you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's
Wilson Mizner, 1876-1933, American Author
by Doré Ripley, ©2006-18
SHAKESPEARE'S LAST PLAYSPericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempestexplore the effect of masked female intelligence on patriarchal filial relationships, the dowry wars, and a woman's ability to run an estate. Tantamount to the health of the realm is the king's duty to pass on his noble blood to an heir, preferably male. The monarch's desire for platonic relationships creates daughters whose minds resemble princes while disguised as noble, chaste, and, hopefully, obedient princesses. But feminine intellect creates an unforeseen consequence, where once-compliant daughters act out as dissatisfied individuals. The verisimilitude of Shakespeare's feminine portrayals reflects the new Renaissance education courtly Elizabethan females received, creating the first truly modern women. Even while their accomplishments proved a profitable boost to family fortunes these intelligent women were viewed as second-class citizens. In Shakespeare's final dramatic romances or tragicomedies, the wife/daughter is perceived to betray her husband/father due to the male paranoia over female chastity, with the patriarch effectively destroying courtly women only to repent and resurrect them by the close of the play. But, these female restorations only create future ambiguity, thereby starting the father/daughter, husband/wife cycle all over again.
A king's duty binds him to the realm's prosperity, which reflects downward from the ruler to his subjects, but monarchies have two particularly tricky dichotomies. One involves the definition of nobility itself. Does one's royal blood make one noble? In The Winter's Tale, when the King of Bohemia, Polixenes, encounters Princess Perdita, the disguised shepherdess, he comments, "Nothing she does or seems / But smacks of something greater than herself, / Too noble for this place" (4.4.157-59). Perdita cannot hide her nobility, even though a woman's blood carries imperfections. Renaissance thinkers whispered that Queen Elizabeth's femininity might taint her monarchical capacity, since it was widely believed that women "were led only by their passions" (Greenblatt 18). Elizabeth's tutor, Roger Ascham, excused any perceived feminine failings, because "her perseverance [was] equal to that of a man, and her memory long keeps what it quickly picks up" (qtd. in Jackson 5). The glory of Elizabeth's blood trumped her sex, making her gender neutral, so to speak, and as history demonstrated, she proved a competent ruler. From another angle, the issue of royal blood and royal actions, leads to the question, does one's moral deeds make one regal? Prince Pericles reflects, "My actions are as noble as my blood, / That never relished of a base descent" (Per. 9.54-55). He believes that, one, his chivalric actions prove him royal; and two, he cannot behave otherwise due to his patrician ancestry. But, Shakespeare's Cymbeline proves differently, showing royal blood cannot always overcome ignoble behavior. Princess Innogen avoids marriage with the noble, yet unworthy, Clotin, since "she chose an eagle / And did avoid a puttock" (Cym. 1.1.140-41). The second dichotomy involves the king's duty to leave his kingdom a male heir, thereby avoiding civil upheaval. In Pericles, the learned counselor, Helicanus, remarks that the country needs a strong leader, "Upon whose safety doth depend the lives / And the prosperity of a whole kingdom" (1.39-40). When Princess Thaisa weds Prince Pericles, public rejoicing breaks out, and "everyone with claps can sound / 'Our heir-apparent is a king!" (Per. 10.36-37). In any event, while everyone celebrates the delivery of the male heir, once the prince reaches his majority he becomes a competitor to the father/king, leaving the monarch in an often-untenable position. Under these circumstances, what could be better for a sovereign than an intellect molded to resemble his regal male mind, while disguised as a noble, virtuous and dutiful princess? For the king, this is the closest he can come to the desired platonic relationship of Elizabethan male society, "Were you a woman, youth, / I should woo hard but be your groom in honesty, /Ay, bid for you as I'd buy" (Cym. 3.6.67-69).
With the exception of King Leontes and Princess Perdita in A Winter's Tale, the king and princess find their relationship at the center of all four of Shakespeare's tragicomedies. The princesses' education lies in the hands of the king, usually due to the absence of a mother/queen. In Pericles, there are two father/daughter relationships; the first involves King Simonides and Princess Thaisa. The audience meets Thaisa at her age-of-betrothal birthday party, where "princes and kings come from all parts of the world / to joust and tourney for her love" (Per. 5.146-47). Her father demands she choose a mate, at the same time giving her the choice of knights and princes from Sparta, Macedonia, Antioch, Athens, Corinth, and a lone stranger. Presented in their native tongue, Princess Thaisa's grasp of foreign languages becomes obvious as she reads off the insignia of each knight. Upon marriage, her extensive education helps her appreciate her newly wedded husband, Pericles, whose "education been in arts and arms" (Per. 7.77). After Thaisa's alleged death during childbirth, Pericles deposits his newborn daughter, Marina, at the court of King Cleon. This begins the second father/daughter relationship in Pericles with the Prince requesting that the King of "Tarsus give her princely training, that she may be / Mannered as she is born" (Per. 14.16-17), which, unfortunately for Marina, he does. Marina is . . .
