Erased Females

A couple of recent news stories suggest that certain individual women in history had their achievements stolen by men.

1. Elizabeth Winkler in The Atlantic:

Doubts about whether William Shakespeare (who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died in 1616) really wrote the works attributed to him are almost as old as the writing itself. Alternative contenders—Francis Bacon; Christopher Marlowe; and Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, prominent among them—continue to have champions, whose fervor can sometimes border on fanaticism. In response, orthodox Shakespeare scholars have settled into dogmatism of their own. Even to dabble in authorship questions is considered a sign of bad faith, a blinkered failure to countenance genius in a glover’s son. The time had come, I felt, to tug at the blinkers of both camps and reconsider the authorship debate: Had anyone ever proposed that the creator of those extraordinary women might be a woman? Each of the male possibilities requires an elaborate theory to explain his use of another’s name. None of the candidates has succeeded in dethroning the man from Stratford. Yet a simple reason would explain a playwright’s need for a pseudonym in Elizabethan England: being female….

The prevailing view… has been that no women in Renaissance England wrote for the theater, because that was against the rules. Religious verse and translation were deemed suitable female literary pursuits; “closet dramas,” meant only for private reading, were acceptable. The stage was off-limits. Yet scholars have lately established that women were involved in the business of acting companies as patrons, shareholders, suppliers of costumes, and gatherers of entrance fees. What’s more, 80 percent of the plays printed in the 1580s were written anonymously, and that number didn’t fall below 50 percent until the early 1600s. At least one eminent Shakespeare scholar, Phyllis Rackin, of the University of Pennsylvania, challenges the blanket assumption that the commercial drama pouring forth in the period bore no trace of a female hand. So did Virginia Woolf, even as she sighed over the obstacles that would have confronted a female Shakespeare: “Undoubtedly, I thought, looking at the shelf where there are no plays by women, her work would have gone unsigned.”

Emilia Bassano [was] born in London in 1569 to a family of Venetian immigrants—musicians and instrument-makers who were likely Jewish—she was one of the first women in England to publish a volume of poetry (suitably religious yet startlingly feminist, arguing for women’s “Libertie” and against male oppression). Her existence was unearthed in 1973 by the Oxford historian A. L. Rowse, who speculated that she was Shakespeare’s mistress, the “dark lady” described in the sonnets. In Emilia, the playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm goes a step further: Her Shakespeare is a plagiarist who uses Bassano’s words for Emilia’s famous defense of women in Othello.

Could Bassano have contributed even more widely and directly? The idea felt like a feminist fantasy about the past—but then, stories about women’s lost and obscured achievements so often have a dreamlike quality, unveiling a history different from the one we’ve learned. Was I getting carried away, reinventing Shakespeare in the image of our age? Or was I seeing past gendered assumptions to the woman who—like Shakespeare’s heroines—had fashioned herself a clever disguise? Perhaps the time was finally ripe for us to see her.

More at the link.

2. From the Herald Sun (Melbourne):

Was King Tut a fraud? New evidence points to a female pharaoh who ruled before him

Why do so many of Pharoah Tutankhamun’s famous golden statues have breasts? Turns out, it’s not him. It’s his sisters. They ruled Egypt before him — and achieved everything the boy king is credited with. But they were written out of history — until now.

That’s one new theory that is beginning to emerge from fresh forensic analysis of the rich relics found bundled in the famous tomb found by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Modern Egyptologists are revisiting the clues, reshaping the fragmentary puzzle of what exactly happened during one of history’s most tumultuous times….

[After Akhenaten’s death,] Princess Neferneferuaten took the throne, the professor says, with the teenage Meritaten adopting the ritual role of chief royal consort.

“It looks like after one year, Meritaten had herself crowned as pharaoh, as well,” she says.

It wasn’t without precedent. Or controversy.

Egypt had had female pharaohs before — Hatshepsut and Sobekneferu.

And Akhenaten had already done something radical: Among his revolutionary acts was to make his favourite queen, Nefertiti, a full equal in rank and status. Essentially, a co-pharaoh.

Their looted statues — one wearing the crown of Upper Egypt, the other of Lower Egypt — were later bundled among Tutankhamun’s possessions.

The bejewelled plate of the goddess Nut also found among Tut’s treasures indicates it was these child queens that had set about restoring the old religions and moving the capital back to Thebes. Not Tutankhamun, as is widely reported.

But the priests who cemented King Tut’s rule hated Akhenaten with a vengeance for having stripped away their gods, their wealth and their power. And they wold have been scandalised by any following co-female rule, Professor Angenot says.

More at the link. I am not endorsing either of these, but I’m not discounting them entirely; sometimes women really have been written out of history because men wanted it that way. However, it is always tempting to go too far in the opposite direction for similarly political reasons. Whom to believe? (Although I confess to being a Stratfordian myself; I found James Shapiro’s Contested Will to be convincing.)

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