Speaking Without Words: the Myth of Masculine Autonomy in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love

  • Ann C. Hall


Sam Shepard’s popularity has often been explained by his unorthodox dramatic methods; his experiments with form, character, and action have not only forced critics to resort to non-dramatic terminology in order to analyze his style, but they have also made him and his works, in Don Shewey’s words, a ‘true American original’.1 For many critics, however, Shepard’s heterodoxy does not extend to his female characters; his characterisation of women is resolutely conventional. The women in his plays are merely ‘stage property’, present only to uphold the privileged male performance. Lynda Hart, for example, writes that Shepard’s experience with Joseph Chaikin’s ‘Open Theatre’ may have inspired him to create characters with shifting rather than consistent identities, but his female characters remain ‘naively’ stereotypical.2 Florence Falk argues that the male characters in Shepard’s plays are their ‘energy centres’; their roles, motives, and moods may shift, but their treatment of women is all too familiar. Men dominate the stage, its spectacle, its language, and their female counterparts. Women in his plays are cast into the roles traditionally assigned to them by culture, specifically American popular culture; they are marginalised, absent, silent, ‘other’.3


Female Character Female Representation American Dream Mirror Stage Love Object 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Don Shewey, Sam Shepard: The Life, The Loves, Behind the Legend of a True American Original (New York: Dell, 1985), p. 5.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lynda Hart, ‘Sam Shepard’s Spectacle of Impossible Heterosexuality: Fool for Love,’ in Feminist Rereadings of Modern American Drama, ed. Jane Schlueter (London: Associated University Presses, 1989) pp. 215–17.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Florence Falk, ‘Men Without Women: The Shepard Landscape’, in American Dreams: The Imagination of Sam Shepard, ed. Bonnie Marranca (New York: PAJ Publications 1981), pp. 90–103.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Sam Shepard, Fool for Love and Other Plays (New York: Bantam 1984), pp. 18–57. All quotations are from this edition; page numbers are given in the text.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Sam Shepard, ‘Myths, Dreams, Realities — Sam Shepard’s America’, with Michiko Kukutani, New York Times, 29 January 1984, Section 2, p. 26.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    W. K. Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1954).Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Jacques Lacan, Feminine Sexuality, trans. Jacqueline Rose, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (New York: Norton, 1985), p. 81.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 4.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Jane Gallop, Reading Lacan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 81.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Stephen Heath, “Difference”, Screen 19, no. 3 (Autumn 1978), 63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 17.
    Jacqueline Rose, ‘Introduction — II’, Feminine Sexuality, trans. Jacqueline Rose, ed. Jacqueline Rose and Juliet Mitchell (New York: Norton 1985), p. 47.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    Luce Irigaray, The Sex Which is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 170.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630–1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), p. 5.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    Ibid., p. 9.Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    The history of incest and its prohibition also complicate the problem. See, for example, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans. James Harle Bell et al. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), andGoogle Scholar
  16. 29a.
    Luce Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985). Both concur that the incest prohibition inaugurates society, patriarchy, and the exchange and oppression of women. Women, like material wealth, are exchanged, so it is inevitable that this object must be protected, preserved, and kept intact in order to receive a greater price on the marketplace. Incest, then, signals a violation which ruptures this structure, a triumph over The Old Man; the object of exchange is damaged. Eddie and May bring together the lives The Old Man so desperately tried to separate, and begin a life of their own, without the exchange Lévi-Strauss argues is so necessary for kinship (489). As the play demonstrates, however, this relationship has not escaped the father; it has not revolutionized any relationship. May is still objectified, and Eddie is still ruling the family history. Further, given the interchangeable nature of women in the sexual marketplace, female roles operate in order to fulfil male desire. A woman’s job is to reflect, no matter what her linguistic signifier (mother, daughter, etc.).Google Scholar
  17. 29b.
    The incestuous relationship in the play, then, is far from ‘almost irrelevant’, as William Kleb concluded in ‘Sam Shepard’s Free-for-All: Fool for Love at the Magic Theatre’, Theatre, 14 (Summer/Fall 1983), 77–82. It promises an answer, fulfilment, but it is finally enigmatic, a disruptive gap in the text and the gender relations in the play.Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann C. Hall

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations