Presentation on theme: "Playing the Wise Wench: Women Beware Women. Critics on the Rape of Bianca Biggs attempts to refute claims that Bianca is raped; Hutchings refutes Biggs."— Presentation transcript:
Playing the Wise Wench: Women Beware Women
Critics on the Rape of Bianca Biggs attempts to refute claims that Bianca is raped; Hutchings refutes Biggs (but also fudges the issue in some ways): What happens next? We do not know. Professor [Anthony B.] Dawson assumes that the action of II.ii itself constitutes rape, and [William C.] Carroll seems to go along with him, until - in a mysteriously privileged view - he asserts that the Duke ‘actually’ rapes Bianca ‘offstage’. But the couple's final passage onstage suggests that the Duke no longer needs to use or even threaten force. Carroll argues that Women Beware Women ‘is one of the few Jacobean plays which actually feature rape or incest instead of merely threatening them’. But the evidence of II.ii is surely that rape is threatened rather than enacted; or rather, to put it more completely, that the scene begins as if leading to coercion to intercourse, continues intermittently to threaten such coercion, and ends as a seduction. (Murray Biggs, ‘Does the Duke Rape Bianca in Women Beware Women?’, Notes and Queries 44 (1997), 97-100; p. 99) Biggs argues that ‘the scene begins as if leading to coercion to intercourse [the evasion of ‘rape’ is striking], continues intermittently to threaten such coercion, and ends as a seduction’… Biggs' thesis is that Bianca does not protest sufficiently to justify critics’ claims that the Duke rapes her. Indeed, ‘Bianca is both vain and ambitious…and therefore bears some responsibility for the outcome of Il.ii’ (99). Yet it is surely the case that in both ‘textual’ terms - which Biggs considers - and in ‘theatrical’ terms - which he does not - Bianca is threatened by a social superior who will not take ‘no’ for an answer. Il.ii suggests all too readily the Duke’s abuse of power: if Bianca submits, she does so, surely, because the only alternative is a brutal rape. (Mark Hutchings, ‘Middleton´s Women Beware Women: Rape, Seduction – Or Power, Simply?´, Notes and Queries, 45 (1998), 366-367; p. 367)
1. Dissuasion. (See Shakespeare, Pericles, Scene 19) The function of rape as chastity test puts great emphasis on the female art of dissuasion. In spite of the numerous examples in which women are clearly powerless to prevent their rape, it is generally defined implicitly as a woman’s failure of eloquence. While giving women a voice, this emphasis also implies that if a woman cannot dissuade a man from rape, her chastity is questionable. If she fails and is raped, suicide may redeem her, or alternatively, an impulse towards suicide followed by marriage to the rapist; in these cases her eloquence is often reserved for after the event. Preferably, however, she should succeed in protecting herself, usually to the wonder of her assailant. (Jocelyn Catty, Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 100)
2. Divine Providence and/or luck. She that has that [chastity], is clad in complete steel, And like a quivered nymph with arrows keen May trace huge forests, and unharboured heaths, Infamous hills, and sandy perilous wilds, Where through the sacred rays of chastity, No savage fierce, bandit, or mountaineer Will dare to soil her virgin purity. (John Milton, Comus, ll. 420- 426) (See also Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona; Jonson, Volpone.)