...by Cleon trained
In music, letters; who hath gained
Of education all the grace,
Which makes her both the heart and place
Of gen'ral wonder. (Per. 15.7-11)
Marina's intellectual mastery fashioned at the hands of her foster father/king creates court jealousy leading to her expulsion and eventual sale to a house of ill repute. Her new would-be trainers, the brothel owners, eventually give up trying to hustle the ever-chaste young woman. Marina suggests they exploit her pedagogically:
Proclaim that I can sing, weave, sew, and dance,
With other virtues which I'll keep from boast,
And I will undertake all these to teach.
I doubt not but this populous city will
Yield many scholars. (Per. 20.195-99)
Even though the preceding catalogue reflects a stereotypically female education, Marina's modesty prevents her from proclaiming her more Renaissance talents. This confident young woman, nevertheless, understands the value of good training, relieving her of an unchaste and unwanted occupation. In The Tempest, the motherless young aristocrat, Miranda, also receives a first-rate education directly from her father, who acted as "thy schoolmaster made thee more profit / Than other princes can, that have more time / For vainer hours and tutors not so careful" (Tem. 1.2.173-75). Along with her father's superior ability, it must be acknowledged that part of Miranda's capacity for study lies in her total isolation on a desert island with nothing else to occupy her time. Cymbeline's motherless Princess Innogen, a particularly well-read young woman received humanist tutoring at her father's court. In addition to her constant perusal and writing of love letters, she "hath been reading late, / The tale of Tereus. Here the leaf's turned down" (Cym. 2.2.44-45). Along with the dramatization of the bibliophile's pet peeve, the audience learns of Innogen's classical taste in literature. She possesses the rhetorical ability necessary to construct metaphors recalling the Aeneid, labeling her husband, Posthumus, "false Aeneas" (Cym. 3.4.58), when she suspects he betrayed her. Cymbeline, like Pericles, contains a neoplatonic religion with its prevalence of Greco-Roman references, and classic gods espousing Christian morals (Greenblatt 81). Men, and women alike, direct many pleas and epithets towards the classic gods reflecting the culture's pious spiritual commitment, a religious knowledge base whose devotion is mirrored by Elizabethan Christian society. But, as demonstrated, courtly women did more than peruse scripture and write love letters; they studied languages, humanist texts, and performed translations as part of their Renaissance education.
Princess Innogen received instruction in more than classroom arts and letters. An accomplished equestrian, she rides all over England disguised as Fidele, a "youth" (Cym. 3.4.172), in "doublet, hat, [and] hose" (Cym. 3.4.169), while attempting to find "noble Lucius" (Cym. 3.4.171) in order to gain employment. His/her musical accomplishments will overwhelm Lucius, who will "doubtless / With joy . . . embrace you" (Cym. 3.4.175-176) because he/she sings "angel-like" (Cym. 4.2.49), thereby gracing any nobleman's retinue. Fidele/Innogen can also cook and performs with chef-like ability, cutting "...roots in characters, /And sauced our broths as Juno had been sick /An he her dieter" (Cym. 4.2.51-53). Receiving training in engineering or artistic perspective, Innogen remarks, she will "look upon [her husband] till the diminution / Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle" (Cym.1.3.18-19). In fact, Innogen's masculine intellect enables her to cross the border onto the frontier of the male community as the youth, Fidele. Meanwhile, Cymbeline's Queen studies medicine with Doctor Cornelius, who asks her, "...wherefore you have / Commanded of me these most poisonous compounds" (1.5.8-9). She responds like a true scientist:
I will try the forces
Of these thy compounds on such creatures as
We count not worth the hanging, but none human,
To try the vigor of them and apply
Allayments to their act, and by them gather
Their several virtues and effects. (1.5.18-23)
Not only will she test the voracity of the doctor's poisons, she decides to investigate the worthiness of his antidotes. In The Tempest, a drawn curtain reveals Miranda and her future husband, Ferdinand, playing chess, an aristocratic game of war tactics and strategy, connected to the battles of knights and kings. Obviously, Miranda has spent many hours playing with her father, becoming herself accomplished at the game. She knows Ferdinand cheats, claiming, "Sweet lord, you play me false" (Tem. 5.1.174). Ferdinand denies it, but Miranda loves him so much, she will forgive him: "for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle, / An I would call it fair play" (5.1.177-178). Her submission sounds ominous in light of their future matrimonial relationship. These learned queens and princesses with their Renaissance educations are perfect companions for a father/king who desires a filial relationship without the accompanying competition of a prince.
Noble women in early modern England received varying forms and degrees of education. Elizabeth I received a humanist education (Jackson 3) under Roger Ascham's tutelage. She spent her mornings "devoted to readings of the Greek New Testament" (Jackson 4). Her afternoons included the works of "Isocrates, the tragedies of Sophocles, and the works of Demosthenes," along with an assortment of Livy and Cicero (Jackson 4). By the end of her education, Elizabeth commanded Italian, Latin, and French, in addition to a good grasp of Greek (Jackson 5). Still, aristocratic females were not the only women to receive first-class educations; women from the gentry and the wealthy, also found themselves seated in the classroom. The poet Elizabeth Tanfield Cary, the first woman to write and publish a theatrical drama in England, received an education usually offered only to sons (Carroll 135). She studied "French, Spanish, and Italian, as well as Latin and Hebrew, . . . even translat[ing] some of Seneca's Epistles when she was only seven years old" (Carroll 135). The adopted daughter of Sir Thomas More, Margaret Giggs Clement, received a humanist education along with the rest of More's children. Instruction included classical lessons "in grammar, rhetoric, and logic" ("Giggs" Barrett-Graves 43), along with Greek, Latin, "theology, philosophy, astronomy and medicine" ("Giggs" Barrett-Graves 43). More's eldest daughter, Margaret More Roper, so impressed Erasmus, he called her "the 'ornament of Britain'" (qtd. in Barrett-Graves 252). The astute More recognized that his daughters' spouses' would appreciate their education, while his girls benefited from model marriages ("Roper" Barrett-Graves 253). These fathers educated their daughter/companion in their own image, only to sell them to the highest bidder. The aptitude of the intellectually disguised daughter proved invaluable to the wife who found herself running the vast commercial enterprise known as a noble estate.
The fifteenth-century writer, Christine de Pizan, penned a book for noblewomen called The Book of the Three Virtues. Serving as a handbook for women in society, it coached princesses to avoid the pitfalls found in the dangerous courts they inhabited (Blumenfeld-Kosinski 155). De Pizan offers excellent suggestions regarding castle management, and accounting, along with the supervision of domestic workers (Blumenfeld-Kosinski 156). In any case, castle maintenance was only part of what an aristocratic woman must accomplish. The noblewoman needed to be a diplomat, and "deliberate with all her powers to see whether she can do something, all the while preserving her lord's honor, to avoid . . . war" (de Pizan 163). Further, when her master travels abroad, de Pizan instructs the "princess on the details of governing, warfare, and revenues, which she will have to take over" (168). In fifteenth-century England, the gentle Margaret Paston of East Anglia, whose husband's law offices were located in London, often found herself left supervising the family estates. Margaret oversaw the building of a "withdrawing chamber, and the malthouse and the brewery" (Paston 75) for which she ordered beams, boards and posts (Paston 75). Administering to the welfare of her tenants, she wrote:
I should like the marsh . . . kept in your own hand this year, so that the tenants might have rushes to repair their houses with. And also there is windfall wood at the manor that is of no great value, that might help them towards their repairs. (Paston 134)
Concerned over her children's education, Paston employs teachers, bribing one "with 10 marks for his labour," if her son "does his duty" (Paston 99). Finally, Margaret advised her husband in court politics, believing, "it is right necessary for you to have Hugh Fenne to be your friend in your matters; for he is called right faithful and trusty to his friends that trust him, and it is reported that he may do much with the King and Lords and with them that are your adversaries" (Paston 121). On the other hand, when diplomacy fell short, and Margaret found it necessary to command troops to defend her property, she wrote her husband lamenting, "I cannot guide nor rule soldiers well and they set not by a woman as they should by a man" (Paston 165). Elizabeth I understood how Margaret felt, when 100 years later, she found herself speaking before English troops prior to the Spanish Armada: "I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king-and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn . . . that . . . any should dare to invade the borders of my realm . . . I myself will be your general" ("Queen Elizabeth" 1). Elizabeth's bravado reflected her masculine intellect, education, and upbringing, which, no doubt, helped her navigate her way through myriad court intrigues, staying alive long enough to inherit the throne. On a smaller scale, upon her husband's death Margaret Paston ended up running all the family estates. The gentle family's imitation of royal custom through their daughter's humanist education, coupled with the dowries needed by cash poor aristocrats, created women who were acceptable for noble marriages. The poet and dramatist, Elizabeth Tanfield was born into the family of a wealthy attorney (Carroll 135). After an extensive education, her family brokered her marriage with Henry Cary, Master of the Queen's jewels, and eventually, Viscount Falkland (Carroll 136). Upon their husband's death, many highly educated women of early modern England found themselves alone and in charge of their families' castle or manor. In The Winter's Tale Shakespeare presents one lady in just this position, finding herself left the master of a large house upon her husband's untimely death.
