Shakespeare's veiled women : icons for the problem of female ambiguity

Jones, Kathryn Blair Logwood, Department of English, University of Virginia

Noting that "the iconic is one of Shakespeare's many forms of ellipsis," John Doebler has joined others in recent years in investigating the symbolic and associative meanings of certain striking images on the Shakespearean stage. While this critical trend coincides with an increasing interest by feminist critics in particular in Shakespeare's treatment of gender-related issues, rarely has one approach been used to support the other. In this dissertation I adapt both to demonstrate how Shakespeare transforms the stock unmasking of Renaissance drama into a powerfully effective icon for a woman's metamorphosis from an ambiguous archetype into a multi-faceted individual in her husband's eyes.

The comic resolution of Much Ado About Nothing. Measure for Measure. The Winter's Tale, and other plays relies upon the arresting moment when a mysterious woman's obscured face is unveiled to her husband. The lifting of her veil signifies not only her restoration to him, but also his acknowledgement that he has misjudged them both, by transforming her into an idea of feminine duality on which to project his own ambivalence about his changing role in the cycle of life. He comes at last to reconcile within himself the same conflicts between love and sexuality and between growth and decay that he had objectified in her.

Central to my analysis is the "mother-mistress conflict," which perennially finds embodiment as two opposing faces of a feminine ideal - Petrarch's Laura and Shakespeare's "Dark Lady," for example. The male protagonists of the plays I examine initially tend to understand the women closest to them in terms of such a dichotomy. I demonstrate how Shakespeare entices the audience into a network of associations that give both universal human relevance and mythical resonance to the erotic relationships he depicts, even as he deflates the hero's idealization of the heroine. I conclude that the veiled heroine's archetypal image is transformed rather than dispelled when she reveals her face. We are invited to see in her individual versatility the ever-changing face of the triune Goddess, whose three aspects she embodies in turn as a maiden, a mother, and a widow.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616--Characters--Women, Women in literature

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:34:48.

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