Shakespeare's Family Values
How did Shakespeare represent family dynamics in his plays? Many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays focus on the fraught relationship between parents and their children, often through two themes: possession and loss.
Shakespearean parents often see children as possessions that in some way belong to them—and conflict tends to arise when the children defy their parents’ wishes (Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, King Lear, etc). What does it mean to claim that your children are your property? What makes parents think they own their children? While Shakespearean children often defy their parents and break up their family, families in Shakespeare are often incomplete to begin with. In fact, they are almost always missing a member: we find families with dead fathers (Hamlet) or mothers (The Merchant of Venice), orphan children (Much Ado about Nothing), and childless couples (Macbeth). Why are there so few complete and happy families in Shakespeare?
Did Shakespeare’s own family life as a husband and father translate to the families we see in his plays? We know he married a woman older than himself, lived apart from her for much of his life, had two daughters who survived him, and one son who died in childhood. In what ways did Shakespeare’s own experiences of family life influence his art?
Presented by Ian Moulton
Ian Frederick Moulton is Professor of English and Cultural History in the College of Letters and Sciences at Arizona State University. He has published widely on the representation of gender and sexuality in early modern European literature. Professor Moulton was born in London, UK, raised in Winnipeg, Canada, and received his Ph.D. in English from Columbia University before joining ASU in 1995. His publications include Love in Print in the Sixteenth Century: The Popularization of Romance (Palgrave, 2014) and Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2000).
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