The fictional Paulina most resembles the gentle Margaret Paston. A lady attached to Queen Hermione, she finds herself widowed when a bear kills her husband while attempting to fulfill King Leontes' command to banish the innocent Princess Perdita. King Leontes' grotesque and abominable sin, leads to what Renaissance audiences would find a grotesque and abominable penance, with Paulina acting as scourge to King Leontes. She constantly chastises and reprimands the King often using legal rhetoric:
This child was prisoner to the womb, and is
By law and process of great nature thence
Freed and enfranchised, not a party to
The anger of the King, nor guilty of-
If any be-the trespass of the Queen. (WT 2.2.63-66)
But, her legal bantering brands her a scold even though she receives compensation from the king for her counsel: "All my services / You have paid home" (WT 5.3.3-4). Paulina occupies a large house with a gallery filled with artwork (WT 5.310-11), while employing a "steward" (WT 5.2.24). But women had more than their husbands to fear, and upon Queen Hermione's restoration and Princess Perdita's recovery, King Leontes ends his self-inflicted penance. The king commands Paulina to marry one of his lords, saying "Come, Camillo, / And take her by the hand" (WT 5.3.144-45). Whether she, or Camillo for that matter, finds this match acceptable, or not, the audience never knows.In spite of their masculine interior equality, the hard-working, intelligent women of Shakespeare's romances find themselves subjected to a second-class matrimonial status.
Most Elizabethan marriage tracts treat matrimony like an earthly or heavenly kingdom with the husband acting as monarch or god. The early modern Londoner, Robert Cleaver describes Elizabethan marriage thus: "A household, is as it were, a little commonwealth, by the good government whereof, God's glory may be advanced, the commonwealth which standeth of several families benefited, and all that live in that family may receive much comfort and commodity" (284). The Second Tome of Homilies' "Sermon of the State of Matrimony" declares, "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the woman, as Christ is the head of the Church" (278). From a slightly different outlook, King Simonides of Pericles views his daughter's husband as a "schoolmaster" (9.36) instructing Prince Pericles to "be her master / And she will be your scholar" (9.34-35). But, while scholar daughters make competent wives and their educations have pragmatic value, when it came time for a domestic match, their true worth came from the children they produced.
In Shakespeare's romances or tragicomedies, during the time noble daughters live on their fathers' estate they have a special, close, intelligent, and loving relationship with the king or duke. But when they become wives, they find themselves vessels of the future heir, thereby making them unchaste in their father/king/duke's eyes, leading to their subsequent destruction. As soon as Princess Thaisa's relationship with her father is severed through marriage to Pericles, she dutifully becomes pregnant, and once she delivers the would-be heir, she is destroyed (or, at least, that is what everyone thinks). This rejection stems from the anxiety of the early modern male's obsession over his inability to prove whether a child borne by his wife is his true issue. Prospero remarks that Miranda's mother, "was a piece of virtue, and / She said thou wast my daughter" (Tem. 1.2.56-57). Prospero implies he can only take his dead wife's word that Miranda is "his only heir / And princess no worse issued" (Tem. 1.2.58-59). Other than taking a would-be equivocating wife's word, resemblance is everything. King Leontes tells Prince Florizel; "Your mother was most true to wedlock, Prince, / For she did print your royal father off, / Conceiving you" (WT 5.1.123-24). King Leontes' obsessive jealousy leads to Hermione's supposed death in The Winter's Tale. Queen Hermione, whose father was "The Emperor of Russia" (WT 3.2.117), finds herself accused of carrying another's child, "for `tis Polixenes / Has made thee swell thus" (WT 2.1.63-64). Hermione warns King Leontes the accusation will "grieve you / When you shall come to clearer knowledge" (WT 2.1.98-99). But Leontes sends her off to prison anyway, where she bears his daughter, whom the King banishes. The shame, and King Leontes' insistence on defying the oracle that has declared Queen Hermione innocent, causes the true heir, Prince Mamillius, "conceiving the dishonour of his mother / He straight declined, dropped, took it deeply, / Fastened and fixed the shame on't in himself; / Threw off his spirit, his appetite, his sleep, / And downright languished" (WT 2.3.13-17), leading eventually to his