New Historicism and Cultural Materialism have been criticized for under-representing Feminist contributions. In fact, a Feminist tradition in Shakespeare criticism goes back at least to 1736 when the Shakespeare Ladies Club lobbied the London theatres at Drury Lane and Covent Garden for more revivals of Shakespearean plays.
Early female critics were influential: Charlotte Lennox (Shakespeare Illustrated, 1753); Eliza Haywood (The Female Spectator, 1755); Elizabeth Montagu (An Essay on the Genius of Shakespeare, 1769); and Elizabeth Griffith (The Morality of Shakespeare’s Drama Illustrated, 1775). They culminated in the shape of Henrietta Maria Bowdler, who in 1807 published The Family Shakespeare.
The Family Shakespeare was an edition of twenty plays …
NOT A SINGLE LINE IS ADDED, BUT I HAVE ENDEAVOURED TO REMOVE ANYTHING THAT COULD GIVE JUST OFFENCE TO THE VIRTUOUS AND RELIGIOUS MIND. MY BROTHER THOMAS BOWDLER THEN TOOK OVER AND PUBLISHED A COMPLETE TEN-VOLUME FAMILY SHAKESPEARE IN 1818 … UNDER MY OWN NAME ONLY, OF COURSE.
It is, incidentally, here that concern is first aired regarding the immorality of Measure for Measure (a play intimately driven by sexual urges). By the end of the 19th century it had become a “problem play”, a prime example of Victorian sexual mores. (Critics have also puzzled over whether Hamlet actually slept with Ophelia — to which an old actor-manager once replied, “In our company — always!”)