3. Marriage. [M]arriage often functions as recompense for an actual rape, reflecting real-life contingencies. In Painter’s story ‘Alexander de Medices’ the rapist is compelled to marry his victim and ‘the marriage [was] made in presence of the Duke, with so great ioy and contentation of all partes, as there was rage and trouble for ye rape of the Bride’. This neat equation seeks to cancel out the rape, writing the issue of female consent and desire out of the story, and conflating all male sexual behaviour as ‘love’, whether aggressive or not. Alexander commands the rapist to ‘loue hir so dearely, as fondly heeretofore she was beloued of thee’ (f. 168v).(Catty, Writing Rape, p. 29)
4. Suicide. Even here she sheathèd in her harmless breast A harmful knife, that thence her soul unsheathèd. That blow did bail it from the deep unrest Of that polluted prison where it breathèd. Her contrite sighs unto the clouds bequeathèd Her wingèd sprite, and through her wounds doth fly Life’s lasting date, from cancelled destiny. (Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, 1723-29)
5. Murder. SATURNINUS Because the girl should not survive her shame, And by her presence still renew his sorrows. […] TITUS ANDRONICUS Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee, And with thy shame thy father’s sorrow die. (5.3.45-46) (See Livy, ‘The History of Appius and Virginia’ in The History of Rome)
6. Survival and whoredom. The virgin martyr sets the implicit standard for the heroine threatened with sexual violence. If, like Jonson’s Celia and Marston’s Sophonisba, she adheres to the example of the saints, she shares in their glory. If, like Middleton’s Bianca and Beatrice-Joanna, she deviates from their model, valuing her life more and her chastity less, her deviation is a sign of moral and spiritual corruption; she is, in Vives’s words, ‘an evil keeper’ of her chastity and she is punished for it by vituperation as a whore. In the Jacobean drama, as in the lives of the saints, the truly chaste woman is inviolable; her body may be ‘defouled’ by symbolic rape or erotic torture but not sexually violated. (Karen Bamford, Sexual Violence on the Jacobean Stage (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 32) Bianca is not devoid of virtue. While the Duke pleads his passionate love and the futility of religious scruples, she has the moral strength to withstand him. But when he shrewdly pities her condition and offers comfort and security, Bianca has no answer because he has touched upon a newly felt need that is deeper than her desire to maintain her honor and remain true to Leantio… It is psychologically right that Bianca says no more: morally she cannot acquiesce, emotionally she cannot resist. (Verna Ann Foster, ‘The Deed’s Creature: The Tragedy of Bianca in Women Beware Women’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 78, (1979), 508-521; 512)
HIPPOLITO...vengeance met vengeance Like a set match, as if the plagues of sin Had been agreed to meet here altogether. (5.2.159- 61) Many of the ‘plagues of sin’ (V.ii.158) that characterise the masque are apocalyptic in origin, and interestingly they offer a kind of inverted parody of the Catholic mass… Seen in this light, the vicious swiftness of the retribution that characterises the masque, and that so many critics have found problematic, makes sense. Isabella is killed when Livia throws ‘flaming gold’ (V.ii.117sd) upon her, an appropriately apocalyptic ending. She becomes figuratively ‘painted’ like the whore [of Babylon] as punishment for her sin… For the more Calvinistically minded members of the audience, these deaths would be as appropriate as they were inevitable. (Adrian Streete, ‘An old quarrel between us that will never be at an end’: Middleton's Women Beware Women and Late Jacobean Religious Politics’, The Review of English Studies, 60 (2009), 230- 254; p. 253)
CARDINAL Vowed you then never to keep strumpet more, And are you now so swift in your desires To knit your honours and your life fast to her? Is not sin sure enough to wretched man, But he must bind himself in chains to’t? Worse! Must marriage, that immaculate robe of honour, That renders virtue glorious, fair, and fruitful To her great master, be now made the garment Of leprosy and foulness? (4.3.8-17)
BIANCA …mine honour’s leprous… (2.2.422) BIANCA A blemished face best fits a leprous soul. (5.2.207)
BIANCA Now bless me from a blasting; I saw that now Fearful for any woman’s eye to look on. Infectious mists and mildews hang at’s eyes, The weather of a doomsday dwells upon him. Yet since mine honour’s leprous, why should I Preserve that fair that caused the leprosy? Come, poison all at once. (2.2.418-24) BIANCA A blemished face best fits a leprous soul. (5.2.207)
First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something… (Todd Akin, former Republican Congressman, discussing abortion for rape victims 2012) What is his picture of the sort of rape scenario that would cause the female body to “shut that whole thing down,” absent divine intervention?... [D]oes Akin think that doing what one could to survive would delegitimize the rape—or that a legitimate victim is one who sees rape as a fate worse than death? Is it fear that shuts that whole thing down, or disgust? Fear and sex and pregnancy are not strangers… [T]here is a notion, common in conservative rhetoric lately, that desperation is always elsewhere, and that the crises in ordinary lives do not need to be contemplated or worried about—not by nice people. They are rare; something has gone wrong; maybe the complaint isn’t legitimate; maybe it’s their own fault. That indifference goes beyond the question of rape and abortion. (Amy Davidson, ‘What Does Todd Akin Think “Legitimate Rape” Is?’, The New Yorker, 19 th August 2012)
