Behind her rode Cristina, who had her hands in the air and was shrieking with happiness. “Emma!” she shouted. “Emma, look, no, hands!”
Emma glanced back and laughed aloud. Mark who rode Windspear with and air of familiarity, Kieran clinging to his belt with one hand, was not as amused. “Use your hands!” he yelled. “Cristina! It’s not a roller coaster!”
- Lord of Shadows, (The Dark Artifices Book 2) Cassandra Clare
o saint damien, you of patience, of calm, of the quiet waves and gentle breeze, grant me your tranquility–the strength to wait while i must, to let the world flow through me–and to strike when the time is right
is it okay to use terms such as "feminism" or "lgbt" when discussing Shakespeare's plays? I keep saying that Shakespeare is a feminist because he stands up for women's rights in many of his plays, but my teacher says that's wrong...
It’s fine to use those terms loosely in informal discussions (as on the internet, or with friends), but in an academic context it’s worth being cautious. Many would agree with your teacher that it’s best not to use the terms at all about Shakespeare or his characters. You can, however, have a feminist or queer reading of a play which is quite different to calling Shakespeare a feminist, because it’s more of an expression of the critic’s position than a claim about the author.
The main argument for this is that concepts and terms like ‘feminism’ or ‘LGBT’ didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time, so, say critics, it’s anachronistic and they don’t really apply. Even terms like ‘homosexual’ are disputed by some people because they weren’t coined until the late-nineteenth century. It’s not simply that they’re too new to apply to Shakespeare, since we use plenty of more modern words to talk about Shakespeare. The essential problem people have with it is the amount of cultural and historical associations that come with a term.
Part of the problem with concepts like LGBT and feminism as far as it applies to Shakespeare is that the early modern period had a fundamentally different conception of gender, so ideas that rely on more modern notions of gender and sexuality aren’t going to fit so neatly. For instance, it appears that the concept of sexual identity didn’t really exist. So while people did engage in homosexual acts, they didn’t consider themselves to be homosexual as such. There’s a divide between the act and the identity.
I think you’re right in thinking that Shakespeare is very accepting and egalitarian, both when it comes to different forms of sexual desire and the fact that women are human beings who are as complex as men. It’s notable, for instance, that he doesn’t use derogatory terms like ‘sodomy’, ‘buggery’ or ‘catamite’ anywhere in his corpus, and his treatment of same-sex desire, as with his treatment of sex more generally, is humane, inclusive, even affirmative (I wrote a little on this here).
It’s quite likely that what you’re saying is fine, it’s just the way you’re saying it that needs to be thought about. Even though it might seem petty or pedantic, it might just be a matter of rephrasing your thoughts to make them more nuanced and sensitive to historical implications. Instead of saying ‘Shakespeare is feminist’ or ‘Shakespeare supports LGBT rights’, for instance, you can phrase it in terms like ‘Shakespeare depicts complex women who are as intellectually capable as men’, or ‘Shakespeare gives a voice to same-sex desire’. It’s a question of lexical choice and presentation rather than content.