Date of Award

8-9-2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Ronald Shafer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Lingyan Yang, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Allyn Ricketts, Ph.D.

Abstract

Shakespeare’s familiarity with and interest in the Bible have been studied in detail since the early twentieth century. J. A. Bryant, Richmond Noble, and Roy Battenhouse are among the prominent scholars who see in Shakespeare’s plays biblical underpinnings and resonances. This tradition of scholarship, which has opened up wholly new dimensions, reveals that Shakespeare knew the Bible’s doctrines and systematically assimilated its language and imagery in his plays. Although a great deal of scholarship thoroughly traces the biblical influence on Shakespeare, studies which connect the biblical view of women and Shakespeare’s plays have, surprisingly, not been attempted. Notwithstanding that feminist criticism of Shakespeare is a rich field, feminist biblical approaches to Shakespeare are extremely rare, mainly because the religious discourse itself has long been viewed as the foundation for discrimination against women. This dissertation endeavors to scale the heights of Shakespeare’s iconoclasm by studying his radical feminist agenda in conjunction with the biblical affirmation and veneration of womankind. It explores the biblical impact on Shakespeare’s depiction of his female characters by drawing attention to the various ways in which the Bard adapts biblical language, tropes, phraseology, imagery, narratives, and themes in order to subtly echo and articulate the biblical view of women, inculcate his radical feminist vision, and reinforce an image of women that subverts contemporary patriarchal, hegemonic discourses. It illumines the various ways in which the Bard reworks and retools these biblical elements in order to agitate early modern sensibility and subtly steer his audience toward this alternative, meliorative, and counterdiscursive view of womankind. Recent feminist biblical hermeneutics, offering new insights regarding the positive view of women in the Bible, reveal the various misconceptions, especially in the Pauline Epistles, about the biblical view of women, challenge fallaciously-based interpretations of the biblical texts, and exegete the Scripture in a female-friendly light. This study moves beyond these useful but cryptic probings to show that the scriptural underpinnings and echoes in Shakespeare’s plays constitute the philosophic foundations in three main areas: 1) veneration of parturition and maternity, 2) affirmation of female wisdom and truth-telling, and 3) celebration of female sexuality and spirituality.

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