‘…the female body has ways…’ The opposition of body and soul… – an important strategy for containing the crime of rape which, as we know, goes back to Augustine – implicitly mystifies women, and in a context crucially concerned with establishing chastity. It thus seems likely to fuel a prevalent anxiety concerning the knowability of female sexuality… The problem goes beyond the mere practicality of catching a woman in the act of adultery, to the greater anxiety generated by the relative invisibility of the female genitals and female sexual pleasure. The unknowability of female sexuality or sexual status, which we have already seen to be of particular pertinence for the issue of rape, is strongly problematized by the dramatic mode. (Catty, Writing Rape, pp. 107-08) LEANTIO They are all of ’em a kind of spirits – soon raised But not so soon laid, Mother. As for example, A woman’s belly is got up in a trice – A simple charge ere it be laid down again: So ever in all their quarrels, and their courses. (1.1.80-84)
BIANCA Oh the deadly snares That women set for women, without pity Either to soul or honour! Learn by me To know your foes; in this belief I die: Like our own sex, we have no enemy, no enemy! (5.2.213-17)
LEANTIO Yet let’s be wise, and keep all smothered closely; I have bethought a means; is the door fast?... You know, Mother, At the end of the dark parlour there’s a place So artificially contrived for a conveyance, No search could ever find it. When my father Kept in for manslaughter, it was his sanctuary. There will I lock my life’s best treasure up, Bianca. BIANCA Would you keep me closer yet? Have you the conscience? Y’are best e’en choke me up, sir! (3.1.240-49)
LEANTIO Here stands the poor thief, now, that stole the treasure, And he’s not thought on. Ours is near kin now To a twin-misery born into the world: First the hard-conscienced worldling, he hoards wealth up; Then comes the next, and he feasts all upon’t – One’s damned for getting, th’other for spending on’t. (3.2.88- 93)
BIANCA Make me not bold with death and deeds of ruin Because they fear not you; me they must fright. Then am I best in health. Should thunder speak And none regard it, it had lost the name And were as good be still. I’m not like those That take their soundest sleeps in greatest tempests; Then wake I most, the weather fearfullest, And call for strength to virtue. (2.2.349-56)
ISABELLA What’s that? Methought I heard ill news come toward me, Which commonly we understand too soon, Then over-quick at hearing. I’ll prevent it, Though my joys fare the harder. Welcome it? It shall ne’er come so near mine ear again. (1.2.216-20) Note: the punctuation here is from the edition in Taylor and Lavagnino’s Collected Works of Middleton, not from Dutton’s Oxford World’s Classics edition.
FABRITIO She’s a dear child to me. DUKE She must needs be; you say she is your daughter. FABRITIO Nay, my good lord, dear to my purse I mean – Beside my person; I ne’er reckoned that. She has the full qualities of a gentlewoman: I have brought her up to music, dancing, what not That may commend her sex, and stir her husband. (3.2.104-10) Isabella’s lot, to be paraded like a prize mare for the lascivious scrutiny of the cretinous and phallically obsessed Ward, is a graphic reminder of the condition to which [the women in the play] all either are, or have been, or could be subject. Her protests about the social realities that place women in such situations are unanswerable. (Richard Dutton, ‘Introduction’, in Thomas Middleton, Women Beware Women and Other Plays (Oxford: OUP, 1999), p. xxii)
LYSANDER You have her father’s love, Demetrius; Let me have Hermia’s: do you marry him. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1) In keeping with Leantio’s commercialized, debased Petrarchanism, I don’t think it coincidental that Bianca first appears at a distance, that she says nothing, and that we, like the Mother, are called upon to gaze at her She is indeed his master-piece, a token that reveals his mastery, his theft… Probably no scene in Jacobean drama represents so graphically the commodification of women as that in which the Ward and Sordido peer down Isabella's throat and peep under her skirts in their efforts to scan ‘all her parts over’ (III.iv.43) before buying. As in the main plot, economics and erotics come together here in the act of speculation. Isabella is not only a valuable commodity to be ventured for, she is also a visual, erotic object to be looked at. (Anthony B. Dawson, ‘Women Beware Women and the Economy of Rape’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 27 (1987), 303-320; p. 306)
ISABELLA Marry a fool! Can there be a greater misery to a woman That means to keep her days true to her husband, And know no other man? So virtue wills it.
Why, how can I obey and honour him But I must needs commit idolatry? A fool is but the image of a man, And that but ill made neither.
