death we do perceive his guilt, / And God in justice hath reveal'd to us / The truth and innocence of this poor fellow, / Which he had thought to have murther'd wrongfully' (II.iii.100-5). 'For by his death we do perceive his guilt': so Richard, so Tybalt, so Hotspur, so Edmund, so Macbeth: in each case defeat signifies a moral judgement, even if no higher power is expressly invoked. So too, evidently, with Posthumus Leonatus' defeat of Iachimo, whom, however, instead of killing he simply disarms, spurred by remorse for his own attempted aggression against Imogen. And so too, no doubt, with the defeat of the French armies by the English in plays like I Henry VI and Henry V, where the French, when they win, win only by foul means, while the English, with their victories, reconfirm and make manifest, almost magically, against impossible odds, their own moral superiority.

So too, very likely, with the death of Cornwall, following the scuffle with his servant during the blinding of Gloucester. The servant, we may recall, tries first to persuade his master to 'hold [his] hand'. Only when this attempt at restraint is met with vituperation does he challenge Cornwall physically. As they fight, Regan seizes a sword and 'runs at him behind' (III.vii.72-80). In other words, she overcomes him by treachery. Cornwall's subsequent death, then, would seem to represent a judgement on him, along with the vindication of his socially inferior, hence presumably weaker and less able adversary, who (though fatally struck) has defeated his aristocratic master by mortally wounding him. So Albany concludes, at least, when he learns of the incident: This shows you are above, / You justicers, that these our nether crimes / So speedily can venge' (IV.ii/78-80)—a sentiment in which, I suspect, we are invited to concur.

To this we might add the fact that in such trials by combat, when the more virtuous character does go under it is usually by underhanded means, as when Tybalt thrusts at Mercutio under Romeo's arm. But at least it is Mercutio, far from blameless himself, who falls, rather than Benvolio. In Hamlet vs. Laertes, both contestants lose, Hamlet through Laertes' perfidy, Laertes through Hamlet's energetic countermeasures and his own contrition. In all these cases one of the combatants has broken the rules. Apart from its apparent reinforcement of the moral distinction that seems to underlie such confrontations, the encounter between Cornwall and his servant and that between Tybalt and Romeo provide instances among many of the cyclical and self-perpetuating nature of violence, which even the good cannot always escape.

From time to time we also find arrested duels, such as that between Benvolio and Tybalt, interrupted by the arrival of the prince, or that between Mowbray and Bolingbroke, cut short by the histrionic and impulsive king, or that between Hector and Ajax, halted by reason of kinship and courtesy, or that between Caius Martius and Tullus Aufidius, broken off when Aufidius' men come to his rescue and retreat with him behind the city gates. In such cases the moral implications, if not already clear, remain suspended. In addition, however, to these relatively balanced duels, in which the opponents compete on a more or less equal basis, we sometimes find deliberately unbalanced encounters, killings—usually unprovoked and unexpected—of the weaker by the stronger, the defenceless by the armed, the old by the young, the innocent by the vicious, as in the sudden spitting of the nurse on Aaron's sword, in Titus Andronicus, or the killing of the boy Rutland by the warrior Young Clifford, the old king Henry VI by the future Richard III, the unsuspecting gull Roderigo by the perfidious Iago (in the dark), or Emilia his wife by the same Iago. From these cases we recoil as we do not from the more evenly matched contests. They represent malicious, unscrupulous, self-serving aggression.

This last category moves us toward a kind I would term 'sacrificial' killing, wherein a single defenceless individual is done to death by multiple assailants. The archetype here would be the scene in 3 Henry VI where York, stationed on his molehill, is subjected to the taunts of the paper crown and the napkin dipped in Rutland's blood, before being cut down by Margaret and Young Clifford. I call this incident 'sacrificial' because it alludes so deliberately to the Crucifixion. York on his molehill is ridiculed like Christ on Calvary. The placing of the paper crown on his head, in savage mockery of his pretensions to be king, actually originates in the historical record, but the chronicle tells us that it took place after York had been killed and his head held aloft on a pole. To crown him while he is alive, cornered, and at the mercy of his enemies tightens the identification with Christ while making for a more passionate and upsetting theatrical scene. The napkin dipped in Rutland's blood, like the paper crown, intensifies the torture. Unlike St Veronica's handkerchief, of which it is surely meant to remind us, it is not designed to palliate the victim's sufferings but to aggravate them, and its effect as a talisman later on is not to stimulate faith but to spur revenge.

Of York's three tormentors, however, one is compassionate. Northumberland twice admits that the plight of their captive foe has touched him to tears: 'Had he been slaughter-man to all my kin, / I should not for my life but weep with him, / To see how inly sorrow gripes his soul' (I.iv.169-71). Plainly enough this spontaneous rush of fellow feeling is intended to direct our own sympathies. Despite York's past crimes, we find ourselves, like Northumberland, 'with him', and the emotional appeal gains in force when he dies invoking heavenly mercy. We cannot, at this moment, think of him as the ambitious, bullying oathbreaker he has been, brutal and dishonorable toward those to whom he has sworn faith. We see only a fellow human creature goaded beyond endurance before being put savagely to death.

If we ask to whom or to what York is being sacrificed, the only answer can be, to the heartlessness of war, of civil war especially, just as York's own child Rutland has previously been sacrificed, and as one of his least culpable enemies, Prince Edward, will later be sacrificed in the same play, pitilessly stabbed by his captors, the brothers Edward, George, and Richard, for refusing to play his role as prisoner meekly enough to suit them.

These cases, however, all reflect the chances of war, where the innocent are understood to be destined to suffer along with the guilty. We have every reason to think that were the positions reversed, Margaret and Young Clifford would undergo the same fate at the hands of York and his followers that they have inflicted on him, and indeed the indignities heaped on Clifford's body when he is at last killed would seem to constitute deliberate retaliation. In the case of Julius Caesar, however, also cut down by multiple assailants, the element of concerted treachery makes its appearance. He is pierced to death without warning by those he most trusts and believes loyal. His last words, 'Et tu, Brute?—Then fall Caesar!' (III.I.77), mark the point at which our sympathies swing back to him as they have done to York. Whatever Caesar's prior arrogance and boastfulness, these are driven from our minds by the note of personal betrayal sounded in the use of the proper name and the second-person pronoun at the very moment of death.

Victim of a stealthy attack, overpowered by numbers, Caesar is explicitly likened by Mark Antony to a sacrificial animal brought low by cruel hunters, and so retrospectively ennobled: 'Here wast thou bay'd, brave hart, / Here didst thou fall, and here thy hunters stand, / Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in thy lethe. / O world! Thou wast the forest to this hart, / And this indeed, O world, the heart of thee' (III.i.204-8). Needless to say, the very killing regarded by Antony as a martyrdom of the great leader is thought by its perpetrators to be a deliverance from a prospective tyrant, a sacrificial act on behalf of republican freedom. 'Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius', Brutus has urged, and 'purgers' rather than murderers (II.i.166-80). As events prove, of course, the violence committed in order to forestall violence only provokes worse outbreaks of new violence, the first of which turns out to be another act of mass ferocity, the lynching of the poet Cinna, torn to pieces for his name alone, as it would seem, by the inflamed mob, in whom Antony's rhetoric appears to have aroused a bloodlust that will not subside till it has wreaked itself on what in the event proves to be a simple scapegoat.

The ugliest, perhaps, of all such multiple stabbings occurs towards the end of Troilus and Cressida: the murder of the unarmed Hector by Achilles and his Myrmidons, in defiance of all canons of fair play, not to mention those of epic heroism. Courteous, magnanimous Hector becomes a martyr to these, a sacrifice to the outdated chivalric code which his cynical adversary exploits in order to overpower him prior to dishonoring his body in death. (A recent production of the play, at the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival in July 1987, took literally Achilles' injunction to his followers to surround their victim and 'in feilest manner execute [their] arms' (v.vii.6). The Myrmidons turned the execution into a scene of torture, in which Hector, his face impaled on their swords, was made to cry out in anguish before death.) Here, as in Julius Caesar, the violent act engenders an overwrought mood of anarchic vengeance among Hector's survivors, with the maddened Troilus at their head.

It may be that this incident is itself outdone in ugliness by the slaughter of Lady Macduff and her child at the hands of Macbeth's hired ruffians. This comes as the bloody climax to Macbeth's other deeds of blood, which start as the honorable carving up of the merciless Macdonwald in defence of beleaguered Scotland. It is climactic not only in being morally the most abhorrent of his deeds but also in being the only one we are forced to witness for ourselves. Intensifying the horror is the fact that it is essentially so unmotivated, a kind of automatic reflex of Macbeth's increasing incapacity to feel anything at all, or to react in any situation, however inappropriate, except by ordering a bloodbath. On the other hand, reconciling us to it at least in part is the courage and dignity with which Lady Macduff and her young son confront their assassins. That their fate constitutes a sacrifice of sorts is recognized by Macduff himself: he sees that they have been struck for him, with the consequence that the episode marks both the low point and the turning point in the play, the moment at which the opposition to tyranny finally and irrevocably crystallizes, and so leads to its overthrow.

At the conclusion of this sequence we have the end of Coriolanus, who goes under hurling defiance at the cutthroats ringing him round and the populace clamoring for his blood, but who, rather than defend himself, welcomes their attack: 'Cut me to pieces, Volsces, men and lads, / Stain all your edges on me' ( Aufidius' rabble-rousing turns the unruly crowd into a lynching party: 'Tear him to pieces!' they cry, 'Do it presently!' (line 120). The lords' interposition proves futile, as Coriolanus taunts his captors and dares Aufidius for the last time to personal combat—'O that I had him, / With six Aufidiuses, or more, his tribe, / To use my lawful sword!' (127-9)—at which point the hired conspirators plunge their unlawful swords into his body. In violence of this sort, where the disparity in numbers serves to make the assault a mob attack—vengeful, irrational, and impervious to any consideration of justice—the victim dies bearing witness to the greatness of his own spirit against the meanness of his assailants.

None of these instances, however, with the partial exception of the murder of Lady Macduff and her family, is sacrificial in René Girard's sense.3 None of them renews, restores, or regenerates. None of them turns the murder, once committed, into a sacred act. Quite the reverse: except in the case of Coriolanus, the sequel to which is left up in the air, they merely provoke further and fiercer cycles of violence, a more implacable resolve on the part of the survivor-avengers, and a thickening of the moral sensibilities of all concerned.

Something like moral restoration does seem to occur in a subcategory of the same type, wherein a pair or more of hired murderers performs an assassination ordered from above. In the Quarto version of 2 Henry VI, for example, the following stage direction occurs: 'Then the Curtaines being drawne, Duke Humphrey is discouered in his bed, and two men lying on his brest and smothering him in his bed. And then enter the Duke of Suffolke to them'—to commend them for carrying out his wishes so efficiently, and to instruct them to 'see the cloathes laid smooth about him still, / That when the King comes, he may perceiue / No other, but that he dide of his owne accord.'4 For reasons censorship, evidently, this scene was dropped from the Folio, its outcome being simply announced to Suffolk by the hired bullies. Before they announce it, however, they engage in a significant bit of added dialogue: 'Run to my Lord of Suffolk,' says one, 'let him know / We have dispatch'd the Duke, as he commanded', to which his companion replies, 'O, that it were to do! What have we done? / Didst ever hear a man so penitent?' (III.ii. 1-4). Clearly a new element has here entered the picture, that of the divided and guilty mind of one of the murderers.

In Richard III we find a more fully worked-out scene of a similar sort in which the murderers of Clarence, even before confronting Clarence himself, first struggle with their own consciences and fears of damnation, then argue justice and morality with their victim, until at length, one of them beginning to relent, the other stabs the Duke from behind and drags the body off to the malmsey-butt. His associate, remaining on stage, breaks into remorseful lament: 'A bloody deed and desperately dispatch'd! / How fain, like Pilate, would I wash my hands / Of this most grievous murther!' When his accomplice threatens to denounce him to Richard for his slackness, the 'slacker' retorts, 'I would he knew that I had sav'd his brother! / Take thou the fee and tell him what I say, / For I repent me that the Duke is slain' (I.iv.271-8). An in some ways even more highly charged moment occurs later in the soliloquy of Sir James Tyrrel, after he has successfully engineered the murder of the boy princes in the Tower. Musing in horror on the 'tyrannous and bloody act', 'The most arch deed of piteous massacre / That ever yet this land was guilty of, he goes on to report the anguished, weeping reaction of the two crime-hardened thugs who have actually done the deed, now so speechless from 'conscience and remorse' as to be nearly incapable of telling their tale (IV.iii.1-21).

Sir Pierce Exton, in Richard II, performs a comparable service for the newly crowned Bolingbroke. Having killed Richard in his prison cell, he instantly recoils in dismay: 'As full of valure as of royal blood! / Both have I spill'd; O would the deed were good! / For now the devil that told me I did well / Says that this deed is chronicled in hell' (v.v.113-16). All these instances thus follow a similar pattern: the instigator carefully preserves a certain distance between himself and the crime, no matter how intensely he wishes it performed. He may or may not express regret afterwards for what has happened (Bolingbroke does so, but Suffolk and Richard III do not), but in each case at least one of the paid cutthroats emerges with bitter self-reproach, either dissociating himself from the deed altogether or expressing the most passionate wish that he might undo what he has done. The direct confrontation, that is, with the flesh-and-blood victim, especially one who is patently innocent (like the young princes) or penitent (like Gloucester) or troubled in soul (like Clarence) can harrow the conscience even of the hard-shelled murderer, and arrest if it does not extinguish the thirst for reward and the ability to think of the job as nothing but a dangerous assignment for which the pay is exceptionally good. Shakespeare would seem to be implying that if violence is natural—all too natural—to our benighted species, natural too and not to be suppressed are the sometimes deeply buried instincts that pull against it, capable of emerging even in the most unlikely of representatives and under the most unpromising of circumstances.

A variant on the same theme might be the moment in King John when one of the 'executioners' who has helped bind Arthur and heat the iron to burn out his eyes is dismissed from the scene by Hubert. As he leaves the stage he announces with relief that he is 'best pleas'd to be from such a deed' (IV.i.85), thus intensifying the struggle already taking place within Hubert himself. What we witness in Hubert a moment later is moral renewal, brought on not by violence, but rather, crystallized in the decision to refrain from violence.

From all this it is but a step to the schizoid Macbeth, so convulsed by conscience before, during, and after the murder of Duncan, so certain of his own damnation, so hair-trigger in his remorse—'Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst' (II.ii.71-2)—and then, later, following the murder of Banquo, along with the professional bravos who do his bidding, so heartless, so numb to remorse, so ready to devise new butcheries like the massacre of Macduff s family. It is as if the very hyperactivity of his conscience produced a corresponding hyperaggressiveness in Macbeth, an atrophy of conscience, exposing in almost schematic form the essential mechanism: violence fated to accomplish nothing but its own unfailing self-perpetuation.

In this case, interestingly, though Banquo's murderers are never heard to recant once they have discharged their commission, prior to receiving it they portray themselves as social rejects, so embittered as to have lost all sense of restraint. Says the first: 'I am one, my liege, / Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world / Hath so incens'd that I am reckless what / I do to spite the world.' Says his comrade: 'And I another, / So weary with disasters, tugg'd with fortune, / That I would set my life on any chance, / To mend it, or be rid on't' (III.i.107-13). Life, then—society—has (as they see it) by persecuting them, dehumanized these men, rendered them indifferent to the rules by which others live, sensible only of their own grievances, and left them as their sole recourse the readiness to retaliate onto others the blows' and buffets they consider themselves to have suffered, if that will help them repair their own fallen fortunes. Violence in their case becomes an act of vengeance against a social order that (as they choose to think) has victimized them.

Among dramatic figures from Jacobean tragedy who come within the orbit of Shakespeare's influence, we might cite Webster's Flamineo and Bosola. Both are malcontents who regard themselves as forced by harsh economic necessity into an unsavory trade. Between them they embody both types of Shakespearean hireling. On the one hand Flamineo, the more thuggish of the two, like the assassins in Macbeth untroubled by conscience or any feeling for the sufferings of others, preens himself on his own criminal ingenuity and makes security of employment his sole aim in life. Bosola on the other hand, ambivalent, filled from the outset with self-loathing, resembles the more vacillating desperadoes of Shakespeare's earlier histories. Like them he feels trapped in a dirty job. Having forced himself to go through with it, he experiences a sharp revulsion, followed by a kind of revelation, which leads him to penitence and a newly awakened thirst for true justice.

To violence of such kinds we may add self-inflicted injuries. These would include mainly the suicides of characters in the Roman plays who discover that continuance in life has become impossible because (in their own view) dishonourable, and who therefore remove themselves from it, usually by the sword: Brutus and Cassius, Titinius, Enobarbus, Eros, Antony, Cleopatra. Ordinarily in such cases we are made to feel, I believe, that though reprehensible by Christian standards, which lurk always in the background, such acts of self-slaughter, springing as they do from an older code of courage and honor that survives in part into Christianity, have something noble and highminded about them. In the same category we would place the even smaller group of characters in non-Roman plays who follow a similar course, more or less culpably according to what they have done to bring themselves to such an extreme of desperation: Romeo and Juliet, Goneril, Timon of Athens.

To speak of the Roman plays is to recall the grisliest of Shakespeare's tragedies, Titus Andronicus, which outdoes even The Spanish Tragedy in the tempo and horrificness of its events, and introduces thus early in Shakespeare's dramatic career the motif of sexual violence, in the off-stage rape of Lavinia, later to culminate in the strangling of Desdemona. Though the rape itself occurs behind the scenes, its horrendous effects are brought before us almost at once—not only in the form of the mutilated Lavinia, in the bleeding mouth and the bleeding stumps that once were hands—but in the rhetoric of her uncle Marcus, as he struggles to cope with the horror of her condition and distance us from it. Marcus compares his defiled niece to a tree whom 'stern ungentle hands / Hath lopp'd and hew'd, and made [her] body bare / Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments / Whose circling shadows kings have sought to sleep in'; her mouth, he says, 'a crimson river of warm blood, / Like to a bubbling fountain stirr'd with wind, / Doth rise and fall between [her] rosed lips, / Coming and going with [her] honey breath' (II.iv. 16-25). With such conceits, reminiscent of Petrarchan blazonry, Marcus aims to transform and make bearable, by a certain detachment, what in anything like its immediate actuality would be too hideous to contemplate.

Later, presenting her to Titus in her mangled state, he speaks of her speechlessness in sim ilar terms: 'O, that delightful engine of her thoughts, / That blabb'd them with such pleasing eloquence, / Is torn from forth that pretty hollow cage, / Where like a sweet melodious bird it sung / Sweet varied notes, enchanting every ear!' (III.i.82-6). Marcus seeks to lure our eyes away from what Lavinia now is and awaken our imaginations to what she once was, to summon up a vision of how graceful and beautiful were her hands, how melodious and birdlike her voice, and how like an aromatic fountain, even in the frightful present, seems her bleeding mouth. Shakespeare is once again drawing on the resources of figurative language to turn to favor and to prettiness that which if directly gazed at, even verbally, is—in its extremity—not to be endured.5

A grotesque episode of self-mutilation then follows in Titus' chopping off of his own hand, in exchange (as he thinks) for the release of his imprisoned sons—a sign, we are entitled to suspect, of his incipient madness. The wily Aaron, who has prompted the act, rapidly returns with the heads of the sons, and so 'wittily' fulfills his proposed bargain with Titus. The play thus presents us with images, verbal and visual, first of the human body cropped of its limbs, and then of those limbs and bodily parts themselves detached from their trunks, counterparts in the domain of the single individual to the dismemberment of Rome itself at the hands of its baleful rulers.

Heads, we may note in passing, of characters previously seen alive, appear with some frequency in Shakespeare. They are of course the products of violence, and almost always underscore the continuing inhumanity of the violence, which is at the same time inescapable, universal, and self-renewing: the head (for example) of the executed Suffolk, cradled in her lap by Queen Eleanor in 2 Henry VI; the heads of Lord Say and Cromer lofted on poles by Jack Cade's followers, prompting Cade's heartless quip: 'Let them kiss one another, for they lov'd well when they were alive. Now part them again, lest they consult about the giving up of some more towns in France' (IV.vii. 130-3); Cade's own head, shortly offered to the king by Iden, earning Iden his kinghthood; the head of the Duke of Somerset (in 3 Henry VI) shown proudly by Richard to testify to his achievements in battle; Yorick's skull in Hamlet; Macbeth's head, triumphantly flourished by the victorious Macduff; and Cloten's head, brandished by the more matter-of-fact Guiderius—all these, of course, being shown to Elizabethan playgoers quite accustomed to the displays of heads on Tower Hill and other public places following the execution of traitors.

To return to Titus: we see the inexorable cycle of violence renew itself and debase its victims spiritually when the abused Lavinia herself holds with her stumps the bowl into which pours the blood of her ravishers, as Titus cuts their throats before baking them in a pie to serve to their mother the Empress, in fulfillment of his revenge. Titus, indeed, offers the only instance in his career when Shakespeare seems to wallow in violence. The extent and terribleness of it would seem to symbolize the barbaric chaos that descends on Rome as a result of what is plainly a sacrificial act in the opening scene, the offstage ritual killing of Alarbus, the Gothic prince, by the sons of Titus, who 'for their brethren slain / Religiously [do] ask a sacrifice' (I.i.123-4), at which the victim's mother, the Gothic queen, Tamora, cries out, 'O cruel, irreligious piety!' (line 130). From this ill-considered immolation, stubbornly carried out by the fanatical Titus at his sons' behest, stems the fearful sequence of criminal revenges that dominate the rest of the action. Here, more crudely spelled out than in Julius Caesar, we see the inescapable aftermath of sacrifice: it produces an effect opposite to that intended, and worsens the situation it is designed to alleviate.

A less lethal form of violence occasionally appears, in which the weapons are stones rather than swords or knives. In I Henry VI, Gloucester's men and Winchester's brawl before the Tower and are only with difficulty restrained from continuing, even in the presence of the king and their respective masters. In this case the mutual detestation of the two peers is reflected in the aggressiveness of their language. Duke Humphrey, for example, threatens his antagonist, the Cardinal of Winchester: 'Priest, beware your beard, / I mean to tug it and to cuff you soundly. / Under my feet I stamp thy cardinal's hat; / In spite of Pope or dignities of church, / Here by the cheeks I'll drag thee up and down' (I.iii.47-51). To which, after further rioting among their men, and a proclamation from the Mayor forbidding weapons, the Cardinal retorts, 'Abominable Gloucester, guard thy head, / For I intend to have it ere long' (I.iii.87-8). The weapon, in short, at least for the moment, is language. As Girard suavely phrases it, in the drama hot words often substitute for cold steel.

At the second scuffle between the factions, the terrified Mayor reports to the king that 'The Bishop and the Duke of Gloucester's men, / Forbidden late to carry any weapon, / Have fill'd their pockets full of pebble stones; / And banding themselves in contrary parts, / Do pelt so fast at one another's pate / That many have their giddy brains knock'd out; / Our windows are broke down in every street. / And we, for fear, compell'd to shut our shops' (III.i.76-85). Violence of this sort, which threatens innocent bystanders and verges on anarchy, seems to arouse anxiety in Shakespeare and to draw condemnatory language, as in the opening scene of Coriolanus, where the citizens with their bats and clubs confront Menenius with his mollifying wit. It tends also to be conveyed more powerfully in words than in stage action, since stage action, needing to be disciplined and choreographed, makes raw confusion hard to render convincingly.

In Timon of Athens, finally, Timon's only method of counterattack against his false friends, other than verbal denunciation, is literally to throw things—the lukewarm water he spatters in their faces at his farewell banquet, the stones he digs up in the woods with which to pelt Apemantus and drive away the Painter and Poet. Under the circumstances, such primitive implements of aggression scarcely seem comic—they seem pitiable—but their uselessness, like that of his verbal missiles, underscores the futility of Timon's life in exile, which becomes productive only when he is capable once more of bestowing gold on his visitors, on Alcibiades especially, so as to make possible the siege of Athens.

From the carnage of Titus and the disillusion of Timon we may turn to a less harrowing topic: comic violence. Like its tragic counterpart, this may occur either in the language alone, or in the language by way of narrative report, or it may be enacted on the stage. It appears most often in scenes of farce—indeed it may be said to be one of the defining characteristics of stage farce—and it also often involves beatings, with fists or broomsticks or other homely objects. It is seldom meant to do serious hurt, and it often expresses nothing worse than annoyance. It causes only temporary distress to its victims; it rarely if ever draws blood; and it has no lasting ill effects.

Like its tragic counterpart, its Shakespearean manifestations have a long history of precedent in early Tudor interludes and moralities, and in Elizabethan popular drama. Usually it is found among the Vice and the lowlife characters, sometimes augmented by the Mankind figure whom these others temporarily succeed in leading astray. It is therefore (strictly speaking) the work of the Devil, attempting to undo the efforts of guardian characters with names like Mercy or Pity, whose mission it is to keep humanity on the path of righteousness. Most commonly it consists of beatings, drubbings, fisticuffs, and other non-lethal forms of aggression, from which its victims promptly recover, or whom—like the monster Tediousness in The Marriage of Wit and Science—we see as so purely allegorical that it never occurs to us to feel any concern for their fates as human beings. Shakespeare, of course, is not writing allegory, and he never loses sight of the humanity of his characters. Nevertheless, the knock-about element remains prominent and vivid in the three of his comedies customarily designated as farces.

Early in The Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Ephesus complains to his supposed master, Antipholus of Syracuse, that the latter is late to dinner. Among other tokens of that lateness he mentions that 'The clock hath strucken twelve upon the bell: / My mistress made it one upon my cheek' (I.ii.45-6). This simple reference sets the tone for most of the violence endured by both Dromios for most of the day. Dromio knows very well that his aching head will pay the penalty for his mistress's displeasure as well as his master's: 'I from my mistress come to you in post: / If I return, I shall be post indeed, / For she will score your fault upon my pate' (lines 62-5).

A moment later, having denied knowledge of the thousand marks supposedly given him, Dromio finds himself subjected to a second beating: 'What, wilt thou flout me thus unto my face, / Being forbid?' demands his exasperated master, 'There, take you that, sir knave'—striking him. Dromio answers, with some spirit: 'What mean you, sir? For God's sake hold your hands! / Nay, and you will not, sir, I'll take my heels' (lines 91-4)—whereupon he runs off to complain to Adriana, this time with more wit, of his mistreatment:

Adr. Say, is your tardy master now at hand?E. Dro. Nay, he's at two hands with me, and   that my two ears can witness.Adr. Say, didst thou speak with him?   Know'st thou his mind?E. Dro. Ay, ay, he told his mind upon mine   ear. Beshrew his hand, I scarce could   understand it.Adr. Spake he so doubtfully, thou couldst not   feel his meaning?E. Dro. Nay, he strook so plainly, I could too   well feel his blows; and withal so doubtfully,   that I could scarce understand them.


And 'in conclusion', concludes Dromio, 'he did beat me there' (line 74). Now it is Adriana's turn to threaten:

Adr. Go back again, thou slave, and fetch him   home.E. Dro. Go back again, and be new beaten   home?   For God's sake send some other messenger.Adr. Back, slave, or I will break thy pate   across.E. Dro. And he will bless that cross with   other beating:   Between you I shall have a holy head

(lines 75-80)

This sequence is quickly followed by a fresh misunderstanding between the same Antipholus and his proper Dromio, in very much the same vein, leading to another beating. Once again the beating produces an explosion of indignant punning:

S. Ant. If you will jest with me, know my   aspect,   And fashion your demeanor to my looks,   Or I will beat this method in your sconce.S. Dro. Sconce call you it? So you would   leave battering, I had rather have it a head.   And you use these blows long, I must get a   sconce for my head, and insconce it too, or   else I shall seek my wit in my shoulders.


One thing, it appears, that comic violence does is to unleash bouts of verbal protest from its victim, as tragic violence does not. The victims of tragic violence, like Gloucester, in Lear, or Lady Macduff s son, in Macbeth, Emilia, in Othello, or Coriolanus, may defy their aggressors, but they do so before, not after, they are assaulted. Once attacked, they are either dead, or else, like Lavinia or Gloucester, too brutalized to reply. In comedy, the victim strikes back in the only way permitted him, with a barrage of witty laments over his own misery. The result in the present instance is that once the interchange is over both parties return to an approximation of their former good humor.

As the tempo increases and the visiting Antipholus becomes convinced he is the sport of witches, it becomes the turn of the resident Antipholus, him of Ephesus, to lose patience with his Dromio—for fetching a rope instead of the money he was charged to find.

E. Ant. To what end did I bid thee hie thee   home?E. Dro. To a rope's end, sir, and to that end   am I return'd.E. Ant. And to that end, sir, I will welcome   you. [Beats Dromio],

Officer. Good sir, be patient.E. Dro. Nay, 'tis for me to be patient: I am in   adversity.Off. Good now, hold thy tongue.E. Dro. Nay, rather persuade him to hold his   hands.E. Ant. Thou whoreson, senseless villain!E. Dro. I would I were senseless, sir, that I   might not feel your blows.E. Ant. Thou art sensible in nothing but   blows, and so is an ass.E. Dro. I am an ass indeed; you may prove it   by my long ears. I have serv'd him from   the hour of my nativity to this instant, and   have nothing at his hands for my service   but blows. When I am cold, he heats me   with beating; when I am warm, he cools me   with beating. I am wak'd with it when I   sleep, rais'd with it when 1 sit, driven out   of doors with it when I go from home,   welcom'd home with it when I return; nay,   I bear it on my shoulders, as a beggar wont   her brat; and I think when he hath lam'd   me, 1 shall beg with it from door to door.


Here the beleaguered Dromio, even more roughly treated than his brother, appealing to the Officer and to us as witnesses, gives vent to a heartfelt outcry against his lot as underling, with its ever-present accompaniment of blows and beatings. It begins to seem as though violence in the comic world is inherent in the relations between masters and servants. Though the blows and the beatings are meant to make us laugh, and though we understand from the outset that they will cause no lasting damage, it cannot be said that they are painless. They raise welts and lumps on their victims' bodies, and they injure their fragile self-esteem still more. The victims, for their part, are far from meekly submitting; both rise to a protest of some eloquence against the life they have led since childhood, with its perpetual threat of verbal and physical mistreatment. Still, the blows are not malicious; they are not meant to humiliate or destroy but to correct, to work off a momentary impatience, and we accept them, with whatever discomfort, as belonging to farce, in which certain characters, like Bergsonian jack-in-the-boxes, are destined to be repeatedly knocked down and to rebound each time with the same manic energy.

The Taming of the Shrew is filled with similar violence, but the violence is now more varied; it has more interesting meanings and purposes. We start with a scene reminiscent of those in The Comedy of Errors, in which the newly arrived Petruchio, accompanied by his servant Grumio, bids him knock at Hortensio's house, and is deliberately misunderstood by the impertinent underling, who bandies words until his exasperated master 'wrings him by the ears' (SD I.ii.17). The difference between this scene and the exchanges between the Dromios and the Antipholuses is that in this case the cheeky groom provokes Petruchio, and seems neither surprised nor discountenanced by the result.

Katherina the Shrew makes her stormy entrance onto the scene dragging the rope-bound Bianca out of the house, demanding to know her opinions of her various suitors, and striking her for unsatisfactory answers, then, a moment later, taking the luckless Hortensio as her target, smashing him over the head with his lute and breaking both head and instrument in the process. Violence is evidently Katherina's specialty, one of the distinguishing marks of her identity as a shrew. The first interview between her and Petruchio leads to her rashly striking him as well. Petruchio replies without hesitation and in words of one syllable, 'I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again' (II.i.220). From this point forward their 'chat', though charged with rage on her part and with rough good spirits on his, is conducted entirely on the verbal level. Physical roughness between them, we infer, has tacitly been declared off limits, the only possible exception being Petruchio's mock 'rescue' of his bride from her father and the wedding party, so that he may carry her off to his country estate.

We have heard, prior to this, of his antics in church, of his cuffing the priest for dropping the book, of his stamping and swearing 'as if the vicar meant to cozen him' (III.ii.168), and of his throwing the sops of the wedding wine into the sexton's face. Subsequent to this we hear from Grumio, who arrives ahead at the country house, of the turbulent journey the newlyweds have completed, a tale characteristically introduced by Grumio's boxing of Curtis's ear so as to command his attention. His narration acquaints us with more of Petruchio's antic humours en route ('he beat me because her horse stumbled' (IV.i.77, etc.) Arriving in person, Petruchio unloads a torrent of abuse onto his servants, cursing them as rascal knaves, loggerheaded and unpolished grooms, peasant and unmannered slaves, whoreson malt-horse drudges, as rogues, as villains, as beetle-headed, flap-ear'd knaves, as dogs, as heedless joltheads, reviling them and mauling them by turns, climaxing his tantrum by upsetting table, meat, and utensils, and swingeing any of the household foolish enough to remain within reach.

Petruchio thus enters the lists in a kind of competition of violence between himself and Katherina, except that where Katherina's violence was ill-natured, fierce, and meant to hurt, Petruchio very carefully avoids making her his target. He directs it against everyone in the neighborhood except her. His antics differ markedly also from the treatment of the Dromios by the Antipholuses, since it now reflects a theatrical purpose. Petruchio's anger is only mock anger. It constitutes a performance put on for Katherina's benefit, an uproar staged in order to hold the mirror to her senseless clamor, and so provide a model of unfeminine behaviour for her to contemplate, and (by inference) shun. It is intended also to wear down her resistance, to exhaust her into civility. And it is carried out in Petruchio's unfailingly extravagant style, with an ever-present element of unpredictability, of surprise. The same applies to his plan to sustain the hubbub at night, to keep her from sleep, and to rough-handle the tailor the next day, when his vocabulary of insult waxes almost Rabelaisian in its ferocity and inventiveness: 'Thou liest, thou thread, thou thimble, / Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail! / Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket thou! / Brav'd in mine own house with a skein of thread? / Away, thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant, / Or I shall so bemete thee with thy yard / As thou shalt think on prating whilst thou liv'st!' (IV.iii.107-13)—a tempest of words, that is, substituting this time for a rain of blows. This scene, however, marks the end of the violence. The tailor is stealthily promised his pay, and when next we see the wedded pair they are on the road back to Padua, where Katherina undergoes her conversion and all contention between them comes to an end.

Petruchio's violence, we may note, differs from that of the two Antipholuses not only in its being deliberately staged, but in its essential good humor, its imaginativeness, its comic high spirits, whereas that of the Antipholuses, though not malicious, sprang from furious vexation at what was perceived as the unseasonable jesting of their servants. Unlike Petruchio's, it was also relatively mechanical, monotonous, and unchanging. And it implied a somewhat unsatisfactory state of affairs between them and their Dromios. Though we hear no words of collusion between Petruchio and his domestics, and although the latter are doubtless fearful of their master's raging and storming, they nevertheless seem to take in the fact that he is playacting, and will ultimately do neither Kate nor themselves any harm. Certainly they never respond anything like the aggrieved Dromios lamenting their aches and pains. Quite the reverse: Grumio enters into Petruchio's make-believe as zealously as the lord's servants in the Induction enter into the plot to deceive Christopher Sly; he teases Kate much in Petruchio's own vein when she is hungry; and he pinch-hits energetically for Petruchio in the dispute with the hapless tailor. Even Kate's own initial violence, we come to suspect, springs from a kind of half-conscious playacting: having been designated all her life as the shrew, she will not bate a jot of her unprofitable role, at least not until persuaded that the role Petruchio has planned for her is a better one, that his kind of game is more amusing than her own tumultuous and fatiguing one. The happy upshot of their competition in violence, then, proves to be the total abandonment of all violence.

The most violent character in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Dr Caius, goes about roaring and stamping, with his rapier on the ready, but never has a chance to use it, thanks to the waggish Host of the Garter, who organizes the duel between him and Sir Hugh, sends them to wrong places, wears them out with waiting, and ends by playing the peacemaker. This leaves both of them unbloodied, but furious and thirsting for revenge. The only true violence practised on anyone in the whole mischief-ridden play has Falstaff as its butt, and Falstaff, needless to say, has it coming to him. Having survived the humiliation of his drenching in the Thames, he suffers a worse fate disguised as the old woman of Brainford, being thwacked unmercifully and at the same time strenuously berated by Ford: Out of my door, you witch, you rag, you baggage, you poulcat, you runnion! out, out! I'll conjure you, I'll fortune-tell you!' (IV.ii. 184-6). From so much, coupled with Petruchio's verbal onslaughts, we reconfirm our impression that farce often goes in for violent language even when it refrains from violent action. Falstaff, however, has been well and truly beaten. He ponders his fate in a melancholy soliloquy:

I would all the world might be cozen'd, for I have been cozen'd and beaten too. If it should come to the ear of the court, how I have been transform'd, and how my transformation hath been wash'd and cudgell'd, they would melt me out of my fat drop by drop, and liquor fishermen's boots with me. I warrant they would whip me with their fine wits till I were as crestfall'n as a dried pear.


Not much evidence here of physical distress, nor when he tells Mistress Quickly that he was 'beaten . . . into all the colours of the rainbow' (lines 115-16), but much of wounded amour-propre and fear of disgrace. Similarly in his account to his 'confidant', Master Brook—Ford in disguise—to whom he reveals that his sweetheart's jealous husband—Ford undisguised—'beat me grievously, in the shape of a woman, for in the shape of a man, Master Brook, I fear not Goliath with a weaver's beam, because I know also life is a shuttle. Since I pluck'd geese, play'd truant, and whipt top, 1 knew not what 'twas to be beaten till lately' (V.i.20-6).

This, unless we count the fairies' pinching in the final scene, marks the end of the violence, and of the talk of violence, in this play. The fairies' pinching, however, and the burning of Falstaff with their tapers' ends—Falstaff disguised as the ghost of Herne the Hunter, with animal horns—would seem to represent a mock sacrifice, in which a fertility spirit is done to death to allay the disruptions that have agitated the village. Prior to this moment Falstaff has been the butt of Mistress Page, Mistress Ford, and a few neighbors. He now becomes the sport of the entire populace, the irritant that must be removed if all scores are to be settled and peace is to be restored. Comic violence here, the baiting and mocking of the intruding spirit, re-establishes harmony between the Fords and advances the matrimonial designs of Fenton and Anne Page, insuring on behalf of the whole community that its wives are chaste, its husbands trusting, and its young people eager to found the next generation.

I think we may say, assuming our conventional chronology for these three farces is approximately correct, that what we see in them is a gradual progression away from violence, a growing realization on Shakespeare's part that violence in itself is not funny. And this inference would seem to be borne out by the fact that in comedies other than the farces, violence dwindles nearly to the zero point. When it threatens, however menacingly, as in Proteus' attempt to rape Sylvia, or Shylock's to exact a pound of flesh from Antonio, it fails to materialize. Swordplay is rare. Duels are more often halted or diverted than waged: Pompey vs. Armado, interrupted by the arrival of Marcade with his tidings of death; Demetrius vs. Lysander, misled into fogs and swamps and sleeps by Puck; old Leonato and old Antonio unable to provoke Claudio and Don Pedro into a quarrel to avenge the slander of Hero; Benedick vs. Claudio, their expected combat cut short by the revelation of Hero's innocence; Viola vs. Sir Andrew, swords in trembling hands, suspended by the appearance of Antonio, himself pursued by officers seeking to arrest him; Sebastian vs. Sir Toby, glaring fiercely at each other, ready to draw blood, stopped by the arrival of the outraged Olivia.

As for Orlando's match with the wrestler Charles, a formal contest staged before the court, that quickly takes on the character of a trial by combat: the selfeffacing hero overthrows the boastful champion, following the champion's own defeat of three country youths whom he has left gasping on the ground with broken ribs. Charles, wrestler to the usurping Duke Frederick and an ally of Orlando's envious older brother, represents the Goliath of this contest, being rapidly dispatched—but not killed—by the David, Orlando, whose victory marks his goodness of heart and the nobility of spirit that shine through his rustical upbringing. It reassures us that we are in a comic world where virtue will eventually win out over envy and persecution.

Active violence, then, effectuated violence, violence prompted by spite or fury, plays close to no part in the comedies. Only an occasional suggestion serves to keep us mindful of the passions that can provoke it. Truly murderous violence is nowhere in evidence, or if it is, it is shunted aside before it can do serious damage. The one disturbing comic instance appears in a history play: Falstaff s stabbing of Hotspur's body on the field at Shrewsbury. Even here, however, the fact that Hotspur is after all dead and cannot be hurt by a new wound, the colossal cheek of Falstaff himself, with whose self-preserving impudence we have learned to put up, for the sake of its inventiveness, and—perhaps most of all—Hal's magnanimous allowance of the gesture as a joke rather than a desecration, tend to take the sting out of it for us.

To continue for a moment with the Lancastrian histories: at the end of 2 Henry IV, we learn that one bit of offstage violence has had a disastrous outcome: the beadle takes Doll and the Hostess into custody, since 'the man is dead that [they] and Pistol beat amongst [them]' (V.vii.1-2). Coming as it does at this penultimate moment in the play, the incident constitutes a sharp reminder that the world of the tavern is among other things a dark one, just as the outbreaks of violence in Henry V—the ferocity of Henry's speech before Harfleur, his order to his soldiers to kill their prisoners, the French butchery of 'the poys and the luggage . . . expressly against the law of arms'—all throw a sordid light onto the heroic enterprise of the war and tarnish the glamor conferred on it by the Chorus, reminding us that even the most pageantlike and epically celebrated of battles has its seamy underside.

The readiness to resort to violence, in any case, even in the comic realm, remains something of a touch-stone, if not of malevolence exactly, then of a rankling perversity, of an inability to conduct affairs without inflicting humiliations on others, of a preference for aggression as a way of working off irritation or bafflement. We can (1 think) accept Cleopatra's furious onslaught on the luckless messenger, her striking him and haling him up and down and threatening him with horrendous torments, as an instance of comic overdoing, of the overflowing of the vessel, unlikely to have dire consequences. But the same cannot be said of Posthumus' striking of the disguised Imogen in the final moments of Cymbeline. That gesture really means two things: it means first of all, of course, that in spite of all that has happened in the course of the action he still does not really recognize her, really know her. It also means that he has not yet, after so long time and so much heartache, lost the habit of striking out blindly in anger. It is only when this replay, this echo of his first terrible mistake is perceived by him to be such that he can persuade us he has truly abandoned his unhealthy readiness to take to his sword or his fists. It is only when comic violence, then, is managed with good humor and a light heart, to expose swollen pride or sweeten a foul temper, as in the case of Petruchio or of the plots against Falstaff in The Merry Wives, that we are implicitly invited to endorse and approve it with a light heart ourselves.

I hardly need say at this point that I have dealt with this topic in an oldfashioned way. I might be taxed, by post-structuralists, with having, as they say, 'produced' the pattern I purport to discover, rather than having found something that was actually there. Furthermore, 1 have outlined what I take to be an implicit morality of violence in the Shakespearean canon, and—perhaps worst of all—the morality 1 claim to find is one I myself would endorse, and it is a bourgeois morality at that. But it does tally with much of what we already know about its author.

The commonest term used about Shakespeare the man in his own day was 'gentle'. I take 'gentle', here, not only in its Elizabethan senses of 'noble, generous, courteous, polite', but also in its continuing presentday sense of 'mild'—not rough, not harsh, not violent. To me it seems plain that the threads I have tried to follow lend support to the view of a 'gentle' Shakespeare. They suggest a Shakespeare losing interest in violence for its own sake, gradually eliminating it from his farces, associating it increasingly with unruliness, disorder, tyranny, and whatever interferes with life. In short they suggest a civilized and a civilizing Shakespeare.

But this is not to imply a squeamish or a sentimental or a milk-sop Shakespeare. It is not to suggest that he portrays all violent acts as reprehensible in themselves—certainly not when committed in legitimate self-defense, nor when brought under some meaningful rule and order. The trial by combat, the rituals of war, have their uses, even their value. We feel no revulsion—or should feel none, I believe—when Guiderius appears with Cloten's head, or (for that matter) when Imogen awakes to find the headless body beside her, only to mistake it, significantly, for that of Posthumus. We endorse, I suspect, the intent of Fluellen's phrase—'expressly against the law of arms'—to indicate the kind of violence Fluellen, along with Shakespeare, finds abhorrent. Shakespeare clearly believes in valor, in manly readiness, in military prowess. These qualities matter because the world we inhabit contains lawless, self-serving, aggressive human beings, ready to use others as means, ready to push them around whenever others seem to stand in the way of their own private purposes or private pleasures. And because they entail other qualities valuable in themselves, such as courage, resourcefulness, and resolution, which enable men, and women too, to assert their full humanity in the teeth of adverse fortune and dangerous enemies. The energetic captainship of Talbot against the treacherous French, the vigorous challenge of Edgar against the perfidious Edmund, conform precisely to the law of arms, and claim nothing short of the highest honor.

All this, no doubt, coming from our most revered culture hero, may sound too much for comfort like copybook morality. Yet I believe it to be the only lesson one can draw from the evidence I have tried to assemble.


1 (Princeton University Press, 1940), chapter 1, passim.

2 Except where otherwise noted, all citations from Shakespeare will be to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

3Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), passim.

4The First Part of the Contention, Sig. E2, in Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto, ed. Michael J. Allen and Kenneth Muir (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 60.

5 Whether this technique of combined horror and distancing works on the stage is of course another matter. See Eugene M. Waith, 'The Metamorphosis of Violence in Titus Andronicus ', Patterns and Perspectives in English Renaissance Drama (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988), pp. 41-54, esp. p. 51.

The Politics Of Violence

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 17353

Leonard Tennenhouse (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Violence Done to Women on the Renaissance Stage," in The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence, edited by Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, Routledge, 1989, pp. 77-97.

[In the following essay, Tennenhouse explores the political implications behind the portrayal of violence perpetrated against the aristocratic female body in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.]


The following essay deals with the particular form of violence directed against the aristocratic female body in Jacobean drama. I will be considering that body as well as its treatment as a discursive practice, I do not take it to be either a "real" body, or a "mere" representation of the female, but rather an actor playing the part of an aristocratic woman. That such a practice existed there can be no doubt. Around the year 1604, dramatists of all sorts suddenly felt it appropriate to torture and murder aristocratic female characters in a shocking and ritualistic manner. This assault was quite unlike anything seen on the Elizabethan stage—even at its most Senecan. If any statement holds true about violence done to these female characters, it is that such violence is never simply violence done to them as women. It is always violence done to one occupying a particular position in the social body as it was conceived at the time. Given my reliance on these terms, then, let me briefly explain what I mean by "the social body" and "the aristocratic body."

The "body" is a problematic term to begin with, because in recent years it has been so widely used with varying degrees of looseness and precision. Indeed, we have reason to think the body itself has been used in most cultures and at different times as a figure with which to think out the relationship between individual bodies and that aggregate of bodies called society. Discussing the anthropology of the body, Jean Comaroff summarizes the current view on the construction of the body as a social subject: "Through socialization, the 'person' is constituted in the social image, tuned, in practice, to the coherent system of meanings that lies silently within the objectives of a given world" (1985: 7). Further, that body is always inscribed with and used to think about social relationships. Even in modern cultures, the body is not so much a natural object as an image or sign we used to understand ourselves as selves. We carry a body around in our heads that governs the ways in which we represent ourselves to the world. We also carry about a social body image which we use to represent the world to ourselves. For these two images are actually a single cultural formation.1

In truth, I cannot decide which is the more difficult project—to understand our own bodies as cultural objects or to determine what members of another culture—in this case, one several centuries earlier than ours—imagined their bodies to be. Such is the nature of cultural counter-transference where bodies are concerned that we cannot know another's without having some idea of the conceptual contours and ideological projects inscribed on our own. About the middle-class body, Nancy Armstrong has written:

Ours is a social body divided in two along lines of gender: a male body corresponding to the masculine domain of productive labor and a female body corresponding to the feminine domain of the household. While all cultures both make things and reproduce people, industrial societies are unique in their way of gendering labor, the space in which it occurs, and the bodies performing it. (1988: 4).

This is not to say that the difference between male and female was insignificant to the people for whom Shakespeare's company performed. It obviously mattered. But more important still than the question of whether one were a male or a female was the question of membership of the aristocracy. When Bakhtin sought to describe the concept of the body one needed in order to make sense of Rabelais, he employed a primary basis for difference other than gender. He called it the "mass body" and set that body in opposition to the classical or elite body. Where the classical body, or what I shall call the aristocratic body, was ordered, hierarchized, impermeable, and pure, the mass body was open and protruding, riotous, heterogeneous, sensual, and renewable.

Obviously gender plays a significant role in such a social body, but it does not determine the distinction of first importance in maintaining an aristocratic culture. In a culture that understands difference first and foremost in terms of whether one belongs inside or outside a privileged community, gender is one more way of marking difference between the elite and mass bodies. One way of understanding the difference between the symbolic properties of Renaissance women and those inhering in a culture where gender overrides class in determining identity is to see how this difference was inscribed on the body. Anatomy books, midwifery guides, and manuals on obstetrics represented male and female as possessing essentially the same body (Eccles 1976; Martin 1987: 27-32; Laqueur 1986: 4-16). The two were structurally homologous, and difference was understood to rest on the degree of heat one possessed, which varied according to whether the sexual organs were inside or outside of the body. Thus one cannot speak about gender in the Renaissance without first speaking about political hierarchy. The aristocratic female was automatically superior to a man from the lower ranks. Within the aristocratic body, however, she occupied a position of lesser degree in relation to the male of the same station.

But while this is a good rule of thumb, it does not tell us all that much about the symbolic properties of Shakespeare's women or the various fates that befell them on the stage. Never a stable entity, the aristocratic body was constantly changing. Not only did its size and membership change over time, but individual monarchs also left their respective marks on representations of that body. Under Elizabeth, the highest position, that of the patron of patrons, was occupied by a woman, and so we may speculate it made perfect sense to represent the aristocratic body as a female body. Indeed, as I will explain, Elizabeth insisted upon it. Under James, however, this gender theme was revised and incorporated in a new image of the body politic. On the one hand, we find romances and tragicomedies that celebrate the reunion of an originary family under a chastened monarch/father. No matter what human forces seek to dismember this body, a miraculous force watches over members of the royal body and ensures their mutual attraction. Tragedies, I will argue, approached the same problem of revision from an entirely different angle. They stripped away the very qualities that had distinguished heroines of just a few years before. Thus on the Jacobean stage we see aristocratic women punished for possessing the very features that empowered such characters in Elizabethan romantic comedy. The ritual purification of these bodies did not simply give vent to misogynistic impulses (although I am sure it did that as well, and indeed continues to do so); it also revised the political iconography identified with an earlier monarchy, which was understood by English monarchs to be a very real instrument of their power. Only this, I believe, could have made the assault on the Elizabethan style of female so pervasive.

It is difficult to think of a Renaissance tragedy in which at least one woman is not threatened with mutilation, rape, or murder. Her torture and death provide the explicit and exquisite dénouement and centerpiece of the play in question. Yet despite concerted efforts to historicize the literary past, criticism has done little to account either for the pervasiveness of such violence or for the gender of its victims. That the body of an aristocratic female was the centerpiece of the spectacles of violence on stage had everything, in the Elizabethan period, to do with the Queen herself. She constantly encouraged an equation to be made between the health of her body, its wellbeing and integrity, and that of the state. During her reign, this iconic identification between the queen's body and the land was such that the violence done to one was the same as violence to the other. Thus the theater regularly staged scenes of violence and disorder in order to materialize an opposition to the monarch over which monarchy asserted its order. On the Jacobean stage, however, the aristocratic female having acquired this usage had to be both different from the king's body and yet essential to the purity of the aristocratic community. Once again, she was the site on which to stage an assault on the monarch. As a source of pollution, she empowered the monarch by subjugating her in a ritual that purified the community.

Hamlet shall be a test case for this proposition, because in that play there are two forms of violence, both indicative of earlier cultural practices, and each centering on a female. In the assault on Gertrude, we find a characteristic Elizabethan representation of violence which threatens to dismember the state by internal division. By way of contrast, the Player Queen episode imagines a different model of violence, one more characteristic of the assault against women found on the Jacobean stage. Before turning to Hamlet, it is first necessary to suggest how the body of the aristocratic female on stage was used to produce such a political literacy.


Elizabeth Tudor knew the power of display. She also knew how to display her power as queen. But this is not to say that even so powerful a monarch as she could determine the conditions for effectively displaying political power. Upon her accession, if not well before, Elizabeth found herself thoroughly inscribed within a system of political meaning. Marie Axton explains:

for the purposes of the law it was found necessary by 1561 to endow the Queen with two bodies: a body natural and a body politic. (This body politic should not be confused with the old metaphor of the realm as a great body composed of many with the king as a head. The ideas are related but distinct.) The body politic was supposed to be contained within the natural body of the Queen. When lawyers spoke of this body politic they referred to a specific quality: the essence of a corporate perpetuity. The Queen's natural body was subject to infancy, error, and old age; her body politic . . . was held to be unerring and immortal. (1977: 12; my italics)

The "lawyers," Axton observes, "were unable or unwilling to separate state and monarch" (1977: 12). Elizabeth insisted upon representing her body as one and the same as England. She made this equation on the grounds that her natural body both contained and stood for the mystical power of blood which had traditionally governed the land and made it English. The concept of the body politic was redefined in certain characteristically Elizabethan ways as it became that of a female patriarch. According to the English form of primogeniture, a female could legitimately and fully embody the power of the patriarch. That power was in her and nowhere else so long as she sat on the throne. In being patriarchal, state power was not necessarily male, for Elizabeth was represented and treated as a female. Thus we may conclude that Elizabethans saw the state as no less patriarchal for being embodied as a female, and they saw the queen as no less female for possessing patriarchal powers. In other words, the idea of a female patriarch appears to have posed no contradiction in terms of Elizabethan culture.

The queen's body was displayed in official portraits, on coins, in the royal coat of arms placed in all the churches of England, and in her official passages through London and royal progresses in the countryside (Strong 1963; Phillips 1973: 119). In the context of her considerable entourage, Elizabeth's very presence called forth elaborate pageants, tributes, opulent shows of all kinds, speeches, orations, and the presentation of gifts, these to be witnessed by large numbers of people.2 Of particular importance was the role that the public theater played in displaying and idealizing forms of power that were grounded in the value and importance of the aristocratic female body. It is in this sense, I shall argue, that Shakespeare's drama played an active role in the political life of Renaissance England. In arguing for its historical significance, then, I do not want to privilege a topical meaning as paramount in understanding the success of Elizabethan drama. Rather, I want to suggest that the drama for which Elizabethan culture is known offered one of the more important means of controlling how various people imagined state power and understood themselves in relation to it. Given the importance of displaying the aristocratic female body—the most powerful manifestation of which was the appearance of the queen herself—the theater was never more political than when it called attention to the body of an aristocratic female. Elizabeth and her people understood the display of her body in terms of those practices which identified the monarch's body with English power in all its guises.

But a strategy that enabled this unprecedented consolidation of English power in the monarch and her court necessarily gave rise to a major political crisis by the late 1590s with the obvious decrepitude of Elizabeth's body. Visible signs that her natural body was failing called into question the relationship between the queen's two bodies upon which hinged in turn the monarch's symbolic control over England. The crisis brought on by the loss of symbolic power that would accompany her aging and death appears to have been resolved by a shift towards representations that placed compensatory stress on the monarch's body metaphysical. To foreground the continuity of patriarchal power, writers and performances of all kinds emphasized the masculine nature of legitimate political power and, at the same time, began to imagine the aristocratic female body as having the potential to disrupt the flow of power from one male to another. It was in the public theater and the Inns of Court drama that flourished during Elizabeth's reign that such changes in the aesthetics of display became particularly apparent. Within Shakespeare's career, most notably, one can see the interdependence of the queen's two bodies give way, following Elizabeth's death, to an increasing emphasis on the metaphysical nature of the crown over and above the individual monarch who momentarily held sway over the land.

Hamlet is one of the plays to appear during the time when people were finding it necessary to revise the aesthetics of Elizabethan display to suit an impending Jacobean reality. The play presents two quite different displays of power, each centered around the body of a different aristocratic female. On the fate of Gertrude and the disposition of her body depends both the wellbeing of the state and the fate of the royal Danish line. In this sense, Gertrude belongs among Elizabethan representations of the queen's two bodies. These characteristically equate the health of the state with that of the queen's body. In having Hamlet stage the play within the play, however, Shakespeare uses the aristocratic female body in a different way. The Player Queen behaves like all the other aristocratic females on the Jacobean stage who are tortured, stabbed, poisoned, or hung. It is by defining them as the site of pollution and removing them from the line of authority that patriarchal power is itself authorized.

To read Hamlet historically, in my opinion, it is not our task to explain away this about-face in the strategies of political display. This is what we do whenever we try to contain the contradictions posed by the two queens within Hamlet's "consciousness," making them his problem rather than our own. Contrary to this way of reading Hamlet, I would like to consider the play as a refiguring of the monarch's body in view of Elizabeth's immanent decay. Far from embodying the power of the state itself, the aristocratic woman would, in the years immediately following the production of Hamlet, provide playwright after playwright with a figure for the source of pollution. As such, she was none the less subject to the aesthetics of display, for her purification alone appeared to insure the perpetuity of power.


I shall offer a brief description of Lavinia from the much abused play Titus Andronicus by way of background against which we can determine the ways in which Gertrude observes the Elizabethan formula. Despite its popularity on the Elizabethan stage, Titus generally strikes modern readers as a thoroughly debased representation of sexuality (Brooke 1968: 13-5).3 Yet what may appear as perverse and gratuitously violent assumes this form because the dramatic action of the play turns on the whole notion of the State as the body of an aristocratic female. Particularly disturbing is the fact that Titus' daughter is not only raped and disfigured in the second act of the play but also brought upon the stage to display her mutilated condition. The sheer spectacle of a woman, herself dismembered, carrying her father's amputated hand in her mouth has not earned this play a particularly high place in a literary canon based on lofty ideals and good taste. The mutilation of Lavinia's body has been written off by critics as one of the exuberant excesses of an immature playwright or else as the corrupting influence of another poet. But I find it more useful for the purposes of historicizing Shakespeare to consider these sensational features as part of a political iconography available to the playwright, one which he felt obliged to use as well as free to exploit for his own dramatic purposes. With this purpose in mind, then, we can consider as culturally important information the otherwise outrageous scene in which Titus receives his own hand along with the heads of his two sons from Saturninus, the emperor. Seeing the human members which have been severed from himself, Titus issues this memorably gruesome command,

 Come, brother, take a head,   And in this hand the other will I bear;   And, Lavinia, thou shalt be employed;   Bear thou my hand, sweet wench, between thy   teeth.


To tell her father she has been raped as well as mutilated, Lavinia has to rifle through a volume of Ovid with her handless arms until she finds the account of Philomel. Shakespeare's stage direction reads, "She takes the staff in her mouth, and guides it with her stumps, and writes" (s.d., IV.i.78). What is important in this—as in the other scenes where Lavinia's body appears as synecdoche and emblem of the disorder of things—is that Shakespeare has us see the rape of Lavinia as the definitive instance of dismemberment.

I say this knowing that it defies the logic inherent in the figure of rape. We are accustomed to think of rape as a forcible violation of some sacred cultural boundary enclosing the aristocratic body if not that of the private individual. But Elizabethan drama does not use rape in this way. Lavinia's rape represents the crime of dismemberment. The mutilation of Lavinia's body restates her father's self-inflicted amputation, his dicing up of the emperor's stepsons for their mother's consumption, and all the slicing, dicing, chopping, and lopping that heaps bodies upon the stage in Titus Andronicus. Lavinia's body encapsulates and interprets this seemingly gratuitous carnage in a way that must have been clear to an Elizabethan audience, for her body was that of a daughter of the popular candidate for emperor of Rome, the first choice of wife for the emperor of Rome, and the betrothed of the emperor's younger brother. That as such she stands for the entire aristocratic body is made clear when Marcus Andronicus, inspired by the pile of bodies heaped before the banquet table, enjoins the citizens of Rome, "Let me teach you how to knit again / . . . These broken limbs into one body" (V.iii.70-2).

The logic of dismemberment is not that different if one is willing to consider it as such. Dismemberment entails the loss of members. Thus the initial gesture of penetration is not so well pronounced in Shakespeare's version of the Philomel story as the mutilated condition of Lavinia's body which both conceals and points back to the act of rape. Rather than the object of illicit lust, Lavinia's body provides the setting for political rivalry among the various families with competing claims to power over Rome. For one of them to possess her is for that family to display its power over the rest—nothing more nor less than that. By the same token, to wound Lavinia is to wound oneself, as if dismembering her body were dismembering a body of which one were a part, and thus to cut oneself off from that body. It is in pursuing this logic that one sees how Titus' farewell to Lavinia transforms the concepts of dishonor and pollution usually associated with rape into quite a different order of transgression: "Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee, / And with thy shame thy father's sorrow die" (V.iii.41-2). True to this suggestion that she is his body because she is the body of Rome, the play demonstrates that the murder of Lavinia is a self-inflicted wound on Titus' part. It leads to the death of the entire ruling body, competing families and all.


Gertrude's body observes the same political imperative as that of Lavinia and the young Elizabeth. To possess her body is to possess the State. So powerful is the queen's body that it takes precedence over the laws of primogeniture allowing Claudius to rule instead of Hamlet. According to common practices of primogeniture, when Old Denmark died his crown and his land should have passed uncontested to his son. Had he died without issue, then and only then could the crown pass to his brother. But Claudius's ascendence does not observe this principle of inheritance. His claim to power—and the election that ratified his claim—rested on his claim to Gertrude's body. It is Claudius's acquisition of power through his marriage to Gertrude that gives rise to the dilemma organizing this play, the action of which turns upon the meaning and disposition of Gertrude's body.

There is a logic at work in Hamlet which explains this source of power. Such a logic, however, is neither to be found in the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus which Shakespeare consulted as a source for his play, nor can we attribute it to the peculiarities of Danish political practice with which Shakespeare may or may not have been familiar. We can, however, see this logic at work in any number of romantic comedies where a young man comes to possess power, wealth, and land through marriage. Bassanio's marriage to Portia, Lorenzo's to Jessica, Petruchio's to Kate, and Sebastian's to Olivia are cases in point. In each play the female provides access to a patrimony that belongs to another male. The patrimonies thus in question might range from the kingdom of Belmont to something considerably less grand, like the dowry Kate brings with her to the marriage. I am suggesting that when he has Claudius come to the throne through marriage to Gertrude Shakespeare is drawing on the same theory of power that also organized his romantic comedies.

Hamlet's obsession with his mother's body can be explained in terms of this theory. When Hamlet urges his mother to refrain from having sexual contact with Claudius, his words, taken at face value, quite accurately describe the problem that arises from the premise that power inheres in her body. He represents the queen's coupling with Claudius as the gratification of a monstrous appetite:

Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear,   Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you   eyes?   Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,   And batten on this moor?


To think of Gertrude's union with Claudius as a form of gorging ("batten") makes sense only if one remembers that she should represent the aristocratic body itself. Hamlet's language transforms the ideal representation of that body, the body of the queen, into one that is quite grotesque and common. In the passage quoted above she has become the voracious mass body that regularly stands opposed to the aristocratic principles of exclusion and hierarchy.4 And lest we miss the point, Shakespeare has Hamlet elaborate this view of the queen's body. To mate with Claudius, in his words, is:

 but to live   In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,   Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making   love   Over the nasty sty.


But how does Gertrude become this gorging, sweating, corrupt, and bestial woman? The answer seems to lie with Hamlet's description of the man he thinks wrongly possesses her body. Thus Hamlet describes Claudius as

 a Vice of kings,   A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,   That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,   And put it in his pocket . . .   A king of shreds and patches—


As he leaves, Hamlet implores his mother not to let "the bloat king tempt you again to bed" (III.iv.182). To have the prince call Claudius "a bloat king," a lecher, a "cutpurse of the empire," "a Vice of kings" is for Shakespeare to construct the usurper out of the same materials he used in fabricating Falstaff. Unlike Claudius, then, for whom Gertrude's body is Denmark, Hamlet understands Gertrude's body as the vessel through which the royal blood of the Danish line has passed; she is not the political body incarnate. She disrupts the continuity of Old Denmark's line by authorizing his brother's usurpation of the throne. That she does so certainly suggests that the conditions of the queen's body and that of the State are not the same. This was a mistake for which Hamlet played out a tragic fate, but it was nevertheless a possibility Shakespeare could imagine and through which create new dramatic uses for the aristocratic female.


By the end of the 1590s, the physical condition of the heirless queen evidently made it necessary to reconsider the relationship between that body and the political strength of England. Although a concerted effort was made to maintain her traditional hold on the popular imagination, the queen's age made it necessary to modify the displays which had identified her natural body with the power inhering in the body politic. Aware that her health was increasingly a matter of political gravity, Elizabeth sought ways to insist upon the vitality of her body. During the Christmas celebrations of 1600, for example, Elizabeth made a public show of dancing with Duke Bracciano. John Chamberlain writes, "The Queen entertained him very graciously, and to show that she is not so old as some would have her danced both measures and galliards in his presence" (1939: 115). Despite her attempts to comply with the aesthetics of display, the signs of her age were everywhere to be seen. At the opening of parliament in 1601, it was reported, "her robes of velvet and ermine had proved too heavy for her; on the steps of the throne she had staggered and was only saved from falling by the peer who stood nearest catching her in his arms" (Jenkins 1958: 321). Her increasing feebleness threatened to shake the political foundations of the State. When, in August 1599, Londoners lived in fear of a Spanish invasion, John Chamberlain explained to Dudley Carleton how the appearance of military commanders at the Paul's Cross sermons was regarded by the crowd:

The Lord General with all great officers of the field came in great bravery to Paul's Cross on Sunday . . . and then was the alarm at the hottest that the Spaniards were at Brest. . . .

The vulgar sort cannot be persuaded that there was some great mystery in the assembling of these forces, and because they cannot find the reason for it, make many wild conjectures and cast beyond the moon: as sometimes that the Queen was dangerously sick. (1939: 83)

Rather than the routine attendance of military men to hear a sermon the "vulgar sort" took the military presence to mean that the queen was certainly failing. With the failure of the monarch's natural body, they assumed that the magical power of the crown was also in question, and the nation, therefore, in a state of imminent peril.

What is most important for purposes of my argument, however, is the suggestion that Elizabeth's age made it dangerous to equate her body with the body politic. We might understand the Essex rebellion in relationship to new fault lines in the iconography of power that further threatened the stability of the Tudor reign, shakiness that consequently afflicted the reigning aesthetics of monarchy. Angry at the queen for her support of Cecil, angry at her, too, for reprimanding him when he granted wholesale knighthoods in Ireland, angry at being denied the opportunity to dispense patronage in England, and angry at the recent Star Chamber proceedings against him, Essex is said by Camden to have complained bitterly that Elizabeth was "grown an old woman and as crooked in mind as in her carcase" (Birch 1970: 463). Clearly Essex believed that the symbolic powers of the queen's body were susceptible to appropriation. Even after the government discovered his plans, Essex behaved as if the mere display of his colors and the support of relatives, friends, clients, and household retainers would give him the authority he needed to overrule the queen. Essex no doubt assumed that the queen's body contained the magical power of the blood, but evidently he did not see that magic as the sole source of English political power. Indeed, in his manner of using the aesthetics of display to rebel against the queen's authority, he distinguished between the immanent magic of blood and the queen's symbolic display of that power, as if to say that such a display of power could empower him as well. If he behaved like a monarch, according to this inverted logic, he could attract support from the people. Following his arrest, the indictments charged Essex with attempting "to usurp the Crown," and the Earls of Essex, Southampton, Rutland, and Sandys with conspiring to depose and slay the queen (Akrigg 1968: 120-1). Two days after his conviction, Essex contested this change, claiming that he meant only to seize the queen and use her authority to change the government. He did not want to weaken her authority but merely to remove her advisors and condemn them for mismanaging the state (Akrigg 1968: 127). In either case, however, he had questioned the bond between the monarch's two bodies. Whether he intended to overthrow the queen—which is unlikely—or simply to force her to name the successor of his choice, Essex had granted the display of power priority over the natural body of Elizabeth and, by implication, over the mystic line of succession.

The question of which of the two had priority—the natural body or the metaphysical body of the monarch—held little fascination for people during much of Elizabeth's reign, so firmly linked was the national identity with her figure. For this very reason, however, the question became all the more urgent with the approach of the queen's death. On the one hand, her death meant the end of the only English monarch most of the population had ever known and in whom they read the fate of the nation. To detach the whole idea of state authority from the queen's body was—as John Chamberlain's report of the panic at the Paul's Cross sermon suggests—a dangerous proposition. On the other hand, it was just as dangerous to maintain the iconic link between that body and the state, for the aged virgin bore not only signs of decay but also signs of sterility that told of an uncertain future for England. Legitimate power, as the Essex rebellion suggested, might pass to whomever put on the symbolic displays that legitimized power. Thus we may speculate that it became necessary for playwrights to stress the metaphysical over the natural body of the monarch—to demystify the queen's body, that is, and to remystify patrilineage.


The Murder of Gonzago—Hamlet's play within the play—is but one of a number of performances that would bring about this historical transformation. No longer iconic, the Player Queen's body opens up the possibility of another poetics of power, one that would come to dominate the stage once Elizabeth passed from the scene. Though the female body in Hamlet's drama is no longer wed to the land, it nevertheless authorizes monarchy. In fact, as I have suggested, it must be detached from the land in order to authorize monarchy. If we look ahead two or three years to the Jacobean aesthetics that come to dominate the public theater, we see that numerous playwrights find it necessary to torture, smother, strangle, stab, or poison an aristocratic woman in order to stage a tragedy. Desdemona, Cleopatra, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, the Duchess of Malfi, and Vittoria Corombona are among those who testify to this compulsion. These aristocratic females all share one of two features in common: (1) they are either the subject of clandestine desire or (2) they are the object of desire that threatens the aristocratic community's boundaries. Their innocence notwithstanding, women in The Revenger's Tragedy must be poisoned once they become objects of adulterous desires. The Count Montsurrey in Bussy D'Ambois tortures Tamyra for her secret assignations, and Othello murders Desdemona because he assumes that she has been guilty of infidelity. True, he is wrong to doubt her innocence. On the other hand, Desdemona has, like the Duchess of Malfi, violated the law of her blood in marrying him. And her marriage to the Moor echoes the mismating of the Egyptian and the Roman, of the duchess and her steward, of the duke and the white devil, as well as those two queens of Britain who lust for the bastard Edmund. In each case, these women are subjected to spectacular scenes of punishment, because each poses a threat to the Jacobean notion of monarchy.

In Jacobean tragedy, the line between the two social bodies—the aristocratic body and that of the people—appears to close. Othello, Malfi's husband, Vittoria Corombona, and Edmund seem capable of becoming part of the aristocratic body, but the fact of their transgression is acknowledged as they produce disease, filth, and obscenity that must be purged in order for there to be a pure community of aristocratic blood. The staging of such scenes of punishment are attempts to rid the community of some kind of pollution, the conditions for which Mary Douglas describes:

Pollution is a type of danger which is not likely to occur except where the lines of structure, cosmic or social, are clearly defined .. . a polluting person is always in the wrong. He has developed some wrong condition or simply crossed some line which should not have been crossed.... Pollution can be committed unintentionally, but intention is irrelevant to its effects. It is more likely to happen inadvertently.

(1978: 113)

It is according to this sort of logic that innocent characters are often slaughtered on the stage while morally despicable conduct seems to go unpunished.

In Jacobean tragedy, any sign of permeability poses a threat to the community. The bodies of such women as Desdemona, Tamyra, the Duchess of Malfi, and Lear's daughters blur the distinction between what belongs inside and what must be kept outside the aristocratic community. Each of these women negotiates a sexual union that is represented as a form of pollution. Although the female body must be understood in terms of the metaphysics of blood, on the Jacobean stage the female body no longer exists in the same iconic relationship with that of the monarch and with the magical power of blood. If anything, Jacobean tragedy insists on this disruption of the Elizabethan model all the more forcefully by imagining the state as nothing else but the blood, the blood in its purest form; in other words, the blood of the patriarch. A closer look at one of the more famous scenes of punishment will reveal the logic that governs pollution and purification rituals as opposed to that of dismemberment. Although Renaissance drama consistently inflicted elaborate and brutal punishments on the bodies of aristocratic women, differing techniques of mutilation reveal underlying political tendencies that changed the aesthetics and theatrical display with the change in monarchs.

As he tortures his wife in Bussy D'Ambois, the Count Montsurrey claims it is not he but her lust that murders her:

The chain shot of thy lust is aloft   And it must murder; 'tis thine own dear twin.


Lust doubles the woman. In that it produces either a desirous or a desiring self, lust makes her monstrous in some way. It should not be surprising in this regard to discover that twinning and doubling occupied a major section of Renaissance books on monsters and monstrosity. In his book on monsters and marvels, Ambroise Paré describes twins who share a single head, twins joined at the belly, or twins that have but a single anus between them (1982: 27).5 Or he describes the monstrous as a single figure with twinned arms on one side of the body, one that has double the number of legs, another with extra fingers, and those bearing extra members of other kinds as well. Particularly important among these is the hermaphrodite. By virtue of possessing a second set of sexual organs, the hermaphrodite resembles other monsters in that he violates natural categories. In doing so, however, the hermaphrodite could also be used to clarify these differences. It was always necessary to determine which set of sexual organs was dominant and thereby remove the hermaphrodite from the status of a monstrosity. Paré explains that whenever both sets of sexual organs were fully formed in an individual, both ancient and modern law obliged such monsters to say "which they wish to use, and then they are forbidden upon pain of death to use any but those they have chosen" (ibid.). By containing an extra member, hermaphrodites not only violated the natural order, as did all Paré's monstrous creatures, but they also threatened to pollute the community. It was therefore necessary to suppress the supplementary feature.

The monstrous woman also possesses an extra member. Women subjected to punishment are those who either bring an extra member into the body politic or else take on the features of masculine desire themselves. Malfi's marriage adds an extra member to the aristocratic body, and this member is referred to as the "hermaphrodite." Claiming she has polluted his blood, Malfi's brother takes the form of a lycanthrope. Similarly monstrous, Vittoria Corombona is a masculine woman, twinned by lust, and rendered so monstrous by desire that she is called the White Devil. Indeed, it seems that whenever the rigid boundaries that define the pure community are obscured within the female body, Jacobean drama reclassifies the woman as a monster, suggesting, Mary Douglas argues, that pollution represents a type of danger that occurs where clearly defined social lines have been muddled. The bodies of such women as Tamyra, the Duchess of Malfi, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Goneril and Regan, and Vittoria Corombona, among others, obscure that boundary distinguishing what may be contained inside the community from what must be kept out. Thus their bodies, like that of the hermaphrodite's, provide the place where difference must be re-established.

Having noted then how the body of the aristocratic female on the Jacobean stage takes on a decidedly different figurai connotation, we can consider how the particular form of sexual violence to her differs from that portrayed in an Elizabethan play like Titus Andronicus. To begin formulating an answer, I would like to return to one of the most self-conscious of the Jacobean plays and examine its dramatization of punishment. Here are the terms in which Tamyra would have us understand the forthcoming scene of her torture in Bussy D'Ambois:

Hide in some gloomy dungeon my loathed face,

Hang me in chains, and let me eat those arms   That have offended: bind me face to face   To some dead woman taken from the cart of   Execution


This passage sets up a parallel between the husband-wife relationship and that of sovereign and subject that would have automatically made sense of Tamyra's crime as well as the scene of punishment: the wife's assertion of power against her husband must be understood in relation to the subject's assault upon the sovereign's power. In the second chapter of Discipline and Punish, Foucault suggests that, in considering such scenes in pre-Enlightenment culture, we must take the homology literally. Whatever attacks the law of the sovereign also attacks him physically, since the force of the law is the force of the prince. When popular power—always expressed in the language of festival and always illegitimate—forgets the truth that legitimate power is absolute, according to Foucault's model, scenes are staged to display that radical disymmetry of power. Foucault writes:

If torture was so strongly embedded in legal practice, it was because it revealed truth and showed the operation of power. It assured the articulation of the written on the oral, the secret on the public, the procedure of investigation on the operation of confession; it made it possible to reproduce the crime on the visible body of the criminal; in the same horror, the crime had to be manifested and annulled. The nature of the threat posed by the criminal can only be intensified when the crime is a crime against the aristocratic body itself. (1977: 50)

The wife's crime against her husband is a crime against the crown. The punishment of unchaste aristocratic women therefore displays the truth of the subject's relation to the state. It displays the disymmetrical relationship by imprinting the crime on the subject's body, in this way demonstrating the state's absolute power over that body. Tamyra's husband orders her to write the name of the go-between as she is stretched on the rack. At the same time, he repeatedly stabs her arms. Since the permeability of her body wounded him, the cultural logic which organizes the play dictates that he should cut openings upon her, for this makes her crime against the state legible. As they subordinated female to male in such an extravagantly artificial manner, dramatists testified to the absolute power of the state. But it is important to understand that certainly in England this subordination could only take place once the figure of the aristocratic female body was understood as something separate from the crown. Given my construction of the cultural milieu in which Shakespeare wrote, Hamlet's attempt at staging a play is very much an attempt on the playwright's part to imagine a situation in which political power was not associated with a female and the aristocratic female was not iconically bonded to the land.


The Murder of Gonzago is Hamlet's attempt to locate and purge a corrupt element within the aristocratic body. In this respect, he acts in his capacity as would-be sovereign, for Shakespeare gives to Hamlet the sovereign's power to discover and punish a crime against the aristocratic body. As he explains:

 I'll have these players   Play something like the murther of my father   Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks,   I'll tent him to the quick. If a' do blench,   I know my course.


Hamlet means the play to "tent," or probe, Claudius as with a dagger that opens an infected wound. In this way, he intends to re-enact the crime of regicide for the purpose of punishing the murderer. By staging a torture and seeking to extract a confession, Hamlet takes it upon himself to exercise what Foucault has claimed was "the absolute right and the exclusive power of the sovereign." To carry the point still further, chronicle history plays (which were, along with romantic comedies, a preferred Elizabethan mode of drama) establish the legitimacy of a monarch both by staging his control over truth through the exercise of punishment and by displaying his ability to possess the territory of England by means of a miraculous victory over a stronger opponent. A year or two into the reign of James I, romantic comedies and chronicle histories were eclipsed by problem comedies and tragedies that threatened if they did not actually enact extravagant scenes of punishment on the body of an aristocratic woman. This, rather than the monarch's possession of the land, established his (always his) legitimacy.

But Hamlet's play fails in two respects to materialize as a spectacle of punishment which would establish Hamlet's power over Claudius. Because the play is only a play, first of all, and not an official ritual of state, its truth is marked as a supposition rather than a re-enactment of the truth. It is another instance of Shakespeare's giving Hamlet a mode of speech that cannot constitute political action because it automatically translates all action onto the purely symbolic plane of thought and art. Only here, as opposed to earlier moments in the play where Hamlet's speech renders him unable to act, it is not his use of Stoic discourse but of the Senecan mode of tragedy that turns the exercise of power into a purely symbolic gesture. Secondly, even as a symbolic gesture, the play fails to hit its mark. Hamlet has chosen to produce The Murder of Gonzago to display a political truth. The "play," he says, "is something like the murder of my father." Indeed, the play is a re-enactment of the fratricide in that it portrays the aristocratic body (one brother) turning against itself (another brother) to inflict a wound that will ultimately kill them both. But Hamlet's gloss on the play informs us, curiously enough, that he has chosen a play portraying the murder of an uncle by his nephew. Hamlet explains, "This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king" (III.ii.244), and then adds:

'A poisons him i' th' garden for his estate. His name's Gonzago, the story is extant, and written in very choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murtherer gets the love of Gonzago's wife.


To say that this play shows "how the murtherer gets the love of Gonzago's wife" is to say that The Murder of Gonzago does not depict regicide as a crime against a patrilineal system of descent. The same thing is further indicated by the fact that it is not first and second sons, or even the progeny of siblings, who contend for the throne, although this is initially the order of conflict that brought down old Hamlet and provides the framework of Shakespeare's play. Unlike Claudius, who murders his brother, Hamlet's Gonzago murders his uncle, and it is through possession of his uncle's wife that this usurper symbolically gains control of Gonzago's patrimony. That Hamlet represents the original fratricide as the murder of an uncle by a nephew has empowered many modern readers to regard the play within the play as psychological information—as representing, that is, Hamlet's wish to possess his mother and not as Hamlet's attempt to reveal the guilt of Claudius in the re-enactment of that crime as punishment. But given a cultural milieu in which any display of the aristocratic body would have been highly meaningful politically, I think it more likely that, by casting the murderer as nephew to the duke, Shakespeare deviated from his source and from the kinship relations dominating the play as a whole in order to represent the queen's body as an illegitimate source of political authority (Bullough 1973: 30, 172-6). It is highly doubtful that Shakespeare meant to say both things—psychological and political—at once, since they more or less cancel each other out. Hamlet cannot be desiring his mother (according to the modern Oedipal pattern) and still want to identify her as the site of political corruption and danger to the state.

This revision of Elizabethan thinking is more likely Shakespeare's attempt at updating Claudius's crime to address historical circumstances very different from those in which he staged the chronicle history plays. Having dramatized how power passes into the wrong hands through the body of a woman, however, Hamlet folds back into an Elizabethan mode of thinking and equates Hamlet's abortive attempt to enact the rites of punishment with Claudius's crime. Both assault the sovereign's body rather than establish the absolute power of the aristocratic body over that of its subject as both turn out to be self-inflicted wounds. The play concludes according to the Elizabethan logic which governs Titus Andronicus by heaping up the bodies of the royal family where there should have been a banquet scene. Thus this play materializes the truth that the murder of one member of the aristocracy by another is an assault on the entire body or, in other words, an act of suicide.

I am suggesting that the dilemma of the play arises from and turns upon the meaning and disposition of Gertrude's body. Where Lavinia provided the site for the various forces competing for Rome, Gertrude's body stages a conceptual shift in the representation of political disorder. Her body becomes the place where the iconic bonding of blood and territory breaks down into competing bases of political authority. Claudius's authority rests on his marriage to Gertrude. To Hamlet, on the other hand, authority depends on birth. The question is not a matter of which family embodies legitimate power over the land, but a matter of which claim—blood or the possession of territory—is more important in constituting legitimate authority.

The play within the play represents the Player Queen's body in terms that go still further in contradicting the politics of the body that governed many of the symbolic practices of an Elizabethan England. But The Murder of Gonzago ends before the logic of the representation can play itself out. Even so, the dumb show which precedes the performance—in combination with Hamlet's gloss and his uncle's angry reaction to it—bears intimations of another politics of the body. Hamlet's gloss on the play tells of a nephew poisoning his uncle, the king, and then wooing the queen. The audience has seen the king murdered "for his estate," Hamlet explains, only to add, "You shall see anon how the murtherer gets the love of Gonzago's wife" Love'sii.261-4). After this statement, Claudius rises and closes down the theater before the drama of illicit sexual relations can fairly get under way. Coming when it does, this interruption of the play within the play further distinguishes two acts of treason—the seizure of royal property and the possession of the queen's body—one from the other. It is more than a little interesting to note that the threat to the aristocratic body is a double threat which distinguishes two points where the aristocratic body could receive a mortal wound. It might be said that Shakespeare formally posed a political threat of this same magnitude simply by mutilating the female body, but now he feels somehow compelled to launch two separate assaults: one, to lose the land and, two, to destroy the sacred symbols of state. To reinforce the sense that these sources of power are separate and distinct, Shakespeare has the Player Queen in Hamlet's script describe her own sexual behavior as an assault on the political body separate and distinct from that which destroyed the king's natural body: "A second time I kill my husband dead, / When second husband kisses me in bed" (III.ii. 184-5).

I am certainly not suggesting that such splitting of the political body according to sex makes sexual desire any less political than it was in earlier drama. It only means—in Hamlet at least—that the politics of the body is susceptible to change. The Player Queen in Hamlet's revised script opens up a new category of crime. Her body is no longer the state. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say this the other way around, that the political body is no longer a woman. Accordingly, the Player Queen ceases to be a source of legitimate power. Like Gertrude, she crowns a counterfeit monarch who possesses the land on a basis other than blood. In the play within the play, then, the female body becomes a place where the body politic can be corrupted. And as the Player Queen corrupts rather than legitimates the blood, she corrupts the official iconography of state; she becomes an object of desire in her own right, a desire for the signs and symbols of power dissociated from the metaphysics of blood. This presumably lies behind Hamlet's promise that the bulk of the play will dramatize "how the murtherer gets the love of Gonzago's wife" (III.ii.363). Different conceptions of the female body thus interact in Hamlet to the external fascination of modern readers. It is particularly difficult for us to understand the political basis of this debate because doing so depends upon seeing the body politic as female. The second notion of the female body develops with the revision of the first under the pressure from Elizabeth's aging body and the subsequent formation of new political resistance to the patriarchal ideal.

This second notion of the body politic sees the female body—and by this I mean specifically that of the aristocratic female—as the symbol and point of access to legitimate authority, thus as the potential substitute for blood and basis for counterfeiting power. The historically earlier view sees the aristocratic female body and the political body as one and the same, a view that resists our attempts at privileging sexual differences over those based on blood. The second view of the body allows us to translate political relationships into sexual relationships as it cuts a clear difference between the body politic and that of the female. With the possibility that her body serves as the symbolic substitute for some original body, furthermore, comes the possibility of construing the aristocratic woman as an object of sexual desire rather than as the means to political power. But to regard Gertrude in the light of modern sexuality is to reverse the priorities of Jacobean thinking where sexual desire always has a political meaning and objective. We regularly perform this gesture of historical reversal when we read the political formations overlapping in Hamlet as events in an interpsychic melodrama where the two queens are no longer political figures but ciphers of Hamlet's relation to his mother. Instead, I am stressing the figurai discontinuity between Gertrude's body and that of the Player Queen.

The fate of Gertrude makes Hamlet an Elizabethan play. Upon the condition of her body depends the health of the state. Like Old Denmark before her, Gertrude dies from taking poison into her body, and the same poison strikes down Hamlet, Laertes, and Claudius as well. Her death thus initiates the heaping of bodies which characterizes the Elizabethan Seneca; the wounding of one of its members is the wounding of the entire political body. In this case, however, the infiltration of that body with poison puts an end to the Danish line. This is the fate, experienced by one, that all members share. By this means, and not by a blow, then, is how Shakespeare imagines a lethal assault on the body politic. But The Murder of Gonzago takes the logic of this figure one step further. Shakespeare uses poison to threaten the political body in a manner which appears to contradict the politics of dismemberment. Merely by inciting desire, the queen's sexuality becomes a form of corruption equivalent to but not the same as the poison which has been poured into the ear of the sleeping king. Thus Hamlet insists upon shifting the crime from the fact of regicide to the act of "incest," the term which he uses to describe the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude, his brother's wife.

The play within the play can be viewed as Hamlet's way of distinguishing the one crime from the other, a distinction which relocates the political body in the female. Such a shift can occur only if the queen does not embody patriarchal power, otherwise any misuse of her sexual body, however deliberate on her part, would constitute a direct assault on the whole concept of patriarchy. Hamlet's obsession with the misuse of the queen's sexuality, more than with his uncle's possession of the state, transforms the threat of dismemberment into one of pollution. We might say that, in redefining the nature of the threat against the body politic, Hamlet attempts to stage a Jacobean tragedy. But the political context of Hamlet's play—in other words, Shakespeare's play—proves more powerful than Hamlet's attempt to transform the political relationships that prevail outside his theater. It is to the Elizabethan dynamic of competition that he eventually succumbs as Shakespeare brings Hamlet's struggle on behalf of a later construction of patriarchy to an Elizabethan conclusion. Hamlet fails to transform the iconography of state. In the tragedies that follow Hamlet, however, the aristocratic female is regularly caught up in assaults on the principle of blood only to be tortured or murdered, thus testifying to the metaphysics of the monarch's body.


1 The anthropologist Emily Martin concludes after studying representations of the body in medical school textbooks, magazines, journals, and newspapers that everything from cell structure to reproduction bears features of the modern industrial state and, as such, shapes our most basic evaluations of ourselves and others. Cells are described as factories, the brain is a co-ordinating center for sending and receiving messages, the AIDS virus is represented as a factory producing anti-immune tanks. If anything, Martin's study (1987) tells us the simple truth that the body is always a product of a particular culture.

2 For discussions of the politics of the queen's display of her body, see Greenblatt (1980: 166-8), Goldberg (1983: 28-30), and Bergeron (1971: 12-32).

3 Despite the persistently low esteem in which critics hold Titus, there have been useful efforts to explain the aesthetics of violent display in the play (Bevington 1984: 29-32).

4 Of the mass body and its opposition to what 1 am calling the aristocratic body, Bakhtin writes that "it is outside of and contrary to all existing forms of the coercive, socioeconomic and political organization" (1968: 255). Contrary to the closed, rigidly hierarchized, and pure figure of the desirable woman which authorized the blood, the grotesque body is open, heterogeneous, undifferentiated, sensual, concrete, endlessly copulating, always hungry, and forever reproducing itself. I am also indebted to Peter Stallybrass and Allon White for their important discussion of the mass body.

5 I am indebted to Stephen J. Greenblatt for calling this material to my attention. He kindly allowed me to consult a manuscript "Fiction and Friction in Twelfth Night" (1988: 66-93) in which he discusses at length the Renaissance preoccupation with monstrous births.


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Bakhtin, M.M. (1968) Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Bergeron, David (1971) English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Bevington, David (1984) Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare's Language of Gesture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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Brooke, Nicholas (1968) Shakespeare's Early Tragedies. London: Methuen.

Bullough, Geoffrey (1973) Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 7. New York: Columbia University Press.

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Comaroff, Jean (1985) Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Douglas, Mary (1978) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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Foucault, Michel (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage.

Goldberg, Jonathan (1983) James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne and their Contemporaries. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. (1980) Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

:—. (1988) Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Martin, Emily (1987) The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon.

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Derek Cohen (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Monopolizing Violence: Henry V" in Shakespeare's Culture of Violence, St. Martin's Press, 1993, pp. 62-78.

[In the following essay, Cohen studies the use of violence in Henry V, arguing that in this play, violence is used politically by a monarch "in the service of order and success."]

In Henry V, . . . violence has become the handmaiden of absolutist monarchy; it is employed by the monarch in the service of order and success. The drama is thus a culmination of the fractious disordered violence in the previous plays of the tetralogy where it is a generalized implement in the quest for power. It is a truism of that world of civil disharmony that control of the means of violence is synonymous with the control of the monarchy. As the monarchs and would-be monarchs of the previous three dramas desire it, Henry V finally achieves total control of the physical and metaphysical means of suppression. As the previous histories did not, this play suppresses through ritual, comedy, satire, and silence the disturbance and evil of violence. Thus the violence threatened by the French armies and English villains like Pistol is never truly threatening; it is marginalized as essentially harmless comic violence or cowardly violence directed at children—indeed, the murder of the boys is additional evidence of French pusillanimity. Positive, socially valuable violence is entirely in the hands of King Henry. It is effectively unchallenged.

By his uncanny political instincts and his use of the instruments of power, Henry develops a tight grip on the political structure. He knows and sees everything, not with the use of magic—through he allows it to be thought that he has virtual shamanistic power—but as a result of his control of the physical might of his nation. Part of that control is maintained by his use of the individual subject's multifaceted fear of the multiple 'other', so that the English are led to assume that it is natural to hate and despise the French. He uses fear as an agency of even benign control; the lengthy panegyrics of the bishop and archbishop in the first scene are shown to derive in part from the fear that Henry will appropriate property and rights from the church. The ambiguity of the play will forever displace the attempts to demonize or deify this monarch. Yet his political success cannot be questioned and his methodical use of warfare as a means of cementing that success are the solid facts from which the drama springs. Warfare is both a global diversion, to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels, and it is a means of proving in the hardest proving ground of all that this king has earned and deserves his title. Warfare is thus a kind of continuation of the ritual of blood he embraced as the Prince of Wales who once took a sacred vow to kill Hotspur, his father's greatest enemy. The English blood shed in these battles against France is dear to this king, but it is the necessary cost of this singularly difficult monarchy.

Henry is an example of what the anthropologists call the 'Big Man', a ruler who operates within a system that is largely designed to sustain a system of individual leadership and to privilege and encourage the value of individualism as a real political means of uniting the commonwealth. The 'Big Man' structure entails the dominance of 'a leader who will gather his own network of allegiances powerfully around himself and create a centre of force for the rest of society'.1 Upon that centre rests the possibility of reassurance and peace. The variety of homages paid to Henry's capacities for leadership are evidences of the readiness of the political and cultural structures to support this system. As Gundersheimer and others have shown, the 'Big Man' must maintain his position of dominance by the use of power coupled with the use of patronage and by careful balancing of the two against each other. To be sure, Henry V is in control of the nation, but the maintenance of this control is possible because he manages skillfully to keep within his grasp the loyalty of his most powerful subjects by patronage. And, indeed, the most powerful body of his subjects—the ordinary soldiers—are kept in check by his masterly use of the power that gift-giving provides him with.

Another more abstract and metaphysical source of his control is revealed in the Scroop, Cambridge, and Grey incident where Henry instructs his subject audiences about the power of secret knowledge. He and the potent force of acquiescence within the drama imply that the knowledge has an almost magical source, but, in reality, it is obtained by the practice of spying, or as the wry and astute Bedford says, 'by interception which they dream not of (II,ii,7). As today, when one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, so with Henry, the use of spies strikes a complicated chord. The practice itself may strike us as a necessary evil but, even in that fact, makes complex the whole construction of this king and his power. That is to say, Henry's very sucess, his total possession of that thing that all around him seem to want—absolute control and power—makes him axiomatically suspect. The performance-trial demonstrates clearly that his enemies are helpless before him, for he knows what they are thinking. Henry places into the conspirators' hands evidence of their treachery and warns meaningfully, 'know, I know your worthiness' (II,ii,69). The repetition of 'know' is charged with ominous implication.

This carefully stage-managed scene is a condensed example of the basic unit of action of the drama as a whole and of a number of similarly structured episodes within it. Here, as elsewhere, violent reprisal is justified in advance and is predetermined as morally correct because it is carried out by the dominant authority. This is an intelligent if machiavellian use of power, but it works when the determining force—the monarch—is recognized by the majority of his powerful subjects to be that very force. But here, as in other such incidents in the play, the act of justification is contingent and dependent on a prior set of principles, actions, and information which are not seen and which depend upon the authority of the monarch's word and the concomitant credulity of his audiences. The violent act of execution is publicly proven to be just and merciful by the accompanying ritual of confession which has the added value of promising salvation for the criminals. The confessions are powerful endorsements of the monarch's power. Like the Gardener scene of Richard II, this scene hides its contradictions under formalism and ritual. Careful dramatic orchestration and stylized coincidence give the episode the hard glossy veneer of absolute moral and political rectitude. The traitors go beyond acknowledging their baseness and treachery, they welcome their own violent deaths and celebrate the justice of their executioner. Scroop acknowledges the hand of divine justice in Henry's triumph:

Our purposes God hath justly discovered   And 1 repent my fault more than my death;   Which I beseech your highness to forgive,   Although my body pay the price for it


The common belief in God—curiously and anxiously enforced by law—is a potent and useful tool of social cohesion for both authority and subject. The God of patriarchy who both punishes and forgives provides a means for traitors to return to society. And as they do so, as they reclaim God and their own salvation, they become entitled to recuperate the vocabulary that will officially reconnect them to the social formation which their crime has put beyond their reach. This belief in God by subjects and citizens endues the living monarch (or the dominant culture) with a power by which his own is given validity—it fortifies his actions with a sanction that even his enemies acknowledge—and it gives his enemies and victims a means to immortality. Scroop's words indicate his recognition of the connectedness of the king to God. He seeks forgiveness from the king as he welcomes physical death, hoping by his repentance to achieve at least spiritual healing which only the king's forgiveness can provide. The victim himself sanctions the violence that will kill him, and thus rounds off the performance/demonstration of the humanity and moral authority of the monarch. The victims in this scene are willing sacrificial victims of society.

Henry's performance here, with its highly stylized linguistic and histrionic mode, supplies the incident with the ingredients of a sanctioned ritual of social cleansing. The three noblemen who are more valuable to the text's pro-Henry ideology as victims because they are noblemen, offer themselves up upon the altar of patriarchal monarchy. Their conspiracy against the king is transformed into a more potent conspiracy with the king in demonstrating his publicly perceived flawlessness. The incidents of the play and the public professions and perceptions of Henry are all dramatic indications of his heroic invulnerability. The stylization of this scene is the work not of Henry, of course, but of his maker. Thus it is that Henry himself, however conscious, deliberate, or scheming he may strike us, is nevertheless himself subject to a larger force than himself, the rhyming poet who lends to the scene the substantial aura of a ritual. Thus, though the scene is a naked exercise of power, its and the whole play's notorious undecidability derive from the clash of action with style. In losing spontaneity, and acquiring the rhythmical pattern of a practiced ceremony, the text is enclosed in a ritualism whose purpose can be understood as a quasi-sacred vindication of the monarch and a temporary suspension of the opposing forces of subversion; it is another example of the travel between subversion and validation that so complicates the play, for seldom (not never) do the two impulses work simultaneously here as they do in the previous plays of the tetralogy. Instead the tendency is towards serial representation of the political alternatives embedded in the action—the unambiguous Chorus being the most palpable example.

In this incident conventional wisdom, reason, and morality harmonise to provide a motive for a sacrificial violence in behalf of social order. This confluence is a paradigm for the significant actions of the drama. A major point of significance of the present example is the passionate willingness of the victim-traitors to die acknowledging the justice of the hand that smites them down. Elsewhere in the play, however, matters are less cohesive or morally neat. And it is these cases that make the acts of legitimate violence and absolute control more ambiguous. Though the reader is exhorted by the chorus and such tidy and one-dimensional actions as the arrest of the traitors to recognize no such ambiguity, some actions have the effect of producing a moral uncertainty that precisely challenges the 'Official Version'2 of events. Tyranny is seen as just rule when the means of social and political oppression are tied to the social value of order: tyranny is seen as tyranny when the means of social and political oppression are seen as social and political oppression. Perception, that is, is ideological and partial and contingent on the way in which the perceiver apprehends his/her relation to the dominant power.

Henry V, as Ely and Canterbury delightedly remind themselves, is a master of persuasion:

Hear him but reason in divinity . . .   Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs . . .   List his discourse of war . . .   Turn him to any course of policy . . .   . . . when he speaks,   The air, a charter'd libertine, is still,   And the mute wonder lurketh in men's ears,   To steal his sweet and honey'd sentences.


The complexity of this passage as rhetoric in its own right is part of the difficulty of the play. The fact that the churchmen stand to gain by the war makes them suspect—arouses disbelief; how, on the other hand, do we account for the passion in their praises, their pleasure in Henry's rhetoric as rhetoric? Though it may be a passion that owes something to self-interest, it is represented as authentically felt, and thus warns us against a rather too simple vilification of the Church and the King. Ambiguity remains an uncomfortable fact inextricably embedded in the linguistic structure of the drama. The Churchmen are integrally connected by policy and necessity to the order the king embodies. As divinity, government, warfare, and policy can be made to sound sweetly reasonable, so violence itself can be made a part of the same structure of reason so long as its rationalization and justification fall within the limitations of the dominant rhetoric. For it is the dominant culture which tends to monopolize modes of rationality and thus to define and determine reason, to justify national policy and action. There is, furthermore, a single dangerous fact that lies at the heart of the play, a fact which the text seems to acknowledge but which only the interestingly marginal Williams evidently recognizes. That fact is the simple possibility of tyranny by a monarch who possesses so much power; that possibility is expressed through the various fears of some subjects: the fears of the churchmen, the fears of the traitors, the fears of ordinary soldiers all have in common a fear of the power of this king.

Most collectivities acknowledge the existence of and distinction between cohesive and ruptural (to use the Althusserian term) violence. Cohesive violence, as we have seen, tends to be that which serves the dominant culture, while ruptural violence subverts it. The criminalization of violent acts is, in this light, a political decision by the dominant authority. Crime itself, exemplified specifically as crime in this play is individualized in order that its political force be minimized; it is constructed by the dominant authority as dangerous to all elements of the social formation regardless of their relation to the ruling fraction. But, of course, it is that very ruling fraction which has most to gain from the general apprehension of crime as a threat to social stability: that is, unlawful violence threatens us all while lawful violence protects us all is a nearly universal social code (Bardolph steals a pyx, Henry executes him). What 'society' is said to regard as the distinction between the two kinds of violence is what the dominant element of society determines to be the distinction. That distinction within the play is entirely determined by King Henry in his deeds and words. As monarch he possesses the right to make the socially crucial distinction. Thus, when he adopts the language of violent threat outside Harfleur, for example, the threats themselves become sanitized because it is he who is making them. It is possible to justify Henry's use of these threats only because they are never realized. Yet the deferred reality behind them is precisely what scares the citizens. Thus, again, Henry stands squarely in the centre of ambiguity, having done a good thing by a bad means. The text will not permit a solution to this typical dilemma.

Many people have recognized in the doubts of Michael Williams one of the most probing points of subversion in the play. A man of no authority confronts a disguised king; speaking in the voice of the ordinary soldier he sabotages the rationalizations of Ely, Canterbury, and Henry. Their war is predicated upon a just cause casuistically developed. Williams doesn't care. To Henry's anxious irony, 'I could not die any where so contented as in the king's company, his cause being just and his quarrel honorable,' Williams offers the rejoinder, 'That's more than we know' (II, i, 128-30). The action is the king's attempt to bridge the distance between himself and his men. Coming in disguise amongst them, he raises on the one hand the possibility of his being like them, a man with fears and doubts. On the other hand, the disguise itself is his protection because it is temporary, because he can remove it at will and smash their subversion whenever he pleases. He is reminiscent in this power of the Duke of Measure for Measure whose use of disguise has occasioned so much moral doubt. That is, Henry's tyranny (real or potential) is nowhere so evident as when he hides it in a cloak, for in doing so he retains the power to entrap and surprise subversion by deception, being himself potent and subversive. The outcome of this episode—including Henry's evasion of Williams's hostile questioning—vividly and dramatically restores the distance between the man of authority and the man with none just as it ostensibly bridges it. Henry forgives Williams because he is able to deflect his potential subversion and render it ineffectual; he gives money to him in an exchange for his soldierly loyalty. With money it is possible to grease the machinery of violent conquest. The gesture of giving money to a subordinate is determined in a consistent, unchanging social complex of implication from which there can be no release within patriarchal political structures. The thousands of examples in literature of a rich man giving money to a poor or poorer man always reconfirm the evidence of their relative relations to institutional power and restate semiotically their interest in that power's longevity.

Anne Barton has pointed out that this gift of Henry's, 'unlike its archtypes in the ballads and in Elizabethan comical histories, seems strangely irrelevant. Consciously anachronistic, it provides not the ghost of an answer to the questions raised during this particular encounter between common man and king disguised'.3 Charity—of which this gesture is a clear form—is a deeply embedded practice within the culture that produced and inherited this play. Royal munificence, as shown by Coppella Kahn, is designed to serve both the emotional needs of the gift-giver and, in this play especially, his political designs.4

Henry is like the gift-givers and patrons discussed by Kahn in being the chief source of unreciprocated liberality. By this means he establishes his political and paternal superiority which is only further validated when Williams accepts the glove full of crowns from the king. The absence of spoken gratitude or thanks signify secret resentment and is emphasised when he proudly declines to participate in Fluellen's imitation of the king's patronage. In Williams's refusal of Fluellen's shilling resides a whole social history of rank- and class-based resentment which illuminates one of the more unpalatable givens of the play: that is, surely, a potential contradiction between the interests of the ruler and his subjects. Williams's surly rebuff to Fluellen is a symbolic gesture of repudiation of the same politics that force him to accept the king's glove of crowns. The offering by Henry is a gestural recuperation of the discrepancy between rich and poor, between powerful people and powerless people which his night adventure had temporarily broken down. But more, it fills a need that the patriarchal monarchical ideologies determine. It satisfies desire and want just as it restates their constant presence as a factor in the lives of such as Williams whose place in society predetermines financial need as a condition of his existence.

Charity is only another form of patronage. There is no real distinction between the act of giving charity and that of supplying patronage. In each case the giver receives—indeed the giver cannot help receiving, even when he does his good by stealth. For charity is one of the most visible and obvious means of maintaining the political system which supports the ideology that valorizes it. That is, chanty is obviously designed to maintain the structure that makes the practice necessary, for the act of charity purchases the obedience, loyalty, and deference of the persons who are made to depend on it. This is not to argue that no-one ever gives without the expectation of a return, but rather that the social and cultural structures of society make it impossible not to receive a return by the act of giving. This fact might explain the attractions of this aspect of our culture which represents charity as an absolute value. Patronage—especially that practiced by such people as James I and such characters as Timon of Athens—is a form of charity to the rich. It too secures loyalty, obedience, and love which can, in turn, be transformed, as Machiavelli shows, into effective instruments of violent suppression.

The commencement of Henry V with an elaborate defense of the use of violence by two clerics produces a characteristic language of oppression for this play. It is a language that glorifies violence by projecting it as a means of consecrating the monarchy. The use of the church here—whatever we wish to think of the individual churchmen—has a potent gestural and rhetorical force:

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead,   And with your puissant arm renew their feats!   You are their heir; you sit upon their throne;   The blood and courage that renowned them   Runs in your veins.

(I,ii,1 15-19)

There is purpose too in the regular appearances of the Chorus, whose immense control of the moral direction of the events is used to consolidate the heroic by representing violence as exciting and necessary—as anything, in short, but nasty and brutish. But Williams's skepticism has the effect of undermining precisely this tie between God, the church, and the king. Scroop's acknowledgement that Henry's is a godlike voice and authority, propounded and reinforced by Ely and Canterbury, is thrown into doubt by Williams's doubt. The honest soldier doing his job of killing other men would like to believe that it is a good job. He has no choice in the matter: 'if these men do die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection' (IV.i. 146-9). Henry's reply will not satisfy everyone: 'Every subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's soul is his own' (182-4). Norman Rabkin points out that the king's answer evades the issue: 'the suffering he is capable of inflicting, the necessity of being sure that the burden is imposed for a worthy cause.'5

The play keeps returning to this theme of the great gap that lies between the king and his subjects, from the stalwart Fluellen to the renegade Bardolph. The convenient image of the great chain of being aptly describes the means of monarchical patriarchal authority that is Henry's base of power. For the dominant authority to stress that its occupation is part of the larger scheme of things, that it has the sanction of the more mysterious authority of God, is to use effectively the considerable instruments of power which it commands. The sense that the head that wears the crown carries the greater burden of political responsibility, that by extension it is a wiser head, that it is a closer head to God's, suffuses the whole of Henry's discourse of justification. It is equally true, however, that this king takes upon himself the greater burdens, and places before himself the greater obstacles. His father's famous words, 'Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown', are validated by this king, searching for peace and justification. He finds these through bloody victory. He proves himself in the smithy of battle, a ritualized and time-honored means of solidifying patriarchal authority.

The great 'Once more unto the breach' speech is one of the superlative instances of the capacity of power to absorb and unite the social collectivity into itself. Though the speech is a flagrant glorification of violence and carnage, its disguise is the tantalizing offer to every ordinary soldier of his own private share in the king's glory. Through warfare alone does the ordinary Englishman of this world have the possibility of greatness in a life otherwise hungry and tough; for though the speech is addressed to the king's 'dear friends', in its details it addresses one soldier or, rather, each soldier individually. It appeals to the dominant ethic of individual achievement as it separates the single soldier from the mass. Reading the speech it is easy to forget that soldiers are united far more by a common fear of a hostile army than by the grandiloquent words of their leader. This speech cannot be read by many people separately from the memory of Lawrence Olivier's declamation of it in the film. It is about the glory to be purchased from combat, about the heroism available to all who hear it and in which all who hear it have been schooled, about the evanescent possibility of greatness within the grasp of every individual present; but above all it is about the transformation of the individual capacity for violence into a collective force of virile and heroic destruction. It is, further, about the common bond of war formed by men in danger and it supplies, thereby, one of the oldest justifications of the patriarchy.

This speech, a central moment in the play, is as rich in what it implies as in what it says. The best women of this war are the mothers of these English men who, it is suggested, bred these men so that they could be present at this moment in this place. Henry appeals to 'his men' in this speech, reconstituting them in senses which flatter his hearers but have nothing to do with their lives outside the battlefield: they are his 'dear friends', they are absorbed into the king's personal orbit, hearing the war with 'our ears'; they are the 'noblest English'. Indeed, the king appeals to their masculinity with a specifically phallologic appeal to his soldiers which urges them to let their eyes 'pry through the portage of the head / Like the brass cannon' (III,i,10-11). The play which appears to flourish such rhetoric flamboyantly and exultantly, also produces an odd contradiction to that of Henry's English army so apparently united in purpose and determination. The very next scene, a scene of the battle itself with alarums and 'Soldiers with scaling ladders ' [stage directions], far from demonstrating the mighty resolves of the speech, instead shows confusion of purpose, disarray, mixture of motive, inversion of rank, uncertainty of direction. This scene shows the human side of the fighting machine so carefully crafted by the king's imagery. It is in such dramatic demonstrations as this, the scene of the battle itself, that the king's task is the hardest. Henry has time and again to pick up the dropped threads of patriarchal monarchy and put them into the 'right' order.

The speech, which flaunts Henry's English Christian militarism, resonates in that following scene of its realization. As Henry lovingly constructed the image of his men fighting a glorious battle for the sake of God, St. George, England, her king, and their own mothers, so the actuality of that performance is represented as a violent parody of the heroic representations in the king's speech. The effect of this parody is to expose and subvert the optimism of the heroic image that the play has so carefully developed. Bardolph, Nym, Pistol and the Boy respond to the stirring speech by expressing the 'cowardly' desire to be back in England—as Bates later wishes himself up to the neck in the Thames. The prosaic realism of the scene radically challenges the static and iconic effect of Henry's exhortation, where the strategies of presentation conspire to make the reader and audience forget the complex history of Henry/Hal's accession and all its entangled personal and political conflicts. Thus the scene that follows Henry's exhortation refutes the very image it produces. James R. Siemon describes the process as a clash of iconic and iconoclastic impulses: 'the dramatic icon of militant English Christianity is seriously challenged by the work of art in which it is set.'6

The rousing cry, 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' (III,i,34) is followed immediately by alarums and chambers going off and Bardolph faking heroic rage ('he is white-liver'd and red-faced' III,ii,32) with his copycat travesty of Henry's call to arms—'On, on, on, on! to the breach, to the breach!' (III,ii,1). The dramatic effect is a kind of satire on the illusion of total control of his men which Henry's speech created. Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and the Boy are as poor representatives of the yeoman of England the play could have provided. Bardolph's words are the last he is to speak before he is executed.

The speech to the citizens of Harfleur is a curious, no doubt tactical, inversion of the speech before the battle. The earlier speech, as I have said, attempts to create an illusion of an army of English soldiers united in purpose with their king. Henry's images suggest a taut, disciplined fighting force awaiting their leader's command. To the citizens Henry describes these same valiant soldiers as a gang of ruffians and rapists incapable of being controlled. Each speech is an acknowledgement of the omnipotence of violence in the play. Violence itself, rather than the king's own morality, determines the means of its use. If violence is the key to success, then it is to violence that the king tacitly pays homage in each address. The inherent moral excellence of his troops developed in the first speech gives way to an image of these same troops as possessing a propensity for vicious excesses in the second. Success alone matters, and success can be accomplished only through the exercise of a violence whose legitimacy is ensured by the king who harnesses it. Henry acknowledges and uses the ideas of good and bad violence in the two speeches; he exploits the fact that they precisely contradict each other. To him, in pursuit of victory, there is but one justification and one moral principle; that is the principle of success as sufficient reason in and of itself. To the citizens of Harfleur violence is annihilation and death. The soldier who fights for this king is an extravagant and demonic force of destructive energy, 'With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass / Your fresh fair virgins and your flowering infants' (III,iii,12-13). Henry's 'Once more unto the breach' exhortation is a brilliant representation of violent action as glorious action. The speech does not overtly supply a moral validation of the act of war, but rather seeks that justification only in its last line. The acts of killing which the king calls for are contingent for their rightness on the circumstance of the socially determined structure of the leadership of this king and the subservience of his soldiers. His exhortation, that is, derives its authority from the basic conditions of kingship which in this play, Anne Barton reminds us, derive from 'a complicated, inherently tragic Tudor doctrine of the king's two bodies'.7 The violence with which he threatens the citizens of Harfleur, on the other hand, he clearly distinguishes from the violence of his rallying cry to his men.

The two speeches employ the idea of the woman in contrasting ideological forms which betray a troubling contradiction within the patriarchal structure of the play, and which the representations of Katherine ultimately and definitively validate. Within the framework of violent conquest to which all parts of the play—political and personal—are integrally connected, the mostly unseen English and French women are constituted again and again as essentially passive agents of male aggression. On the one hand they are the mothers who gave birth to the English soldiers who then become the repositories of national honour. On the other they are the French virgins who provide the evidence of English dishonour and French defeat by being raped by English soldiers. Henry's pornographic representations of 'pure maidens [falling] into the hand / Of hot and forcing violation' (20-1) and of'shrill-shrieking daughters' (35) being violated by enraged (!) soldiers bring into conjunction the complementary ideas of sexuality and violence—'licentious wickedness' (22). His method of persuasion in the speech to the citizens of Harfleur is strongly reminiscent of Iago's exhortation to Brabantio to look to his daughter because she and the Moor are making the two-backed beast; Othello is 'tupping' Desdemona, a description which suggests sex as a grotesque act of deformation repeatedly described in terms of violent male aggression. Henry's appalling threat includes that cliché of the iconography of conquest, the innocent virgin being raped by an alien conqueror. Such menaces are designed to warn the enemy that defeat is completed by humiliation and degradation. This form of violence in the play—the violence of conquest and rape—brings closer the relationship of sexuality and power that is hinted at or explicit in the language of the text.

The point is made again and again in the farce scenes of the play where violent language is fortified by sexual imagery. Where lovemaking is represented as a form of aggression not easily distinguishable from rape. In these plays about political power, sexuality is repeatedly represented as another manifestation of the relation of authority to its subjects. Sex is something men do to women, and the accompanying rituals—like wooing—are represented, particularly in this play's wooing scene, as trite political conventions. Through wooing, women are given the illusion of their own power to participate in the ritual. But the fact is otherwise, as is clearly shown when hearty Harry throws himself at Kate's feet. No scene better demonstrates the powerlessness of the female than this one and demonstrates, simultaneously, the silent conspiracy to pretend that she is not powerless. But, as is the case with the poor and the merely ordinary men of the play, the woman's function is to demonstrate the unicentricity of the king's power. Henry's ostensible embarrassment, awkwardness, and stagey bluffness are part of the convention by which the illusion of female power is sustained. It is all of piece with the performance of wooing which is part of the larger structure of representation of the recuperated control of authority into the immediate sphere of the monarch.

Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield make the point that Henry V's obsessive preoccupation is insurrection: 'The King is faced with actual or threatened insurrection from almost every quarter: the Church, "treacherous" fractions within the ruling class, slanderous subjects, and soldiers who undermine the war effort.'8 Because women are not a class, but rather one of the accoutrements of class, they are not part of the general pattern of potential subversion. The wooing scene shows Henry at his most confident, although throughout he persistently asserts his diffidence. Katherine's role, however, is predetermined, the result a foregone conclusion adumbrated by the scenes in which she learns English to the accompaniment of fairly amusing, prurient giggling as she wonders about this interesting English king. In short, the text makes her unambiguously frivolous—she doesn't have a chance to be taken seriously, and her plight as a woman about to be bartered in marriage and used for mating is trivialized. Thus, the declarations of his plain-spokenness and unsophistication are—like all his voices in the play—strategy against subversion. The contradictions between the assertions of this scene are palpably at odds with the canny political manoeuverings of such earlier episodes as, for example, the betrayal scene. Dover Wilson's apologia for Henry rests on the moral asseveration that the king, wooing, was fulfilling ultimately all of the promise of Hal. His courtship reveals him as the man he insists he is—the blunt 'soldier genuinely in love, but to whom integrity of mind and plain dealing are the very pith of life. . . . May we not even guess it to be the kind of wooing Shakespeare himself admired?'9 But the courtship can equally be seen as an inevitable part of the whole project of the containment of insurrection. Through his marriage to Katherine, the greatest potential source of violent overthrow comes under Henry's own sway. The French King offers his daughter to Henry as a token of the agreement between the two monarchs, as evidence of Henry's ultimate control of the might of both Christian countries:

Take her, fair son; and from her blood raise   up   Issue to me; that the contending kingdoms   Of France and England, whose very shores   look pale   With envy of each other's happiness,   May cease their hatred, and this dear   conjunction   Plant neighbourhood and Christian-like accord   In their sweet bosoms, that never war advance   His bleeding sword 'twixt England and fair   France.


The match of Henry and Katherine is dramatically designed to look like a 'dear conjunction' in order to sustain the image of Henry's overwhelming charisma. This scene shows a nation of fighting French transformed into the tame dinner guests of their new monarch, almost as though they had been eagerly waiting to be defeated so that they could subject themselves to him.

Of all the instruments of national cohesion which Henry V employs, none is so powerful and constant as the instrument of Christianity. From the first scene, with the two powerful churchmen offering a plethora of ostensibly valid Christian reasons for supporting the king in his pursuit of national unification by war, Christianity as a tool of authority looms largest. Its signifiers are everywhere—they are embedded in the language through direct reference, in the gestures, and in the iconic representations of the play. A legion of readers has noted the fraudulence of the Archbishop and the Bishop's reasoning. Ralph Berry has described the dialogue of churchmen as a 'parcel of non-sequiturs' and noted that it is 'rhetoric designed to embellish a predetermined policy, and identifiable as fustian'.10 The power of their argument lies in their apparent proprietorship of the ideology that lends authority to what they say. Thus, the cooperation of the church matters to Henry as he pursues his intention of expanding the empire he rules. His cleverness is his demonstration to the Church that it needs him to sustain its own sway.

The language of religion is almost all England's and Henry's. Of the fifty-nine uses of 'God' in the play, only three are by Frenchmen. Of the seven uses of 'Christ', 'Christian', and 'Christian-like', none are by Frenchmen. God is made to seem, by virtue of this monopolised reiteration, to belong to the English; the responsibility for the violence and aggression of the war is displaced onto the implicitly Godless French subjects of attack. He sanctions violence through his agencies of authority on earth. On the one—the primary—level of this play, Henry is the Christian king par excellence. In part this representation is achieved through the constant implication that the Christianity of the French is pallid. In Henry himself is concentrated the sacramental function. His appropriation of religious authority is manifested in the appropriation of the priestly role. In France we see him invoking God, blessing, confessing and absolving his men. His authority increases with his usurpation of the functions of the churchmen.

The Chorus, another powerful voice of authority, is, paradoxically, evidence of anxiety. His function is to diminish contradiction, to enable illusion and, supremely, to make palatable the violent means by which the hero wins his empire. He is a guide through the tangle of potential doubt which the actions of Henry produce. He goads, tempts, taunts, and entices the audience to see beyond what it can see, taking them behind the scenes to the vaster area, the bigger picture. In doing so he supplies information which cannot be verified except through himself, leaving the audience entirely dependent on his word for what passes before it. Thus, as the Chorus possesses the unassailable, unchallengeable, and unchallenged authority to make an audience see what is not there, so he appropriates the moral authority of mentor. Established, that is, as a kind of tour guide to the imagination, he becomes, by a logical extension of that function, an interpreter as well. His crying up of 'Harry' is well known. He is, as Berry puts it, 'the Official Version of the events culminating in Agincourt'.11 The discrepancy between his version of events and the drama itself is the evidence of the play's continuous anxiety. A deep tension binds the two narratives—those of Chorus and play—as each refracts the other. One of the functions of the Chorus, for example, is to play down the caricature of the French that the dramatic narrative supplies. In the Chorus's version of the scene before the battle of Agincourt, the foregone conclusion of an English victory against its effete enemy is far less determined than the dramatic narrative alone proposes. It is true that the English are 'low-rated' (IV, Chorus, 19) and the French 'confident and over-lusty' (18), but the sense of a real battle and real risk suffuse the Chorus's description of a 'dreadful' preparation: while the representations of the dramatic narrative makes the French a pack of fools, the Chorus corrects that impression in order to lend value to the English victory.

The glory of the victory issues from the fact that the reins of violence are held by a king whose hold precisely indicates a complex of Christian rectitude, social order, and a vertical structure of power relationships. The other side of this coin—immorality, social deformation, and an inverted power structure where violence is under the control of the poor and the ordinary—is projected comically through the megalomaniacal Pistol as 'wrong' or insane. Conquest and control, domestic and external, are the products of an ideological system which valorizes hierarchical forms of government through a host of well established formulae supported and sustained for centuries. The society is shot through with varieties of violence whose practices have evolved through the social tremors of conflict, resistance, and domination. A pervasive argument of this play is that the instruments of violence have fallen, through struggle, into the 'right' hands. That 'rightness', it has been argued, owes more to the ideology of success than to that of absolute moral truth. The tetralogy of plays to which Henry V belongs attempts, on one level, to demonstrate the workings of an historical process which results inevitably, even naturally, in the monarchy of Henry V. What the plays have not suppressed is the persistent series of contradictions which subvert the very idea of that process.


1 Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols (London, 1973), p. 89. quoted by Werner L. Gundersheimer, 'Patronage in the Renaissance: An Exploratory Approach', Patronage in the Renaissance, edited by Guy Fitch Lytle and Stephen Orgel (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 13.

2 Ralph Berry, The Shakespearean Metaphor (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 49.

3 Anne Barton, 'The King Disguised: The Two Bodies of Henry V.' Harold Bloom, editor, William Shakespeare's Henry V (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988), p. 18.

4 Coppella Kahn, "'Magic of bounty": Timon of Athens, Jacobean Patronage, and Maternal Power', Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1987), p. 43.

5 Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, p. 51.

6 James R. Siemon, 'The "Image Bound": Icon and Iconoclasm in Henry V', Bloom ed., p. 83.

7 Barton, p. 16.

8 Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, 'History and Ideology: The Instance of Henry V.' Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 216.

9King Henry V, ed. John Dover Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1864), p. xliii.

10 Berry, The Shakespearean Metaphor p. 55.

11 Berry, p. 49.

Domestic Violence

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 36116

Sara Munson Deats (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "From Pedestal to Ditch: Violence Against Women in Shakespeare's Othello," in The Aching Hearth: Family Violence in Life and Literature, edited by Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker, Plenum Press, 1991, pp. 79-93.

[In the following essay, Deats argues that the play Othello legitimizes violence and the "negative stereotyping of women, " both of which "underlie the phenomenon of wife battering. "]

Today, most civilized persons would label wife battering an unspeakable crime, a crime that supposedly does not occur in educated middle-class or upperclass families. Yet until the nineteenth century, wife beating was authorized, even advocated by society, and even today, according to psychologist Terry Davidson, 50% of contemporary marriages are marred by some form of wife beating. A Harris poll taken in the 1970s concluded that physical violence against spouses occurs with equal frequency in all income groups, and this violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated against women (1978, 3, 6).

Central to the problem of wife battering is the legitimation of violence—against women, against children, against the elderly, against animals, indeed against all defenseless groups—as an acceptable method for solving problems. Many studies of this issue conclude that as long as violence continues to be authorized in our society, the helpless and vulnerable will continue to be victimized. Psychologist Maria Roy warns:

In a violent society, all members are capable of violence against one another; men can injure women and children; women can harm children. In a society where violence is condoned and victims are blamed, accused of provocation, all members tolerating the violence are potential perpetrators. (1977, Preface xii)

The deleterious attitudes toward women inscribed in patriarchal ideology from prehistory to the present further contribute to the continued victimization of wives by their husbands. These often contradictory myths coalesced in the Middle Ages to create a paradoxical image of women. On one hand, both women and children came to be viewed as men's property—as daughters, women were often bartered for financial or diplomatic advantage; as brides, women were frequently married for economic or dynastic gain; as wives, women were generally objectified as the emblems of a husband's honor. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss postulates that the exchange of wives initiated civilization as we know it (1969, 493-496), and historian Lawrence Stone reminds us that husband and wife were traditionally considered one person and that person was the husband (1977, 136). The very language of the marriage ceremony, "1 pronounce you man and wife," reveals that whereas the husband maintains his individual masculine identity in matrimony, the wife becomes an extension of her spouse, defined only in relation to her husband (Furman 1985, 64-65). Thus, stripped of her individual identity, the wife is dehumanized into mere property, to be nurtured and protected, or despoiled and destroyed, as the owner sees fit.

Another invidious assumption inscribed in patriarchal ideology divides human personality into two contrary types: feminine and masculine. This scheme depicts women as passionate rather than rational, pliant rather than resolute, passive rather than active, helpless rather than competent; in short, as not fully mature, responsible individuals. As psychologist Phyllis Chesler observes, the expectations for normal behavior in females in our society are those of a child or a neurotic; if a man acted like a women is expected to act, he would be adjudged to be sick or disturbed (1972, 66). It follows, therefore, that these irrational, childish, irresponsible creatures must be guided by their more rational, mature, responsible male mates and that they will benefit from rigorous psychological or even corporal chastisement. Thus, this second assumption, like the first, legitimizes the husband's natural ascendancy over the wife, implicitly authorizing violence as a means of maintaining control over a mate perceived to be recalcitrant or rebellious. R. Emerson and Russell Dobash see this attitude as pervasive in our society:

Men are socialized into aggression, taught directly or indirectly that it is an appropriate means of problem-solving and of demonstrating authority. . . . This willingness to use force is coupled with a set of beliefs and standards regarding the appropriate hierarchical relationship between men and women in the family and the rightful authority of husbands over wives. Thus, all men see themselves as controllers of women, and because they are socialized into the use of violence they are potential aggressors against their wives. (1979, 22)

A third, equally pernicious assumption is the division of the female sex into two binary opposites. On one hand, woman is revered as a superior, supernal being, represented in sacred lore by the Virgin Mary, in the secular verse of the medieval and Renaissance periods as the "divine" courtly lady, and in later Victorian literature as the "angel-in-the-house." There is little evidence, however, that this reverence was ever more than a literary exercise. Failing to achieve this elevated status, a woman becomes the temptress or the shrew, the first abominated by the patristic tradition, the second, brutally punished in the medieval period and ridiculed in the literature from the Middle Ages to the present. Gender mythology thereby denies women a normal fallible humanity, dividing the feminine sex into either Marys or Eves, Madonnas or whores. And, of course, as any victim of our vestigial twentieth-century chivalry will probably agree, balancing precariously on a pedestal is almost as uncomfortable as being shoved into the ditch. But not quite.

Everything that I have stated seems particularly applicable to Shakespeare's lacerating study of racism and sexism, Othello. I have chosen to discuss Othello because, in my interpretation, this play epitomizes the legitimation of violence and the negative stereotyping of women that I believe underlie the phenomenon of wife battering.

The world of the play certainly depicts a society that authorizes violence as a solution to problems, particularly those involving male honor and male shame. As historian Lawrence Stone explained in a paper presented at the annual De Bartolo Conference at the University of South Florida in March 1989, female honor has traditionally been equated with chastity and female shame with unchastity, whereas male honor has been equated with virility, male shame with cuckoldry. Psychologist Maria Roy suggests that "men, women, and children learn that physical aggression can be a very useful tool, and that given the right set of circumstances, everyone can be violent" (1977, xii). Othello lives in just such a turbulent society, and having been a soldier since the age of seven has been singularly schooled in a military code that condones force. The correct set of circumstances arise, and violence inevitably erupts.

Furthermore, the varying perspectives of Desdemona presented in the play offer a compendium of traditional deleterious feminine stereotypes. For Desdemona, whether adored or reviled, honored or battered, remains the play's cynosure, and like the colored glass in a kaleidoscope, her image changes with the shift in perspective from one male observer to another.'

Her conventional father Brabantio myopically sees her as the Elizabethan ideal, "a maiden never bold; / Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion / Blush'd at herself (1.3.96-98).2 He also considers her his property, his "jewel" to merchandise as he sees fit (1.2.198), When he judges his jewel flawed he casts it away, although the loss breaks his heart and leads to his death.

Cassio, Othello's lieutenant, is an ardent advocate of the Madonna-whore dichotomy, as a comparison of his scornful treatment of the prostitute Bianca with his homage to the lady Desdemona clearly reveals. Cassio thus idealizes his General's wife as the incomparable courtly lady, through his poetic idiom transforming the "maiden never bold" into the "divine Desdemona," who "paragons description and wild fame" (2.1.62-64).

While Cassio exalts Desdemona's spirituality, lago, Othello's ensign, gloats upon her carnality, depicting her not as a divine madonna but as a lascivious, "super-subtle Venetian" and potential whore. Yet Iago, the prototypic male chauvinist, degrades not only Desdemona, but the entire female sex. He falsely suspects his own wife Emilia of unfaithfulness, defaming her as both a strumpet and a shrew, and treats the courtesan Bianca with undisguised contempt. In his ostensibly jocular exchange with Desdemona in Act 2, he concludes that even a paragon of womanhood serves no better function than to "suckle fools and chronicle small beer" (2.1.159). An advocate of the "barefoot and pregnant" school, Iago plays no favorites and demeans all women to the lowest common denominator—for him they are all weak, lustful creatures, at best worthy to bear children and keep petty household accounts, at worst, cunning whores. Yet, as Carol Neely observes, there are cracks in Iago's cynicism, and the play subtly reveals these lacunae in Iago's dialogue (1980, 218). Cassio, he admits, "hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly" (5.1.18-20); Othello, he acknowledges, "is of a constant, loving, noble nature" (2.1.287-88); even Desdemona, he concedes, is virtuous and good (2.3.354-55). Idealistic courtiers like Cassio, noble blacks like Othello, and virtuous ladies like Desdemona challenge Iago's cynicism, racism, and sexism, and in order to maintain his assurance of white, male superiority, he must destroy them.

Othello's perception of Desdemona is far more complex than that of Brabantio, Cassio, or Iago. On one hand, Othello emulates Cassio's worship of the heavenly Desdemona, idealizing her into a "disembodied Petrarchan divinity" (Calderwood, 1987). Typically, however, when convinced by Iago that his Madonna is tainted, Othello swerves to the opposite pole of the spectrum, echoing Iago's idiom and ideas and reducing his beloved to a whore. Othello's dialogue is infused with the ambivalence between adoration and vilification characteristic of the Madonna-whore perspective. Moreover, Othello affirms other traditional patriarchal stereotypes. In his eyes, Desdemona remains his property. Inviting her to the nuptial bed, he employs the lexicon of commerce, not of love:

Come, my dear love,   The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue;   The profit's yet to come 'tween me and you.


Later he laments in the language of the patriarchy:

O curse of marriage,   That we can call these delicate creatures ours,   And not their appetites!


Since Desdemona is his possession, Othello views her presumed unfaithfulness not only as a loss of love but also as a loss of male honor. Furthermore, Othello unquestioningly affirms his prerogative to chastise his wife and never questions that if Desdemona is unchaste, he has the right to kill her. He feels guilt only after discovering that she has committed no conjugal transgression. Lastly, Othello sees Desdemona not as a unique individual but as a reflection of himself—his "fair warrior," an image that Desdemona enthusiastically endorses, terming herself an "unhandsome" warrior (3.4.152) when she fears that she has failed to live up to her husband's marital ideal. As Carol McGinnis Kay expresses it:

The basis for their love, then, is the grand romantic picture of Othello that they both admire and pity, the image of Othello that Desdemona reflects to him. He does not have a reciprocal concept of her as a human being. . . . Instead he projects onto Desdemona the image of himself he wants to see reflected there. (1983, 265)

I am here reminded of Virginia Woolf s famous observation that "women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (1929, 35). For Othello, therefore, Desdemona's supposed perfidy becomes not only a loss of public honor, but a loss of his magnified identity. With his "fair warrior" a presumed deserter, Othello's martial occupation is lost (3.3.355-362).

Thus, all of the male characters I have discussed project onto Desdemona their individual fantasies concerning the opposite sex. She becomes their fetish or their scapegoat, and their perceptions of her tell us more about their own needs and fears than about Desdemona herself (Garner 1976).

Othello exemplifies not only society's negative myths about women, but also patterns of spouse abuse remarkably similar to those appearing in numerous statistical profiles of conjugal crime. Psychologist Terry Davidson identifies three familiar clinical profiles that I find graphically depicted in Shakespeare's play.

First there is the intractable wife abuser. Davidson quotes the following description of this type offered by Hal Steiger, a Minneapolis Gestalt therapist working on the problem of wife abuse: "The intractable type doesn't give a damn. Violence is part of his lifestyle, his repertoire of usual behavior." (1978, 23) According to Steiger, it makes good sense criminally to prosecute this universally abusive type (1978, 23).

Iago, I submit, embodies this type. The ensign functions as the ubiquitous source of disorder in Othello and the play is bracketed by the brawls that he incites: the abortive riot in Venice opens the drama, the midnight attacks on Cassio and Roderigo conclude it. In between, Iago foments the injurious fray between Cassio and Montano and, before the play is over, he effects not only the wounding of both Cassio and Montano but the death of four other persons, including two wives. Furthermore, although Iago is never shown physically abusing his wife Emilia before he murders her at the dénouement, he indulges in consistent psychological abuse, continually insulting and demeaning her. We learn that he has previously falsely accused her of unfaithfulness and, during the play, he publicly derides her as a shrew, while privately slighting her as a strumpet (3.3.308). Indeed, lago cannot speak of women without a jeer. When Cassio makes bold to salute Emilia with a kiss, Iago baits his wife:

Sir, would she give you so much of her lips   As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,   You would have enough.


He later defames women generally:

. . . you are pictures out of doors   Bells in your parlors, wildcats in your   kitchens,   Saints in your injuries, devils being offended,   Players in your huswifery, and huswives in   your beds.


Emilia's list to Desdemona in the "willow-scene" of the abuses chronically suffered by wives at the hands of tyrannical husbands may give the audience further insight into her life as Iago's spouse (4.3.89-106).

Far more interesting to our study is the second clinical type, the treatable abuser. Steiger characterizes this type as follows:

The treatable wifebeater is heavily invested in control of all his emotional life—sadness, joy, anger. He must stay in charge. Much energy is invested in not letting go. When he does pop finally, it's with the socially approved "masculine" way of aggressive violence, versus the "feminine" way of being hysterical or falling apart. (Davidson 1978, 23-24)

Davidson further comments that the person conforming to this profile often displays the following additional characteristics:

1. He is frequently respected and successful.

2. He is often rigid and uncompromising, convinced that his wife deserves punishment for violating his moral standards.

3. He is a victim of low self-esteem.

4. He is unable to express his feelings openly.

5. He lacks self-awareness.

6. He has doubts about his masculinity and/or sexuality. (1978, 26-37)

Psychologist Lenore Walker adds: "Batterers tend to be less educated than their wives, from a lower socioeconomic class, and from a different ethnic, religious, or racial group" (1984, 11). Lastly, Roy describes the explosion into violence:

Violence is the end product of pent-up frustration, denial of perceived legitimate rights over a period of time, and the constant erosion of self-esteem. It is an eruption similar to the explosive outpouring of volcanic lava following a period of dormancy.

(1982, 3)

The above profile, I submit, offers a remarkably accurate portrait of Othello and of his behavior throughout the play. First, Othello is certainly successful and respected; he is the "valiant," "the noble Moor." Yet despite the esteem awarded him by the Duke and senators of Venice and the Governor and citizens of Cyprus—and despite also his boast that he fetches his being from men of "royal siege" (1.2.21-22)—almost everyone in the play also considers him of lower status than the patrician Desdemona. Like the typical abusive husband, therefore, Othello comes from a different racial group and social status than his wife. Moreover, Othello, like the clinical type I have just delineated, is dedicated to rigid self-control. Unlike his open and candid wife, who freely accepts her sexuality, stressing that she "did love the Moor to live with him" (1.3.251), Othello refuses to acknowledge his strong sexual attraction to Desdemona, insisting that he wishes to have his wife with him not to please his appetite, since the passions of youth are now in him "defunct," but only "to be free and bounteous to her mind" (2.264-268). He further protests his indifference to the "lightwing'd toys / Of feather'd Cupid" (2.1.271-277). Others share Othello's view of himself as a man of iron discipline, the man, according to Lodovico, "whom passion could not shake" (4.1.267). This inability to acknowledge and openly accept his sensuality and passion—this egregious lack of self-awareness (another salient characteristic of the wife abuser)—makes Othello more vulnerable when these long-suppressed emotions do erupt. Furthermore, rigid and uncompromising, like the typical abusive partner, Othello believes that his wife deserves the punishment that he inflicts upon her, rationalizing his murder into a sacrifice, performed to prevent the betrayal of more men (5.2.6, 68). Lastly, Othello's lack of self-esteem, revealed in his need for reflecting mirrors and for audiences, has been explored by a number of perceptive critics.3 These feelings of inferiority concerning his race, age, and background, are further revealed in a series of Freudian slips, such as the poignant lines, "For she had eyes, and chose me" (3.3.195), or "Haply, for I am black / And have not those soft parts of conversation / That chamberers have, or for I am declin'd / Into the vale of years" (3.3.269-272). Thus, in the face of the enormous respect he evokes from almost everyone in the play, Othello doubts his own value and sexual attractiveness as well as the integrity of Desdemona. In short, he accepts the racism and sexism of his society, and this destroys him.

Desdemona is the classic battered wife. Davidson limns this profile as follows: "The victims may exemplify society's old image of ideal womanhood—submissive, religious, nonassertive, accepting of whatever the husband's life brings" (1978, 51). Moreover, although her background might indicate a measure of independence, the battered wife frequently looks up to the male as superior and looks down on herself as inferior (1978, 53). Davidson further points out that for many of these wives, the admired husband has become their closest relative and best friend, the center of their world. When this loved one is transformed from a Dr. Jekyll into a Mr. Hyde, from a beloved husband into a wife beater, the battered wife is catapulted into a state of ambivalence, becoming a kind of split personality, not knowing where to turn for help (1978, 8). The response of the battered wife tends to be withdrawal, silence, and denial (particularly in the case of the middle-class or upper-class abused wife). Retaliating would be contrary to this woman's conditioning and breeding; exposing her husband's behavior would be equally unthinkable (1978, 50). Many women in this situation seem determined to take the guilt upon themselves, assuming that they have somehow provoked their husbands and are thus responsible for their predicament. They will, therefore, lie about the cause of their obvious injuries, defending their husbands when anyone begins to suspect the truth, making excuses for their spouses' violence (1978, 52). The battered wife thereby falls into a state in which she feels that she has lost all control over her life, a condition termed by psychologists as "learned helplessness."

Although accepting the battered wife as an unwitting accomplice in her torture, Davidson is careful to avoid anything remotely suggesting "victim blaming." Rather, Davidson insists that the battered wife is victimized not only by her assailant but also by "the tolerating / denying society," which callously ignores her suffering and intimidates her into remaining with her abusive partner (1978, 10). Or, to quote Lenore Walker, the sociologist who first coined the term "learned helplessness":

Inequality between men and women impacts on the perceptions of violent behavior for the women so that they are unable to develop adequate skills to escape from the relationship. Such sexism also pervades society's institutions so that women feel that they are unable to receive any assistance to help them or their batterers. (1984, 151)

Thus women become victims because society has socialized them to believe that they have no other choice but to be victims.

How does Desdemona fit this profile? Certainly, Othello becomes Desdemona's dearest friend, the extension of her being, the warrior who fulfills the romantic yearnings of her repressed and sequestered psyche. Desdemona's commitment to Othello is total and unequivocal. For him, she has defied convention and forsaken father, position, and friends. When he inexplicably turns on her, like the typical battered wife she withdraws, stunned into passivity, denial, and helplessness. Like this prototype, she never attempts to retaliate or expose Othello. Even after he has publicly humiliated her—striking her and demeaning her before Lodovico, vilifying her before Emilia, accusing her of whoredom—she takes no steps to escape or even to defend herself. Instead, she affirms her love for him:

. . . Unkindness may do much;   And his unkindness may defeat my life,   But never taint my love.


Like the typical battered wife, she also seeks excuses for her violent husband, blaming herself:

Nay, we must think men are not gods,   Nor of them look for such observancy   As fits the bridal. Beshrew me much, Emilia,   I was, unhandsome warrior as I am,   Arraigning his unkindness with my soul;   But now I find I had suborn'd the witness,   And he's indicted falsely.


Finally, she lies to protect her mate, with her dying words asserting his innocence and her own responsibility. When asked by Emilia, "O, who hath done this deed?" she replies "Nobody; I myself (5.2.129).

Many critics would demur, however, that the early Desdemona does not display the conventionality associated with the battered wife. Indeed, many commentators have found unconvincing Desdemona's change from the courageous, self-confident, candid, young woman in the opening scenes to the dazed, helpless wife of the denouement. A close reading of the text, however, reveals that Desdemona is never all that selfconfident. Furthermore, despite her daring defiance of her father and her poise in confronting the senators, she is, in many ways, thoroughly conventional. From the very beginning of the play, she defines herself in relation to men, either as a wife or a daughter, not as an independent individual:

. . . My noble father,   I do perceive here a divided duty;   To you I am bound for life and education:   My life and education both do learn me   How to respect you. You are the lord of duty;   I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my   husband,   And so much duty as my mother show'd   To you, preferring you before her father,   So much I challenge that I may profess   Due to the Moor my lord.


Her triple reiteration of the word duty accentuates her acceptance of the subordinate female role. Desdemona's description of her feeling toward Othello further "betray an almost holy dedication to the man she has married" (Dash 1981, 117):

I saw Othello's visage in his mind,   And to his honors and his valiant parts   Did my soul and fortunes consecrate.


Yet despite her initial conventionality, Desdemona undoubtedly does diminish as the self-confident, young single woman dissolves into the confused and helpless wife, desperately trying to discover her role (Dash 1981, 123). Diane Elizabeth Dreher argues that the change in Desdemona's character "demonstrates how the traditional feminine role reinforces masochism and neurotic self-effacement" (1986, 13). I agree that the patriarchal concept of marriage is the Procrustean bed to which Desdemona shrinks her vibrant personality.

On one level, therefore, this rich and complex play is centrally concerned with stereotypes and the way that this conventional thinking fixes and limits human growth and relationships. Trapped in a situation outside of their control, racked by a sense of powerlessness, both Desdemona and Othello enact the stereo-typic roles in which they have been encased by society. Othello expresses his frustration in the acceptable "masculine" manner of aggression and violence; Desdemona withdraws into the acceptable "feminine" mode of passivity and guilt. Just as Desdemona's defenselessness becomes explicable in terms of the "feminine" ideal of submission in marriage, so too are Othello's aggressions traceable to the "manly" ideal of character and conduct involved in his dual roles as soldier and husband. Irene Dash sees the play as the tragedy of a woman "pummeled into shape by the conventions that bind" (1981, 104), marital conventions that demand more from a woman than from a man (103). I would expand her statement to include both Othello and Desdemona as victims of the distorted expectations of the patriarchal family. Viewed from this perspective, both Desdemona and Othello would arouse ambivalent responses from the audience. For although we cannot but condemn Othello's cruel and irrational actions, we must also pity him. And although we cannot but admire the purity and steadfastness of Desdemona's devotion, we must also deplore her docility, excessive altruism, and lack of healthy self-love, a lack that will ultimately contribute not only to her death but to that of the man she loves not wisely but too well.4

Fortunately, Shakespeare offers an alternative perspective—he offers us Emilia. Literary criticism of Othello has tended to divide into "Othello" and "lago" critics; however, like Carol Thomas Neely, I see myself as an Emilia critic (Neely 1980, 213). I submit that from one perspective, at least—the perspective taken in this chapter—Emilia is dramatically and symbolically the play's fulcrum. Significantly, Shakespeare counterpoises two sets of marriages: one a fresh, young marriage, fecund with promise; the other a weary, sterile alliance, stuck in the groove of dissatisfaction and routine psychological abuse. In fact, there are actually three couples, if we include illicit ones—Desdemona and Othello, Emilia and Iago, Bianca and Cassio. In all three cases, the men mistreat their wives and lovers, whereas the women respond with unflinching affection. Emilia alone breaks the cycle of subservience and despite her earlier slavish obedience to her husband, and her "humiliating need to win his approval" by filching the fatal handkerchief (Grennan 1987, 283), she alone speaks for some dignity of equality between men and women, presenting women not as goddesses or temptresses but as human beings. Emilia's passionate indictment of the gender double standard echoes "Venetian Shylock's plea for human recognition of another victimized group" (Grennan 1987, 281). Later, Emilia defies her husband and delivers an unvarnished narration of events, even as her language acknowledges her subordination: "Tis proper I obey him, but not now" (5.2.203). Ultimately, female bonding gives Emilia the courage and strength to resist the bullying of her abusive mate, and although her valor and devotion end in death, she offers a positive standard for all women and the measure of value in the play. To quote Carole McKewin's eloquent tribute: "Emilia's loyalty to her friend, enlightened by her egalitarian view of man and woman in marriage, is what remains whole in the debacle of Othello" (1980, 129). Emilia thus provides an all-too-rare literary example of a wife who breaks the cycle of abuse.

In conclusion, I will comment again on the remarkable accuracy of Shakespeare's character portraits in light of clinical research on spouse abuse. To note this striking resemblance is not to suggest that Shakespeare intuited universal aspects of human personality, but rather to point out that Shakespeare was an astonishingly observant chronicler of both human behavior and society's stereotypes. And since the societal stereotypes and familial patterns producing spouse abuse have changed deplorably little since the Elizabethan period—at least, until the past 20 years—it is not surprising that Shakespeare's emblematic characters appear familiar to us. I further suggest that Othello, like all of Shakespeare's multivalent, complex plays, is composed of many different discourses, inviting interpretation on many diverse levels. But, from one perspective, at least, the play is a wrenching study of the institutionalized abuse of women by men in our society, and of the gender hierarchies, the patriarchal dominance, and the legitimation of violence that have trapped society for 5000 years in a vicious cycle of spouse abuse.


1 The kaleidoscope image and the idea of alternating perspectives in Othello was first suggested to me by Sally Bartlett (1989) in her paper, "Shakespeare's Kaleidoscopic Phantasmagoria: Oscillating Perspectives in Othello"

2 All quotations from Shakespeare's plays are taken from David Bevington's (1980) edition of Shakespeare's works.

3 Othello's lack of self-esteem has long been a commonplace of Shakespearean criticism. For the definitive presentation of this point of view, see Carol McGinnis Kay (1983), "Othello's Need for Mirrors."

4 The proper audience response to Desdemona has occasioned considerable critical debate. "Iago" critics, adopting the perspective of the cynical ensign, tend to censure Desdemona as either too forward, too domineering, or, less often, too passive. "Othello" critics assume the point of view of the early Othello, idealizing Desdemona into a disembodied divinity. More recently, however, a number of critics have tried to rehabilitate Desdemona's balanced humanity, treating her not as a saint, a strumpet, or a shrew, but as a normal, psychologically healthy, fallible, but admirable human being. For a lucid survey of the sentimental versus the censorious view of Desdemona, see Carol Thomas Neely (1980, 211-213). Critics depicting Desdemona as a sexually healthy human being include S. N. Garner (1976), Neely (1978), W. D. Adamson (1980), Ann Jennalie Cook (1980), and Grennan (1987).


Adamson, W. D. "Unpinned or Undone?: Desdemona's Critics and the Problem of Sexual Innocence." Shakespeare Studies 13: 169-186, 1980.

Bartlett, Sally. "Shakespeare's Kaleidoscopic Phantasmagoria: Oscillating Perceptions in Othello" Unpublished paper, presented at the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, Tenth Anniversary Conference, Ft. Lauderdale, 1989.

Bevington, David, ed. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 3d ed. Glenview, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Calderwood, James L. "Speech and Self in Othello" Shakespeare Quarterly 38 (3) (Autumn): 293-303, 1987.

Chesler, Phyllis, Women and Madness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

Cook, Ann Jennalie. "The Design of Desdemona: Doubt Raised and Resolved." Shakespeare Studies 13: 187-196, 1980.

Dash, Irene. Wedding, Wooing, and Power. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Davidson, Terry. Conjugal Crime: Understanding and Changing the Wifebeating Pattern. New York: Hawthorne Books, 1978.

Dobash, R. Emerson, and Russell Dobash. Violence Against Wives: A Case Against the Patriarchy. New York: The Free Press, 1979.

Dreher, Diane Elizabeth. Dominion and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1986.

Furman, Nellie. "The Politics of Language: Beyond the Gender Principle?" In Gayle Greene and Coppella Kahan, eds., Making a Difference; Feminist Literary Criticism, pp. 59-80. New York and London: Methuen, 1985.

Garner, S. N. "Shakespeare's Desdemona." Shakespeare Studies 9: 233-252, 1976.

Grennan, Eamon. "The Women's Voices in Othello: Speech, Song, Silence." Shakespeare Quarterly 38 (3): 275-292, 1987.

Kay, Carol McGinnis. "Othello's Need for Mirrors." Shakespeare Quarterly 34 (3) (Autumn): 261-270, 1983.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Trans. James Harle Bell, Richard Von Strumer, and Rodney Needham. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1969.

McKewin, Carole. "Chronicles of Gall and Grace: Intimate Conversations Between Women in Shakespeare's Plays." In C. R. Lenz, G. Greene, and C. T. Neely, eds., The Woman 's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, pp. 117-132. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

Neely, Carol Thomas. "Women and Men in Othello: 'What should such a fool / Do with so good a woman?'" In C. R. Lenz, G. Greene, and C. T. Neely, eds., The Woman 's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, pp. 211-239. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

Roy, Maria, ed. Battered Women: A Psychosociological Study of Domestic Violence. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977.

Roy, Maria, ed. The Abusive Partner: An Analysis of Domestic Battering. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

Stone, Lawrence. "Honor, Morals, and Adultery in Eighteenth-Century England: The Action for Criminal Conversation." Unpublished paper delivered at the Third Annual De Bartolo Conference on Eighteenth-Century Studies, March, 1989.

Walker, Lenore E. The Battered Woman Syndrome. New York: Springer, 1984.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One 's Own. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1929.

Frances E. Dolan (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Finding What Has Been 'Lost': Representations of Infanticide and The Winter's Tale" in Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700, Cornell University Press, 1994, pp. 121-70.

[In the following essay, Dolan examines early modern legal discourses and literary representations regarding infanticide, and asserts that despite its connection to other literary works in which child disposal by fathers is euphemized, The Winter's Tale is seldom acknowledged as such a story due to "the process of canon-formation. "]

In The Winter's Tale, Perdita's name identifies her as "she who has been lost." The process by which she is "lost" is neither accidental, nor mysterious; she is "lost" through her father's violent, purposeful action. After her father, Leontes, referring to her only as "the bastard" or "it," threatens to dash out her "bastard brains with these [his] proper hands," and unsuccessfully attempts to persuade various members of his court to throw the baby into the fire, he orders Antigonus to abandon the baby where she will have small chance of being found.1

  carry   This female bastard hence, and . . . bear it   To some remote and desert place quite out   Of our dominions, and . . . there . . . leave it,   Without more mercy, to its own protection,   And favor of the climate. As by strange   fortune   It came to us, I do in justice charge thee,   On thy soul's peril and thy body's torture,   That thou commend it strangely to some place   Where chance may nurse or end it. Take it up.


Amazingly, John Boswell uses this passage as the epigraph of his book The Kindness of Strangers, in which he argues that infant abandonment was a benevolent practice, since parents depended on charitable strangers to find and adopt abandoned babies. Although Boswell argues persuasively that abandonment did not equal murder and literary representations from antiquity through the eighteenth century tend to give foundlings happy endings, most foundlings left in "'remote and desert places" probably died.2 This passage from The Winter's Tale, especially when read in context, explicitly describes a father's "horrible" and "bloody" desire to dispose of a child he is (wrongly) convinced is a bastard. Other members of the Sicilian court assume that abandonment will only be a less direct and thus less merciful means of murder than "present death" (2.3.184-85); Hermione accuses Leontes of ripping her newborn from her breast and haling it out to "murder" (3.2.101). Focusing on the cruelty of parents rather than the kindness of strangers, I connect The Winter's Tale to the profuse, varied early modern discourses on child murder and the ways that these work to focus blame on murderous mothers yet privilege the stories of murderous fathers.3

Although nonfatal forms of violence against children have left little record, assize and quarter sessions documents suggest that when children were murdered, it was usually by members of their families or by members of households in which they worked as servants and apprentices. Based on his work with Essex assizes for the period from 1560 to 1709, J. A. Sharpe claims that "the victims of family killings, if we exclude servants and apprentices, were predominantly the offspring of the accused. In nearly half the cases, the person killed was either a child or a stepchild." According to J. S. Cockburn, "A surprisingly high number of family killings in Essex—ten of the nineteen recorded—involved the murder of sons, daughters or step-children."4 These statistics do not include neonatal infanticide, the murder of newborns in the first twenty-four hours of life, the incidence of which historians debate. Peter C. Hoffer and N.E.H. Hull, for instance, argue for a very high incidence: "Over 25 percent of all murders heard in the early modern English courts [home circuit assizes, circa 1558-1650] . . . were infanticides."5 In contrast, Cockburn argues that indictments for neonatal infanticide were relatively uncommon. From Essex, Herts, and Sussex, "only sixty-two survive from the reign of Elizabeth, an average of less than one a year in each county"; indictments were even rarer in the early seventeenth century.6 Yet Cockburn warns that the data are unreliable, and elsewhere contends that the available evidence may seriously underestimate the levels of incidence.7

Whatever the incidence of neonatal infanticide, increasingly rigorous infanticide legislation culminated in a particularly harsh statute of 1624. Ignoring the many ways of and motives for eliminating children, this statute expressly criminalized only one: unmarried women's murder of their illegitimate newborns. Neonatal infanticide generated new legislation and increased prosecution in the seventeenth century; indictments and guilty verdicts peaked in the late Tudor and early Stuart periods and remained high until the early eighteenth century.8 I am less interested here in the incidence of various forms of child murder, than in the extensive legal and popular representations of child murder and how these displaced blame for the neglect and elimination of children onto mothers, especially unmarried ones.

Some early modern women do seem to have killed their children. Although women were generally unlikely to perpetrate violence, when they did they killed intimates—husbands, servants, or children. Indeed, by Hoffer's and Hull's calculation, "90 percent of all murderous assaults by women were directed at infants."9 Women may have been more likely to kill or fatally neglect their newborns than to engage in any other kind of murderous violence. While acknowledging women's significant role in violence against children, it is important to remember that women were more often the victims of domestic violence than the assailants. Those women who did commit infanticide were so reluctant to use force that suffocation and exposure were the most popular methods of killing infants and small children.10 Furthermore, women were certainly not solely responsible for all lethal assaults on children.

If abandonment could operate as a widespread practice of deferred, displaced violence, it was one in which fathers, in practice as in fairy tales, may often have taken the initiative. In addition, Keith Wrightson argues that fathers engaged in a subtle method of disposing of bastard children to which he refers as "infanticida! nursing," that is, fostering out newborns to impoverished, overworked wet nurses who would neglect them." Wrightson describes how some fathers gave their bastard children to vagrant nurses, even strapping the babies on the backs of unwilling women. Themselves destitute, these women could be depended upon to abandon or starve the babies. Under such circumstances, as Valerie Fildes suggests, blame should rest "not on the women involved in nursing, but on the men who employed, supervised, and, ultimately, exploited them."12 Although fathers were rarely prosecuted as the principals in infanticide, they played important roles in eliminating unwanted infants while yet avoiding the direct, violent action that would expose them to criminal prosecution.13

In this chapter, I chart the distinctly different trajectories of legal and literary representations of child murder in the seventeenth century and the interrelations between the two. Legal discourses participate in the criminalization of women and of poverty; they define infanticide as the crime of indigent, unmarried women against newborns. Some pamphlets, ballads, and plays purporting to represent actual instances of child murder correspond to the statutes in focusing on a particular kind of criminalized maternal agency. Most, however, exceed the statutes' limits; they scrutinize all of the circumstances, perpetrators, and motives for which the law cannot account. These diverse texts describe fathers as well as mothers, wives as well as spinsters, the murder of legitimate older children of both genders as well as bastard newborns; parents who kill all of their children at once; parents who smother, drown, and stab; parents motivated by poverty, depression, or insanity. These numerous, diverse texts suggest that child murder and, most important for my purposes, the obsession with representing it pervade the culture. As these representations move up literary hierarchies from pamphlets to romances and up social hierarchies from indigent spinsters to kings, they increasingly displace the violence and distance representation from concrete depictions of English domestic life; by means of these two kinds of detachments the focus shifts to the father as the perpetrator and protagonist. Thus, legal representations—those with the most direct material consequences—dwell on women's power over their children, assuming and criminalizing their agency and holding them accountable for its consequences. Pamphlets and plays also associate mothers' authority and agency with violence and crime, depicting a destructively intimate mother-child relation with fatal consequences for the child. In contrast, they present fathers' authority over their children more positively and euphemize their agency in disposing of children.

In connecting the fantastic story of how Leontes loses his daughter to the dismal chronicles of spinsters who toss their newborns in the privy, I argue that suppressing that connection has been crucial to the process of canon-formation. In this process, itself dependent on abandonments, exclusions, and violence, The Winter's Tale has become one of the best known early modern stories of child disposal; yet it is rarely acknowledged as such.

Legal Constructions of Infanticide

In England prior to Elizabeth I's reign, neonatal infanticide was dealt with primarily by the church courts, which could assign penances but not capital punishments.14 Thus, infanticide was not considered homicide cide in this period, and it did not result in execution for the convicted.15 Although "coroners were charged with the examination of all corpses, and an inquest into the cause of death of an infant could lead to an indictment for homicide in the king's courts," infanticide cases rarely appeared in the secular courts and rarely resulted in convictions.16 In addition, surviving records of infanticide in the Middle Ages, from penitentials to church court records, suggest that this crime was not yet associated only with women or with illegitimate children.

As the regulation of personal conduct shifted from the church courts to the secular courts, infanticide came under secular control. Increasingly rigorous legislation against infanticide was interwoven with legislation controlling the poor and the sexually incontinent and linking the two.17 In the secular courts, infanticide was treated as homicide and thus as a capital offense. Although the murder of children older than a few hours or days was not distinct from other forms of homicide in terms of how it was punished, the statutes increasingly associated the murder of newborns with social and sexual disorder, singling it out as an important target of regulation. In this process, statutes under Elizabeth and James (Acts 18 Eliz. c. 3 [1575/76] and 7 Jac. 1 c. 4 [1609]) that attempted to control the rates of illegitimacy and to hold parents responsible for supporting bastards played an important role. According to the first statute, parents who could not support their bastard infants could be imprisoned in the House of Correction.18 The later law, which focuses on the mothers of bastards, connecting them with "rogues, vagabonds, sturdy beggars, and other lewd and idle persons," empowers magistrates to set unwed mothers "on work" or to imprison them indefinitely for repeat offenses. Both statutes thus focus on bastards "which may be chargeable to the Parish."19

In trying to control one form of social disorder, this legislation may have produced another. Hoffer and Hull argue that these poor laws so fiercely punished the parents of illegitimate children, especially mothers, that they might even have motivated infanticide: "With the same force that the poor law urged magistrates to ferret out bastardy among the poor and punish it severely, the law counselled the poor to conceal bastardy pregnancy and perhaps to murder their bastard newborns."20 Probably because of both increased rates of infanticide and increased vigilance in hunting down the mothers of bastards and the indigent, after the poor law [1576], indictments for infanticide increased 225 percent.21 Later in the seventeenth century, legislation about bastardy and other forms of sexual irregularity (for example, the short-lived 1650 act making adultery and incest felonies) may have continued to prompt violent forms of concealment.

Because of the increase in indictments for infanticide following the poor laws, and the concomitant interest in regulating the conduct of the socially and sexually ranging and disruptive, Parliaments of 1606-1607 and 1610 debated bills dealing with infanticide; Parliament passed new legislation in 1624 (repealed in 1803).22 These debates and the legislation they produced, like other legal strategies for social control in the period, reveal more about the processes of defining and addressing threats to order than about the actual incidence of particular transgressions. The infanticide statute of 1624 definitively associated the crime with women, bastardy, and poverty and attempted to remove concealment as either a motive for infanticide or a barrier to prosecution. Since "many lewd women that have beene delivered of Bastard Children, to avoid their shame, and to escape punishment, [did] secretly burie or conceale the death of their Children," it was impossible to tell whether a child was born dead or was murdered by the "lewd mother" if a corpse was found. A mother who had just given birth under traumatic circumstances, working alone and in secret, usually could not get very far away from her residence; often she buried the infant's body at night, hid it in a cupboard or laundry hamper, or discarded it in a ditch or privy. Therefore, the primary evidence against her was rarely hard to find. The statute seeks to eliminate the confusion attending the discovery of an infant's corpse, especially if it had no marks of violence upon it. "If any woman . . . [was] delivered of any Issue of her body, Male or Female, which being borne alive, should by the Lawes of this Realme be a Bastard," and she tried to conceal the miscarriage or stillbirth by hiding the corpse, she would suffer death unless she could produce at least one witness to testify that the infant had been born dead.23

The 1624 statute, which one statute book summarizes as "murther for a mother to conceale the death of her Bastard child," generated increased prosecutions, as had the Elizabethan poor law. While the poor law of 1576 boosted prosecutions by creating "a new class of potential infanticidal offenders," the 1624 statute quadrupled prosecutions by fostering "increased vigilance on the part of magistrates." Under newly authorized surveillance, concealment of a stillbirth and purposeful murder became indistinguishable for legal purposes.24

This legislation so successfully constructed the crime of infanticide that, according to Wrightson, in fiftynine of sixty cases of infanticide prosecuted at the Essex assizes between 1601 and 1665, the mother was the accused. Of these, fifty-three are described as spinsters, six as widows. Of sixty-two victims, fifty-three were "unambiguously described as bastards."25 Such identifications of victims are found mostly after the 1624 legislation. Even in the eighteenth century, when the 1624 statute was seen as excessively severe and many accusations ended in acquittal, the obsolete legislation continued to define the crime and the criminal. R. W. Malcolmson finds that those accused of infanticide were usually unmarried mothers from "labouring, mechanic or farming backgrounds" who were servant maids or had recently retired from service; most infanticides occurred directly after birth, as an attempt to conceal it.26 Thus, the law discovered what it was designed to discover, and it created and enforced a profile of the murderous unmarried mother.

Joining with other statutes such as those criminalizing witchcraft and vagrancy in locating threats to order in marginalized and powerless community members, the infanticide statutes articulated fears about women's capacity for violence rather than accurately describing their behavior. Although arbitrary record survival and the relative ease of concealing this crime make it difficult for us to recover actual numbers, there was probably always a gap between these and the perceived frequency of the crime.27

urthermore, there was a gap between legal theory and legal practice, between statutes and juries, regarding neonatal infanticide. Juries attended to the "exceptional circumstances" that might drive a mother to dispose of her newborn; they were also reluctant to convict for infanticide, even after changes in legislation made it easier to do so, seeing it as a lesser evil than charging a bastard to the parish.28 Thus, although the statutes rigidly defined the killing of illegitimate infants as criminal, the slippery processes of investigation and prosecution reveal that the value of infant life was disturbingly relative. Wrightson finds that,

while it was certainly not a generally tolerated practice, infanticide would appear to have had a considerable currency in the disposal of a minority of unwanted, predominantly illegitimate, children. . . . The discussion of infanticide thus uncovers a perplexing relativity in popular attitudes towards the value of infant life which contrasts markedly with the clear prescriptions of contemporary official morality.29

The mother's criminality was also relative, as the very wording of the statutes targeting unmarried mothers reveals. Denying the possibility that unmarried women who concealed their pregnancies might suffer stillbirths, the statute yet left stillbirth open as a possible defense for married women. Married women were also more likely to be pardoned as insane at the time that they murdered their infants, while unmarried women were more often found sane and thus criminal and accountable. Unless undeniable signs of violence were found on the victim's body, a married suspect was rarely convicted of infanticide.30 In short, then, unmarried mothers of infants found dead were guilty until proven innocent, while married mothers were innocent until proven guilty.31 Here again, the legal system exonerated women only by denying their agency; it attributed agency to women largely when it criminalized that agency and held women fatally accountable for it. The legal construction of infanticide thus participated in the criminalizations of poverty and of women outside of the familial and social structures designed to control them. It also participated in contests over women's control over and responsibility for their bodies and their offspring. In this process, the nonelite female body became an object of inquiry and social control.

Murder or Miscarriage? Negotiating the Boundary between Mother and Fetus

Pamphlets, ballads, and plays tend to ignore infanticide as the statutes defined it—as if there is not much of a story in it. They direct their attention instead to instances of child murder for which the statutes cannot account.32 Although some pamphlets string together terse accounts of infants' bodies discovered in privies and ditches, those relatively rare texts that actually try to tell the story of neonatal infanticide dwell on the exceptional—a mother who slaughters countless infants in order to continue in sexual incontinency or a convicted mother who miraculously survives her execution.33 Richard Watkins's Newes from the Dead (1651), a learned account of the "miraculous" survival of Anne Greene, a woman hanged for neonatal infanticide, parallels the statutes by intervening in a legally and morally ambiguous area to fix a boundary between the mother's body and the fetus. Watkins's text is an anomaly—a learned treatise on the medical, theological, and legal issues raised by the case as well as a sensational account of "miraculous" "news" that was sure to appeal to a wide audience. Neonatal infanticide is only represented under such exceptional circumstances.

In 1650, when Anne Greene was hanged, her friends thumped her on the breast and pulled on her legs, hoping to make her death faster and less painful. Despite these efforts, once Greene was cut down, put in a coffin, and taken to be dissected by physicians, she revived. This startling revival attracted a great deal of attention from both elite and popular audiences. Scholars at Oxford, where Greene was executed, contribute pages of dedicatory poems to Richard Watkins's volume about her "miraculous deliverance," in which they reflect on the philosophical and theological implications of Greene's experience. The physicians who were to dissect her and later worked, invasively and aggressively, to revive her evince a professional/scientific interest. Greene also attracted popular interest: "In the same Roome where her Body was to have beene dissected for the satisfaction of a few, she became a greater wonder, being reviv'd, to the satisfaction of multitudes that flocked thither daily to see her."34 Greene became, in fact, such a popular attraction that her physicians wished to limit access in the interests of her still fragile health. To protect Greene yet cater to the curious, the authorities decided on a combination of entrepreneurship and charity.

Yet because those of the better sort could not altogether be denied admission, they thought it a seasonable opportunity, for the maid's behalfe, to invite them either to exercise their Charity, or at least to pay for their Curiosity. And therefore (themselves first leading the way) they commended it to those that came in, to give every one what they pleas'd, her Father being there ready to receive it. (sigs. B4-B4v)

Cut down from the scaffold, Greene remains an edifying spectacle for a mixed audience, but she metamorphoses from a cause of her father's shame to one of his pride and profit, from a negative to a positive example.

Watkins's text plays an important part in this process. Sure that God spared Greene because she was innocent, Watkins takes his readers through a reconsideration of the evidence against her; although it was standard practice to acquit automatically those rare convicts who survived execution, legal and medical authorities reviewed the evidence in order to acquit Greene.35 This process of review, as represented in Watkins's text, translates the fetus from a person deserving legal protection to a discharge of its mother's body. A midwife testifies that the stillborn infant was small, hairless, its sex indistinguishable. Fellow servants testify that Greene had been hemorrhaging for seven weeks prior to the birth, that she was only seventeen weeks pregnant, and that heavy work preceded the "birth." Thus, the reproductive event becomes a miscarriage rather than the birth and murder of a live infant. According to Greene, she did not know for certain that she was pregnant and the fetus "fell from her unawares as she was in the house of office" (sig. B4v). Although Greene could not then distinguish the miscarriage from the preceding hemorrhaging, Watkins can subsequently conclude that "the child which fell from her unawares, was nothing but a lump of the same matter coagulated" (sig. C), that matter being "suppressed" menstrual flow. In order to exonerate Anne Greene, Watkins reabsorbs the fetus-as-victim into its mother's body, presenting the mother as "unaware" of and therefore not responsible for her body and its discharges. Like the many mothers who disposed of their illegitimate newborns, dead or alive, in privies, including Greene herself, the experts who review the evidence define as lifeless matter, excrement, the fetus who was defended in the first trial.36

The relationship between the mother's body and the fetus it carries was the focus of moral and legal debate in the period, which centered on the point at which the fetus becomes a separate entity and on the mother's responsibility for preserving fetal life. Until the Infant Life Preservation Act of 1929, a mother was not legally accountable for killing a child during the birth process, and before it was fully detached from her body.37 As William L. Langer rather gruesomely clarifies, before 1929, "to kill a child by crushing its head with a hairbrush or hammer, or cutting its throat was technically not a crime, so long as its lower extremities were still in the body of the mother."38 Given the invasive, violent forms of birth assistance sometimes employed in the early modern period, children often died during difficult births; some of these deaths may have been deliberate. Although midwives took an oath to preserve and protect the infant's life, there were those who maintained houses for clandestine lying-in and the convenient disappearance of newborns.39

In addition to this confusion about when the fetus was separate from its mother and thus a person deserving legal protection, abortion had an unclear legal and moral status in this period. Like the value of a newborn infant's life, the moral status of abortion was interpreted according to the circumstances. If abortion enabled an unmarried woman or adulteress to conceal and continue illicit sexual activity, it was wrong; if it occurred before quickening and enabled a married woman to control her fertility, it was acceptable.40 Although abortion was condemned, and canon law equated infanticide and abortion, it had no clear legal status in England until it was made a statutory offense in 1803.41 Women who attempted to induce their own miscarriages, as women traditionally had, were still not targeted by the 1803 statute.

Abortifacients (such as the herbs ergot of rye, penny-royal, and savin) were known and available, and, although moralists and medical practitioners condemned abortion, women collected and circulated recipes.42 Countering Lawrence Stone's claim that methods of inducing miscarriage were not widely known or used, Linda Pollock argues that "these remedies were not hidden in 'obscure medical treatises' but were kept by women in their private medical books, presumably because they thought they might require recourse to such knowledge."43 Prior to "quickening," usually in the fourth month, women felt that inducing a miscarriage, or provoking a resumption of menstruation, as they described this, was unobjectionable. Angus McLaren concurs with Pollock's emphasis on women's common knowledge of abortifacients: "In seventeenthand eighteenth-century women's receipts books . . . one finds extensive suggestions on how to 'provoke the terms,' 'purge the courses,' 'bring down the flowers' and deal with 'menses obstructed'."44 Historians of contraception and women's bodies thus conclude that abortion was one form of family limitation available to early modern women.45 Women bravely took control of their own fertility in consultation with other women and by depending on traditional knowledge of the herbs in their gardens.

Throughout the early modern period in England, the mother's responsibility for her own fertility and the fetuses she carried was uncertain, contested. Traditionally, mothers assumed considerable control over reproduction; legally, even if certain actions were seen as morally questionable, there was no basis for interfering in a married mother's control over an unborn child until it was fully detached from her body. As Anne Greene's case demonstrates, medical and legal interpretation of the evidence could reattach the fetus to the mother even then. At the point that mother's and infant's bodies separated, infanticide legislation intervened, attempting to distinguish mother and child and hold the mother, especially the socially dislocated mother, accountable for her infant's life.

If the unclear distinction between the mother's body and the fetus caused moral and legal debate as well as anxiety and confusion, the mother's relation to her own body was also problematic. When women in the neighborhood suspected an unmarried woman of having concealed a birth, they searched her and her residence for evidence—milk in her breasts; hemorrhaging; soiled sheets; an infant, dead or alive. In Fair Warning to Murderers of Infants (1692), "2 or 3 Neighbours suspecting the matter, came to her [a suspected woman], and upon search, presently discovered by her Breasts, &c. that she had had a Child."46 In The Bloudy Mother (1609), a neighbor, suspecting that a woman who has concealed numerous bastard births is in labor again, "peep[s] through the key-hole of the doore." Seeing evidence of childbirth, the prying neighbor goes downstairs for awhile. On her return, "her eye and eare were busie, to find that she sawe through the key hole; but she could neither see what she had seene, nor heard what she had heard; for all was most cunningly cleard [away]."47 Just as juries of matrons searched the bodies of accused witches for damning evidence of witches' or devil's marks, so neighborhood women searched the bodies of suspected unwed mothers; in both cases, suspected women's bodies could expose them to criminal prosecution. In the case of neonatal infanticide, neighborhood women actively participated in policing the indistinct, contested border between the mother's body and the fetus.

In Watkins's view, Anne Greene deserves a pardon because she had no control over her body, and indeed was hardly present during her rather spectacular bodily adventures. She remembers neither her execution nor the vigorous means used to revive her: "Shee remembered nothing at all that had been done unto her" (sig. B3), despite the fact that she spoke "very sensibly" on the gallows. Upon her revival, she seemed "there to go on where she had so long time left off; like to a Clock whose weights had been taken off a while, and afterwards hung on againe" (sig. B3v). An automaton, a machine that was temporarily turned off rather than a human agent struggling for life, "she . . . was so farre from knowing anything whilst she was dead, that she remembred not what had happened to her even when she was yet alive" (sig. Cv). In short, there is very little news from the dead. From the pregnancy, to the miscarriage, to the execution and revival, she was not fully present and never really knew what was going on. Her body is presented as powerful and mysterious; but that power and mystery are made more tolerable by estranging Greene as subject from them and closing the boundary around her body and her self.48 Associating awareness, self-knowledge, and memory with guilt, Watkins participates in the diverse legal, moral, popular, and medical discourses that link women's agency to transgression. To prove a suspected woman's innocence, Watkins insists not only that she did not perform the act for which she was convicted but also that she utterly lacked self-consciousness. Newes from the Dead and the events it narrates are extraordinary; this strategy of criminalizing women's subjectivity and agency is not.

Blood and the Maternal: Loving Your Children to Death

Even long after birth, after a child was physically and legally distinct from its mother, both parents' relation to and responsibility for their offspring remained uncertain and contested. Depicting a range of perpetrators and circumstances for which infanticide legislation cannot account—widows, wives, and prodigal gentlemen who murder their older, legitimate children—pamphlets and plays participated in these contests. Both parents were assumed to be responsible for their children and were held accountable for fatally neglecting or injuring them. Yet far from simply condemning the murder of one's own child, these texts exhibit startling empathy for many murderous parents' predicaments, especially in their interrogation of how material conditions contribute to violence against children and how gender and class shape parents' investment in and authority over their children.

Accounts of child murder differ markedly from accounts of other kinds of domestic crime, especially regarding the subjectivities they create for the murderers and how they depict the relationship between perpetrator and victim. One unrepresentative account of a murderous mother—Murther Will Out, which was written in 1675 about a murder that occurred thirty-three years earlier—should help to clarify the differences between most of the texts about murderous parents and those about petty treason. First, most texts about parents who murder their children do not present the parent as defining him or herself against the child. In contrast to such texts, Murther Will Out explores a mother's resentment of her infant and her sense that she must secure her own prosperity over his dead body. The mother, a young widow, struggles to care for her "froward" baby, whose "pining away" of a "lingering distemper" and "continual crying a nights made its Mothers life very uncomfortable."49 The devil harrasses her by preying on her sleeplessness, articulating her frustrations, and suggesting that the baby impairs her own prospects.

For now says he you are unhappy onely in this child of yours, which as long as it lives you will never enjoy a good day: and besides it hinders your preferment; you are young and handsome, and might have a husband or two more if this childs head was but laid, but who do you think will come to wooe you as long as this froward child is with you: and therefore it is your best way to rid your hands of it.50

Using Satan to portray the voice of self-interest and practical concern, this text presents self-assertion as violent and as prompted by demonic possession.51Murther Will Out, then, like representations of petty treason, constructs a woman's subjectivity in and through violence, as a severing of relations and an assertion of the self against others.

Yet this construction of maternal subjectivity is unusual in accounts of infanticide, in which the difference, let alone antagonism, between murderer and victim remains unclear. Murther Will Out also stands out among accounts of child murder in its depiction of children as burdens and provocations as well as victims. Virtually every other account of child murder I have seen presents the victims as innocent lambs, submissive sacrifices who prattle and smile at the parents who are about to kill them.52 Accounts of child murder rarely imagine subjectivities for children and do not represent a violent struggle between parent and child that ends in murder. Children do not fear or resist their parents; parents do not respond to their children's personalities or behavior, killing them because they are fretful or disobedient; nor do fatalities result because parental correction goes too far, or even by accident.53 Instead, these texts present parents who, motivated by poverty, shame, despair, and isolation, intend to eliminate their children "for their own good." Far from acting out of anger against their children, parents often assert their attachment to them rather than attempting to dissociate themselves through violence. Murderous parents instead direct their anger at other family members, social/economic circumstances, God, or themselves. The contrast to Murther Will Out reveals how this more prevalent way of representing child victims works to distinguish parents' murderous urges from the frustrations of all parents. When sympathy arises for murderous parents, it focuses on isolation and poverty rather than on the undoubtedly more widespread, indeed unavoidable, frustrations of caring for a dependent, demanding, inescapable little creature.

Parents are, of course, positioned much differently in relation to their vulnerable, wholly dependent offspring than are servants and wives in relation to masters and husbands who are both powerful and dependent. On the one hand, accounts of child murder represent parents as having considerable power over their children. But they are powerful only in relation to their children and only in negative, destructive ways, only as givers and takers of life. On the other hand, these texts present parents, especially mothers, as constrained and vulnerable in relation to their social and economic circumstances. By locating the motivation for child murder in social circumstances largely beyond parents' control, these texts are less censorious than we might imagine; they are as much about social breakdown as they are about parents' agencies.

Always linking the parent's survival in a carefully reproduced social world to the child's, popular representations explore the fluid boundaries between parent and child by associating child murder and various forms of parental self-destruction.54 The connection between child murder and self-consumption is gender-and classinflected. Representations of murderous mothers focus on wives or widows, presenting their murder of their children as a form of suicide, the destruction of a part of the self, rather than on unmarried women whose elimination of their newborns is an attempt at self-preservation. Such mothers do not pursue self-interest at their children's expense; instead, their attachment to their children is itself deranged, consuming, and dangerous. The few representations of murderous fathers, which focus on married heads of households, construe their murders of their children as acts of social suicide, as assaults on the family's collective identity. Equating children and property from the perspective of elite families, these texts place fathers' murders of their children at the extreme end of a continuum of prodigality and self-consumption. Fathers, like mothers, take responsibility for their children through murder. While sparing readers the spectacle of parents' hostility toward their children, these texts suggest the equally disquieting possibility that parental (especially maternal) "love" and responsibility can have as destructive consequences for the child as parental anger.

The very poor might well have felt that their infants were in competition with them for life. Unmarried poor or servant women, for instance, might have felt that their own economic survival depended on concealing their pregnancies and deliveries, even if this meant murder or murderous neglect. In addition to poor laws that could lead to fines and imprisonment, the shame of illegitimacy could socially and economically imperil women. As Hoffer and Hull argue, "for the poor female servant who could not afford to lose her job, much less feed another mouth, just as for the overburdened cottager family with perhaps one too many off-spring already, infanticide might have seemed a matter of survival."55 In such cases, a mother could only survive shame and poverty, and maintain her socially and economically precarious place in the world, by eliminating her newborn.

Although popular accounts of infanticide suggest that even married women or widows who are heads of families might lack the resources to provide for their children, they insist that such mothers murder out of responsibility toward their starving children, not to facilitate their own survival. Vividly depicting the isolation and desperation of poverty, such texts position murderous mothers as victims as well as victimizers. In A Distressed Mother: Or Sorrowful Wife in Tears (n.d.), for instance, Katherine Fox struggles to care for her children despite her drunken husband's waste of his estate through "riotous Living," absence from home, physical abuse, and irresponsibility.56 Frantic because she has no way to feed her children, she decides "better it is [for them] to Die with one Stroke, than to languish in a continual Famine" and cuts their throats. When her husband returns home drunk, she slits his throat, too, in retribution for the "ill government" that has ruined her and her children. This text, its title revealing its sympathy for this woman's "distress," presents her more as the victim of her husband's violence and irresponsibility than as a "monster."

Similarly, in Fair Warning to Murderers of Infants, a widowed mother, Mary Goodenough, becomes involved with a married baker who promises to help her feed her children. When this liaison produces not relief for the existing children but another mouth to feed, Good-enough allows the newborn to die. The writer of this pamphlet dwells on the community's failure to support Goodenough and the dilemma of the "modest poor" who struggle in obscure poverty.57 Castigating irresponsible husbands, heartless lovers, and uncharitable neighbors (the failures of paternalism), both A Distressed Mother and Fair Warning construct the mothers as taking responsibility for their children by means of violence because they feel that they have no other option. By placing some of the blame for these murders on the many people who should have assisted the mother and by emphasizing her suffering and helplessness, such pamphlets qualify and therefore somewhat decriminalize the mother's agency.

Texts that less explicitly qualify the blame of murderous mothers still position them simultaneously as murderers and victims. A Pitilesse Mother (1616) describes "a Tygerous Mother" who "wolvishly" kills her children but herself is a "sweete Lambe" who falls into the clutches of "Romaine Wolves." Blood for Blood (1670) describes a murderous mother on a scaffold: "Excepting the guilt of murder that lay on her conscience, her constant carriage was more like a Lamb going to the slaughter, than a Murderer going to the Gallows."58 In her work on child welfare in the American Progressive Era, Linda Gordon charts the same difficulties in identifying the victim in cases of child abuse because mothers are "simultaneously victims and victimizers, dependent and depended on, weak and powerful."59 Gordon emphasizes that women are not simply victims in cases of domestic violence. Conversely, since early modern accounts of domestic crime so disproportionately emphasize the role of women as perpetrators of violence, I wish to draw attention to how they are also represented as victims. Like the mothers whom Gordon studies, these women are doubly positioned: threateningly powerful in relation to their children, they are yet vulnerable to poverty, exploitation, and depression; guilty of murder, they are yet curiously innocent, lambs going to the slaughter rather than convicted killers facing execution.

Both A Pitilesse Mother, a text about a woman who kills her two children before attempting to kill herself, and Blood for Blood, another text about a mother who plans to kill herself and her children, portray married mothers as just as isolated and desperate as the impoverished, ashamed, resourceless women whose stories I have examined, despite the fact that they are married, prosperous, and well-placed socially and economically.60 These two texts reveal that a gendered, classinflected division of labor that shifted the burden of childcare onto women also made them more likely than men to fantasize or act out violence against a child.61 They also grant significance to women's depression and the possibilities for marginalization even within the structures that are supposed to protect them. In A Pitilesse Mother, Margaret Vincent's Catholicism is described as separating her from others and motivating her to unite with her children against her family and community by means of death. Blood for Blood depicts thirty-seven-year-old Mary Cook, married for twelve years and the mother of eight, as melancholy because of what she perceives as her husband's and relations' neglect.

Depicting Cook's violence as directed first against herself, Blood for Blood censures suicide as a blasphemous form of self-determination; those who kill themselves "resolve not to be at all, because they may not be what they would be themselves, not submitting themselves to what God will have them to be."62 The text links Cook's plan to kill her child to her many thwarted plans to kill herself and to get her husband's and her neglectful relations' attention, portraying both child murder and suicide as self-destructive self-assertions: "Now the Devil puts her upon a fresh consultation what should become of that child, which she so dearly loved, after she was dead; upon this she concludes, she had better rid that of life first, and then all her fears and cares for it would be at an end, and so she should put an end unto her own miserable life, which was so burdensome unto her" (sig. B5). Determined to protect her child from the uncertainties of having to live without her, Cook, "laying aside all Motherly Bowels," slits her baby's throat. By killing her child, she secures her own death: "She then appeared not relenting, at all, but said, it was done because she was weary of her life, her Relations slighting her and lest that child being most in her affection, should come to want when she was gone, she killed it first, knowing that way would also bring her to her desired end" (sig. B6v; emphasis added).

In both of these statements, Cook confuses herself with her child. She kills the child, Betty, because she is weary of her own life. Furthermore, her own sense of neglect leads her to believe that her relations will neglect her beloved child as they have her. Since, for Cook, to kill her youngest, most dependent child was to sever her last connection to life, the prattling, adorable Betty "became the Mothers sinful sacrifice" (sig. B5v). This, like most representations of murderous parents, depicts the child from the parent's perspective as an extension of him or her self, never imagining a distinct, separate subjectivity for the child. If a wife's subjectivity is threatening when it violently draws a boundary between husband and wife, maternal subjectivity is threatening when its boundaries expand to include—even consume—the offspring.

Michael MacDonald's work with the casebooks of Richard Napier, an astrological physician who treated patients between 1597 and 1634, suggests that representations such as A Pitilesse Mother and Blood for Blood disseminate and inform a conception of motherhood that women may actually have experienced. Among Napier's patients, some mothers were

so strongly attached to their children that when they became depressed and suicidal they thought of their youngsters as extensions of the identity they wished to exterminate. Twenty women were tormented by urges to kill themselves or their children. . . . twelve other women . .. also wanted their children to die with them. Thus, even the hostility disturbed women expressed toward their children betrays their involvement with them.63

Women who experience such a vexed connection to their offspring might perceive murder as a positive action on behalf of their children. Hoffer and Hull describe a pattern that they call "altruistic suicides" in which child murderers, "mainly women because they spend more time rearing children than men, may conclude that they cannot abandon their children when they commit suicide, or delude themselves that the child is suffering so much that it has to be killed, or believe themselves and their children persecuted."64 Like the "distressed mother" who killed her children rather than watch them starve; or Mary Cook, who killed her most beloved child because she assumed that it would suffer as she did; or Margaret Vincent, who killed her children to make them "saints in heaven," such mothers think that they are helping their children by ending their lives. Popular representations of murderous mothers in early modern England suggest that child-rearing practices and domestic divisions of labor promote identification between mother and child, creating conditions in which murder can be interpreted as part of good mothering.65

Such pamphlets suggest that the ideologies and practices that assiduously reinforce a "natural" identification between mother and child could themselves contribute to domestic violence.66 Rather than oppose or transgress against the ideal of "natural" maternal care, such violence represents maternal solicitude at its most extreme. Representations of murderous mothers thus suggest that violence against children is not unnatural or strange, but is, instead, familiar. The author of A Pitilesse Mother offers a typical delineation of natural parental affection and behavior in both human and animal societies.

Oh that the blood of her owne body should have no more power to pearce remorse into her Iron naturd heart, when Pagan women that know not God nor have any feeling of his Deity will shun to commit bloodshed, much more of their owne seede: the Caniballs that eate one another will spare the fruites of their owne bodies, the Savages will doe the like, yea every beast and fowle hath a feeling of nature, and according to kinde will cherish their young ones, and shall woman, nay a Christian woman, Gods own Image, be more unnaturall then Pagan, Caniball, Savage, Beast or Fowle[?].67

Although this text insists that animals, cannibals, and savages have "a feeling of nature" that protects their offspring, it also suggests that some English mothers lack this feeling. Their behavior thus makes such terms of opprobrium as "bestial," "savage," and "pagan" meaningless, for it is the English mothers who are vicious, unfeeling, and unnatural, not those groups to which they are compared unfavorably.

A Pitilesse Mother offers the pelican as an image of a positive identification between mothers and children, a model of how mothers should think of their children as parts of themselves, their blood, as their children's blood, their bodies as nondiscrete. Margaret Vincent "by nature should have cherisht them [her children] with her owne body, as the Pellican that pecks her owne brest to feed her young ones with her blood"; yet she kills them. In killing her children, she sheds "the blood of her owne body," "her owne deare blood bred in her owne body, cherished in her own wombe with much dearenes full forty weekes."68 She thus inverts the image of the pelican, making the fungibility of mother-child blood a source of confusion and violence rather than self-sacrificing nurturance.69 By contrasting Vincent's shedding of her children's blood with the pelican's donation of her own, A Pitilesse Mother points to the violence and self-destruction inherent in the ideal of maternal nurturance. Texts such as A Pitilesse Mother do not acknowledge their own contradictions; nor do they explore the implications of the contradictions they reveal within the ideology and practices of motherhood. The texts participate in the cultural contests regarding mothers' responsibility for their children simply by articulating these contradictions and by exploring the most extreme instances of maternal agency and authority. Despite censuring the "unnatural" agency of murderous mothers, these texts also employ various strategies to downplay the recognition that mothers might not identify with their children and might assert themselves against them.

The "House, " Prodigality, and Social Suicide: Murderous Fathers—The Calverley Case

The author of Strange and Lamentable News from Dullidg-Wells (1678), an unusual account of a father who beats his son to death, marvels "That a Parent can be so hard-hearted to his own Child, that they from whom we received our Life, should be the promoters of our Death; this certainly is the highest violation of the Law of Nature, and yet even of this there want not too frequent Examples"70 As this writer makes clear, child murder is a "violation of the Law of Nature," yet neither unimaginable, nor other, nor even unfamiliar. Local examples abound.

Like accounts of murderous mothers, those of murderous fathers both employ the censorious vocabulary of "unnatural" and "monstruous" and find it wanting for transgressions construed in social terms. John Taylor, for instance, in The Unnaturall Father (1621), . . . places John Rowse's murder of his two daughters in the context of two traditions, one from the Old Testament and "our English Chronicles" focusing on male murderers, the other from local stories "fresh in memory," focusing on female murderers, such as Alice Arden of Faversham and Mistress Page of Plymouth. Taylor associates domestic murders with women and finds men who assault their family members even more shocking, for they stray out of their appropriate sphere and scale of action: "It is too manifestly known, what a number of Stepmothers and Strumpets have most inhumanly murdered their Children, and for the same have most deservedly been executed. But in the memory of man (nor scarcely in any History) it is not to be found, that a Father did ever take two Innocent Children out of their beds . . . to drown them." Taylor condemns all murder, but he also suggests a double standard: Men kill other men as part of the epic struggles recorded in "our English Chronicles." Only "stepmothers and strumpets" kill children.71

Despite Taylor's claim that a father's murder of his children is not to be found in human memory, the most notorious and often-represented case of child murder in early modern England centered on Walter Calverley's murder of his sons in Yorkshire in 1605. This case was so infamous that Taylor might well have known about it; it inspired multiple representations through the next century. The most immediate was a pamphlet entitled, Two Most Unnatural and Bloodie Murthers (1605). There are no extant dramatizations of an actual case in which a mother murdered her child, yet the Calverley case generated two plays: George Wilkins's The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1607) and A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608).72 The privileged status of the drama relative to other popular materials, further heightened in the case of A Yorkshire Tragedy by its attribution to Shakespeare and, most recently, to Middleton, makes these dramatizations of the Calverley case more widely known and carefully studied than any of the representations of murderous mothers. But this phenomenon of cultural transmission obscures the fact that the murderous mother was a much more familiar figure in early modern popular culture, if not on the stage, than the murderous father. As Taylor's comments reveal, these plays did not alter the prevailing early modern assumption that child murder is the act of stepmothers and strumpets.

