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date: 16 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses the prevalence of strong female characters in Shakespeare’s comedies, situating them within recent scholarship on the multidimensional status, agency, and lived experience of Englishwomen of different social classes. In particular, the chapter considers female agency in the comedies through the lens of new materialist approaches to Shakespeare and gender. Attending to such materialist concerns as inheritance, property ownership, and domestic management helps illuminate the specific forms of female authority that are enabled and disabled in the comedies. Analysing selected comedies, notably Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, this chapter argues that the perceived ‘strength’ of many of Shakespeare’s comic heroines is complexly interwoven with the material conditions of their historical moment.

Keywords: comic heroines, materialism (or materialist criticism), feminism (or feminist criticism), inheritance, labour, female authority, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

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