Illusion and Dissolution
Gender and the Anti-theatrical Debate in A Midsummer Night's Dream


1   Jonas Barish, The Anti-theatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California P, 1981), p. 85. I have found the fourth chapter, entitled "Puritans and Proteans," most useful in formulating my argument. Further references to this work will be included within the text parenthetically. ^ up

2   Stephen Gosson, The Schoole of Abuse and A Short Apologie of The Schoole of Abuse, Ed. Edward Arber (Westminster: Constable, 1902). Further references to this work will be included within the text parenthetically. ^ up

3   See Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind 1540-1620 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1984). She lists these and other qualities under the index-entry "Faults of women." ^ up

4   See Richard Levin, "Women in the Renaissance Theatre Audience," Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989), pp. 165-74. Levin suggests that Shakespeare is rather unusual in that "when he addresses his audience, he usually employs neutral terms such as 'gentles,' 'fair beholders,' 'gentle hearers,' or 'gentle spectators' — though I think it is significant that, unlike some of his contemporaries, he never speaks only to the men" (p. 168). He cites only three epilogues (to As You Like It, 2 Henry IV, Henry VIII) in which Shakespeare divides his audience by gender. ^ up

5   Woodbridge, pp. 250-51. ^ up

6   See also Jean E. Howard, "Scripts and/versus Playhouses: Ideological Production and the Renaissance Public Stage," Renaissance Drama 20 (1989), pp. 31-49, Alan H. Nelson, "Women in the Audience of Cambridge Plays," Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990), pp. 333-6, Laurie E. Osborne, "Female Audiences and Female Authority in the Knight of the Burning Pestle," Exemplaria 3 (1991), pp. 491-517. ^ up

7   This and all further references to A Midsummer Night's Dream are to G. Blakemore Evans, et al, eds, The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), pp. 217-49. ^ up

8   Laura Levine, Men in Women's Clothing: Anti-theatricality and effeminization 1579-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994). Levine suggests that "the playwright is as 'contaminated' by the anxieties of the attacks which we think of him as 'defending' against as the attackers themselves" (p. 2). ^ up

9   Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors, Ed. Richard H. Perkinson (New York: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1941). ^ up

10   I do not mean to neglect Puck's manipulation of Titania and Bottom, but it does not fit with my interest in the female spectator. Both Titania and Bottom are "performers"; they are each presenting illusions. Still, strangely, although Demetrius and Lysander, and Bottom, who is at bottom, still Bottom, as "performers" are utterly unchanged, Titania is: she behaves utterly unlike the queen she is and, although Bottom wears the donkey's head, Titania is made an ass. Like Helena and Hermia, her identity is rent. Perhaps the implication is that female identity is endangered whether women perform or witness illusion. ^ up

11   There are two levels of theatrical illusion at work in the main-plot of the play. Puck deceives Lysander and Demetrius and these men, in turn, deceive Hermia and Helena. Although Lysander and Demetrius are charmed by Puck in much the same way the mechanicals, influenced by the anti-theatricalists, fear that they will charm their female audience, and although Puck quite literally deceives them by impersonation (of each other), the men do not seem to me to be figured as spectators in the way that Hermia and Helena are. More importantly, the men's absolute identities do not seem to be breached in any way, nor do they seem to notice the least bit of peculiarity in their own or each others' behavior. ^ up