Clustering around the Calverley case and a similar incident, the very few extant representations of murderous fathers focus on relatively privileged perpetrators, married gentlemen whose murder of their heirs is the final act in a prodigal life. The riotous living that precedes and motivates the murders is itself presented as violent and self-consuming. While pamphlets portray women as so attached to their offspring that they cannot tell the difference between their blood and their children's, pamphlets and plays portray men as so attached to their "houses," to a familial identity that includes not only offspring but ancestors, family honor, and property, that they cannot detach themselves even through assaults on the "house" since these are simultaneously assaults on themselves. Since . . . property could be seen as an extension of the self, to vandalize the objectifications or guarantors of one's own social status and identity was to commit what MacDonald has called "social suicide."73 Given the complex associations among the gentle masculine subject, his children, and his property, his murder of heirs was constructed as an extreme form of "social suicide."74

The two texts that offer the most detailed accounts of the Calverley case, Two Most Unnatural and Bloodie Murthers and A Yorkshire Tragedy, both appeared soon after the murders. In both texts, Walter Calverley, a young gentleman with the sizable income of seven hundred to eight hundred pounds per year, is assigned a responsible guardian after his father's death. Although a minor, Calverley betrothes himself out of love but subsequently goes to London and assents to another match proposed by his guardian. Unhappy in the arranged marriage, despite the virtue of his wife, and irked by the contradictions of his status as both gentleman and ward, independent and subordinate, Calverley grows increasingly riotous, wasting his estate, publicly insulting his wife as a strumpet and his children as bastards, and wounding the reputation of his family.75

Both A Yorkshire Tragedy and Two Most Unnatural and Bloodie Murthers explore the responsibility that attends a husband-father's authority. As a propertied family's eldest son, Calverley has access to and control over all the family's wealth. While primogeniture favors him it also requires him to husband these resources responsibly, using them to care for his wife and children as well as his younger siblings.76 Since he has the power to support or beggar his dependents, his prodigality has far-reaching consequences. As Two Most Unnatural and Bloodie Murthers describes this:

He presently fell into a deepe consideration of his state, how his prodigali course of life, had wronged his brother, abused his wife, and undone his children. Then was presented before the eyes of his imagination, the wealth his father left him, and the misery hee should leave his children in. . . . Then sawe hee the extirpation of his family, the ruine of his antient house, which hundreds of yeeres together had bin Gentlemen of the best reputation in Yorkshire, and every one of these out of their severall objects, did create a severall distraction in him.77

In both Two Most and A Yorkshire Tragedy, such reflections link Calverley's prodigality, slander against his family, and murder of his children as self/destructive acts.78 In the play, whose form enables a fuller exploration of Calverley's subjectivity, he expresses this as follows:

My lands showed like a full moon about me. But now the moon's i'th' last quarter, waning, waning, and I am mad to think that moon was mine. Mine and my father's and my forefathers' generations, generations. Down goes the house of us; down, down it sinks. Now is the name a beggar, begs in me. That name, which hundreds of years has made this shire famous, in me and my posterity runs out. (4.70-77)

In both versions, Calverley at last realizes that his peevish prodigality has destroyed the legacy of generations and that his ruin reaches to include his ancestors as well as his progeny.79

This realization comes not in response to his suffering wife and her entreaties for their children but when he is called to account for how he has treated his brother, a promising divinity student jailed for one of his own defaulted debts. In both play and pamphlet, Calverley proposes to redress the family's ruin by completing it: "1 thought it the charitablest deed I could do / To cozen beggary and knock my house o' th' head" (A Yorkshire Tragedy 9.17-18). He slays his eldest two sons against the resistance of his wife, a nurse, and a servant; then he rides to the wet nurse's to kill his infant son. As Two Most Unnatural and Bloodie Murthers describes this, Calverley, "prickt by his preposterous fate, had a desire to roote out all his owne generation: and onely intending to murther it, was carelesse what became of himselfe" (p. 108). When first apprehended, he regrets only that he did not kill all three heirs: "I had brought them to beggery, and am resolved I could not have pleased God better, then by freeing them from it" (p. 109). By killing his children, Calverley thus completes the familial murder/suicide he had begun in his prodigality and acts, at last, as a father, protecting his children from a fate worse than death: He construes his murder of his heirs as his first responsible, forward-looking act: "'Tis charity to brain you" (A Yorkshire Tragedy 4.102-3).80

The numerous and varied representations of Walter Calverley's case thus explore the costs and contradictions of being the head of a prominent, landowning family with a history. Far from presenting propertyholding, gentle males as unconstrained and autonomous, these texts reveal the particular strains of accountability to the past and the future, of being inseparable from your family and its "house." They construct subjectivity as collective and diffused, as spread across bodies and through time. The conception of a family and its estate as a "house" articulates this effectively. The house is a structure that endures yet changes, absorbing the contributions of individuals and generations, yet surviving them. This figurative structure encloses many individuals and connects them to one another and to those who precede and succeed them. It forms a collective subject out of the dead, the living, and the anticipated. Since the "house" survives any one individual or generation, it can be seen to offer a comic conception of subjectivity, dwelling on continuity rather than mortality, the communal rather than the individual. Yet the stories of child murder most often dwell on the violent, fragmenting, destructive consequences of this conception of collective identity, for both women and men, parents and children.

Dramatic and nondramatic representations of the Calverley case, then, make the husband-father-eldest son the central figure in each family member's story, if only in negative terms. In A Yorkshire Tragedy, the wife strategizes to preserve her dowry from her wasteful husband so that she can care for her children; she secures him a place at court, through which he might recoup his losses and support the family; finally, she wrestles with him to protect her second child from his knife thrusts, incurring serious injuries but failing to save the child. She strives to counter her husband's attacks on the family and its resources, but she has little control over the family's reputation, property, or children, all subject to her intemperate, capricious, and wasteful husband.81

Although legal prosecutions and popular, ephemeral representations focus on murderous mothers, the drama privileges the story of the murderous father, and the gentle, mass-murdering father at that. In A Yorkshire Tragedy, this father is apprehended and sent off to execution, just like the mothers whom statutes criminalize and ephemeral texts describe. Yet in the play's last scene, his wife, seriously wounded in her unsuccessful struggle to shield her child, forgives him and sues for his life: "Dearer than all [my children] is my poor husband's life" (10.65). In accounts of murderous mothers, however complicated, even sympathetic, the bereaved husband and father never makes an equivalent claim. The Miseries of Enforced Marriage even manages to bring Calverley's story to a comic conclusion, redeeming his profligacy and averting violence with a windfall inheritance. Offered a new fortune and someone else to blame for his misfortunes (his guardian), the protagonist grudgingly reclaims his role as husband and father. Turning to the wife and two children he has threatened and repudiated, he announces: "You three Ile live withall."82 Considered in the absence of plays about murderous mothers and in relation to romanticizations of the murderous father such as The Winter's Tale, these dramatizations of the Calverley case suggest that a father's irresponsibility and violence can be survived and forgiven, as a mother's cannot. They grant the father considerable authority over his family and its resources and hold him accountable for the actions he takes on his dependents' behalf; yet his agency—while violent and destructive—is not as threatening as a mother's even though she has less control over the family and its resources. Like the murderous husband, the murderous father amplifies and exploits the power available to him; but he does not overturn social order or gender roles.

With its grimly generic conflict between "Wife," "Husband," and "Son," A Yorkshire Tragedy's plot offers a stark sketch of The Winter's Tale's first three acts. The jealous, unstable husband dismisses his wife and children as "strumpet and bastards, strumpet and bastards!" (2.103-4). Struggling with his servants and his wife for the child he wishes to kill, he screams "Give me the bastard" (5.22). His eldest and heir fears neither "vizards nor bugbears," just as Mamilius prefers stories about "sprites and goblins" (2.1.25-26). The father turns this "white boy" into his "red boy," in th is case by stabbing him with his dagger (4.95; 97-98). Despite the loss of two of her children, his wife forgives him. Moving farther up social and literary hierarchies and farther away from the legal and popular arenas in which murderous mothers are the central (unforgivable) protagonists, The Winter's Tale translates this story of local domestic violence into a more prestigious genre, a courtly setting, and a less familiar, more magical world. It also obscures the father's agency in disposing of his children.

Old Tales, Romance, and the Throwers-out of Poor Babes

In The Winter's Tale, when the shepherd finds the abandoned Perdita, he assumes that he knows the story: "Though I am not bookish, yet I can read waiting-gentlewoman in the scape. This has been some stair-work, some trunk-work, some behind-door-work. They were warmer that got this than the poor thing is here" (3.3.70-74). "Reading" his discovery through the conventions of legal and popular constructions of infanticide familiar to both bookish and unbookish, the shepherd assumes that abandoning or killing children is the action of unmarried women who are most often servants. (He does elevate the story somewhat by making the mother a "waiting-gentlewoman" rather than a kitchen maid.) In his reading of the story, the shepherd reveals that a pastoral landscape and the enclosed, shameful spaces under the stairs or behind the door can come together in the person of the abandoned infant, who is simultaneously a thing dying and a thing newborn.83

Pamphlet accounts of child murder also conjoin these two kinds of space, of crime and of fantasy. While woodcuts accompanying pamphlets and ballads about murderous wives or husbands present them in claustrophobic, scrupulously detailed domestic settings from which there is no escape, some woodcuts depicting child murders juxtapose domestic interiors to outdoor settings. In such woodcuts, the outside is not an alternative to or escape from the domestic, but an extension of it. In the title page of The Bloudy Mother (1609 .. . ), for instance, the mother and her master/lover bury one of their murdered bastards in a grave containing the bones of other victims. The scene's trees and plants contrast to the architectural details—windowpanes, floor tiles, and so forth—of the adjoining scene, in which the "unlawfull begetter of those unfortunate Babes" lies in bed "being eaten and consumed alive with Wormes and Lice." Accounts of spousal murders rarely dwell on attempts to dispose of bodies. The exceptions are vivid: Mary Aubrey dismembers her husband's body, scattering the pieces across London; John Dilworth attempts to burn his wife's body in the fire-place. In contrast, statutes defined neonatal infanticide as a crime of concealment. Seeking to hide pregnancy as well as delivery and murder, perpetrators of neonatal infanticide had to get their victims' bodies out of the house; infants' tiny corpses were relatively easy to transport and eliminate. Hence, popular representations emphasize the outside, the space for burying and abandoning.

Some pamphlets about child murder endow this landscape with a fairy-tale quality. Natures Cruell Step-Dames (1637), for instance, recounts the story of Elizabeth Barnes, who makes a picnic for her eight-yearold daughter, "to intice the childe unto its slaughter, and to goe abroad with her."84 Packing a basket with apple pie, herring pie, and raisins, "accustomed baits used by loving parents, to quiet and still their children in their unquietnesse" (sig. A2v), Barnes successfully entraps her child: "The child beholding them, did set an edge on its affections, willingly to accompany her cruell mother, in her travell towards her long home" (sig. A2v). When the child, sated from the picnic, falls asleep, her mother cuts her throat. On this pamphlet's title page . . . , the mother crouches over her daughter in the foreground, stabbing her with a huge knife; in the background, a row of trees reminds viewers that this murder does not occur at home. Combining this story with other, terser accounts of women who throw their bastard children into privies or ditches, the text links these kinds of stories and the worlds in which they occur: the romance setting of "a Wood .. . in secret, and covered with darknesse" and the location more familiar from court records and pamphlets, a "[privy] vault in Rosemary Lane, by Tower Hill" (sigs. A2v, B2). As critics have long acknowledged, The Winter's Tale similarly combines domestic detail and the conventions of fairy tale, the familiar and the fantastic.85

When Perdita's story comes to its happy if outlandish conclusion, when she who was lost is found, various characters remark that the play's closing movement is "like an old tale" (5.3.117): "This news which is called true is so like an old tale, that the verity of it is in strong suspicion: has the king found his heir?" (5.2.28-30); "Like an old tale still, which will have matter to rehearse though credit be asleep and not an ear open" (11. 62-64). This "old tale" is the story of infant abandonment whose conventions Boswell delineates: "The children are of lofty though complicated ancestry; a male figure orders the abandonment, to the regret of the mother; they are actually taken away and teft by servants; they are found by shepherds and reared by foster parents; they subsequently rise to greatness."86The Winter's Tale is simultaneously an "old [fairy] tale" about a princess abandoned on the coast of Bohemia with identifying tokens and a cache of gold, and the unbookish, sensational story of a scape, or transgression, with its disturbing details of braining and burning, the stuff of the ballads and pamphlets that a disreputable peddler like Autolycus might sell.

Although, as the shepherd perceives, Perdita's story is intimately connected to the story of the unmarried servant woman who conceals the damning evidence of her clandestine sexuality, it is not the same story. Perdita is legitimate and a princess; her father, a king, is behind this scape.87 The shepherd's misreading takes its place among the many mistakings around which the plot revolves. Most crucially, Leontes mistakes Hermione's kindness to Polixenes for adultery, convincing himself that it is she who mistakes: "You have mistook, my lady, / Polixenes for Leontes" (2.1.82-83). In "rebellion with himself (1.2.354), Leontes suspects his subordinates to be "a nest of traitors" (2.3.82), revealing the extent to which household and kingdom have collapsed together. Enacting the associations I have traced in other representations of "revolted wives" (1.2.199), Leontes conflates adultery, murder, and treason and arraigns Hermione for "high treason, in committing adultery with Polixenes, . . . and conspiring with Camillo to take away the life of our sovereign lord the King, [her] royal husband" (3.2.14-17; cf. 2.1.47, 89-90).88 He further insists that he must imprison her for his own protection: "From our free person she should be confined, / Lest that the treachery of the two fled hence / Be left her to perform" (2.1.195-97). As many critics have noticed, Leontes hysterically runs together threats to order: the "mankind witch," the traitor, the adulterous, murderous wife or petty traitor, the bastard child, the henpecked husband.89

Although the plot of The Winter's Tale revolves around mistakings, the characters also contest one another's readings of domestic conflict. If Leontes casts himself as the victim of a "nest of traitors," particularly of traitorous women who should, appropriately enough, be burnt at the stake, Paulina and Hermione cast themselves as a tyrant's victims. Paulina repeatedly calls Leontes a tyrant and a traitor to himself, identifying "these dangerous unsafe lunes i' the King" (2.2.30) as the source of disorder. Leontes tries to defend himself against this charge—"Let us be cleared / Of being tyrannous, since we so openly / Proceed in justice, which shall have due course" (3.2.4-6)—but Hermione dismisses even this as "rigor and not law" (3.2.114). Playing the part of tyrant and murderous husband, Leontes repeatedly threatens to execute his wife; Paulina later holds him accountable for murderous intent. Indeed, by the fifth act, Paulina so successfully converts Leontes to this interpretation of his actions that he fears that he would murder a second wife. Considered in the context of other representations of murderous wives and husbands, the play's accusatory vocabulary—"traitor!," "tyrant!"—simultaneously accrues domestic and political resonances. However exaggerated, this is the conventional vocabulary for discussing betrayal and violence between spouses, even those who are not kings and queens of Sicilia.

While it is important to identify the dynamic of accusation and counteraccusation in The Winter's Tale, the play is not only a contest between conventional narratives of spousal conflict. Both spouses survive the conflict, for all their suffering. When Leontes thinks Hermione plots against his life, he is wrong, as he is when he believes that he has killed her. The one irredeemable loss in the play, the sacrifice to the ultimate resolution, is the son. For this is also a story of parent-child conflict, although the levels of conflict in the play overlap so closely that they can seem indistinguishable. Despite Paulina's optimistic assertion that the newborn Perdita is "not a party to / The anger of the king nor guilty of, / If any be, the trespass of the Queen" (2.2.61-63), both Perdita and Mamilius fall victim to their parents' conflict. Leontes's identification with Mamilius has even more fatal consequences for the child than his harsh refusal to see in Perdita a copy of himself will have for her. Seen by his father as a smaller version of himself and consumed by his empathy with his mother, Mamilius drops dead.

  To see his nobleness!   Conceiving the dishonor of his mother,   He straight declined, drooped, took it deeply,   Fastened and fixed the shame on't in himself,   Threw off his spirit, his appetite, his sleep,   And downright languish'd.

(2.3.12-17; cf. 3.2.144-45)

Taking responsibility as well as shame onto himself, Mamilius dies for Leontes's sins: "I have done sin: / For which the heavens, taking angry note, / Have left me issueless" (5.1.172-74).90 Although Leontes fights with Hermione for exclusive ownership of the boy, he does not engage in detailed squabbles about how to eliminate him because Mamilius eliminates himself. Leontes engages more directly in disposing of Perdita. The scene in which Paulina misguidedly presents Leontes with the new baby, sure that the sight of her will "soften" him, is an extraordinarily violent one, indeed angrier and more violent than most representations of child murder. Yet critics rarely dwell on the details of Leontes's proposals for disposing of Perdita, nor do they discuss Leontes's willingness to carry out these schemes himself, if need be. Even if he earns forgiveness by the fifth act, Leontes violently rejects the baby: "This brat is none of mine; / .. . / Hence with it, and together with the dam / Commit them to the fire!" (2.3.93, 95-96; cf. 133-34).

In part because Leontes persuades Antigonus to "take up the bastard," we never see the father touch the baby let alone throw her on the fire or dash her brains out. As the play moves out of tragedy and into romance, it displaces blame for his angry repudiation of the baby onto those who he forces to act as the "thrower[s]-out" of the poor babe (3.3.27-28). A bear devours Antigonus and the whole crew of the ship that carried him and the baby goes down in a wreck "so that all the instruments which aided to expose the child were even then lost when it was found" (5.2.71-73). The play's characters hedge about the violence perpetrated against the two children and Leontes's responsibility for it. Paulina often intervenes in Leontes's self-protecting euphemisms, drawing him up short with blunt words like "killed"—"Killed? / She I killed? I did so, but thou strik'st me / Sorely to say I did" (5.1.16-18). But even when she reckons up his "poor trespasses," she counts "The casting forth to crows thy baby daughter / To be or none or little / .. . / Nor is't directly laid to thee, the death / Of the young prince" (3.2.189; 191-92; 194-95, emphasis added).

Most of the play's characters use euphemisms for bereavement to occlude Leontes's accountability. They talk about "loss." Antigonus, for instance, refers to Perdita as "Poor thing, condemned to loss!" (2.3.191); "exposed / To loss and what may follow" (3.3.49-50). In Antigonus's dream, Hermione names her baby Perdita—she who has been lost—since she "Is counted lost for ever" (3.3.32); the oracle also explains that Leontes "shall live without an heir if that which is lost be not found" (3.2.134-36). The vocabulary of losing and finding becomes especially noticeable in the final act. Leontes explains to Perdita and Florizel that he "lost a couple" like them, and "lost" Florizel's father (5.1.132, 134). But to paraphrase Lady Bracknell, to lose one child is a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. Dwelling on Leontes's "losses," the play prepares for forgiveness by sparing Leontes the direct, criminalized agency associated with murderous mothers and helping us to repress our knowledge of his crucial role in "losing" his children.

To aestheticize the very representations of child murder with which it engages, The Winter's Tale depends on strategies of displacement, condensation, and detachment that characterize romance.91 The murderous parent is a king and forgiveable; he is motivated by a figment, a spider in the cup, rather than by desperate finances; he orders that his baby be abandoned, rather than killing her outright; and those to whom he delegates the task die for their part in it. Such displacements make Leontes the protagonist of the play, as a murderous mother would never be, while leading us, like so many of the play's characters, to misrecognize what kind of a story this is, even as we sense its familiarity. The Winter's Tale participates in complex processes of displacement so successful that we have lost track of the play's indebtedness to those other cultural materials known to the bookish and the unbookish and to those figures on whom violence against children was displaced: unmarried mothers. As a "socially symbolic act," in Fredric Jameson's terms, the play "must reunite or harmonize heterogeneous narrative paradigms which have their own specific and contradictory ideological meaning." But in the process, historical specificity and contradiction are effaced through the "imaginary solution['s]" very success; viewers and readers are thus spared "the painful recollection of the dark underside of even the most seemingly innocent and 'life-enhancing' masterpieces of the canon."92 In the process of turning a story of familial conflict into a fantasy of resolution, The Winter's Tale, like Shakespeare's other romances, excludes the mother from the action; she returns in order to forgive the father, not particularly for his role in the death of one child and the abandonment of another but for his jealous, tyrannical treatment of her.93 By aestheticizing and forgiving domestic violence, The Winter's Tale shapes and articulates collective fantasies of parent-child violence without either implicating viewers in child murder or positioning them with its victims.94 Its ability both to participate in a vast, heterogeneous cultural contestation and to distance itself has granted the play what Barbara Herrnstein Smith calls a "survival advantage" in the sibling rivalry of textual transmission and canonformation.95

Early modern discourse about child murder was more diverse than either legal attempts to confine infanticide to poor, unmarried women or The Winter's Tale would have us believe. I do not seek here to map a terrain of negligible, bizarre statutes, ballads, and pamphlets from which The Winter's Tale triumphantly emerges. Nor do I think that, even if we know about these other texts, we can hear the voices of infanticidal mothers in The Winter's Tale. To hear those voices, we must turn to other kinds of texts entirely.96 Instead, I suggest that Shakespearean romance depended on the fascination with parental violence then pervading the culture while erasing the evidence of its own conditions of possibility.97 We continue to collude in this process of associating child murder with mothers while valuing plays in which elite, murderous fathers, whose violence can be forgiven, are the protagonists. If asked about instances of infanticide in Shakespeare, most specialists will remember Lady Macbeth's imagery rather than Leontes's act.

In focusing not only on retrieving neglected discourses once widely circulated—finding what has been lost—but also on the difference that privileging some texts and abandoning others has made in our understanding of the past, I wish to emphasize how the "literary" has been constituted against texts more obviously and messily engaged in social process. Early modern contests about child murder point to the "perplexingly relative" value not only of children's lives but of texts.98 The stories that remain most familiar from these contests are those most divorced from explicit reference to material conditions, those at the privileged, elite end of social and literary hierarchies. Just as Perdita was not simply lost but abandoned to die, the popular and legal texts about infanticide underpinning The Winter's Tale have not been lost or forgotten but repudiated as bastards; even their traces in the play have been ignored.


1The Winter's Tale, 2.3.140. All quotations from The Winter's Tale are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. David Bevington, 4th ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1992); subsequent references are located in the text.

2 John Boswell, The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance (New York: Vintage, 1988), pp. 41-45 and passim. See also R. W. Malcolmson, "Infanticide in the Eighteenth Century," in Crime in England, 1550-1800, ed. J. S. Cockburn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 188-89.

3 On the importance of tracing the relations among high, popular, and mass culture and tracing differences across genres and media, see Dominick LaCapra, History and Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), esp. pp. 71-94; and Richard Johnson, "What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?" Social Text 17 (Fall 1987): 38-80. On the importance of rereading canonical texts from the perspective of less familiar works, see Christine Froula, "When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy," Critical Inquiry 10.2 (1983): 321-64; and Paul Lauter, Canons and Contexts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), among others.

4 J. A. Sharpe, "Domestic Homicide in Early Modern England," The Historical Journal 24.1 (1981): 29-48, esp. p. 37; J. S. Cockburn, "The Nature and Incidence of Crime in England, 1559-1625: A Preliminary Survey," in Crime in England, ed. Cockburn, pp. 49-71, esp. p. 57.

5 Peter C. Hoffer and N. E. H. Hull, Murdering Mothers: Infanticide in England and New England, 1558-1803 (New York: New York University Press, 1981), p. xviii.

6 Cockburn, "Nature and Incidence," p. 58. Angus McLaren also argues that neonatal infanticide was never very common (Reproductive Rituals: The Perception of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century [London: Methuen, 1984], pp. 129-35).

7 J. S. Cockburn, "Patterns of Violence in English Society: Homicide in Kent, 1560-1985," Past and Present 130 (1991): 70-106, esp. pp. 95-97. Cockburn questions many commentators' decision to exclude infanticide when they chart patterns of violence. When infanticide is included in discussions of violence in early modern England, Cockburn argues, domestic violence emerges as more widespread than many historians have conceded; women also begin to figure more significantly as perpetrators (p. 96).

8 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. x; see also Cockburn, "Patterns," pp. 96-97. Susan Dwyer Amussen sees prosecution and conviction rates declining even earlier, by the late seventeenth century (An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988], p. 115). According to J. A. Sharpe, infanticide was a "distinctive new offence" in the late sixteenth century (Crime in Early Modern England, 1550-1750 [London: Longman, 1984], pp. 170; see also pp. 60-62).

9 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, pp. xviii-xix. This percentage is almost the reverse of the case in murders and manslaughters of adult victims, in which men far outnumber women as perpetrators (p. 98); also see Sharpe, "Domestic Homicide," pp. 37-38; and Cockburn, "Nature and Incidence," p. 57.

10 Court records and popular representations correspond here. See Keith Wrightson, "Infanticide in Earlier Seventeenth-Century England," Local Population Studies 15 (1975): 10-22, esp. p. 15. In Murther Will Out, or, A True and Faithful Relation of an Horrible Murther Committed Thirty Three Years Ago, by an Unnatural Mother, upon the Body of Her Own Child (London, 1675), for instance, the mother first tries to smother her infant by leaving a pillow over his face; she finally kills him by placing him under a tub and leaving for an hour.

11 Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 16. On abandonment as a displaced form of infanticide, see Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), pp. 474-76. When foundling hospitals emerged to enclose and conceal the social phenomenon of abandonment and to assuage parental guilt, they became a form of institutionalized infanticide, sacrificing as much as 87 percent of those in their care to disease (Boswell, Kindness of Strangers, pp. 421-22 and passim; and Malcolmson, "Infanticide in the Eighteenth Century," p. 189). On babies left in urban locations where they were likely to be found and how this kind of abandonment is not necessarily infanticidal or associated with illegitimacy, see Valerie Fildes, "Maternal Feelings Re-Assessed: Child Abandonment and Neglect in London and Westminster, 1550-1800," in Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial England: Essays in Memory of Dorothy McLaren, ed. Fildes (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 139-78, esp. pp. 151-53. Boswell (Kindness of Strangers) also focuses on urban abandonments.

Some opponents of wet-nursing also considered it potentially infanticidal because it might tempt nurses to sacrifice their own children's welfare to that of their paying charges. See Gail Kern Paster's brilliant work on "a rich, somatic discourse about nursing, nurses, and weaning almost entirely lost to us" and its relation to Renaissance drama (The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993], chap. 5, esp. p. 229).

On the father's role in eliminating an illegitimate new-born, see Thomas Brewer, The Bloudy Mother, or The Most Inhumane Murthers Committed by Jane Hattersley (London, 1609); A True and Perfect Relation of the Tryal and Condemnation, Execution and Last Speech of That Unfortunate Gentleman Mr. Robert Foulks Late Minister . . . for Murder and Adultery (London, 1679); and An Alarme for Sinners: Containing the Confession, Prayers, Letters, and Last Words of Robert Foulkes (London, 1679).

12 Fildes, "Maternal Feelings," p. 168; see also pp. 162-68. Not all wet-nursing was covertly infanticidal. Many families selected wet nurses with care; wet-nursing also offered employment at good wages to women and functioned as a "cottage industry." See Valerie Fildes, "The English Wet Nurse and Her Role in Infant Care, 1538-1800," Medical History 32 (1988): 142-73; Linda A. Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 24-25, 50; and Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1982), p. 108. In several accounts of infanticide, wet nurses preserve the lives of suckling children, simply by keeping them out of the house. See for instance, A Pitilesse Mother That Most Unnaturally at One Time, Murthered Two of Her Owne Children (London, 1616); accounts of the Calverley murders; and Blood for Blood, or, Justice Executed for Innocent Blood-Shed (London, 1670). I am grateful to Douglas B. Patton for directing me to Blood for Blood.

Regardless of the "intentions" of parents or nurses, wet-nursing increased infant mortality by depriving babies of the immunological properties of collostrum and by introducing them to unfamiliar, often unsanitary, environments. On infant feeding practices, how class shaped these practices, and popular debate over breast-feeding, see Valerie A. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 1986), and Wet Nursing: A History from Antiquity to the Present (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988); and Pollock, Forgotten Children, pp. 212-22.

13 "Fathers were included in indictments as accessories and conspirators in the concealment of births, but women bore the brunt of the prosecution" (Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 103).

14 On infanticide in the Middle Ages, see Boswell, Kindness of Strangers; Barbara Hanawalt, Crime and Conflict in English Communities, 1300-1348 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), and "The Female Felon in Fourteenth-Century England," Viator 5 (1974): 253-68; and R. H. Helmholz, "Infanticide in the Province of Canterbury during the Fifteenth Century," History of Childhood Quarterly 2.3 (1975): 379-90.

15 Barbara A. Kellum, "Infanticide in England in the Later Middle Ages," History of Childhood Quarterly 1.3 (1974): 366-88, esp. p. 375; and Helmholz, "Infanticide in Canterbury," pp. 383-84.

16 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 5. see also pp. 4-7.

17 On personal conduct laws, see Hoffer and Hull (ibid., pp. 13-19) and Joan R. Kent, "Attitudes of Members of the House of Commons to the Regulation of 'Personal Conduct' in Late Elizabethan and Early Stuart England," Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 46 (May 1973): 41-71. On the role of ecclesiastical courts in regulating conduct and legislating morality, see Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

18 See the statute in Ferdinand Pulton, A Collection of Sundry Statutes, Frequent in Use (London, 1636), sig. Ccccc; see also Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 21, n. 22.

19 Edward Coke, The Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, 6th ed. (London, 1681), sig. Aaaaa3; see also Pulton, Sundry Statutes; and Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 13.

20 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 17.

21 Ibid., pp. 17-18. For an extended discussion of Elizabethan legal constructions of infanticide, see Hoffer and Hull's discussion of the "kite case" that debated a mother's responsibility for the death of her infant, which she had abandoned, when it was struck by a kite in 1560 in the Welsh border shire of Chester (ibid., pp. 8-11). On the denial of pardons to women who committed infanticide in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France, see Natalie Z. Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), pp. 85-87.

On the criminalization of poverty, see A. L. Beier, Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England, 1560-1640 (London: Methuen, 1985); Kent, "Attitudes"; Sharpe, Crime in Early Modern England, pp. 176-77; and Paul Slack, "Vagrants and Vagrancy in England, 1598-1664," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 27 (1974): 360-79.

22 Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 11.

23 Pulton, Sundry Statutes, sig. Dddddd3.

24 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, pp. 19-31; and Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 15.

25 Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 12.

26 Malcolmson, "Infanticide in the Eighteenth Century," p. 192; see also Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, pp. 102-3. On the associations between servants and bastardy, see Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost: England before the Industrial Age, 3d ed. (New York: Scribners, 1984), esp. pp. 178-79; and G. R. Quaife, Wanton Wenches and Wayward Wives: Peasants and Illicit Sex in Early Seventeenth-Century England (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1979), pp. 89-123, 202-42. Cockburn argues that the victims of neonatal infanticide were "typically, conceived on the fringes of the biological family—as the result of relationships with masters—or within the household—during affairs with fellow servants" ("Patterns," p. 95).

27 In the eighteenth century, for instance, Malcolmson sees a gap between popular representations, which suggest that infanticide was widespread, and legal records, which suggest that it was not very common ("Infanticide in the Eighteenth Century," pp. 190-91). See also Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 83; Wrightson, "Infanticide," esp. p. 19; and McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, pp. 129-35.

28 Amussen, Ordered Society, p. 115; see also McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, p. 131. In her work-in-progress on cases of infanticide in Scotland, Deborah Symonds argues that extenuating circumstances—such as the mother's status and the amount of force used in the murder—significantly shaped how courts treated particular instances of infanticide. I am grateful to Professor Symonds, of the Drake University Department of History, for sharing her manuscript, "The Baby Killers: Mary Hamilton, Jeanie Deans, and the Economic and Juridical Transformation of Scotland, 1690-1820."

29 Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 10. See also Catherine Damme, "Infanticide: The Worth of an Infant under Law," Medical History 22 (1978): 1-24.

30 See Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, pp. 146-47, 106-7; and McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, p. 131.

31 When the statute was reformed in 1803, the burden of proof was shifted from the mother to the prosecution, as in other felonies. See McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, pp. 129-35.

32 Noting that popular literature generally depicts the most sensational murders, Bernard Capp argues that "the mundane crime of an unmarried servant girl who smothered her new-born baby to escape disgrace was a very untypical subject" ("Popular Literature," in Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay [London: Croom Helm, 1985], p. 224). Betty Travitsky points out that the drama depicts neonaticide only rarely ("Child Murder in English Renaissance Life and Drama," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 6 [1993]: 63-84).

33 For a pamphlet that strings together many brief accounts of murderous mothers, see Natures Cruell Step-Dames: Or, Matchless Monsters of the Female Sex, Elizabeth Barnes and Anne Willis (London, 1637); for an account of a mother who murders several of her illegitimate infants, see Brewer's The Bloudy Mother.

34 Richard Watkins, Newes from the Dead. Or, A True and Exact Narration of the Miraculous Deliverance of Anne Greene, Who Being Executed at Oxford . . . Afterwards Revived (Oxford, 1651), sig. B4; subsequent references are located in the text.

35 Angus McLaren cites one example from the late seventeenth century that remarkably resembles Greene's case, yet demonstrates that those who survived execution were not always acquitted. In 1658, "a woman had been hanged for infanticide but when taken to be anatomized was revived by the doctors. The bailiffs seized her and hanged her again. 'The Women,' a contemporary report read, who 'were exceedingly enraged by it, cut downe the tree whereon shee was hanged'" (McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, p. 132, quoting The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, ed. A. Clark [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1891-1895], 1:250-51).

36 For accounts of women who throw their newborns into "houses of office," see Deeds against Nature, and Monsters by Kinde (London, 1614), and Natures Cruell Step-Dames, among others. Virtually all historical accounts of infanticide discuss how often infant corpses were found in privy vaults, and how often women were accused of having dumped their newborns in privies.

37 See Wrightson, "Infanticide," p. 20, n. 15; and Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 155. In his discussion of pleading the belly, or seeking to defer execution by means of pregnancy, Oldham also addresses debates regarding "quickening" as the point at which the fetus began to be legally protected (James C. Oldham, "On Pleading the Belly: A History of the Jury of Matrons," Criminal Justice History 6 [1985]: 1-64, esp. pp. 6, 17-19, 24-25).

38 William L. Langer, "Infanticide: A Historical Survey," History of Childhood Quarterly 1.3 (1974): 353-65, esp. p. 360.

39 See Thomas R. Forbes, "The Regulation of English Midwives in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Medical History 8.3 (1964): 235-44; Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, pp. 155-57; and McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, pp. 98-100. Also see ballads concerning Mary Compton, a midwife accused of killing newborns and children left in her care by neglecting and starving them (ballads 428-31 in vol. 7 of The Pepys Ballads, ed. Hyder E. Rollins, 8 vols. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929-1935]).

40 See McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, p. 107. Abortions were perceived as so dangerous in the early modern period that they were construed as suicidal by many writers (pp. 93-94). It is hard to tell whether this perception was accurate or a way of articulating moral censure and of insisting that the mother's welfare and the fetus's could never be dissociated.

41 See Ingram, Church Courts, p. 159; Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 157; Kellum, "Infanticide in England," pp. 374-75; and McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, passim, esp. chap. 5. Cornelia Hughes Dayton shows how documents concerning a woman who died after a botched abortion reveal widespread knowledge of abortifacients, but do not exhibit "either outrage over the destruction of a fetus or denunciations of those who would arrest 'nature's proper course'" ("Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth-Century New England Village," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 48.1 [1991]: 19-49, esp. p. 23).

42 Amussen, Ordered Society, pp. 114-15; Linda A. Pollock, "Embarking on a Rough Passage: The Experience of Pregnancy in Early Modern Society," in Women as Mothers, ed. Fildes, pp. 39-67, esp. p. 55.

43 Pollock, "Embarking," p. 56; Stone, Family, pp. 415-24.

44 McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, pp. 102, 111.

45 Audrey Eccles, Obstetrics and Gynaeocology in Tudor and Stuart England (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), pp. 67-70; McLaren, Reproductive Rituals, chap. 4; Pollock, "Embarking," pp. 55-58.

46Fair Warning to Murderers of Infants: Being an Account of the Tryal, Condemnation and Execution of Mary Goodenough (London, 1692), sig. A4.

47 Brewer, The Bloudy Mother, sig. B2v.

48 See Hoffer and Hull on the "dissociative reaction" of some contemporary mothers who kill their newborns. Such mothers deny their pregnancies and forget or repress "what was done to the child and by whom" (Murdering Mothers, p. 147). Even in the early modern period, such "distraction" could sometimes succeed as a defense. On how "street literature" dwells on the mysteries of the reproductive female body, see Joy Wiltenburg, Disorderly Women and Female Power in the Street Literature of Early Modern England and Germany (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1992), pp. 143, 177, 233-38.

49Murther Will Out, sig. A2v. See Hoffer and Hull on Chief Justice Hale's account in 1668 of a married woman who "not having slept many nights" and "under a phrenzy .. . by reason of her late delivery and want of sleep" killed her infant and was found not guilty (Murdering Mothers, pp. 146-47).

50Murther Will Out, sigs. A3-A3v.

51 Michael MacDonald also sees this strategy in murderous mothers' accounts of their violent impulses in the early modern period: "Mothers who wanted to kill their children frequently found the thought so troubling that they believed it had been implanted into them by the Devil or by witchcraft" (Mystical Bedlam, p. 83).

52 On the aestheticization of children in aristocratic culture, to the point that they were perceived and treated as ephemeral, exchangeable ornaments, as "domestic pets," see Patricia Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), chap. 2.

53 Hoffer and Hull link early modern infanticide to "baby battering syndrome" (Murdering Mothers, see chap. 6). This link does not exist in popular accounts of the crime in early modern England.

54 On parent-child relations, see Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English Family, 1450-1700 (London: Longman, 1984), chap. 6; Laslett, World We Have Lost, chap. 1; Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England, 1300-1840 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), chap. 4; Pollock, Forgotten Children, chaps. 1 and 2; Stone, Family, pp. 105-14, 159-95, and chap. 9; and Wrightson, English Society, pp. 108-18. Each of these historians (except Stone) emphasizes continuity rather than change. On the disparity between advice regarding child-rearing and actual practice, see Pollock, Forgotten Children, pp. 43-46, 199; Houlbrooke, English Family, p. 156; and Robert V. Schnucker, "Puritan Attitudes towards Childhood Discipline, 1560-1634," Women as Mothers, ed. Fildes, pp. 108-21, esp. p. 112.

In all of the stories that are told, the parents are caught and executed. Whatever the motive, such parents' murder of their children is self-destructive. See also Natalie Zemon Davis, "Boundaries and the Sense of Self in Sixteenth-Century France," Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellbery (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986), pp. 53-63.

55 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 115. See also Malcolmson's claim that servants would lose their livelihoods by bearing bastards ("Infanticide in the Eighteenth Century," pp. 192-93, 203). For infanticides motivated by shame and poverty, see Natures Cruell Step-Dames; Deeds against Nature; Fair Warning; Watkins's Newes from the Dead; and "No Natural Mother, but a Monster" (1633) in A Pepysian Garland, ed. Hyder E. Rollins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 425-30.

56 This is a single-page broadside, so there are no page numbers.

57 On compassion for poor mothers and the Mary Goodenough case, see Patricia Crawford, "The Construction and Experience of Maternity in Seventeenth-Century England," in Women as Mothers, ed. Fildes, pp. 3-38, esp. p. 15.

58Blood for Blood, sigs. A3, A2v, C7v.

59 Linda Gordon, "Family Violence, Feminism, and Social Control," Feminist Studies 12.3 (1986): 453-78, esp. p. 458.

60 Michael MacDonald has made it possible to think of a social history of suicide and its changing medical, legal, and moral constructions, which he sees as following a trend toward secularization in the early modern period. See MacDonald's recent book, with Terence R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), and his various articles on the subject, especially "The Secularization of Suicide in England, 1660-1800," Past and Present III (May 1986): 52-70, and the ensuing debate in Past and Present.

When scholars discuss the relation of women to suicide in the early modern period, they usually present Lucretia as the only model for female suicide and all female suicides as motivated by sexual shame. Murderous/suicidal mothers, especially those who are married, are obviously outside of the Lucretia paradigm. On retellings of the Lucretia story, see Ian Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia: A Myth and Its Transformations (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982); and Simon Shepherd, Amazons and Warrior Women: Varieties of Feminism in Seventeenth-Century Drama (New York: St. Martin's, 1981), chaps. 12 and 13.

