In this fascinating study, Anthony J. Lewis argues that it is the hero himself, rejecting a woman he apprehends as a threat, who is love's own worst enemy. Drawing upon classical and Renaissance drama, iconography, and a wide range of traditional and feminist criticism, Lewis demonstrates that in Shakespeare the actions and reactions of hero and heroine are contingent upon social setting -- father-son relations, patriarchal restrictions on women, and cultural assumptions about gender-appropriate behavior. This compelling analysis shows how Shakespeare deepened the familiar love stores he inherited from New Comedy and Greek romance.
Beginning with a penetrating analysis of the hero's contradictory response to sexual attraction, Lewis's discussion traces the heroine's reaction to abandonment and slander, and the lover's subsequent parallel descents into versions of bastardy and death. In arguing that comedy's happy ending is the product of the gender role reversals brought on by their evolving relationship itself, Lewis shows in meticulous detail how sexual stereotypes influence attitudes and restrict behavior.
This perceptive discussion of male response to family and of female response to rejection will appeal to Shakespeare scholars and students, as well as to the theater community. Lewis's persuasive argument, that Shakespeare's heroes and heroines are, from the first, three-dimensional figures far removed from the stock types of Plautus, Terence, and his continental sources, will prove a valuable contribution to the ongoing feminist reappraisal of Shakespeare.
"This is a meaty book, one which sets out its arguments clearly and displays its evidence honestly. It is worth considering and arguing with." -- Notes and Queries
"Establishes a new starting point for future studies of the subject." -- Sewanee Review