Hermia and the Dark Lady: From Perceived Others to Potential Erotic Objects

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Abstract

The present paper is focused on the figures of the Dark Lady of the sonnets and Hermia from A Midsummer Night‟s Dream as modes of writing against the Petrarchian ideal. The former is the most explicit of Shakespeare‘s suite of “dark ladies” (which includes Anne, Kate, Hero, Phoebe, Cleopatra, and Rosaline), while the latter is arguably his least individualised character, yet one that has benefitted from more public attention than most thanks to the generous circulation, continuous adaptation and re-contextualisation of the text. Two useful concepts for the discussion I propose are what Mikhail Bakhtin terms “re-accentuation” and “heteroglossia” as these texts allow different voices to dispute the place and worth of a dark-skinned woman, yet it is precisely by creating a space to voice them all that it creates a possibility to shake up the aesthetic, as well as the literary canon. The ontological status of the Dark Lady and Hermia is also of interest, so that a linguistic and stylistic analysis is carried out in order to highlight how conflicting ideologies attempt to appropriate their image, namely the hegemonic versus the inclusive understandings of what James Hughes calls the “personhood-based theory”. The revolutionary aspect brought to the table by Shakespeare is his choice for a transition from the hegemonic perspective to one which judges the two “dark ladies” on their own terms.

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