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Feminism in Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice

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Sheena Polen

on 25 February 2014

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Transcript of Feminism in Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice

1. First Wave Feminism
highlight the inequalities between the sexes
women's suffrage movement
Nineteenth Amendment-1920
2. Second Wave Feminism - early 1960s-late 1970s
more equal working conditions National Organization for Women (NOW) , cohere feminist political activism-1966.
3. Third Wave Feminism - early 1990s-present
resisting the perceived essentialist ideologies and a white, heterosexual, middle class focus of second wave feminism
borrows from post-structural and contemporary gender and race theories to expand on marginalized populations' experiences.

Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes
Feminist Literary Criticism
Feminist criticism is concerned with "...the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women." This school of theory looks at how aspects of our culture are inherently patriarchal (male dominated) and strives to expose the explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women."
Looking at the Text from a Feminist Point of View
•How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?
• What are the power relationships between men and women (or characters assuming male/female roles)?
• How are male and female roles defined?
• What constitutes masculinity and femininity?
• How do characters embody these traits?
• Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them?
• What does the text reveal about the operations (economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of patriarchy?
• What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?
• What does the work say about women's creativity?
• What does the history of the work's reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy?
• What role the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition?

Scene 2 Act 6
I am glad 'tis night, you do not look on me,
For I am much ashamed of my exchange.
But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush
To see me transformed to a boy…
What, must I hold a candle to my shames?
They in themselves, good sooth, are too too light.
Why, 'tis an office of discovery, love,
And I should be obscured.

Within the play The Merchant of Venice, the female characters achieve amazing deeds to "clean up" the messes that their husbands had made. Furthermore, the women all eventually achieve their own goals. However, even though the characters (especially
Portia and Nerissa) push the
boundaries of their male disguises,
they still return to the act of
submission they must play to
the patriarchal society.
Feminism in Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice
The 3 Waves of Feminism
When we are both accounted like young men,
I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
And wear my dagger with the braver grace,
And speak between the change of man and boy
With reed voice; and turn two mincing steps
Into a manly stride; and speak of frays
Like a fine bragging youth; and tell quaint lies,
How honourable ladies sought my love,
Which I denying, they fell sick and died-…(3.4,63-71)
Scene 3 Act 4
"Oh, me, the word, "choose"! I may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father" (Shakespeare,1.2,22-24).
While the casket selection appears to be a strict stipulation, the clever Portia deciphers a method in which she can still have an influence upon the man that she marries. Portia "accepts" the fact that she must marry Bassanio after he selects the lead casket as the fulfillment of her father's desires. She was able to tip the scales of the decision-making process in her favor so that she could choose her husband by discreetly providing clues to indicate the correct casket.
"Let music sound while he doth make his choice…Let us all ring fancy's knell I'll begin it- Ding, Dong, bell. Ding, Dong, bell" (3.2, 43, 69-71).
Scene 1 Act 2
. . . Many Jasons come in quest of her.
O my Antonio, had I but the means
To hold a rival place with one of them,
I have a mind presages me such thrift
That I should questionless be fortunate.

What did it mean to be masculine or feminine in the Elizabethan era?

Women were expected to concern themselves with marriage and motherhood only, and to submit themselves to their fathers and then their husbands in all ways. Considered “weaker vessels,” women were not held to have either “strength or constancy of mind.”
Subordination, submission, and skill in care giving were valued in women, and they were expected to keep their opinions to themselves (not be “froward,” or “shrewd”).

Femininity in Shakespeare’s time seems to have meant submission and gentleness, while masculinity was characterized by strength and both social and financial power.
Bassanio- language filled with financial terms and thinks he is unfit to court Portia because he is poorer than all her other suitors.

Portia- not as superficial as Bassanio thinks her to be
Her evaluation and deconstruction of each of her suitors is articulate and scathing. Portia’s conception of masculinity seems to have little to do with mere anatomy or money. The French lord, she says, though he possesses the outward signs of masculinity, plays a man’s part so poorly that only God’s intent allows him to be considered one.
Portia's seems to have superior judgement of what makes a truly masculine man because when she dresses as a man it almost effortless on her part and every other character believes it.
Portia's Masculine Undertone
. . . But now I was the lord
Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,
Queen o’er myself; . . . (3.2.167-9)

A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich
That only to stand high in your account
I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,
Exceed account. (3.2.154-7)

. . . But the full sum of me
Is sum of something which, to term in gross,
Is an unlessoned girl, . . . (3.2.157-9)
Full transcript