While reading a collection of William Shakespeare’s works, I can across these three paragraphs that I found particularly interesting.  This is an excerpt of the introduction to “Shakespeare’s World” titled “Women and Print” from The Norton Shakespeare 2nd Edition textbook:

Books published for a female audience surged in popularity int he late sixteenth century, reflecting an increase in female literacy.  (It is striking how many of Shakespeare’s women are shown reading.)  This increase is probably linked to a Protestant longing for direct access to the Scriptures, and the new books marketed specifically for women included devotional manuals and works of religious instruction.  But there were also practical guides to such subjects as female education (for example, Giovanni Bruto’s Necessarie, Fit, and Convenient Education of a Young Gentlewomen, 1598), midwifery (James Guillemeau’s Child-birth; or, The Happy Delivery of Women, 1612), needlework (Federico di Vinciolo’s New and Singular Patternes and Workes of Linnen, 1587), cooking (Thomas Dawson’s The Good Husewifes Jewell, 1587), gardening (Pierre Erondelle’s The French Garden for English Ladyes and Gentlewomen to Walke In, 1605), and married life (Patrick Hannay’s A Happy Husband; or, Directions for a Maide to Choose Her Mate, 1619).  As the authors’ names suggest, many of these works were translations, and almost all were written by men.

Starting in the 1570s, writers and their publishers increasingly addressed works of recreational literature (romance, fiction, and poetry) partially or even exclusively to women.  Some books, such as Robert Greene’s Mamillia, a Mirrour or Looking-Glasse for the Ladies of Englande (1583), directly specified in the title their desired audience.  Others, such as Sir Philip Sidney’s influential and popular romance Arcadia (1590-93), solicited female readership in their dedicatory epistles.  The ranks of Sidney’s followers eventually included his own niece, Mary Wroth, whose romance Urania was published in 1621.

In the literature of Shakespeare’s time, women readers were not only wooed but also frequently railed at, in the continuation of a popular polemical genre that had long inspired heated charges and countercharges.  Both sides in the polemic generally agreed that it was the duty of women to be chaste, dutiful, shamefest, and silent; the argument was whether women fulfilled or fell short of this role.  Ironically, then, a modern reader is more likely to find inspiring accounts of courageous women not in the books written in defense of female virtue but in attacks on those who refused to be silent and obedient.

It continues to state that women authors often apologized for publishing their works and putting themselves in the public eye.  The acute opposition to authoresses is shocking, in all honesty.  I knew that there was inequality, but I’d never imagined the lives of the women who stood against it at that time.  It seems unfathomable that there are women who did just that, and then apologized for their success.  I mean, I can understand why, but looking at it with modern eyes, it’s difficult to see how they did it all.


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