Female Agency In Shakespeare's Comedy

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Introduction Throughout his career, William Shakespeare has presented a range of strong-willed and active female characters. His comedies, in particular, contain many women who not only have agency but are able to use this to gain sexual and political freedom. In order to investigate the extent and role of female agency in Shakespeare’s comedies, three plays from various points in his career will be analysed: The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1592), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1594-6), and All’s Well That Ends Well (c.1602-7). First, though, what is meant by both political and sexual agency must be defined. Michel Foucault in his discussions in ‘The Subject and Power’ describes power as being exercised ‘by the threat of arms, by the effects of the word, by means of economic disparities, by more or less complex means of control, by systems of surveillance’. A character which is able to act free from – or in spite of – these threats from a figure of authority, whether this is a governmental figure or a family patriarch, exhibits political agency. Sexual agency is somewhat more clearly defined by Madsen as ‘the ability to give consent to participating in or declining a sexual activity and having you desires honored’. While Madsen’s article is more concerned with modern conceptions of agency this description gives a clear definition which covers the issues that will be discussed in regard to sexual agency in these three works. In order to thoroughly analyse the ways in which

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