365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

210. Sexual Nausea?

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Critics have remarked on the unpleasant portrayal of female sexuality in Shakespeare’s late plays, even going so far as to call it “sexual nausea.”  Based on your reading of all of the plays we’ve looked at this semester, how would you describe Shakespeare’s treatment of female sexuality?  Which elements of that treatment remain stable, and which change?  How do they change?  Is there a development from the period of the tragedies and problem plays to the period of the romances?  What does the development (or lack thereof) suggest about Shakespeare’s thought on the subject?

This was the topic for my “big” essay on my Shakespeare final exam, and I found it so interesting to write about. I mainly focused on Hamlet and Othello. In a nutshell, I argued that Desdemona was unfairly charged with the crime of sex; that had she been accused of infidelity of the heart rather than the body, she would have lived. As far as Hamlet is concerned, the “sexual nausea” exists in the disgust Hamlet has toward Gertrude’s new marriage, of course, and it is the idea that his mother is actually engaging in sex with her husband – her former brother-in-law, of course – that makes the situation so much harder for Hamlet to handle. As far as Ophelia goes, in her madness, she sings crude songs about sex, and in Shakespeare’s day, it was considered a sign of madness for a woman to be hyper-sexual.

Once I get my exam returned, I will post the actual essay. Until then, I am curious about your thoughts…so share them!

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Written by Caroline Mincks

April 29, 2010 at 9:22 PM

One Response

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  1. Hello! Will you post your essay? I would be interested in reading it!

    Fiona

    December 10, 2010 at 11:23 AM


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