Feminism in Britain: From William Shakespeare to Mary Wollstonecraft

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Université Mouloud Mammeri


This thesis entitled Feminism in Britain: From William Shakespeare to Mary Wollstonecraft falls within the category of research on gender studies or feminist scholarship. It sheds light on the origin and evolution of Liberal feminism and its contradictions during the period stretching from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. It focuses on the shift of paradigms of thoughts and discourse about the place of gender in the public sphere. The humanist episteme promoted the spread of the feminist discourse because of the very contradictions inherent to the liberal ideology. In an attempt to prove that British feminism evolved from a sympathetic attitude reflected in the writings of the Renaissance to a defensive type during the Glorious Revolution to reach towards the end of the eighteenth century an offensive phase with Mary Wollstonecraft who broke into the public sphere and entered a fierce debate with many of her contemporary philosophers and writers, I selected six authors, three male, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and three female, Mary Astell, Mary Wollstonecraft and Susanna Haswell Rowson as representative authors. The thesis is divided into three main parts, with three chapters each. Part One “Shakespeare’s England and Women” discusses how the gender issue emerged in Shakespeare’s time. Chapter One “Women in Shakespeare’s England: Humanism and Reformation Influences” considers the status of women in Shakespeare’s England. Chapter Two “Shakespeare, Patriarchal Bard or Feminist Sympathiser?” views Shakespeare as a patriarchal Renaissance man who sympathises with women. Chapter Three “Shakespeare, Empire and the Tuning of Feminist Sympathies According to the Ethnicities of Empire” deals with the impact empire had on the emergence of feminist sympathies in Shakespeare’s time. Part Two “Hobbes, Locke, and Mary Astell: Dialogue and Polemics” considers the dialogue and polemics between Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Mary Astell with regard to the gender issue. Chapter Four “An Overview of the Revolutionary Ideas of the Enlightenment” is devoted to the historical and intellectual background behind the birth of the stated dialogue and polemics. Chapter Five “Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government: Theoretical Foundations of the ‘Myth of the State’” analyses the manner Hobbes and Locke for the first time in modern European intellectual history theorised differently about the separation of the public from the private realm. Chapter Six “Mary Astell’s Some Reflections upon Marriage: a Feminist Reading of Locke’s Hypothesis” considers Astell as the first liberal feminist to stand against the bourgeois man’s confinement of women in that bourgeois conjugal family’s internal space without access to the economic, the political, or cultural spheres of the private realm. Part Three “Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism and Gender in Eighteenth Century England” argues for the evolutions within British feminism in the eighteenth century. Chapter Seven “Gender, Nationalism, and the French Revolution: Mary Wollstonecraft vs. Male and Female Writers” is devoted to an analysis of anthologized essays from The Tatler and The Spectator to show how these early eighteenth-century periodicals instituted the cultural and social norms of Enlightenment Britain and beyond. Chapter Eight “Mary Wollstonecraft: Dialogue on the Political Rights of Women” analyses the works of Wollstonecraft to illustrate how the expanding world of letters constitutive of the bourgeois public sphere of civil society was intruded into by her works due to the political radicalism unleashed by the French and American revolutions. Chapter Nine “Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Susanna Rowson’s Liberal Feminism and Orientalism” considers the contradictions of the liberal feminism of Wollstonecraft and Rowson, who re-tooled orientalism in defence of women’s rights.


310 f. ; 30 cm (+ CD-ROM)


Britain, Feminism, British literary