"Unruly women," "outlaws," "the female Wild," "the Other": these are some of the provocative terms used by feminist scholars in recent years to refer to Shakespeare's heroines. They have helped us to take a fresh look at these characters while we are reevaluating the position of women within our own society. But are Shakespeare's women really unruly? It would be anachronistic to believe that he created rebellious feminists in an age that had never heard the term. Nevertheless, writing many of his plays with Elizabeth I on the throne, Shakespeare created heroines who operate in, rebel against, attempt to rule, or are crushed by a social structure largely determined by men.
This exhibition draws on the rich resources in the Folger Shakespeare Library, some of which were purchased by Henry Clay and Emily Jordan Folger during the late Victorian period when they began their collection. It includes materials from the late eighteenth and earl twentieth centuries but focuses primarily on the ways in which Shakespeare's heroines were appropriated into the moral, literary, and theatrical culture of the nineteenth century.
Every period sees something of its own interests in Shakespeare's plays and characters; the Victorians were no exception, nor are we today. It is gratifying to recognize that Shakespeare dramatized many faces of womanhood -- her "infinite variety"-- for his time and for every age since.