death. The king committed the ultimate kingly sin; he sacrifices the heir for his pride, leaving Sicily in danger of civil war. Ultimately, as Queen Hermione predicted, King Leontes' "clearer knowledge" manifests when Princess Perdita is recovered: "The majesty of the creature, in resemblance of the mother; the affection of / nobleness which nature shows above her breeding, and many / other evidences proclaim her with all certainty to be the King's daughter" (WT 5.2.32-34). No matter how much education a noblewoman obtains, or how much trust she gains through pragmatically exercising her wits to maintain the home of the king, it cannot help her against a husband who willfully wants to believe her guilty of cuckolding him. The wrongly accused, obedient daughter/wife, once delivered of the heir, must be destroyed for betraying father/husband. But different halls contain different daughters, and many truly disobedient young ladies often found themselves center stage in Shakespeare's plays.
Some have argued that Othello's Desdemona dies for betraying her father who first plants the seed of jealousy in Othello, "Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. / She has deceived her father, and may thee" (1.3.293-94). The evil Iago nurtures Othello's jealousy saying, "She did deceive her father, marrying you" (3.3.206). Both Iago and Brabantio imply that Desdemona's disobedience towards her father displays a penchant for disloyalty. She could just as easily break her marriage vows to Othello. Juliet, after rebelling against her father and marrying Romeo, dies by her own hand, thereby committing the mortal sin of suicide and depriving herself of heavenly bliss. In Cymbeline, the audience observes Clotin, the queen's son, and true betrothed of Princess Innogen, scolding the princess, "You sin against / Obedience which you owe your father" (2.3.107-08), after she runs off and marries her beloved, the commoner, Posthumus. Her father, King Cymbeline hisses, "O thou vile one!" (Cym. 1.1.143). Innogen pays dearly for sinning against her father, going from "the heir of's kingdom" in Act I (Cym. 1.1.4), to the Soothsayer's "piece of tender air" (Cym. 5.6.438) in Act 5, forever losing "this a kingdom" (Cym. 5.6.373). Conversely, Innogen lives to see another day, but instead of ruling a kingdom, she lives the life reserved for Posthumus' wife. True to nature, fiction imitates real life. The disobedient daughter of Margaret Paston, Margery, secretly married a household servant for love. Her brother, John, made clear, "if my father, . . . were alive, . . . he should never have my goodwill to make my sister sell candles and mustard" (qtd. in Virgoe 180). Margaret disinherited Margery who found herself no longer received by gentle society, including the Bishop, the Chancellor, and her mother (Paston 186-87). Shakespeare featured the inner workings of royal families in his last romances and long before Tolstoy, Shakespeare understood, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (1), and it is that variety of conflict that makes a good play.
In early modern England, female chastity could never be assured, and the male population's lack of control over the female body created such anxiety that even the hint of cuckoldry sent husbands reeling, wives to the torture chamber, and babies to their destruction. The king found himself in the same tenuous position as all other males of the realm, compounded by his royal duty to produce a male heir. While fulfilling his commitment to society, this led to the monarch's further apprehension over his possible loss of power and control when the prince achieved adulthood, becoming competition for the crown. To combat this anxiety the king looked to the princess for a fulfilling platonic relationship, which could only be achieved by instilling a masculine intelligence in a female brain. Shakespeare deftly portrays this complicated family dynamic in his last four romances where the courtly ladies receive the same male-type classroom educations being offered early modern England's upper-class women. These women, both fictional and corporeal, with their humanist educations provided highly competent companions for husbands whose interior intellect matched their own, although sometimes creating unsatisfied, disobedient daughters not content with filling the royal nurseries. Shakespeare does for the modern woman, what Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus did for Renaissance man, but instead of attempting to overreach the boundaries of human intelligence by making a deal with the devil, Shakespeare presents female characters whose modern humanist intellects are trapped behind lace forehead cloths.
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