The Penalty of Patriarchy: How Misogyny Motivates Female Violence and Rebellion in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus AND Womanly Weapons: How Female Characters Act as Effective Avengers in Early Modern Revenge Tragedy

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Natalie Marie DeJonghe (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Christopher Hodgkins

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between misogyny and the actions of Tamora and Lavinia in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. The argument being that Tamora and Lavinia rebel against their society because of the misogyny and oppression that they suffer. The primary document is the play and secondary sources include criticism and Early Modern texts on women. The paper argues that Titus Andronicus is a difficult play for modern audiences to enjoy because of the violence and the apparent lack of positive female figures. By carefully examining the actions of Tamora and Lavinia and looking at recent criticism I place these two characters in a more positive and feminist-friendly position. In relation to Lavinia the paper argues that beneath her passivity lies a strong and active female character who asserts herself verbally and physically throughout the play. The second part of the paper examines how Tamora's actions can be viewed in a less negative light by looking at them in relation to Titus' actions and by taking her circumstances into consideration. This paper acts as a new reading of the play which will help modern audiences enjoy the play with less guilt in relation to the female characters, the violence and oppression that they suffer, and their ultimate deaths. This paper examines four Early Modern revenge dramas - The Spanish Tragedy, Titus Andronicus, Women Beware Women, and The Tragedy of Miriam - which feature female avengers. The paper argues that the way the female avengers in these plays use certain tools and skills enables them to not only be effective avengers, but in some cases to be more effective than the male avengers in the plays. The tools the women use are their sexuality, their linguistic skills both written and verbal, their manipulation of a proxy, and the creation of a masque or masque-like persona. By examining the plays and feminist criticism, it is possible to view these female avengers as positive and effective characters in their genre. In addition, this allows women in revenge tragedy to serve as active instead of passive characters. The paper examines each play individually and the way that the female avenger or avengers use the various tools to achieve their vengeance. The conclusion to the paper argues that it is important to examine these plays from this viewpoint to promote alternative readings and to help modern readers approach femininity and womanhood during the Early Modern period in a more positive manner. The readings proposed in this paper encourage readers and future editors to look more closely at these plays and to become more aware of female characters as primary literary protagonists instead of secondary characters who act only to motivate the male characters.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2008
English literature, Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Tamora, Lavinia, misogyny, patriarchy, violence
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Titus Andronicus.
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616--Characters--Women.
Misogyny in literature.
Patriarchy in literature.
Violence in literature.
Revenge in literature.

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