61 According to Pollock, "It seems that parental views on discipline are not so much shaped by class and religion, but by daily involvement with and intimate knowledge of the parent's own children" (Forgotten Children, p. 155). Michael MacDonald argues that among physician Richard Napier's patients, "men in general were sufficiently remote from their sons and daughters to be .. . seldom troubled by urges to murder them" (Mystical Bedlam, p. 84). In contrast, see Hoffer and Hull's claim that infanticide is "a crime rooted in indifference for infants" (Murdering Mothers, p. ix).

62Blood for Blood, sig. Bv; see also sig. B; subsequent citations are located in the text. MacDonald argues that the conception of suicide as a sign of complete alienation from God and concession to the Devil's temptations "was ubiquitous, surfacing in the formal language of the coroner's inquisitions and in Star Chamber suits, in the explanations that Napier's patients gave for their suicidal emotions, and in the confessions of spiritual autobiographies" ("The Inner Side of Wisdom: Suicide in Early Modern England," Psychological Medicine 7 [1977]: 565-82, esp. p. 574).

63 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, p. 84.

64 Hoffer and Hull, Murdering Mothers, p. 149; see also p. 135.

65 In Marlowe's 2 Tamburlaine and Fletcher's Bonduca, mothers kill their children to spare them suffering and slavery. As Betty Travitsky argues, both plays emphasize the tragic dilemma of mothers whose protection of their children must take the form of violence ("Child Murder").

66 On the ambiguities and contradictions in the constructions of "natural" maternal feelings and appropriate maternal behavior, see Crawford, "Construction and Experience," esp. pp. 11-12; and Fildes, "Maternal Feelings." I have been especially helped by Mary Beth Rose, "Where Are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender Representation in the English Renaissance," Shakespeare Quarterly 42.3 (1991): 291-314. Wrightson argues that infanticide was constructed as unnatural in opposition to maternal feelings and conduct socially contructed as "natural" ("Infanticide," p. 11).

67A Pitilesse Mother, sig. B-Bv.

68 Ibid., sigs. A3v, B, A4.

69 On the fungibility of bodily fluids in Renaissance constructions of the body, see Paster, Body Embarrassed.

70Strange and Lamentable News from Dullidg-Wells (London, 1678), sig. A2, emphasis added.

71 John Taylor, The Unnaturall Father: Or, A Cruell Murther Committed by One John Rowse . . . upon Two of His Owne Children (London, 1621). Reprinted in The Old Book Collector's Miscellany, ed. Charles Hindley, 3 vols. (London: Reeves and Turner, 1873), 2: 17. Stepmothers were widely assumed not to love their stepchildren as much as their biological offspring. See Boswell, Kindness of Strangers, p. 128, n. 140; and Crawford, "Construction and Experience," pp. 13, 25-26. Some pamphlets anticipate fairy tales and folk stories that displace blame for parental neglect and abuse of children onto the stepmother.

72 I will not discuss The Miseries of Enforced Marriage at any length here because it averts child murder to give the story a happy ending. Early seventeenth-century dramatizations of the Calverley case in turn inspired four later plays, none of which depicts the murder of children. Following The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, Aphra Behn's The Town Fop (1676) focuses on enforced marriage, resolving the conflicts through amicable divorce. Aaron Hill's The Fatal Extravagance (1720), Edward Moore's The Gamester (1753), and F. G. Waldron's The Prodigal (1794) represent prodigality as irreversible but confine its consequences to the erring individual. On these later plays, see Ernest Bernbaum, The Drama of Sensibility: A Sketch of the History of English Sentimental Comedy and Domestic Tragedy, 1696-1780 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925), pp. 50-52, 129-32, 203-5; Laura Brown, English Dramatic Form, 1660-1760: An Essay in Generic History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 164-65; and Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 202-3, 220.

73 MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam, pp. 128-31. In his popular polemic against suicide, Life's Preservative against Self-Killing (1637), John Sym describes prodigality and unthriftiness as indirect forms of self-murder.

74 When men who were heads of households committed suicide, this act also had farther reaching consequences than women's suicides because men would forfeit their estates and thus leave their wives and children beggars. See MacDonald, "Inner Side of Wisdom," p. 568.

75 All popular accounts of the Calverley case neglect to mention the family's recusancy and the toll it had taken on the estate. On Calverley's life, see the introduction to A Yorkshire Tragedy, ed. A. C. Cawley and Barry Gaines (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), pp. 6-11; subsequent citations are located in the text and refer to this edition. The Dictionary of National Biography also does not mention Calverley's recusancy.

The plot of A Pitilesse Mother bears remarkable similarities to the plot of Two Most Unnatural and A Yorkshire Tragedy: In both stories, the married, gentle parent has three children and is frustrated in attempts to kill the youngest because it is with its wet nurse. That A Pitilese Mother makes Margaret Vincent's conversion to Catholicism the motive for her murder of her children, while the accounts of Calverley's crime make no mention whatsoever of his recusancy, suggests the complicated ways in which gender and class shape representations of child murder.

76 On primogeniture, an inheritance practice that applied largely to the gentry and above, see Houlbrooke, English Family, pp. 41-43, 234-38; Louis Adrian Montrose, "'The Place of a Brother' in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form," Shakespeare Quarterly 32.1 (1981): 28-54; Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 178-83, 599-600; and Joan Thirsk, "Younger Sons in the Seventeenth Century," History 54 (1969): 358-77. In the various accounts of the Calverley case, primogeniture resembles infanticide in its discrimination among children, valuing some more than others and sacrificing the prospects of daughters and younger sons to the eldest son. As Tom Paine argued in 1791: "By the aristocratical law of primogenitureship, in a family of six children, five are exposed. Aristocracy has never more than one child. The rest are begotten to be devoured. They are thrown to the cannibal for prey, and the natural parent prepares the unnatural repast" (The Rights of Man [Harmonds-worth: Penguin, 1984], p. 82).

77I quote here from the edition of Two Most Unnatural and Bloodie Murthers that appears as appendix A to A Yorkshire Tragedy, ed. Cawley and Gaines, pp. 105-6; subsequent citations are located in the text and refer to this edition.

78 See, for instance, this passage in A Yorkshire Tragedy: "Those whom men call mad / Endanger others; but he's more than mad / That wounds himself, whose own words do proclaim / Scandals unjust to soil his better name" (2.106-10).

79 Representations of the Calverley murders present prodigality as irreversibleand fatal. Even Aaron Hill's eighteenth-century adaptation, The Fatal Extravagance (1720), in which the protagonist does not succeed in poisoning his wife and children, punishes him for his prodigality; he commits suicide. On prodigality plays, see Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); and Marilyn L. Williamson, The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986), chap. 2.

80 Another seventeenth-century text constructs a gentleman's murder of his children in very similar terms. In John Taylor's The Unnaturall Father (1621), the father, a fishmonger, achieves the status of a landed gentleman and then wastes the estate he has built up through trade. He drowns his daughters to spare them beggary. Upon apprehension, he tells the Constable "that he did it, because he was not able to keep them, and that he was loth they should go about Town a begging: and moreover, that they were his own, and being so, that he might do what he would with them, and that they had their lives from him, and therefore he had taken their lives from them, and was contented to lose his life for them" (2:11). The pamphlet presents Rowse as acting out of a complex sense of identification with as well as ownership of his children. He asserts control over them and their futures by closing off possibilities; the murders begin in his prodigality and lead to his death. Prodigality, child murder, and suicide collapse into one.

81 Houlbrooke argues that a wife had little security against her husband's wastefulness (English Family, p. 100). Presenting the wife as resourceful, yet submissive and loyal, none of the representations of the case reproduce Calverley's claim, in his examination before justices of the peace the day after the murder, that his wife was unfaithful and murderous: "He hathe had an intention to kill them for the whole space of two years past, and the reasons that moved him thereunto was, for that his said wife had many times theretofore uttered speeches and given signes and tokens unto him, whereby he mighte easily percieve and conjecture, that the said children were not by him begotten, and that he hath found himself to be in danger of his life sundry times by his wife" (reprinted in A Yorkshire Tragedy, ed. Cawley and Gaines, pp. 111-12, from Thomas Dunham Whitaker's Loidis and Elmete [Leeds and Wakefield, 1816], pp. 228-29; Cawley and Gaines could not find the original document). In other representations of the crime, Calverley kills the children because he thinks they are his and he acts out of responsibility toward them and not because he thinks they are illegitimate. He expresses rather than denies relation to them through murder.

None of the representations of the Calverley case include Calverley's sentencing and death, presumably because they all draw directly or indirectly on the pamphlet, which was written while Calverley was still in jail.

82 George Wilkins, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, ed. Glenn H. Blayney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), line 2852.

83 My reading of The Winter's Tale is especially informed by Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays, "Hamlet" to 'The Tempest" (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 220-38; Michael D. Bristol, "In Search of the Bear: Spatiotemporal Form and the Heterogeneity of Economies in The Winter's Tale," Shakespeare Quarterly 42.2 (1991): 145-67; Peter B. Erickson, "Patriarchal Structures in The Winter's Tale," PMLA 97.5 (1982): 819-29; Carol Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare 's Plays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), chap. 5; and Gail Paster's compelling analysis of the play in Body Embarrassed, chap. 5, esp. pp. 260-80.

Paster and Gillian Murray Kendall ("Overkill in Shakespeare," Shakespeare Quarterly 43.1 [1992]: 33-50, esp. p. 43f.) acknowledge the violence threatened against Perdita, although neither addresses it in detail. In his discussion of The Winter's Tale, Leonard Tennenhouse acknowledges Leontes's extraordinary violence (Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare's Genres [New York: Methuen, 1986], esp. p. 178).

84Natures Cruell Step-Dames, sig. A2; subsequent citations are located in the text.

85 As Bristol argues: "The problem of The Winter's Tale is not that everything happens 'there' in a world of delphic oracles, tragic losses, and miraculous recoveries but that some of it happens also 'here' in the world of ballad-mongers, thieves, and country feasts" ("In Search of the Bear," p. 147; see also p. 163). On romance settings, see also Fredric Jameson, The PoliticalUnconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), esp. pp. 110-12.

86 Boswell, Kindness of Strangers, p. 76; see also pp. 76-79, 97-98.

87 Like the shepherd, Stephen Greenblatt sees a connection between The Winter's Tale (and Shakespearean romance more generally) and stories of infanticidal mothers, but he does not locate that connection explicitly in violence against children. See Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 129-33.

88 See Chapter 1 for my discussion of the conventions shaping legal and popular representations of murderous wives. Janet Adelman argues that Leontes "finds in the culturally familiar fiction of female betrayal in marriage both an acceptable narrative for his sense of primal loss and a new adult selfhood"( Suffocating Mothers, p. 224).

89 Ibid., p. 227; See also Erickson, "Patriarchal Structures," pp. 822-23; and Paster, Body Embarrassed, p. 271.

90 See Neely on the fatal intimacy between mothers and children in Shakespearean drama (Broken Nuptials, pp. 172-73).

91 See Arthur Kirsch, Shakespeare and the Experience of Love (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), esp. pp. 153, 164, 170; and Neely, Broken Nuptials, pp. 166-67. Kirsch argues that the strategies of romance as a form resemble those of dream-work; characters in the play identify the dream-like quality of events (3.2.82-85; 3.3.38; 4.4.461).

92 Jameson, Political Unconscious, pp. 144, 299, and chap. 2, passim.

93 On the elimination of mothers, see, especially, Rose, "Where Are the Mothers?" See also Neely, Broken Nuptials: and Phyllis Rackin, Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 187.

94 In the terms of Gail Kern Paster's provocative argument that "the romance plot is not a story of lost children—a story privileging the parental perspective—but a story of lost parents . . . seen from the perspective of the child," these detachments enable the viewer to repress identification with the victim of violence, the threatened, abandoned child (Body Embarrassed, p. 274).

95 Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Contingencies of Value," in Canons, ed. Robert von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 5-39, esp. p. 31. The pamphlets and ballads about infanticide have also "endured" or "survived" in that they are still extant. But such materials are less accessible, less widely circulated and discussed. Paradoxically, you need to be a relatively privileged research scholar, with access to libraries and grants, to work with these once popular materials.

On the "dangers" of "aestheticizing culture" and the importance of redrawing a distinction between text and context, see Gabrielle M. Spiegel, "History, Historicism, and the Social Logic of the Text in the Middle Ages," Speculum 65.1 (1990): 59-86. I do not want to join in redrawing the boundaries which it is precisely my goal to problematize. But in attending to how the vast array of representations of child murder have been digested, refined, and aestheticized in the processes of transmission, I am concerned with the differing prestige of various textual "kinds." For other interventions in the canon debates, see Wendell V. Harris, "Canonicity," PMLA 106.1 (1991): 110-21; and John Guillory, "Canonical and Non-Canonical: A Critique of the Current Debate," ELH 54.3 (1987): 483-527.

96 James Holstun challenges the assumption that "all cultural conflicts, all exercises of power and resistance necessarily register themselves inside canonical cultural artifacts" ("Ranting at the New Historicism," English Literary Renaissance [1989]: 189-225, esp. p. 198).

97 I am thus interested, in Stephen Greenblatt's phrase, in how the "traces of social circulation" have been "effaced" in The Winter's Tale (Shakespearean Negotiations, p. 5).

98 In his discussion of infanticide, Wrightson refers to the "perplexingly relativ[e]" value of infant life ("Infanticide," p. 10).

Emily Detmer (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: "Civilizing Subordination: Domestic Violence and The Taming of the Shrew" in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 3, 1997, pp. 273-94.

[In the following essay, Detmer analyzes The Taming of the Shrew within the context of early modern reforms against wife-beating, and claims that Petruchio's manner of "taming" Kate was probably seen by early modern audiences as an ingenious way to comply with the new reforms. Detmer goes on to challenge twentieth-century critics who fail to recognize or address the "violence of domination, " and who praise Petruchio's "nonviolent coercive behavior as better' [than wifebeating], even though it is no less oppressive. "]

Feminist and cultural historians have convincingly demonstrated that "rebellious women" were a concern for Englishmen during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Evidence of anxiety about disorderly women, or the "contest for the britches," as Linda Woodbridge refers to it, can be found at multiple discursive sites such as popular plays, ballads, accounts of domestic crimes, legal treatises, conduct books, and sermons on "proper" interpersonal behavior within the family. The willingness to discipline rebellious women, sometimes brutally, is documented in the accounts of the legal and extralegal "correction" of scolds and shrews as well as itinerant or homeless women, bastard-bearers, whores, and witches.1 The practice of public communal disciplining, both imagined and enacted, contrasts with the private domestic disciplining that was being debated in prescriptive literature. The same culture that still "felt good" about dunking scolds, whipping whores, or burning witches was, during this period, becoming increasingly sensitive about husbands beating their wives.2

While we have little evidence by which to judge whether men actually became less physically violent in the home, it is clear that prescriptive literature ceased to authorize the specific violence of wife-beating. The vigor of public discourse on wife-beating exemplifies a culture at work reformulating permissible and impermissible means for husbands to maintain control over the politics of the family, without, however, questioning that goal. This new boundary was built on notions of class and civil behavior. Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew acts as a comedic roadmap for reconfiguring these emergent modes of "skillful" and civilized dominance for gentlemen, that is, for subordinating a wife without resorting to the "common" man's brute strength. Despite the play's efforts to place Petruchio on the "gentle" side of the new formulation of permissible ways to subordinate a wife, I regard Petruchio's civilized domination as domestic violence nonetheless.3

A feminist model of abuse, which I will discuss in detail below, informs my use of the term domestic violence to name Petruchio's civilized domination. Rather than dismiss Petruchio's method as farcical or as a mutual game between two "equal" players, I propose to take Petruchio's "civilized" strategies seriously.4 Excavating the cultural assumptions about domestic violence, past and present, complicates the comedy of taming a shrew. To enjoy the comedy of the play, readers and viewers must work to see domestic violence from the point of view of an abuser—that is, they must minimalize the violence and, at the same time, justify its use. My critique of Shakespeare's Taming reaches beyond calling attention to or sympathizing with Kate's oppressed position; I argue that the play signals a shift toward a "modern" way of managing the subordination of wives by legitimizing domination as long as it is not physical.

I do not mean to suggest that Shakespeare's intended audience would recognize Petruchio's behavior as abusive. On the contrary, I am arguing that many would have seen Petruchio's method of "taming" the rebellious Kate as ingeniously complying with the early modern wife-beating reforms. Historically situating Petruchio's "taming" as a new and improved kind of dominance is important because of the way its representation coincides with the beginning of a modern reform model, a model that, by locating violence only in physical injury, denies the inherent violence of domination itself.

Within these historical and feminist frameworks, I question the assumptions made by twentieth-century critics of the play who applaud Shakespeare's alterations of his shrew-taming sources without interrogating the politics of power and discipline in the play. Praising Petruchio's nonviolent coercive behavior as "better," even though it is no less oppressive, parallels the "reforming" distinctions being made in early modern conduct books and sermons. Just because Petruchio never hits Katherine, or whips her and wraps her in the salted hide of his favorite horse, does not necessarily mean his treatment is better or less oppressive than if he had.5 An examination grounded on a better/worse binary diminishes or totally ignores the harm in the "better" treatment. If readers and teachers fail to take seriously the experience of Petruchio's abuse, and thus identify more strongly with him than with Kate, they risk complicity with an ideology that authorizes oppression as long as it is achieved without physical violence.

1. "If you strike me, you are no gentleman". The Wife-Beating Reforms

When Petruchio and Kate first meet, it is only minutes before blows are struck. But not by him. Although he "wrings" the ears of Grumio and assaults other men, Petruchio never hits Kate. Throughout the play, Petruchio employs a variety of strategies to "tame" Kate without ever actually beating her. I want to suggest that this is not in response to some age-old cultural dictate that men should not hit women, but rather that the refusal to use "stripes or strokes" to subordinate a disorderly wife is something relatively new. As many critics have amply proven, the connection between Shakespeare's play and the history of shrew-taming (the punishment of "unruly" women) is crucial to understanding the dynamics of Petruchio's treatment of Kate.6 At the same time, the historical acceptability of wife-beating also plays a role.

While, from the beginning of the early modern period, the dominant culture was fundamentally patriarchal, it also placed limits, even some new ones, on men's use of violence in the household. Physical correction of wives was widely regarded as an appropriate means for ruling the household, provided the correction stopped short of lethal force. Susan Amussen points out that, although a patriarchal culture authorized limited violence, the community intervened when life-threatening injury seemed likely.7 In records such as depositions given in the church courts and petitions submitted to a community's Justice of the Peace, Amussen finds that "some violence on the part of a husband towards his wife was usually accepted. . . . However, . . . [the community] expected it, like other forms of violence, to be limited. A woman's life should not be endangered, and correction should be appropriate to the offense."8 Permissible violence in the household was interpreted as discipline and understood as a superior's responsibility.9 As Margaret Hunt argues, men in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries "seldom bothered to deny that they beat their wives; rather they focused on their spouse's disobedience since that 'justified' the discipline."10 Restricting and monitoring "appropriate" spousal violence was a community responsibility, and, as Amussen argues, patriarchal culture consolidated its power by bridling its own most abusive aspects: "Patriarchy legitimated itself by claiming that its power was benign; it demonstrated this by accepting intervention in cases where domestic power was abused."11 Thus a husband's domination of his wife was "natural," needing to be checked only when it overstepped recognized boundaries.

Although the community got involved when it felt abuse was taking place, the culture did not enact laws that clearly distinguished between permissible and nonpermissible violence. In the earliest existing treatise to address women's legal status at length, The Lawes' Resolutions of Women's Rights (1632), the author/editor, known only as "T.E.," grudgingly admits that women might have some legal right to be free from violence.12 Under the declarative subject heading "The Baron may beat his Wife," T.E. concedes that, "if a woman be threatned by her husband to bee beaten, mischieved, or slain, . . . she may sue out of Chancery to compell him to find surety of honest behaviour."13 T.E. makes the ground for intervention the threat of lethal violence and "bodily damage" resulting from acts "otherwise then appertaines to the office of a Husband for lawfull and reasonable correction."14 The ambiguity in T.E.'s discourse on wife-beating reflects the cultural reluctance to force husbands to stop using violence. Rather than establish laws that would "take the weapon out of the husband's hand," as one reformer put it, various authors of sermons and conduct books "advised" against beating.15

While the law was unwilling to penalize men for using violence in their households, wife-beating reforms succeeded in changing the cultural meaning of such violence. The issue of wife-beating was taken up by many Puritan preachers and other Protestant moralists.16 As Frances Dolan has shown, a variety of texts, including such sermons as "An Homily of the State of Matrimony" and numerous conduct books (often derived from sermons such as those in William Gouge's Of Domesticali Dvties [1634] and William Whately's A Bride-Bush [1617]), all insist that "husbands should rule by policy rather than by blows."17 The reforms argued for subordination through policy based on civility; "policy was preferable to violence, not because it was humane but because it was more effective."18 In A Bride-Bush, for example, Whately argues that, while violence might work in the short term, there are better strategies to subordinate a wife: "Things are also best done when the will is allured, rather than the body compelled. . . . [I]f obedience comes not from the heart, can it last long?"19 As if illustrating these reformers' arguments, Petruchio makes Kate "stoop" not by beating her but by "alluring" her in the same way that he would train a falcon. His rule by policy ("Thus have I politicly begun my regin" [4.1.159]) works better than blows.20 William Heale, whose lengthy tract strongly opposes wife-beating, also relies on this rationale: "Pollicy goeth beyond force in marital actions; . . . far safer is the obedience yeelded up on faire termes, then that which is constrained on foule conditions."21 While the argument from efficacy shows up in one of the earliest calls for reform, "An Homily of the State of Matrimony," this text also relies heavily on issues of class and masculinity to challenge men's attitudes about using violence. "An Homily" argues that only the "common sort" use "fist and staff to rule a wife.22 Thus a notion of civility recasts physical violence as weak and, at the same time, brutal. Amussen argues that a reformed ideal for male behavior was located in the Christian man's ability to achieve the goals of "manhood" (independence, and protection of his own honor and his family's honor) without violence, which should be "replaced by self-restraint and the recourse to law." 23 Husbands who rely on physical strength rather than reason come to be regarded as less manly and less human: "fierceness in manner" makes men more like "brute beasts than . . . reasonable creatures."24 Although these reformers create new standards for masculinity and "gentleness," they never call for legal reform or for criminalizing wife-beating; rather, the sermons and prescriptive conduct literature express the hope that men will internalize the new reforms and discipline themselves.

Whether they focus on lawfulness, efficacy, or civility, reformers are careful to construct their arguments against wife-beating without questioning the wife's subordinate position. Male authors rely rhetorically on notions of women's worth and rights without actually promoting either equality or legal reform. Valerie Wayne demonstrates, in her discussion of Erasmus, Vives, and Edmund Tilney's Flower of Friendship, that, while humanists will grant women spiritual and rational equality, they refuse to assert a wife's equality with her husband in terms of power and resources.

Wayne shows that "equality" in marriage was not only valued largely in terms of social status and age, as Kathleen Davis argues, but also with respect to reciprocal virtue and mutual duties.25 Even so, Wayne establishes that this was not an equality of power; a wife had power over her subordinates but remained subject to her husband.

In The Crown Conjugall, John Wing makes clear that the argument to persuade men against wife-beating is not an argument to treat women as equals; women "may, & must be subjected."26 Wing dissuades men from using violence by citing the biblical commandment that men are to honor their wives. But women should not be honored too much, he cautions; they must be understood as only "a title lower" than the man himself.27 Wing asserts that violence and honor cannot "both be well bestowed on one party. Stripes (where we may give them) doe argue inferiority without honour."28 While the physical correction of servants or children is just, wives fall into a different category; hence, men's behavior must change accordingly.29 Wing claims that the honor due to wives makes battery undesirable—battery but not subordination. Wing shifts the issue away from women's experience of "physical correction" to focus on a discussion of whose "honor" is at issue. Avoiding any possible confusion about women's equality, Wing carefully defines a woman's honor as emerging only in relation to her husband, not in and of herself, "not as a Woman, . . . you cannot be even with vs."30 Rather than ground his argument against wife-beating on women's worth or equality, Wing develops an argument based solely on men's behavior; honorable treatment of women is for the sake of men's honor.

The popular discourse on wife-beating reform attempted to change men's attitudes about their use of physical violence without discussing women's experience of subordination. Reformers were interested not in bettering women's situation but rather in enhancing men's ability to subordinate. Wing's explicit concern that wifebeating reforms might be interpreted as advocating gender equality, a notion he takes great pains to denounce, brings into relief the ways that women's experience of violence was taken into account only when it served the reformers' purposes. The reformers ceased to authorize a single type of domination (wife-beating); and if they addressed masculine domination at all, it was to reaffirm it. For the most part, the reformers focused on the meaning of men's violence for the men themselves; according to the prescriptions for domestic rule, the use of physical violence compromised the husband's authority.

Shakespeare's "shrew" is tamed in a manner that would have made the wife-beating reformers proud; Petruchio's taming "policy" dramatizes how abstention from physical violence works better—for men. The play encourages its audience not only to pay close attention to Petruchio's method but also to judge and enjoy the method's permissibility because of the absence of blows and the harmonious outcome. While Petruchio uses physical violence with other males, he adheres closely to the early modern reformer's model and controls and dominates Kate through other means. Gouge, in 1634, allows that "other forceable meanes may be used besides beating by her husbands hands: shee may be restrained of liberty, denied such things as she most affecteth, be kept up, as it were, in hold."31 As if anticipating Gouge's prescriptions, Petruchio isolates Kate, denies her food and sleep, and wears her down until she submits.

Shakespeare also highlights the role that class distinction plays in the choices Petruchio makes in his effort to "conform" Kate. Early in the play, Kate challenges Petruchio's status as a gentleman, testing his gentlemanly ability to refrain from hitting her.

PETRUCHIO Good Kate, I am a gentleman—   KATHERINA That I'll try. (She strikes him.)   PETRUCHIO 1 swear I'll cuff you if you strike   again.( He holds her.)   KATHERINA So may you lose your arms.   If you strike me, you are no gentleman,   And if no gentleman, why then no arms.


Petruchio's status as gentleman is demonstrated in his ability to withstand Kate's provocation. As Lynda Boose has argued, Petruchio's self-restraint establishes his "public covenant with patriarchy"; in turn, middleand lower-class viewers' "fantasies of erotic reward, financial success, and upward mobility" are "fused" with gaining dominance over Kate without blows.32 Boose argues that class issues are displaced onto gender issues, but in the context of wife-beating reform, class and gender issues are interdependent. Even though they are not yet husband and wife, Petruchio's abstention from using blows against Kate in their first scene together signals a cultural shift in attitudes toward a husband's use of physical violence.33 Rather than dramatizing his authority through violence, Petruchio adheres to a new model of manhood which locates his status as gentleman in his restraint.

Petruchio also presents himself as man enough to take on the "irksome, brawling scold" without fear. When the men of Pedua try to warn him about her fierceness, he scorns their cautions, as if they have called him coward. After all, he has "heard lions roar" and the sea "[r]age like an angry boar" (1.2.194-96). Their efforts to scare him with reports of Kate's tongue call from him a dismissive "Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs!" (1. 203); Kate is no real threat to a man like him. He responds similarly to Baptista's warnings about Kate's fury:

I am peremptory as she proud-minded,   And where two raging fires meet together   They do consume the thing that feeds their   fury.   Though little fire grows great with little wind,   Yet extreme gust will blow out fire and all.   So I to her, and so she yields to me,   For I am rough and woo not like a babe.


The "thing" that feeds their fire and "their fury" is Kate's proud mind—that is, her will or her sense of self. Subordinating Kate so that she "yields" is of paramount importance to the success of their marriage. Petruchio's manly desire for domination must "blow out" her fire. Yet, Petruchio's method, which is "extreme," "rough," and manly ("not like a babe"), doesn't include beating; his method is effective and reasonable without resorting to blows.

Petruchio proves his manliness by embracing what other men fear (marrying a shrew) but also by working alone. In many of the shrew-taming ballads and plays, men use the assistance of friends to help bring about the rebellious woman's subordination. For example, in the anonymous play Tom Tyler and his Wife the husband fears his wife, who beats him regularly. He has a friend disguise himself as Tyler; the friend beats Tyler's wife unconscious. The friend returns triumphantly to report that the husband's problem is solved: "She is so well beaten, she dare not once threaten . . . for I struck till she fainted."34 In "A Caution for Scolds" the husband brings in a doctor who ties the wife to a bed, bleeds her, shaves her head, and threatens to cut out her tongue and bleed her for "a gallon" until she begs pardon.35 In "The Scolding Wife" a husband and his friends "break" the wife by tying her up and making her appear mad—fit for "Bedlam," to which he threatens to commit her. 36 We have other evidence of cooperation among two or more men to control one unruly woman. When T.E. discusses a wife's right to sue in Chancery, he includes as pertinent not only the husband's violent actions but also any help the husband might "procure": "[the husband] shall neither doe nor procure to be done to her."37 While neither ballads, plays, nor legal treatises describe an "actual" incident, they can be seen as participating in a tradition that implies the culture's recognition of male solidarity and support waged against a rebellious woman, a tradition that can also be linked to community action seen in the public shaming rituals documented by Underdown, Ingram, and Boose and described in the popular ballad "The cucking of a scold."38 That Shakespeare's shrew-tamer works alone bears further witness to Petruchio's manliness as it also evokes the private, domestic, and often isolated site of discipline that concerned reformers.39

Thus far I have suggested that Petruchio's method lines up with the cultural reforms that advocated subordination without physical beating. Early modern reformers were clear that their focus was on battery and not on domination. However, a twentieth-century reading of their reforms raises new questions. For instance, did such reforms improve women's daily lives? Rather than assuming that "anything is better than being hit," I want to examine this question. While I do not mean to discount the harm of physical violence or the experience of injury from such violence, I would argue for the significance of other forms of violence, a range of harms that the focus on battery/injury can obscure. Making battery the focus assumes that subordination without hitting is better. But we should ask "Better for whom?" The judgment seems to be based on anything but women's experience. The early modern reformers, who argue against violence as uncivil and inefficient, are more invested in the aggressor's behavior than in the victim's experience of it.40

Returning to the scene in which Kate strikes Petruchio provides an opportunity to reconsider the significance of Petruchio's "better" behavior. Instead of responding to Kate's blows with a counterassault, Petruchio does two things. First, he threatens to return the blow if she hits him again. Second, he uses an alternative means of force: he physically holds her for the next twenty-seven lines. It's tempting to see Petruchio's sustained possession of Kate's body as a more "civilized" response than if he were to act on his threat to hit her. But by focusing on Petruchio's response as better, we can easily overlook the fact that Kate is momentarily held prisoner. Taming by policy often relies on bondage and threats.41 However, my point is not just that taming by policy can be violent but also that the wifebeating reformers' emphasis on "blows" makes other coercive and threatening behavior appear to be outside the model for what counts as domestic violence. It obscures the violence of the "politic" means of enforcing discipline, making any action except beating permissible, even praiseworthy. In this way Petruchio's actions do not qualify as domestic violence, and his holding Kate hostage is acceptable. What concerns me about this model is that I find twentieth-century critics still using it.

For the past twenty-five years battered women and human-rights activists have worked together to reformulate what constitutes domestic violence; they identify physical violence as only one of many tactics abusers use to control and subordinate their victims.42 From this perspective domestic violence is any act of coercion that aims to nullify a person's will or desire in order for the abuser to gain dominance. Instead of limiting the definition of domestic violence to a certain kind of behavior, such as physical battery, this model places controlling behavior on a continuum of oppression. Many feminist activists insist that domestic violence is not exclusively defined as hitting a woman/wife; it encompasses a range of behaviors that includes intimidation, isolation, threats, emotional abuse, economic manipulation, and sexual assault. Ironically, the early modern reform movement, with its emphasis on replacing beating with other controlling behaviors, put in place the very model that many twentieth-century feminists are working to dismantle.

Petruchio's methods of taming Kate, which can be read as participating in the early modern wife-beating reform movement, can also be read as abusive through the lens of twentieth-century feminist work on domestic violence. The cultural meaning of Petruchio's violence is not the same now as it was in its original context. But when we "historicize" the play—for ourselves or our students—we should not only account for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century notions of domestic violence; we need to consider twentieth-century notions of violence as well.43 For the remainder of this essay, I will explore Petruchio's method not in relation to early modern reforms but in terms of twentieth-century feminist notions of domestic violence and what is known as the Stockholm syndrome in particular. My intention is neither to find nor to confirm a diagnosis of abuse; Petruchio and Kate are not real people, after all. Yet the Stockholm syndrome provides a useful contrast to the falcon-training model so often used to understand the taming. More importantly, it provides a lens through which to scrutinize a kind of interpersonal violence within heterosexual relations which the play's comedy seeks to romanticize.

While some may find this approach to Shakespeare's text ahistorical, I would argue that a "strategically anachronistic" practice of reading, as Kim Hall so aptly puts it, has great value because it allows us to think about our positions as readers, teachers, and critics.44 By juxtaposing the present with the past in this essay, I hope to foreground certain ideas about violence which I believe our own culture is still trying to understand and critique. The meaning of violence is variously overdetermined and rarely, if ever, "clear-cut." If we are to continue to read, perform, and teach Shakespeare's play, we gain by trying to understand our own ways of making meaning out of violence.

2. Bonding with the Abuser: Manning the Haggard

Examining the history of scold bridles and community rituals aimed at women who resist subordination and silence, Lynda Boose argues that Shakespeare's "zesty comedy" romanticizes the cruel history of punishing shrews.45 But where Boose exposes and laments the actual violence hidden behind and mitigated in the comedy of the play, I want to emphasize the harm inherent in Petruchio's new and improved method of taming. Instead of critiquing the offstage history of violence against women, as Boose does so convincingly, I want to emphasize the violence that is represented onstage and to question why people don't see it.

The controlling and coercive methods Petruchio uses to tame Kate are similar to the actions found in one particular kind of domestic-violence dynamic, known as the Stockholm syndrome.46 The name of this syndrome refers to a 1973 bank-robbery/hostage situation in which the hostages bonded with their captors. The syndrome explains why hostages appear to submit to rather than resist their captors; it describes the paradoxical bond, even affection, that arises in many hostage situations. While the Stockholm syndrome was originally identified in relation to the extraordinary event of hostage-taking, it evolved into a diagnostic tool to explain the more frequent situation of the abusive household. Feminist sociologists found a correlation in the survival behaviors of both hostages and victims of domestic violence. Both the abuser and the hostage-taker assert complete control over the victim's thoughts and actions through fear and intimidation. The Stockholm syndrome occurs when: 1) a person threatens another's survival and is perceived by the other as able and willing to carry out his/her threat; 2) the threatening person shows the other kindness; 3) the victim is unable to escape from the threatening person; and 4) the victim is isolated from outsiders.47

Shakespeare's Petruchio is, in terms of Stockholm-syndrome categories, the quintessential abuser: he isolates Kate from those who could intervene on her behalf, and he threatens her survival "in the name of perfect love" (4.3.12). Kate, like other hostages, finds that the key to survival will be to "actively develop strategies for staying alive."48 In Kate's situation these strategies entail denying her sense of reality and speaking as if she sees the world through Petruchio's eyes.

At the heart of violent and coercive behavior is the desire for control. Throughout the play, Petruchio makes clear that he tames Kate in order to make her "conformable" (2.1.267); he wants total control over her thoughts and actions, no matter how trivial.49 Even before they meet, Petruchio plans to interpret the meanings of her words contrary to her intent, thereby staking a claim over her language. Petruchio outlines his method of "woo[ing] by contradiction";50 he will misread the meaning of either her words or her silence:

Say she be mute and will not speak   Then I'll commend her volubility   And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.   If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks   As though she bid me stay by her a week.   If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day   When I shall ask the banns, and when be   married.

(II. 170-76)

Simply thus contradicting her meaning, however, might leave her confused but not under his control. He therefore issues his first threat at their initial meeting. Although they toss words to each other in a seemingly playful way, by the end of the scene, Petruchio stops playing and lays down his intent in a menacing way: "And will you, nil you, I will marry you" (1. 270).51 Here Petruchio establishes that, while their mutual wordplay has been fun, he will take her as his wife with or without her consent. When their marriage proves how little her consent matters, Petruchio's power over her language and her person is secured.

Rather than beat Kate into submission, he threatens her in a manner that recalls the Stockholm syndrome, coercing her into internalizing his wishes if she is to eat or sleep or escape isolation: "She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat; / Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not" (4.1.168-69). Depriving her of both food and sleep will make her weak and materially dependent on him. Like the method used to train a falcon, he tells the audience, his method to "man" his "haggard" will make her "stoop" and "make her come and know her keeper's call" (11. 164, 162, 165).52 While these are particularly egregious examples, the subtle coercions of the Stockholm syndrome appear throughout the play.

Petruchio demonstrates to Kate that he can carry out even the most outrageous threats. He aggressively pursues the "clapped up" wedding but then does not come at the appointed time. Although she is marrying him "against her heart" (3.2.9), Kate's status now depends on his arrival. Being left standing at the altar is here a kind of violence—even her father pities Kate by saying the "injury would vex a saint" (1. 28, emphasis added)—and Petruchio delays long enough to make his arrival seem like a special kindness. When he does finally appear, he is dressed in ridiculous garb described as "an eye-sore" and a "shame to [his] estate" (11. 90-91). When the wedding guests express outrage, Petruchio claims, "To me she's married, not unto my clothes" (1. 107). While this scene is often regarded as evidence that Petruchio is a "madcap" fool, it also demonstrates his power to do as he pleases. Tranio alerts the audience to the possibility that Petruchio's choice of "unreverent robes" (1. 102) is a strategy ("He hath some meaning in his mad attire" [I. 114]) but concludes that the best the men of Padua can hope for is to "persuade" him to change his clothing before going into church (1. 115). Though everyone onstage is aghast at Petruchio's behavior, none dares interfere. According to Gremio's report, no one intervenes in Petruchio's aggression during the wedding either. As Kate "trembled and shook," Petruchio "stamped and swore" (1. 157) while striking a priest, throwing winesoaked cake in the sexton's face, and acting as if he were "carousing with his mates" (1. 161). Although Gremio feels shame at the unseemly behavior ("And I, seeing this, came thence for very shame" [1. 170]), neither he nor anyone else stops it. Obviously this community will not discipline a head of household. This sets up Petruchio's behavior as threatening and aggressive, even to the bystanders, as well as establishing that in this early modern marriage a husband can carry out any threat against his wife.53

Although none of the men challenge his behavior, Kate stands up to him. She tries several strategies to negotiate a more acceptable response. Trying to persuade him to stay for the customary wedding feast, she first entreats Petruchio through an exchange of affection: "Now, if you love me, stay" (1. 193). But once this fails, she reverts to an earlier strategy of anger and frank speech: "Gentlemen, forward to the bridal dinner. / I see a woman may be made a fool / If she had not a spirit to resist" (11. 208-10). Petruchio establishes his dominance by verbally confirming her command while physically preventing her words from achieving their intent. Urging the others to feast without her because "she must with me. . . . I will be master of what is mine own" (11. 216, 218), he then transforms his role as "master" into a gesture of kindly protection. Acting as if the wedding guests intend to abduct Kate ("we are beset with thieves" [I. 225]), he draws his sword and threatens her family. While refusing Kate her wedding feast, a simple pleasure she regards as her due, he converts her forced removal into a rescue: "Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch thee, Kate" (1. 227). Petruchio's mock rescue combines kindness with aggression and confuses Kate's sense of his domination. Kate will later complain that Petruchio "rails and swears and rates" all through their wedding night, and yet he calls it love (4.1.155). When they have arrived at Petruchio's own residence, he orders a dress and cap made for Kate but then refuses to allow her to accept them: "When you are gentle you shall have one too, / And not till then" (4.3.71-72). He repeatedly alternates kindness with aggression, and that which at first appears an act of kindness and provision becomes another chance to deprive her and thus confirms his control of her environment. As researchers have found, in a situation that is totally violent, victims soon give up trying to please. When, however, abusers show kindness and concern for their victims, it creates an emotional bond; abusers "ease the emotional distress they have created and . . . set the stage for emotional dependency."54 Alternating coercive threats and kindness sets up a situation where victims actively look for ways to please rather than upset their captors.

