The Bed-trick in English Renaissance Drama: Explorations in Gender, Sexuality, and Power
The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama provides the first detailed examination of this convention. While most critical discussions focus exclusively on Shakespeare's use of the bed-trick in Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well, this study, written from a feminist perspective and based on an analysis of more than two hundred and fifty plays, places the bed-trick in its historical and theatrical context in order to challenge widely held critical assumptions about its theatrical history on the English Renaissance stage. It has been considered a comic convention, a mere device to complicate and resolve a plot, or the convention by which unwary men are entrapped into marriage by scheming females. None of these assumptions has been tested against the evidence of the surviving plays from the period - an oversight that the present study seeks to remedy.
After exploring the convention's use in nondramatic Renaissance literature and its emergence on the stage in the 1590s, Marliss Desens examines the sociological and psychological implications of the bed-trick in regard to matters of marriage, male fantasies, and overt violence, thereby decentering the patriarchal perspective from which the convention has traditionally been viewed. Critical discussions of this convention, the author argues, have been so dominated by androcentric values that critics, both male and female, have often - consciously or unconsciously - overlooked the violence inherent in the bed-trick. No critical discussions have ever identified rape as lying at the heart of the bed-trick even though the basic action of the bed-trick clearly shows that at least one partner is always physically and emotionally violated. While that partner may have chosen sexual involvement, he or she has not chosen it with the person unwittingly embraced in the dark. The bed-trick, by depicting betrayal on the most intimate level, forces us to examine some of our own views on gender, sexuality, and the amount of power any person, whether male or female, may acceptably exercise over another.
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The BedTrick in Nondramatic Literature
The Theatrical Ancestry and Emergence of the BedTrick
The BedTrick in Matters of Marriage
The BedTrick as a Manifestation of Male Fantasies
The Violent BedTricks of Tragicomedy and Tragedy
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