The Bechdel Test asks whether women in a work of literature ever talk to each other about anything other than men. I am always a little annoyed by people calling it the Bechdel Test, since Virginia Woolf invented it, but I guess it is necessary to go with the flow about the name at this point. Nowadays, some plots, like that of Disney’s Frozen, seem to be designed with the Bechdel test in mind. Many Victorian novels and poems that I can think of get a passing Bechdel grade, but it can be striking how “poorly” some older works of poetry and fiction perform on this test. I am sort of ambivalent about the significance of the test, but it is still a fun thing to think about.
I started wondering about how Shakespeare’s plays perform on the Bechdel test, and found this blog post which has already addressed that question. The conversation between the queen and her ladies in Richard II 3.4 does technically pass the Bechdel test, but as the author says, it is for a funny reason. I think that the ostensibly man-free conversation she cites between Alice and Katharine in Henry V 3.4 is even more dubious–and the understanding shall understand.
The conversation between Paulina and Emilia in The Winter’s Tale 2.2 ought to qualify. Although Paulina and Emilia do mention the king in that conversation, their primary concern is the health and welfare of the queen and her newborn girl, which they discuss for several lines before the king comes up. The learned banter between Rosalind and Celia, if not their discussions about their relative ranks and positions–which are related to, but not really about, their fathers–, in As You Like It 1.2, should also help As You Like It pass the Bechdel test.