This lecture examines some representations
of women who kill in early modern news writing, including pamphlets, ballads,
and some domestic tragedies, and considers how they were shaped to fulfil
certain cultural functions. The situation of such women, particularly those
who murdered their husbands or their children, was problematic in a culture
where such behaviour lay far outside the boundaries of what was considered
natural to each sex. In this period gender roles were clearly defined,
and the ideology of the ‘good woman’ informed the culture in various ways,
both in legislation and at a popular level in social life and cultural
practices. News writing, however sensational, was at this time invariably
informed by a didactic imperative, and where possible structured so as
to constitute evidence for a providentialist vision of human life. According
to such a vision, even the most deviant of criminal acts might be utilised
to reveal the mercy of God and the value of penitence. I discuss accounts
of two kinds of female crime, husband murder and infanticide, in order
to consider the narrative strategies whereby the writers attempt both to
handle the difficult question of female agency and to render the crimes
Beginning with an account of Andrew Marvell's poem 'Bermudas' this lecture explores the ways in which the historicizing of texts can enlarge our experience of them or, conversely, reduce it. My main focus is on the Psalms of Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. My question is to consider how we should read these texts: as part of a Protestant or gender polemic or as poems generated by an essentially lyric impulse, setting them out of time. The key text which I analyse is her version of Psalm 52.
The publication in 1998 of Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human marks Bloom´s onslaught against what he calls "the School of Resentment", or in other words the feminist, cultural materialist and new historicist critics who are now hegemonic in Shakespeare studies. The analysis of some recent, and divergent, historicizing approaches brings to the fore Bloom´s obstinate refusal to consider the possibility that Shakespeare´s characters inhabit a world at the very least situated in history. Bloom of course counteracts what he sees as the hegemonic disregard for character. The chapter on As You Like It seems in principle a good place where Bloom could have acknowledged some contemporary contributions, since he, like feminist critics, privileges Rosalind. But once again Bloom shows a cavalier disregard for the realities of contemporary critical practice which, as far as Rosalind is concerned, has focused on the temporary nature of her emporwerment in the Forest of Arden, the sexual ambiguities to which the masculine disguise gives rise within the comedy, and the historicizing of such matters as the presence of transvestite women in early modern society, and of boy actors on the stage. The chapter on Hamlet is crucial to Bloom´s thesis about Shakespeare´s invention of the human. He obviously does not join the ranks of postwar scholars who have displaced Hamlet in favour of King Lear as the Shakespearean tragedy. But then Bloom´s total concentration on the Prince makes him overlook a good deal of what the play has to offer, not only regarding character, but also language and structure. By focusing first on two of the most adversarial chapters and last on the one which is probably the least contentious, I have tried to convey something of the style and thrust of Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. It seems to me evident that Bloom voices misgivings about trends in literary studies which are widespread in the profession, and that are by no means restricted to the field of Shakespeare scholarship. But the failure to engage with the arguments and practice of feminist and historicist critics undermines Bloom´s case .
The idea of the Renaissance as a historical period was first formulated by Jacob Burckhardt in his book *Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien* (1860). In this lecture I want to review some of the many directions taken by Renaissance studies since then, and to make some suggestions for future work.