"Dear mother England" : motherhood and nineteenth-century criticism of Shakespeare
This article examines a selection of nineteenth-century appraisals of the mothers in Shakespeare's plays. Nineteenth-century interest in motherhood is hardly surprising, since society at this time regarded the family as the foundation stone of social order, with the mother figure at its ideological centre. The royal family itself set the standard with Queen Victoria, mother of nine, representing the ideal. The significance of motherhood at this time coincided with a rising wave of enthusiasm for Shakespeare's plays and the characters he created, characters that subsequently became role models for real women to emulate. Moreover, where the plays appeared to be wanting in respect of ideal mothers, nineteenth-century critics supplied the void with speculative adaptations and interpretations. In reality, however, notions of the ideal mother were fraught with difficulties and the evidence presented here suggests that whilst many nineteenth-century appraisals of Shakespearean mothers helped to perpetuate notions of the ideal and thereby uphold this significant part of the dominant ideology, others were clearly an attempt to negotiate a place between the real and the ideal.