Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, focuses on human morality. The play also explores the question of what kind of sexual conduct is socially acceptable, and what is not. The play depicts various attitudes toward prostitution, promiscuity, and premarital sex. But it also suggests that human laws and perhaps human morality are quite arbitrary and relative.
Measure for Measure considers the need for statutes and laws to govern sexual appetites and ensure domestic tranquility. But it also focuses on the conflict between human actions and human moral values, especially as it is manifest in the issue of seeming and being. The Duke himself notes the difference between appearance and reality as he speaks about his deputy Angelo, who appears to be the perfect deputy and the disciplined (even puritanical) character. Noting Angelos character, the Duke also questions the integrity of his inner and outer worlds:
Lord Angelo is precise; Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses That his blood flows, or that his appetite Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see, If power change purpose, what our seemers be.
Angelo ultimately proves to be a seemer, one whose statements of virtue and self-control do not match his behavior. But to call him a hypocrite misses the mark: he is as surprised at his lust as anyone else, at least at its onset, and he questions his moral status at first. His virtue had always been quite real for him, and his slide into sin catches him off guard. When he finds himself lusting after Isabella, he exclaims with surprise,
What’s this, what’s this? Is this her fault or mine? The tempter or the tempted, who sins most? Ha! No…
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… objective standards but by what the traffic will bear.
Black, James. “The Unfolding of Measure for Measure.” Shakespeare Survey 26 (1973): 119-28.
Knight, G. Wilson. Shakespeare and Morality. London: Routledge
Gender-Bending in She’s Come Undone
Gender-Bending in She’s Come Undone
Is Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone, “qualified” to write a first-person narrator in a female voice? After all, as a man, what does he know about women’s issues? In this essay I will discuss the issue of “gender-bending” writers and discuss Mr. Lamb’s use of such tool.
The term “gender-bender” usually refers to a pop singer or a follower of a pop cult “…who deliberately affects an androgynous appearance by wearing sexually ambiguous clothing, make-up, etc. (Ayto and Simpson 81)” While authors are not included in this specific definition, we must not overlook the possibility that writers can fall under the category of being a “gender-bender.” Applying some of the same characteristics of the definition, I believe that an author can be a “gender-bender” by changing the voice of the writer in the novels. Wally Lamb would fall under this category, because as a male author, he is writing his main character in a female voice.
The concept of “gender-bending” authors is not completely foreign to literature, while it may not be applied to the definition presented above. For example, in detective novels that are written by women, some of the characters take on different genders than their writers. In the following passage, taken from the essay “Gender (De)Mystified: Resistance and Recuperation in Hard-Boiled Female Detective Fiction,” by Timothy Shuker-Haines and Martha M. Umphrey, discussion is made of detective author Sue Grafton’s ability to write in the male persona.
Kinsey Millhone’s [a female character in the book F Is for Fugitive] persona is gendered substantially as masculine. A woman who has few friends and lives for her work, she is self-consciously, almost parodically male-defined, as, for example, when she describes her tendency to amuse herself with the abridged California Penal code and textbooks on auto theft rather than engaging in the teatime gossip of a Miss Marple. (Delamater and Prigozy 73)
“Gender-bending” also refers to sex change operations. Such as the case with performance artist Kate Bornstein – a graduate of Brown University – who underwent such an operation thirteen years ago. In an article on the school’s website, Ms. Bornstein discusses “gender-bending” and some of the issues she discusses can also apply to “gender-bending” in novels.
The way I view gender is a way to express yourself. …Gender is just a doorway, and so is sexuality, race and age.