We been reading Shakespeare and some critics in my 201 class: Literary Genres and Critical Approaches, and I've been struck by how opaque the critics often are. First of all, feminist and Marxist/post-colonialists should understand that in 200 hundred years, people will still be reading Shakespeare, not them. And why is that? It's because great art is more important to the human family than polemics are. And great art always involves both meaning and tension; that's what, in large part, makes it great. So arguing that Shakespeare is either doing this or that (or that all discourses carry the same weight) is to miss the boat. Odds are, he's doing both. We've been reading A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and THE TEMPEST. Both uphold the patriarchy WHILE undercutting it at the same time. And I would argue, again here, that it is this very tension which holds the whole solution in solution, which makes it art.
The tension between the patriarchy and feminism in the first play and between the patriarchy and post-colonialist concerns in the second are very relevant to us today. Women, like men, need to be heard: father's can't threaten their daughter's lives if the girl disobeys him. . . . But obedience is crucial to Church, to the family. Without it there is no revealed order; all we get (today) is chaos.
Jesus and the Father, and the Holy Spirit--if we are to trust the pronoun Jesus appears to give Him in the new testament, are all male. Sorry. That's just the way God wanted it. But a husband who doesn't listen to his wife with the utmost respect is a fool too. That's the other side of Shakespeare's coin. Discourses don't like to hear this stuff; for them is so often "either-or." But Shakespeare is after "meaning," what has been revealed to us. He's after the tensions associated with the given. Again, postmodernists don't want to hear that. For them, all argument, points worth making come down to their egos, senses of the world.
THE TEMPEST does the same thing really. Artists and rulers must maintain an order which has been given to them. Few do, but that is the call. And the first of those rulers is the Roman Catholic Church: the patriarchy secular humanists all seem to systematically despise. But God has given the Church to us because it respects and offers both "closure" and "opennness," something secular feminist/post-colonialist critics don't have the tools to deliver. (Without closure, after all, there is chaos, and without openness there is no freedom.) We all have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. How does one discipline his children? If you have a set of can't miss rules, please pass it along.
A big part of the tension between closure and openness is how does one use authority. Line 21, Act 1, Scene I: "Use your authority." How does the patriarchy impose the given? Badly in most cases--which incidentally is not reason to get rid of it. (Such either-or thinking is pervasive in both secular humanists and in religious fundamentalists.) Sin is the cause. It is the cause.
So praise God for meaning and tension and Shakespeare, and God have mercy on the polemicists, those who walk around bumping their heads into walls. (And the rest of us who stpend too much of our time doing the same!) But what a joy it's been to read these plays again . . . and the silly critics!