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date: 20 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay argues that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra demonstrate the inadequacy of ideals of pure, unambiguous resistance to dominant structures of normativity and power. Because tragedy as a genre stresses the limitations of individual agency and self-knowledge, it allows us to perceive the impure motives and conflicted identifications that render the relation between true and false consciousness, compulsion and choice, innocence and guilt, more complex than many feminist readings of the genre have allowed. In particular, Shakespeare’s love tragedies provide a space for exploring a more complex and variegated view of heteroerotic desire than models of compulsory heterosexuality or a uniform sex-gender system can provide. As these plays show, resistance to sexual norms and the sociopolitical hierarchies they help sustain may always be impure insofar as it is motivated by conflicting desires and quotidian interests as well as selfless ideals and ethical principles.

Keywords: tragedy, feminism, heterosexuality, gender, women

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