12 April 2008

Making Enemies among the Feminists

My review of Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife has just appeared in the Los Angeles Times on-line; it should appear in the print version tomorrow. It's a book I wanted very much to like, but it ultimately left me cold. Here's (most of) my final paragraph, which sums up my take on the book as a whole:

The real problem with "Shakespeare's Wife" is that it says more about fantasies than about the real world — both the fantasies of the old-fashioned misogynists and of the modern feminist. Greer does valuable work when she blasts such fantasies, but it's hard not to be disappointed when she does her own fantasizing. ... Though Greer refuses to believe it, many would be delighted to find that the Shakespeares were a model couple, he an enlightened, loving husband, she an intelligent, empowered woman. But wishing won't make it so.
A last-minute scramble for space meant one paragraph had to be omitted. I was sorry to see it go, so I've made room for it here:
Greer also ignores mountains of scholarship when she finds it inconvenient. The poem “Venus and Adonis,” for instance, is called “the one work of Shakespeare’s for which scholars feel almost as much distaste as they do for his wife.” Those clueless scholars, we gather, have never so much as glanced at the poem: “Year after year of multifarious shakespeareanising,” she complains, “goes by without producing a single discussion of the work.” And yet in the last decade alone at least 98 articles, 59 books and 5 doctoral dissertations have discussed the poem in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Dutch, Ukranian and Romanian. That’s a strange kind of neglect.

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