A key factor in the development of the syndrome is isolation and the inability to escape. When Kate is taken to Petruchio's house, where even the servants refuse to sneak her food, she is isolated from anyone who can help her. Her father, traditionally the person who would protect her, has established that he wishes to be rid of her; she feels as if she has been put up for sale; "is it your will / To make a stale of me?" (1.1.57-58). Even though Baptista has said "love is all," no one seems to care whether Kate consents to the marriage or not.55 At first Gremio notices that her words are words of protest: "Hark, Petruchio, she says she'll see thee hanged first" (2.1.289). But Tranio silences him, pointing out that paying attention to her wishes will not help their mutual cause. Then Petruchio intervenes and undermines any further verbal refusal on her part by saying that he and she have made a "bargain" between them that "she will still be cursed" in public (1. 295). Since all the men around her conspire to ignore the fact that she does not consent to a marriage to Petruchio, Kate has little hope that they will later intervene on her behalf.

The scenes that take place in Petruchio's house in Act 4 best exemplify the Stockholm syndrome. Some may question whether Kate's "survival" was ever really at stake, but from Kate's point of view, there is no way to know how long this "brawling" might last; she states explicitly her fear that it may lead to a "deadly sickness or else present death" (4.3.14). Food and sleep have been withheld from her for no apparent reason.56 While the threat to Kate's survival is most keen at this point, Petruchio's repeated use of violence against subordinates also contributes to a state in which she fears for her life, another of the key elements of the syndrome.

Because Kate is completely isolated and convinced that Petruchio could carry out any of his threats, she must bond with her abuser in order to survive. Dee Graham and Edna Rawlings argue that the Stockholm syndrome in abused women follows this pattern:

The abuser traumatizes the victim (who cannot escape) with threat to survival. The traumatized victim needs nurturance and protection. Being isolated from outsiders, the victim must turn to the abuser for nurturance and protection, as she denies her rage. If the abuser shows the victim some small kindness, the victim bonds to the positive side of abuse. . . . The victim works to see the world from the abuser's perspective so that she will know what will keep the abuser happy.57

Petruchio's and Kate's actions at his house and on the road back to Padua match this description. Kate learns that to survive she must see (or at least claim to see) the world from his perspective, just as she learns to bond with this side of his abuse.

It takes repeated effort for Kate before she can learn to "deny her rage." She struggles against Petruchio's systematic destruction of her will by demanding to be heard:

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,   Or else my heart concealing it will break,   And rather than it shall, I will be free   Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.


This eloquent speech about her vital need to speak is the last one the audience hears in which Kate has a substantial sense of self and autonomy. Petruchio denies her language (and her sense of self) by pretending to hear in her words merely a comment on a cap: "Why, thou say's true, it is a paltry cap. . . . I love thee well in that thou lik'st it not" (11. 81-83). Again combining kindness with aggression, he performs his absolute power and control over her without touching her. He tests her tendency "to cross" him until she submits, that is, until she "incorporates the world view of the aggressor."58

Petruchio offers her a bit of kindness and an escape from her isolation with a visit to her father's house. But he threatens to retract the offer if she does not second his perverse reading of time and space. When he asserts that the present time is seven, Kate corrects him. He demands:

It shall be seven ere I go to horse.   Look what I speak, or do, or think to do,   You are still crossing it. Sirs, let 't alone,   I will not go today, and ere I go,   It shall be what o'clock I say it is.

(11. 185-89)

Petruchio has the power to say what time it is against any authority (such as the sun). What is at stake is Kate's willingness to "cross" him. His assertion must be sovereign, even if it is absurd or contrary to everything Kate knows. His goal is complete power and control over her thoughts and actions. In one of the most widely discussed scenes of the play, Hortensio urges Kate to speak against her own knowledge: "Say as he says, or we shall never go" (4.5.11). Petruchio again offers his test, "I say it is the moon that shines so bright" (I. 4), and Kate responds out of her own knowledge: "I know it is the sun that shines so bright" (I. 5). But when Petruchio threatens to take her back to the isolation of his home, Kate begins to "see" the world—that is, the sun and the moon—through Petruchio's eyes. She shifts her strategies and, when he repeats his "I say it is the moon," responds as he wished all along: "I know it is the moon" (1. 17). Her language of "know[ing]" here underscores Petruchio's gesture as an effort to change her source of knowledge.

From Petruchio's point of view, Kate's resistance has been about crossing him: "Ever more crossed and crossed, nothing but crossed" (1. 10). When she finally goes along with Petruchio's claims about the sun and the moon and later about Vincentio, Hortensio announces that the war is over. Defeated, Kate has surrendered herself as hostage: "The field is won" (1. 23). While the field is not bloody and her body is not black and blue, the process that Kate has undergone is nonetheless abusive because it signifies Petruchio's domination over her speech and actions.

A model of domestic violence that includes tactics other than physical violence gives readers a way in which to understand Kate's romanticized surrender at the end of the play as something other than consensual, as, in fact, a typical response to abuse. Although Kate's final speech is her longest, it does not necessarily reflect her own thoughts, desires, and wishes. Like a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, she denies her own feelings in order to bond with her abuser. Her surrender and obedience signify her emotional bondage as a survival strategy; she aims to please because her life depends on it. Knowing how the Stockholm syndrome works can help us to see that whatever "subjectivity" might be achieved is created out of domination and a coercive bonding.

The heterosexual romance plot of the play encourages readers to see this bonding as "love" and to disregard the violence of taming. Even though the play's spectators witness a husband attaining a coercive emotional bond with his wife through systematic abuse, the violence is easily discounted because there are no physical blows. While we have little sympathy with women who stay with (and continue to "love") a physically abusive husband, we still seem to follow the model put forth in the play. If the victim's injuries are physical, our culture doesn't see the accompanying coercive bonds as romantic; if the injuries are invisible, our culture, like the early modern, tolerates them. The Taming of the Shrew participates in a cultural tradition that accepts coercive bonding and oppression as long as they are free of physical violence.

The Taming of the Shrew reproduces cultural desires for masculine domination as well as assures its audience that Kate pleases herself when she finally learns to please Petruchio. The harmony reached at the end allows readers and audiences to find the method worthy, even if they judge it harsh at times, because Kate seems happy at the end. By displaying these practices as laughable and Kate's affectionate bondage as harmless, the play does the cultural work of figuring a husband's control over his wife as artful, heroic, and pleasurable for both.

3. Reading Critics' Readings of a Civilized Shrew-Tamer

In order to enjoy The Taming of the Shrew, many twentieth-century scholars seem to decide they will "indulge" in the fantasy of masculine domination (including seeing Kate's emotional bondage as "falling in love").59 Surveying the criticism of Taming gives us a kind of cultural history of the attitudes about acceptable and less-acceptable ways for a husband to establish dominance over his wife. Even within recent criticism, certain assumptions about coercion and violence within intimate relationships go unchallenged. Critics often refuse to see the violence of taming because Petruchio's actions do not injure Kate's body. When critics do examine Petruchio's method, many shift the focus by arguing that his method is an improvement compared to the shrew-taming tradition in which it participates. In many ways these claims ask readers to position themselves in a way that more closely reflects an abuser's, rather than a victim's, ideas about acceptable behavior.

In her study of sexual and domestic violence in the late twentieth century, Liz Kelly found two "common-sense" cultural beliefs that distinguish acceptable from unacceptable violence. Until recently, abusers (along with the police and the court system) believed that the severity of domestic violence should be determined by the extent of physical injury. Thus, where there is little evidence of injury, abusers are less likely to define their actions as violence. Kelly also found that violent acts were deemed acceptable if perceived as "legitimate"; if, for example, a woman's personality or behavior seem to provoke it or "ask for it."60 The most often cited examples of provocative conduct are acts that evoke sexual jealousy, that involve "talking back," or that entail the woman's unacceptable performance of household tasks.61 In strikingly similar ways the history of scholarship on the play often operates out of the same cultural assumptions. Most readings of the play depend on the assumption that Kate's behavior and personality are in need of transformation. Likewise, since Taming minimizes the physical injury done to Kate, most scholarly readings often fail to register the abusive aspect of Petruchio's actions.62

Robert Heilman's 1966 essay provides an example of these cultural assumptions at work; by insisting on the farcical nature of the play, he minimizes the "injury" and oppression. He advocates a "traditional" reading in which Petruchio's assertion of mastery over an insufferable shrew is merely part of the genre's "boisterousness and rowdiness," and he claims that, since the "spirit of farce" lies behind the relationship between tamer and shrew, no one's sensibilities should be offended.63 In farce, he insists, no one "gets really hurt," and the "pleasure in conquest is never undercut by the guilt of inflicting injury."64 Heilman argues that a revisionist reading wrongly imports into an early modern text a modern "sensibility" toward women.65 He contends that a traditional reading of farce is enjoyable because it allows readers to ignore every character's sensibilities, all negative consequences of aggression; farce allows readers to indulge in feeling "superior to the diminished men and women in the plot; perhaps we harmlessly work off aggressions (since verbal and physical assaults are frequent in farce)."66 In other words, reading through the conventions of farce allows readers like Heilman the "pleasure" of reading in the position of an abuser without the "guilt" of taking into account the victim's viewpoint.

Interestingly, Heilman argues that what makes Shakespeare's use of farce special is that Kate is not "only a shrew"; she has "hurt feelings" and "suffers real anguish."67 While he insists that readers should not consider the shrew's feelings because this would diminish the fun of watching the taming, at other points, when it serves the purpose of characterization, Heilman highlights Kate's inwardness. For instance, he depicts Kate as a good sport to legitimize her taming: "instead of not catching on or simply sulking, Kate has the dash and verve to join in the fun."68 Readers are not to "undercut" the fun of taming by considering Kate's experience of starvation, sleep deprivation, isolation, or subordination, even though the "fun" depends on the fact that she is starved and silenced. As Kate McLuskie rightly notes, "the consistency of the play's tone requires that we find Petruchio's systematic destruction of Katherine's will no less funny than his puns."69 Readers are to identify with Petruchio and are to consider Kate's inwardness when it justifies or rewards his taming methods but not when it diminishes the fun of taming itself.

Insisting on the farcical nature of the play is one way to make it less problematic for readers. Heilman is right: sympathizing with Kate does take the fun out of the play. But that is my point. To read or teach the play "traditionally" requires that the reader become complicit with its politics. Shirley Garner explains that Taming

. . . plays to an audience who shares its patriarchal assumptions: men and also women who internalize patriarchal values. . . . [But] I stand outside the community the joke is intended to amuse; I sympathize with those on whom the joke is played.70

But sympathizing with the victim of the joke is only part of the critique. The "pleasure" of the play is also undone when we recognize the substance of the joke as part of the history of domestic violence.

While a few feminist or "revisionist" interpretations emphasize the harm done to Kate, overwhelmingly most of these same critics continue to highlight their pleasure in the play's heterosexual courting ritual no matter how aggressive and coercive it may be. As Boose emphasizes, analyses of the play which rescue Kate from her seemingly joyful "abject" submission by rendering her an equal partner in a game or by reading her final speech as subversively ironic always "begin at the end . . . not so much as a way of undoing Kate's ventriloquization of male superiority [but] as a way of making it more palatable."71 Reminiscent of Kelly's "common-sense" cultural definitions of violence, these approaches seem to assume that if there is no sign of physical injury (i.e., Kate seems happy at the end), then the treatment must not have been violent or abusive. The "happy" ending of Kate's transformation legitimates Petruchio's method and erases the injury of the cruel and oppressive taming.

Another strategy for reading that diminishes the oppressive nature of taming is to notice that it could have been worse. Just as a battered wife could say, "I'm lucky, he never hits me with a fist, only an open hand," some critics have highlighted the fact that the shrew-taming tradition was often more brutal than Shakespeare's play. These claims first began to show up when critics compared Petruchio to the shrew-tamer in oral and folkloric tradition. Up until thirty-five years ago, critics interested in source criticism concentrated for the most part on the contemporary play The Taming of A Shrew.72 However, Jan Harold Brunvand and later Richard Hosley undertook detailed analyses of the sources and discovered that Shakespeare's method is not only unique but also less physically brutal.73 As Anne Barton says in the Riverside edition, "By comparison with the husband who binds his erring spouse, [and] beats her, . . . Petruchio—although no Romeo—is almost a model of intelligence and humanity."74 Likewise, Brian Morris, editor of the 1981 Arden edition, claims that Shakespeare "modifies his material in the direction of romance, softening the element of physical and sexual confrontation to allow the more tender mysteries of love to be seen through the ritual parades of aggression and courtship."75 Moreover, referring to a Restoration adaptation, Morris comments, "it is note-worthy that Lacey rejected the skill and delicacy of Shakespeare's 'taming' techniques in favour of something much closer to the brutalism of[ A Merry Jest of] A Shrewde and Curste Wyfe"76 Petruchio's method makes subordination more "civilized" because it achieves total domination without relying on physical violence.

Although many critics agree that Petruchio's method is an improvement, they disagree about the importance of Shakespeare's modifications of the shrew-taming stories. While Morris thinks too much emphasis on the differences is distracting, Valerie Wayne argues that "it would be difficult to overemphasize Shakespeare's departures from convention in the plot he devises and the character he draws."77 Morris grants that, while Petruchio's method is "coercive, . . . he never physically assaults or chastises [Kate] and this distinguishes The Shrew from earlier plays on the theme."78 Twentieth-century Western culture retains this "modern" appreciation for attaining dominance without physical brutality; neither Wayne nor Morris explores why this difference matters.

A humanist and patriarchal appreciation of reason and language often shores up the strategic emphasis on Shakespeare's civilizing improvements without analyzing the effects of smoothing over the rough edges of subordination. Wayne, for example, emphasizes that Petruchio's methods "are not brutal, but they are decidedly coercive"; hence Shakespeare devises a "more humane and artistic way to 'tame.'"79 While valuing Wayne's insights, I question whether Petruchio's civilized method is actually an improvement for women. My reading argues that men benefit more than women when subordination's rough edges are softened. The result is not less domination but less unseemly domination.

Reading Shakespeare's civilized shrew-tamer as enlightened and positively kindly underscores the humanist preference for a nonphysical expression of dominance but ignores the harm inherent in domination. Petruchio's method may be superior to wife-beating, but it is also more insidious and surely no less oppressive. Therefore, what is significant is not that Shakespeare deploys a less oppressive method but that he highlights a more palatable method for subordinating a wife. All forms of subordination aim at "stealing away" a wife's "private will."80 If the result of both kinds of shrew-taming is to emotionally "nullify" Kate ("will you, nil you"), I find little to celebrate even when this end is achieved without "brutal" physical violence.

4. "To kill a wife with kindness"

When Petruchio boasts that his method "is a way to kill a wife with kindness" (4.2.179), he relies on several notions of "kindness." At one level, he means that his haggard-manning method is "kind" in comparison with the beating she might have experienced. Another meaning of "kindness" plays on giving back the same "kind" of shrewishness Kate embodies; they are two of a kind, as several critics have argued. But a third element of "kindness" emerges in the combined threat to "kill" while simultaneously acting "kind." As the Stockholm syndrome demonstrates, hostages bond with their captors when, at the same time their lives are threatened, they are shown some gestures of kindness.

Just as the meaning of Petruchio's "kindness" is multiple, domestic violence can be defined in more than one way. If a culture identifies violence by the level of brutality and physical injury, then Petruchio provides a useful method of gaining the wifely subordination that early modern men considered natural and right, without resorting to wife-beating. Under the guise of civility, the early modern reform movement made men's masculinity and status as gentlemen contingent on achieving and maintaining dominance without brutality. On the other hand, domestic violence can be seen as one point on a continuum of power and control behaviors. Rather than using a simple hierarchy of tactics that would automatically see the physical as worse than other kinds of threatening behavior, a feminist model looks instead at dominance. This definition calls Petruchio's method abusive because it creates a coercive emotional bond based on fear and intimidation.

As readers and as teachers of The Taming of the Shrew, we benefit from analyzing two different models of domestic violence; without such analysis, we risk either erasing the abusiveness of Petruchio's method or falsely assuming the demise of an older model of domestic violence. Despite feminist reforms, many of us still define domestic violence by the degree of physical injury, sharing the early modern emphasis on "blows" rather than oppression. In other words, we are still very much influenced by the seventeenth-century notion of domestic violence, defined by the husband's use of extreme physical battery, the kind that leaves marks. By recognizing the specific ways in which taming is what some in our culture now define as domestic violence, students can unpack their own assumptions about violence, thus allowing them to question the cultural ideas that have to be in place for a reader to find comedy in the play. Approaching the play in this way avoids assuming that everyone in the classroom, for example, has the same model of domestic violence or domination. As a feminist teacher, I believe we must give students the tools to resist reading as an abuser, to resist minimalizing the violence because it leaves few physical injuries or because it appears provoked and therefore justified. Not to do so risks legitimizing Petruchio's violence when we ask readers to reproduce the violence in order to enjoy the play.


1 While the complete legal history of early modern women has yet to be written, much work has been done in the field. For general studies of the early modern period which include insightful explorations of women's historical experiences of the law, see Susan Dwyer Amussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (Oxford: Basil Black-well, 1988); Amussen, "'Being Stirred to Much Unquietness': Violence and Domestic Violence in Early Modern England," Journal of Women 's History 6.2 (1994): 70-89; Lynda E. Boose, "Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member," Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 179-213; Frances E. Dolan, Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1994); Martin Ingram, "Riding, Rough Music and the 'Reform of Popular Culture' in Early Modern England," Past and Present 105 (1984): 79-113; Jenny Kermode and Garthine Walker, eds., Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1994); David Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold: the Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England," Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985), 116-36; Joy Wiltenburg, Disorderly Women and Female Power in the Street Literature of Early Modern England and Germany (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1992); Linda Woodbridge, Women and the EnglishRenaissance: Literature and the Nature of Wornankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1984); and Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (London: Hutchinson, 1982).

2 On a culture's willingness to use brutal punishments for some transgressions but not others, see Amussen's discussion of a "moral economy of violence" in "'Being Stirred,"' 73-74.

3 Naming and defining violence, physical or otherwise, is a political act. Groups of people, based on their gender, class, or marital status, are affected by what their culture identifies as "domestic violence." For instance, naming violence has a political impact on both those who use violence and those who are victims of it. As Liz Kelly points out, "the term 'battering' implies actual, and in many women's minds, 'serious,' physical violence . . . which reinforce[s] the public invisibility of . . . the range of abusive behavior men engage in"( Surviving Sexual Violence [Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988], 143). Likewise, the term wife-beating addresses one method of dominance, whereas a broader term, such as tyranny or abuse, would include a much wider range of behaviors.

4 Robert B. Heilman is the greatest proponent of reading the play as farce; see "The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew," Modern Language Quarterly 27 (1966): 147-61. For examples of readings that interpret the hero's method as a game, "a suppose," or a trick, see John C. Bean, "Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew" in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds. (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980), 65-78; Marianne L. Novy, Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1984); and Cecil C. Seronsy, "'Supposes' as the Unifying Theme in The Taming of the Shrew," SQ 14 (1963): 15-30.

5 A husband "cures" his wife's shrewishness in this manner in "A Merry Jest," one of the generally accepted sources for Taming; see "A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife Lapped in Morel's Skin, for Her Good Behavior," reprinted in The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts, ed. Frances E. Dolan (Boston and New York: Bedford Books of St. Martins Press, 1996), 254-88. Several of the other primary texts I discuss in this article are also reprinted in Dolan's Texts and Contexts. Woodbridge makes a point similar to mine (207).

6 On the tradition of shrew-taming, see Boose; Karen Newman, "Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew," English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986): 86-100; Underdown; Valerie Wayne, "Refashioning the Shrew," Shakespeare Studies 17 (1985): 159-87; Wiltenburg; and Woodbridge.

7 Amussen, "'Being Stirred,'" 84.

8 Amussen, "'Being Stirred,'" 77-78. For the most detailed studies of early modern domestic violence in England, see Amussen, '"Being Stirred'"; Boose; Anna Clark, "Humanity or justice? Wifebeating and the law in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries" in Regulating womanhood: Historical essays on marriage, motherhood, and sexuality, Carol Smart, ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 87-206; Dolan, Dangerous Familiars; Dolan, "Household Chastisements: Gender, Authority, and Domestic Violence in The Taming of the Shrew" in Everyday Life in Early Modern Europe, Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt, eds. (Durham, NC: Duke UP, forthcoming); Margaret Hunt, "Wife Beating, Domesticity and Women's Independence in Eighteenth-Century London," Gender & History 4 (1992): 10-33; and Wiltenburg. For an insightful discussion of domestic violence in colonial America, see Elizabeth Pleck, Domestic Tyranny: The Making of Social Policy Against Family Violence from Colonial Times to the Present (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987). While discussions of wife-beating can be found in ancient and medieval sources, several historians note a dramatic increase in discourse on wife-beating beginning in the mid-sixteenth century; see, for example, Roderick Phillips, Putting asunder: a history of divorce in Western society (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988); and Kathleen M. Davies, "Continuity and Change in Literary Advice on Marriage" in Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage, R. B. Outhwaite, ed. (London: Europa Publications, 1981), 58-80. As Amussen points out, however, in '"Being Stirred,'" idealizations of or prescriptions for behavior should not be confused with actual practice (76 and 84).

9 In early modern popular discourses wife-beating is almost always discussed as punishment and as a "correction" for something the wife did or said. In contrast, twentieth-century studies argue that domestic violence is systematic. While the outburst of violence occurs in response to something the woman did, its overall effect is to create an environment in which a woman begins to subordinate her wishes, ideas, and actions in order to stave off the next outburst. It often develops into a cycle of violence that is used to maintain positions of dominance and submission. See Lenore Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome (New York: Springer, 1984); Lee Ann Hoff, Battered women as survivors (London and New York: Routledge, 1990); and Dee L. R. Graham, Edna Rawlings, and Nelly Rimini, "Survivors of Terror: Battered Women, Hostages and the Stockholm Syndrome" in Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse, Kersti Yllö and Michele Bograd, eds. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988), 217-33.

10 Hunt, 18.

11 Amussen, "'Being Stirred,'" 84.

12 I say "grudgingly" because T.E.'s vague coverage of wife-beating may have been added due to outside pressure. Apparently the bulk of the Lawes' Resolutions may have been available before 1632, when T.E. edited and published the text. He explains in the preface that he has "amended, and . . . added many reasons, opinions, cases and resolutions of cases to the [original] author's store" (quoted here from an excerpt reprinted in Daughters, Wives and Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640, Joan Larsen Klein, ed. [Urbana: U of Illinois P. 1992], 31). In his own tract on wife-beating, entitled An Apologie for Women. Or, an opposition to Mr. Dr. G[ager] his assertion. Who held in the Act of Oxforde, Anno. 1608. That it was lawful for husbands to beate their wives (London, 1609), William Heale complains about those "who though they have writ ten whole tractes and large volumes concerning the estate of wives, of their dowries, of their inheritances, . . . Yet have not a word of this question . . ." (30). It seems possible that Heale's complaint, or others like it, fostered T.E.'s somewhat limited coverage of the issue.

Most sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reformers never imagine that women have a right to be free from violence. The text of "An Homily of the State of Matrimony" in The Seconde Tome of Homilies (London, 1563, fols. 253-263), for example, says that men should not use violence under any circumstances. Yet, if a husband does beat his wife, the sermon does not authorize her to escape; nor does it support her right to live free of violence. Instead, "An Homily" advises that the woman can only patiently endure it and be rewarded in heaven (fol. 260).

13 T.E., 128.

14 T.E., 128.

15 John Wing, The Crown Conjugall (London, 1620), 136. The campaign against wife-beating intensified throughout the seventeenth century, although legal reform did not begin until the nineteenth century. For historical overviews of legal reform, see Phillips and Hunt.

16 There is not space here to pursue in any depth why attitudes toward physical violence changed in this period, but the reasons would certainly be many. Most frequently critics have argued in favor of the Protestant companionate-marriage ideology (see, e.g., Margaret Mikesell, "'Love Wrought These Miracles': Marriage and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew" Renaissance Drama n.s. 20 [1989]: 141-67, esp. 163) and humanism (see, e.g., Wayne). Hunt points to Foucault's theories about punishment and discipline, which argue that internalized, self-inflicted discipline replaced corporal punishments and overt displays of power against the offender (see Hunt, 11 and 15; and Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan [New York: Vintage Books, 1979]).

17 Dolan, ed., Texts and Contexts, 1-38, esp. 14. For discussion of wife-beating in the conduct-book material, see Amussen, An Ordered Society; Davies; R. Valerie Lucas, "Puritan Preaching and the Politics of the Family" in The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print: Counterbalancing the Canon, Anne M. Haselkorn and Betty S. Travitsky, eds. (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1990), 224-40; and Wiltenburg.

18 Dolan, ed., Texts and Contexts, 15.

19 William Whately, A Bride-Bush (London, 1623), 162.

20 Quotations from The Taming of the Shrew follow the New Cambridge text edited by Ann Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984).

21 Heale, 37.

22 "An Homily of the State of Matrimony," fol. 255. For how wife-beating becomes "a mark of the inferiority and animality of the poor," see Hunt, 27; see also Boose, "The Taming of the Shrew, Good Husbandry, and Enclosure" in Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, Russ McDonald, ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1994), 193-225; Dolan, Dangerous Familiars, 106; Dolan, ed., Texts and Contexts, 23; and Wiltenburg, 128.

23 Amussen, "'The part of a Christian man': the cultural politics of manhood in early modern England" in Political Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Modern England: Essays presented to David Underdown, Susan D. Amussen and Mark A. Kishlansky, eds. (Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 1995), 227.

24 "An Homily of the State of Matrimony," fol. 256. Status or class distinctions that, arguably, first appeared during the mid-sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries clouded reform strategies; Hunt argues that the "cult of civility" led to a "collective blindness" in legal reform (27 and 28). See also note 33.

25 Valerie Wayne, ed., The Flower of Friendship: A Renaissance Dialogue Contesting Marriage, Edmund Tilney (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1992), 62-63.

26 Wing, 136.

27 Wing, 135.

28 Wing, 136.

29 For discussion of the "double position" of the wife and the use of physical "correction" for servants and children, see especially Dolan, "Household Chastisements.".

30 Wing, 140 and 142.

31 William Gouge, Of Domesticali Dvties: Eight Treatises (London, 1634), 397.

32 Boose, 'Taming," 214 and 215.

33 A dominant cultural belief, still operative in the twentieth century, accepts and expects that lower-class men use violence in the home more often than do upperclass men. Contrary to this belief, contemporary studies of domestic violence have found evidence that domestic violence occurs across the spectrum of class, race, and nationality; see Hoff; Kelly; and R. Emerson Dobash and Russell Dobash, Violence Against Wives: A Case Against the Patriarchy (New York: The Free Press, 1979). Amussen finds evidence that upper-class women were more isolated and thus more vulnerable ("'Being Stirred,'" 81). This is not to suggest that poverty does not complicate domestic violence. For an analysis of the relationship between economics and violence against women, see Hoff, 46-49 and 134-39.

34Tom Tiler and His Wife (c. 1551), ed. John S. Farmer (London: Early English Drama Society, 1908), 44. As in Taming of the Shrew, the tamer in Tom Tyler uses the image of taming a horse; for commentary on this and other literary examples of taming, see Woodbridge, 204-5. See also Joan Hartwig, "Horses and Women in The Taming of the Shrew," Huntington Library Quarterly 45 (1982): 285-94.

35 "A Caution for Scolds" in The Roxburghe Ballads, ed. William Chappell (Vols. 1-3) and J. Woodfall Ebsworth (Vols. 4-9), 9 vols. (Hertford, UK: Ballad Society, 1872-99; rpt. New York: AMS, 1966), 3:508; hereafter cited as RB. Dating ballads is difficult due to the ephemerality of the single-sheet form and the limited, often nonexistent publication information on ballads. For example, the above ballad is dated c. 1685-88, determined in part by the initials "R.P.," which have been attributed to the licenser Richard Pocock. An earlier edition of an identical or similar version could have existed and not have survived.

36 "The Scolding Wife" (c. 1672-94), RB, 7:192.

37 T.E., 128.

38 "The cucking of a scold" (c. 1615-30) in A Pepysian Garland: Black-letter Broadside Ballads of the Years 1595-1639, ed. Hyder E. Rollins (Cambridge and London: The University Press, 1922), 72-77. On public shaming rituals, see note 1, above. My interest in these and similar texts is not because of their influence on Shakespeare; 1 consider all of them, including Taming, as participating in a "cultural conversation." Yet, since we are still reading and teaching the play, Shakespeare's version can be considered a rather prominent participant in that conversation.

39 Amussen argues that the shift from a communal discipline of unruly couples to a husband's private domination increased instances of domestic violence ("'Being Stirred,'" 81). In the former, the husband, too, was subject to scrutiny and punishment because the household and its relations were public knowledge. In the latter, the wife was more vulnerable because she was cut off from any potential community intervention.

40 As Dolan points out, the early modern reformers saw that violence might "promote rather than defeat resistance in the wife" ("Household Chastisements"). Bringing together Antonio Gramsci's analysis of hegemony and Hannah Arendt's assessment of the relationship between power and force, Liz Kelly argues: "Violence is used only when other methods of control have failed, as its usage makes coercive power explicit and, therefore, increases the possibility of resistance" (22). Sociological studies also confirm that force is used when power is most in jeopardy and that the more power one has, the less one needs to resort to physical violence. For an overview of diverse sociological "explanations for family violence," see Robert L. Burgess and Patricia Draper, "The Explanation of Family Violence: The Role of Biological, Behavioral, and Cultural Selection" in Family Violence, Lloyd Ohlin and Michael Tonry, eds. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989), 59-116.

41 See Dolan, ed., Texts and Contexts, 17.

42 For an analysis of the differences between feminist models of domestic violence and other concepts of "family violence," see Kersti A. Yllö, "Through a Feminist Lens: Gender, Power, and Violence" in Current Controversies on Family Violence, Richard J. Gelles and Donileen R. Loseke, eds. (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993).

43 A study of the early modern model can inform a critique of contemporary theories by reminding us of the pitfalls of fighting domestic violence simply on the grounds of tactics (hitting) or gender-appropriate behavior ("real" men don't hit women). Establishing these kinds of connections between current feminist projects and historical inquiry can show how the project of "doing women's history" participates in feminist activism.

44 See Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1995), 261.

45 Boose, "Scolding Brides," 212; see also Underdown; Newman; and Wayne, "Refashioning.".

46 The Stockholm syndrome was first described by I. Kuleshnyk in "The Stockholm Syndrome: Toward an Understanding," Social Action and the Law 10.2 (1984): 37-42. Graham, Rawlings, and Rimini found the Stockholm syndrome useful to their understanding of what our culture finds more troubling than men beating their wives: namely, why women don't leave abusive husbands. As feminist activists often point out, the more pertinent question might be, why won't husbands let women leave? Feminists note that the most lethal time for a woman caught in a violent relationship is when she tries to escape. Just as the culture assumes that if the abuse was indeed life-threatening, women would leave, readers of Taming have assumed that since Kate seems happy in the end, the abuse was not intolerable.

47 Adapted from "The Stockholm Syndrome, based on the work of Dee Graham and Edna Rawlings," an inhouse training manual for volunteers at the Dove House Battered Persons Shelter (Hamilton, Ohio, 1991). See also Graham et al., 219.

48 Graham et al., 224.

49 For a persuasive argument regarding a more specific goal in domesticating Kate, see Natasha Korda, "Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew," SQ 47 (1996): 109-31. Korda's analysis usefully shows how Kate is trained to support Petruchio's desires; taming does not create a passive victim but one who will actively work to please the abuser in order to stave off further violence.

50 I borrow this phrase from Dolan, ed., Texts and Contexts, 19.

51 Shirley Nelson Garner also recognizes this as a particularly troubling moment in the play because of Petruchio's ultimatum and his ability to enforce it; see "The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or Outside of the Joke?" in "Bad" Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, Maurice Charney, ed. (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1988), 105-19, esp. 113.

52 While many critics have commented on the analogy to falcony, I believe that Brian Morris summarizes the tradition best in his introduction to the Arden edition of Taming (London: Methuen, 1981), 125-28. See also Martha Andresen-Thom, "Shrew-taming and other rituals of aggression: Baiting and bonding on the stage and in the wild," Women's Studies 9 (1982): 121-43; Hartwig; and Margaret Loftus Ranald, "The Manning of the Haggard; or The Taming of the Shrew," Essays in Literature 1 (1974): 149-65.

53 When onstage spectators find amusement in the situation, declaring Kate "madly mated" and that Petruchio is "Kated" (3.2.233-34), Shakespeare dilutes the aggression of this scene for the audience. Rather than register the potential for abuse in this relationship, the audience is given permission to enjoy the coming violence as a legitimate response to Kate's earlier aggression.

54 Graham et al., 225.

55 Unlike the contemporary play titled The Taming of a Shrew, Shakespeare's version lacks Kate's verbal consent.

56 While some readers point out that Petruchio also goes without food and sleep, he knows he could stop this process at any point. He consents and he is in control; neither is true for Kate.

57 "Stockholm Syndrome, based on the work of Dee Graham and Edna Rawlings"; see also Graham et al., 219.

58 Graham et al., 219.

59 For an examination of the sadistic dynamics on which the play depends, see Barbara Hodgdon, "Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life," PMLA 107 (1992): 538-53.

60 Kelly, 68-69. In addition to violence being "legitimate" if women provoke it, Kelly also notes physical abuse is less likely to be defined as domestic violence if it occurs in economically stressed households (69).

61 Kelly, 131.

62 The logic of shrew-taming has been considered so acceptable that critics argue that no one in Shakespeare's audience would empathize with a shrew's feelings; the audience would be "'pre-conditioned' . . . to enjoy the spectacle of the taming of one on whom they would not expect to waste a moment's sympathy" (The Oxford Shakespeare The Taming of the Shrew, ed. H. J. Oliver [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982], 50).

63 Heilman, 151.

64 Heilman, 152.

65 Heilman, 148.

66 Heilman, 152.

67 Heilman, 161 and 158.

68 Heilman, 159.

69 Kate McLuskie, "Feminist Deconstruction: The Example of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew" RedLetters 12 (1977): 33-40; quoted here from Mikesell, 163. My reading of the play is indebted to this strong tradition of feminist criticism of The Taming of the Shrew.

70 Garner, 117.

71 Boose, "Taming/' 193.

72 Earlier critics did discuss shrew-taming traditions. F. J. Furnivall, for example, mentions "Merry Jest" to support his arg ument that "no one would be offended by Petruchio's likening of the training of a wife to that of a falcon" (quoted here from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, ed. William J. Rolfe [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886], 24). However, I find it interesting to speculate on how much of a coincidence it is that just when critics began to take into account Kate's experience of taming, scholars proved that Shakespeare's method was more kindly than the tradition. This not only redeems the Bard but, more importantly, shifts the focus away from the violence of Petruchio's method.

73 See Jan Harold Brunvand, "The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew," SQ 17 (1966): 345-59; and Richard Hosley, "Sources and Analogues of The Taming of the Shrew/Huntington Library Quarterly 27 (1964): 289-308.

74 Quoted in Thompson, ed., 28.

75 Morris, 88.

76 Morris, 91, emphasis added.

77 Wayne, "Refashioning," 170.

78 Morris, 131-132.

79 Wayne, "Refashioning," 171 and 174.

80 This quotation is from one of many marriage manuals, Edmund Tilney's Flower of Friendship (1568). Establishing complete power over a wife's "will" was a standard goal for the early modern husband, necessary in order to govern his household in an orderly fashion. Here Tilney suggests that a husband should be gentle toward his wife and gradually "steale away hir private will, and appetite, so that [instead] of two bodies there may be made one onelye hart" (112; see also Wayne, introduction, 62-63). While Tilney advocates "gentleness," his language merges kindness with the violence of theft.

Further Reading

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Cohen, Derek. "The Rites of Violence in 1 Henry IV." In Shakespearean Motives, pp. 22-35. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1988.

Maintains that / Henry IV explores the differences "between beneficial and harmful violence" through the use of ritual or sacrificial violence.

Deer, Harriet A. "Untyping Stereotypes: The Taming of the Shrew." In The Aching Hearth: Family Violence in Life and Literature, edited by Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker, pp. 63-78. New York: Plenum Press, 1991.

Examines the spousal abuse which occurs in The Taming of the Shrew and claims that the play "does not encourage such behavior; rather it reveals how destructive and widespread is its hold on society."

Dolan, France E. "Revolutions, Petty Tyranny, and the Murderous Husband." In Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700, pp. 89-120. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Examines the literary and legal representations of spousal murder in early modern England, noting that while a wife's murder of her husband was viewed as petty treason, a husband's murder of his wife was regarded as petty tyranny. Within this context, Dolan reviews the political implications of Shakespeare's Othello.

Fly, Richard. "Shakespeare, Artaud, and the Representation of Violence." Essays in Literature XVI, No. 1 (Spring 1989): 3-12.

After surveying the views of Antonin Artaud, the radical French theorist, violence "enthusiast," and advocate of theatrical violence, Fly uses Shakespeare to explore the problems inherently related to the dramatic representation of violence and notes that such problems demonstrate the differences between Shakespeare's practices with regard to violence and Artaud's theories.




War in Shakespeare's Plays