Oh the heart-breakings Of miserable maids, where love’s enforced! The best condition is but bad enough: When women have their choices, commonly They do but buy their thraldoms, and bring great portions To men to keep’em in subjection – As if a fearful prisoner should bribe The keeper to be good to him, yet lies in still, And glad of a good usage, a good look sometimes. By’r Lady, no misery surmounts a woman’s: Men buy their slaves, but women buy their masters.
Yet honesty and love makes all this happy, And, next to angels’, the most blest estate. That Providence that has made ev’ry poison Good for some use, and sets four warring elements At peace in man, can make a harmony In things that are most strange to human reason. Oh but this marriage! (1.2.157-81) DESDEMONA O, these men, these men! (Othello 4.3.59) PORTIA O 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. Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one nor refuse none?... In truth, I know it is a sin to be a mocker, but he – why, he… (The Merchant of Venice 1.2)
FABRITIO Why, is not man Tied to the same observance, lady sister, And in one woman? LIVIA ’Tis enough for him; Besides, he tastes of many sundry dishes That we poor wretches never lay our lips to: As obedience forsooth, subjection, duty, and such kickshaws, All of our making, but served in to them. And if we lick a finger then sometimes We are not to blame; your best cooks use it. EMILIA ’Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; They eat us hungerly, and when they are full, They belch us. (Othello 3.4) [Christopher Newstead, in his Apology for Women (1620), contends] that all misogynists in history have been gluttons. (Later, he argues that women are more intelligent than men because they eat less, adducing the proverb ‘Fat panches make leane pates’.) (Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540- 1620 (Brighton: Harvester, 1984), p.80)
FABRITIO Th’art a sweet lady, sister, and a witty- LIVIA A witty! Oh the bud of commendation Fit for a girl of sixteen; I am blown, man, I should be wise by this time; and for instance I have buried my two husbands in good fashion, And never mean more to marry. GUARDIANO No? Why so, lady? LIVIA Because the third shall never bury me. I think I am more than witty; how think you, sir? (1.2.37-53)
DUKE She that is fortunate in a duke’s favour Lights on a tree that bears all women’s wishes; If your own mother saw you pluck fruit there, She would commend your wit... Come, play the wise wench and provide for ever. (2.2.368-80) Note: ‘wise’ reads ‘wife’ in the first printed edition.
DUKE I can command, Think upon that. (2.2.360-61) Although Renaissance law defined and enforced women’s subordinate position, one must remember that this was a period in which the notion of legal personhood itself was undergoing a radical transformation. It would not be many years after the law books began formulating their new definition of rape that political theorists started to articulate a modern notion of the law as mandated to protect the rights of individuals who expressed their freedom in their ability to consent to political, social, and economic contracts. The definition of rape as ‘carnal knowledge of a woman’s body against her will’ that took hold in English law at the beginning of the sixteenth century was arguably a precursor to the vision John Locke articulated at the close of the period when he asserted that government should be founded on the idea that ‘men are not bound to submit to the unjust will of another’. And while proscriptions on female self-expression contributed to women’s subjugation, the tendency of feminist scholars to view the equation of female chastity with silence only in negative terms limits our ability to read the positive ideas and uses of silence in this period, and particularly its role in the development of a modern notion of subjectivity… While the word privacy derives, in its Latin root, from the concept of privation or exclusion from forms of public action and authority, it was this state of exile that made privacy the core of a new power attributed to the individual psyche as the seat of a will that operated independently of an external arena of social action. (Amy Greenstadt, Rape and the Rise of the Author: Gendering Intention in Early Modern England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), p. 23)
ISABELLA Oh the heart-breakings Of miserable maids, where love’s enforced! (2.2.164-65)
The radical implications of Middleton’s The Spanish Gypsy (1623) are…subdued by its conclusion. The raped woman, Clara, is, as Gossett points out, ‘the first woman to be genuinely uncertain that she is stained’; her description of herself as ‘infected now / By your soul-staining lust’ condemns Roderigo’s soul as readily as hers. She is then quick to believe that she has purged herself with her tears. For Clara, knowledge of her lack of complicity is sufficient to ensure her right to live; she even refuses to rule out the possibility that she will marry a man other than the rapist. Unfortunately, these implications are finally lost when she marries Roderigo. Conventionally, she claims that she is now ‘righted in noble satisfaction’, and Roderigo’s claim that he will ‘redeem my fault’ enables the audience to assume a happy marriage for them and to see him as the hero of the play. (Catty, Writing Rape, p. 107)