William Shakespeare and Mary Wollstonecraft on Sexualization of Women- and other Quirky Topics

WoolShakes.001This week in Nineteenth Century Literature our core idea was the way the Romantics were searching for Freedom from Tyranny of all kinds. Beethoven is a good example of someone whose music was inspired by this quest. As we see in the film clip from his opera Fidelio, Beethoven was passionate about social justice for the imprisoned and the outcasts of society.  This quest for freedom reached its highest point at the end of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” based on Frederich Schiller’s Romantic Poem “An die Freude”.

We also explored late 18th & early 19th century attitudes to women, especially Mary Wollstonecraft’s sense that women were imprisoning themselves by kowtowing to men’s whims.  She was a freedom fighter whose words still have relevance and power today (check out any number of utube videos on the sexualization of women). We then looked briefly at William Blake and his pictures of mental and physical restraint that human beings suffer (“the mind-forged manacles”) and then plunged into Shelley’s amazing picture of freedom in his depiction of the Sky-Lark, that wonderful song-bird that disappears out of sight but can still be heard singing till late at night.

Next week we move more deeply into Shelley’s Prometheus.

This week in Shakespeare we looked into what we know about his life and into his radical anarchic attitudes towards sex, politics, women and language. If the language could not express what he wanted, he simply made up new words.

We also looked briefly at some of his key sonnets [“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”, “Since Brass , nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea” and “Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth”] all of which, in one way or another drew attention to the importance of that part of life which is the “small still voice” that can be heard beyond the rush and haste of external life with all its greed and noise. So this is why Shakespeare senses the immense strength of a fragile flower

Grevillea Punicea

and why he presents a very ordinary woman with no great beauty as a paragon.

 Questions for Week 2 WordPress Blogs (chose one – or create your own topic!):

Nineteenth Century

1/ Mary Wollstonecraft “anxious to render my sex more respectable members of society” challenges modern women to think about the way they are exploited by sexualization. What are your thoughts on this? Start a discussion on this with someone else in your “group”.

2/Take a line from any one of the poems discussed this week and use this as a starting point for a poem or short prose piece that links your experience to the themes of the Romantics. Invite comment from someone else in your “group”. 


1/ “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” shows that Shakespeare had little time for the romanticized views of women that are displayed as part of the film Shakespeare in Love. Do you think his thoughts in this poem have relevance to the sexualization of women in today’s society? Start a discussion on this with someone else in your “group”.

2/ Using a line from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets discussed this week try to write a sonnet of your own. Try to keep to the metre, the rhyme and the line length. Be sure to have a clear idea of what the subject of your sonnet is and try to build in the idea of the Volta, or the change of direction that occurs after the 8th line. Also try to end with a rhyming couplet. Invite comment from someone else in your “group”.

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