Wonder Woman, or the Female Tragic Hero
  • Naomi Conn Liebler


Feminist literary criticism is a practice whose apparent familiarity tends to obscure its contested applications (Baym 154); the word “feminism” means different things to different people. That there are many different kinds of “feminism” became clear by 1991 with the publication of Robyn Warhol and Diane Price Herndl’s substantial anthology, Feminisms, properly pluralized; now, the movement that gave its (singular) name to these varied critical and theoretical praxes is historicized into “first-wave,” “second-wave,” and “third-wave” feminism. Profound differences among critics who ride one or another of these “waves” have made its discourses a theoretical battlefield. It has long seemed to me that the debates of feminism too often produced radically polarized readings of female representations in early modern tragedy as either oppressed and marginalized victims or demonic (and again marginalized) bitches,2 a binary option that left little room for alternatives. As the historian Gerda Lerner noted in the introduction to The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), “it is a fundamental error to try to conceptualize women primarily as victims. To do so at once obscures what must be assumed as a given of women’s historical situation: Women … are and always have been actors and agents in history” (5). What has been missing from feminist criticism of tragedy, especially, is a reading of women as such actors and agents, as tragic heroes, protagonists positioned in their plays in precisely (or nearly so) the same ways as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Dr. Faustus, and Macbeth. This volume aims to supply that reading by exploring the dimensions of a feminist tragic heroic discourse. In studying the possibilities for such a discourse, I have learned a great deal from colleagues within and outside literary and specifically Shakespearean criticism—art historians, linguists, and philosophers among them; by drawing upon their work, much of which has long been engaged with the same kinds of questions we are now asking, this introduction aims to set out some theoretical parameters within which to contextualize those dimensions as well as some questions whose answers remain beyond the scope of this volume.


Feminist Critic Early Modern Period Female Representation Binary Option Female Protagonist 
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  1. 9.
    This play is listed in Harbage-Schoenbaum as extant in manuscript form, probably intended as a closet play, and last edited in 1910 (in German) by G. Becker, “Lady Lumley’s Übersetzung von Euripides’ Iphigenie in Aulis,” Jahrbuch der deutschen Shakespeare Gesellschaft 46 (1910): 28–59.Google Scholar

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© Naomi Conn Liebler 2002

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  • Naomi Conn Liebler

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