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Feminism in King Lear

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victoria miceli

on 21 November 2014

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Transcript of Feminism in King Lear

What is Feminism?
King Lear
What does

mean to you?
in King Lear

“Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety in the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, women's refuges, reforms in the law. If someone says, 'Oh, I'm not a feminist', I ask, 'Why? What's your problem?”
-Dale Spender, Man Made Language
The belief that men and women should have
equal rights
and opportunities

It is both a political stance and a theory that focuses on gender as a platform for women to demand equality, rights and justice

It analyzes prevalent gender roles as they are represented in cultural forms such as literature, cinema, and advertisement
The female characters in Shakespeare’s King Lear are portrayed as powerful figures who are often as aggressive as, if not more ruthless than their male counterparts

Cordelia, a pure, loyal and unselfish woman, depicts many traits expected of a woman in the cultural standards of the time period

Goneril and Regan, on the other hand, portray greatly contrasting characteristics to those of Cordelia. They are manipulative, treacherous and often violent in their words and actions

presentation of female characters...
When interpreted from a feminist perspective, it is evident that King Lear very much contains misogynistic overtones. Although the story challenges traditional gender roles, it also suggests that women are seen as demonic, aggressive and the root of all issues. Throughout the story it is evident that the three sisters fall victim to the misogynistic societal norm that once existed in the 16th century.
Challenging Gender Roles
The Powerpuff Girls as Regan, Goneril and Cordelia...
Points out male and female stereotypes, and implies that these roles should be stuck to. The feminist message is that you should not take on one gender specific stereotype and attribute it to yourself. Men can take on female roles, just as women can take on male roles.

Challenging Gender Roles
It is quite apparent from the beginning that the female characters of King Lear do not act as typical women of their time. They tend to possess more "masculine" traits.
"Give me thy sword. - A peasant stand up thus?" (3.7.77)

When Regan and Cornwall capture Gloucester and threaten to pluck out his eyes for being a traitor, one of the servants tries to protect Gloucester by fighting Cornwall. Regan does not believe her husband can handle the fight and takes control of the situation herself. This demonstrates her violent nature, and the fact that she is not a damsel in distress who needs a man to save her.

“I must change arms at home, and give the distaff into my husband’s hands” (4.2.17-18)
Goneril is an extremely controlling woman that has quite an influence on her husband. She plans to take charge of her household and states that from then on, she would wear the pants and Albany would play the housewife. With her idea of swapping gender roles of husband and wife, she defies the typical feminine role.
“Nothing my lord.”
“Nothing will come of nothing; speak again.”
“...I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less” (1.1.86-92)

In the division of the kingdom scene, Cordelia refuses to conform to her father’s wishes and does not take part in the charade that her sisters play. She rebels against both parental and male authority.
King Lear
There are many situations highlighted throughout King Lear which can be portrayed as sexist. The male characters shown below have each exhibited at one point or another, an abhorrent discrimination against/hatred towards both the female characters in the play and women in general.
“Down from the waist they are centaurs, though women all above. But to the girdle do the gods inherit, beneath is all the fiend’s: there’s hell, there’s darkness, there is the sulphurous pit, burning, scalding, stench, consumption!” (4.6.122-127)
Lear gives a very sexist description of the female anatomy, and claims that all women seem relatively normal from the waist up, but demonic down below, full of “hell” and “darkness.”
“The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.The dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes” (5.3.169-172)
Edgar refers to the body of Edmund’s mother as a “dark” and “vicious” place where he was created. He implies throughout this statement that all bad things in the world spring from the loins of women.
“See thyself, Devil! Proper deformity shows not in the fiend so horrid as in women” (4.2.60-61)
Shakespeare presents powerful women as deformed in both shape and mind. In this quote, Albany states that powerful women have the shape of a woman but the mind of a devil. This remark sets forth a notion of how women ought to behave and implies that Goneril exists beyond those boundaries.
Shakespeare's female characters face misogyny directly from male characters and are also indirectly portrayed through misogynistic contrasts between male and female characters.
O how this mother swells up toward my heart! Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow! Thy elemen's below" (2.4.54-56)
Lear tells Kent that he thinks he is suffering from Hysterica Passio, a medical condition thought to affect woman. Here, he is implying that he isn’t acting like a man, because only women have no control over their feelings.
“Touch me with noble anger, and let not women’s weapons, water drops, stain my man’s cheeks!” (2.4.273-275)
Lear describes his tears as a weak reaction and calls them “women's weapons,” thus degrading woman as the weaker sex.
These comments are made specifically by King Lear
Through the examination of the female characters in “King Lear,” it becomes evident that it is not representative of Shakespeare’s thoughts on women, but rather a commentary on the way women were viewed in the society of the time period. Women had little to no rights and were often portrayed as sexual deviants and temptresses. “King Lear” exhibits qualities that are quite degrading to women, despite its reversal of traditional gender roles.
“Hear, nature, hear; dear goddess, hear! Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend to make this creature fruitful! Into her womb convey sterility! Dry up in her the organs of increase; and from her derogate body never spring a babe to honour her! If she must teem, create her child of spleen; that it may live, and be a thwart disnatured torment to her! Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth; with cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks; turn all her mother's pains and benefits to laughter and contempt; that she may feel how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child! Away, away!” (1.4.265-279)
Lear is so enraged by Goneril’s insistence that his knights should be reduced that he uses certain aspects of her femininity to spite her. He wishes upon her the inability to have children, then says that if she is able, that he hopes she experiences excruciatingly painful labour and has a child that will make her eternally miserable.
Works Cited
Donat Rubio, Benjamin. "Are the Female Characters Stereotyped in King Lear as Demonised or Sanctified Women?" Web. 20 Nov. 2014. http://www.uji.es/bin/publ/edicions/jfi5/female.pdf

"Feminism." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism

James, Rajesh. "Feminism(s): A Brief Overview." Academia.edu. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. http://www.academia.edu/2659830/Feminism_s_A_Brief_Overview

"King Lear: Advanced York Notes." Contemporary Criticism. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. http://www.yorknotes.com/alevel/king-lear-yna/study/critical-history/03000502_critical-history

"King Lear: Analysis of Major Characters." SparkNotes. SparkNotes. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/lear/canalysis.html

Lind, Lauren. "'Tigers Not Daughters'. King Lear and a Patriachal World." Literature. 18 June 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. http://laurenlindessays.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/tigers-not-daughters-king-lear-and-a-patriachal-world/

Pugachevsky, Julia. "25 Famous Quotes That Will Make You Even Prouder To Be A Feminist."BuzzFeed. 25 May 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. http://www.buzzfeed.com/juliapugachevsky/famous-quotes-that-will-make-you-even-prouder-to-be-a-fem

Shakespeare, William, and Roma Gill. King Lear. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

Shmoop Editorial Team. "King Lear Gender Quotes." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. http://www.shmoop.com/king-lear/gender-quotes.html

"The Problem of Misogyny in King Lear." Web. 20 Nov. 2014. https://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/bitstream/1822/3342/5/Chapter 3 Taking the Woman's Part.pdf

Trajanovska, Kristina. "Title: Patriarchy, Misogyny and Pornoglossia in Shakespeare's Tragedies."Academia.edu. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. http://www.academia.edu/5937688/Title_Patriarchy_Misogyny_and_Pornoglossia_in_Shakespeares_Tragedies

"What Is the Female Equivalent of a Misogynist?" - Oxford Dictionaries. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-is-the-female-equivalent-of-a-misogynist

Yow, Charles J. "Digital Commons@Georgia Southern." Digital Commons at Georgia South. 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/etd/188/
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