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The Blazing World as Feminist Manifesto

Margaret Cavendish truly had faith in the female spirit, and she felt that women were never given the credit they deserved. Cavendish wholeheartedly believed that women could comprehend philosophy and politics as well as men, and that they should be allowed to study these subjects freely. In addition, she called for the independence of women from masculine restrictions. Because of this, feminism abounded in her thoughts and works. In The Blazing World, Margaret Cavendish shows that women are capable of ruling a world effectively when power is given to them. She also shows that women are capable of excelling in a created world within their minds, free of limitations set by men.

To better understand Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, one must examine her background. When Cavendish was only two years old, her father died, leaving her mother to raise the family alone. As a result, her mother became a role model of “female independence and administrative competence” (Lilley ix). This proved to young Margaret that a woman could handle miscellaneous affairs quite well on her own, and it instilled strong feminist values in her. She firmly believed that “the Woman was given to Man not onely to delight, but to help and assist him” and that “Women would labor as much with Fire and Furnace as Men” (qtd. in Harris 210). Her shining example must have been her widowed mother.

Later, when Cavendish began to publish her written works, she boldly used her real name instead of a psuedonym. This was highly unusual for a woman to do in the seventeenth century (Lilley x). Cavendish was fully aware that women who wrote philosophy were going completely against all norms; she compared it to “men in petticoats” (q…

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Battigelli, Anna. Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1998.

Cavendish, Margaret. The Blazing World and Other Writings. Kate Lilley, ed. New York: Penguin, 1994.

Hunter, Lynette, and Sarah Hutton, eds. Women, Science, and Medicine: 1500-1700. Glouchestershire England: Sutton, 1997.

Harris, Frances. “Living in the Neighbourhood of Science.” Hunter 198-217.

Hutton, Sarah. “Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish, and Seventeenth-Century Scientific Thought.” Hunter 218-234.

Iliffe, Rob, and Frances Willmoth. “Astronomy and the Domestic Sphere.” Hunter 235-265.

Wiseman, Susan. “Gender and Status in Dramatic Discourse.” Women, Writing, History: 1640-1740. Grundy, Isobel, and Susan Wiseman, eds. Athens: University of Georgia, 1992. 156-77.

Abstinence and Orgy in Measure for Measure

Abstinence and Orgy in Measure for Measure

Many existing views of Measure for Measure seem intriguing but incomplete. They might reinforce our perception of this play as fragmented and baffling, because they do not integrate apparently conflicting outlooks presented in the play’s Vienna, and generated by the mysterious action of Vincentio. Notice how the following different interpretations display the conflicts: the extreme view proposed by Roy Battenhouse that the Duke stands for God (Rossiter 108-28); the modified position of Elizabeth Marie Pope that the Duke is a successful magistrate with divinely-delegated powers (“Renaissance” 66-82), almost in line with Eliade’s version of a receding sky-god replaced by a local delegate (see Eliade 52); the attack upon Vincentio’s foolish “mystification” by Clifford Leech (69-71); and the concomitant understanding by Wylie Sypher that the Duke’s Vienna is merely an arbitrary, chaotic locale where passion and abstinence indifferently change place (262-80). Missing from such interpretations of Measure for Measure is isolation of controlling motifs: that of trial by temptation—or “assaying,” as both the play and contemporary religious tracts name it; and of classical concepts of restrained chaos. Understanding these ideas will not resolve all the necessary ambiguities, but may provide a coherent approach to viewing or directing this perplexing drama. Analyzing Vincentio as a self-appointed “assayer” means exploring the chaotic world of Vienna, transformed by Vincentio’s incompetence into a predatory dis-order. To refer to Eliade again, the Duke has perhaps assumed the role of demiurge only to recede himself, giving way to a lesser divinity (40, 50-52) in Angelo—a character signi…

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…n UP, 1966.

Knight, G. Wilson. The Wheel of Fire: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sombre Tragedies. London: Oxford UP, 1930.

Leech, Clifford. “The ‘Meaning’ of Measure for Measure.” Shakespeare Survey 3 (1950): 69-71.

Pope, Elizabeth Marie. Paradise Regained: The Tradition and the Poem. 1947. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962.

—. “The Renaissance Background of Measure for Measure.” Shakespeare Survey 2 (1949): 66-82.

Rossiter, A. P. Angel with Horns and Other Shakespeare Lectures. Ed. Graham Storey. London: Longmans, Green, 1961.

Shakespeare, William. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. 1969. Baltimore: Penguin, 1971.

Sypher, Wylie. “Shakespeare as Casuist: Measure for Measure.” The Sewanee Review 58 (1950): 262-80.

Taylor, Thomas. Christs Combate and Conquest. Cambridge, 1618.

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