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Hamlet: A Feminist Argument (3)

By Steve Henderson



Oxford University Press
Showalter's insight regarding the representations of males versus females in a high-profile work of the great Canon, though it might be viewed as a complaint, is remarkably close to a resolution between the two camps: the Canon defenders and its Feminist critics. What she has done through a close examination of a now cultural icon, Ophelia, is to have focused the attention of both groups on a common ground. Showalter's is a part of that "concerted effort put forth by feminist theory... to alter cultural perceptions of gender, those represented in the canon of great literary works," an effort also well verbalized by Annette Kolodny (Cantar). Surely, a scholar like Harold Bloom recognizes that there is "a need... to study the institutional practices and social arrangements that have both invented and sustained the literary canon" (Cantar—a paraphrasing of Kolodny). He could concede this without giving an inch in his stand for aestheticism--that is, literary quality. And the Feminist literary promoters (like Showalter, Garber, and Kolodny) can--and I believe do—-recognize the Canon's aesthetic greatness, regardless of male dominance in the past, and regardless of the cultural forces that led to an "asymmetrical relationship between women and men" (Kolodny 351). Meanwhile, one may suggest for the future that the "New Feminist" movement continue searching out "the wealth of women writers who have been regarded as worthy of canonization" and promoting these works on aesthetic grounds, adding them to the Canon as they deserve--that is, without other biases (349).

To conclude, then, there has surely been an extreme imbalance between male and female voices in representing each side's true cultural, historical, and spiritual story within the traditional Western Canon. The sorry gender discrepancies in the story of Hamlet are an unfortunate example of this. This imbalance (in disfavour of women) must be remedied largely by women themselves, for they can most accurately represent their own views. But, to adapt two quotes by Margaret Atwood, "the proper path" in accomplishing this is for women "to become better (writers)" in order to add "social validity" to their views; and, "female critics have to be willing to give writing by men the same kind of serious attention they themselves want from men for women's writing" (Atwood 204, 208, 281). In the end, this is the finest way to restore the balance and allow all of us to truly hear and appreciate the literary voices of all humankind.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Second Words—Selected Critical Prose. House of Anansi Press. Toronto. 1982.

Bloom, Harold. "An Elegy for the Canon." Book of Readings, 264-273. English 251B. Distance Education. University of Waterloo. 2002.

Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon—The Books and School of the Ages. Riverhead Books. The Berkley Publishing Group. New York. 1994.

Cantar, Brenda. Lecture 21. English 251B. University of Waterloo, 2002.

Garber, Margorie

Kolodny, Annette. "Dancing Through the Minefield." Book of Readings, 347-370. English 251B. Distance Education. University of Waterloo, 2002.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Bedford/St. Martin’s Edition. Susanne L. Wofford. Editor. Boston/New York: Bedford Books. 1994.

Showalter, Elaine

Wofford, Susanne. "A Critical History of Hamlet."

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