The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Apparently the ladies protest too much

Maia has a good post on Shakespeare, and in particular her reactions to Much Ado About Nothing and Taming the Shrew.

MAAN used to be my favourite Shakespearean play (not that I'm an expert), and in particular I loved the Emma Thompson et al screen version Maia refers to. The highlight for me has always been the inter-play between Benedick and Beatrice (especially when portrayed by Brannagh and Thompson, who were a couple at the time). I love the scene in the garden where they are talking at complete cross-purposes.

But watching it again in more recent times, since I've stopped saying "I'm not a feminist but...", I've felt a similar discomfort to that which Maia relays, about the relationship between Hero and Claudio.

I'm not the kind of person who can read a play, particular Shakespeare's, and get a feel for it - I usually have to see it before I can really follow it. So my experience of Shakespeare has been largely limited by what the University of Auckland student group has decided to do each summer. As a university-based theatre troupe, they have tended to play around in interesting ways with The Bard's work and we've seen many female characters portrayed in a much more modern sensibility than Shakespeare probably would have intended. They also have a tendency, every few years, to do the good ol' gender switch (in particular Taming of the Shrew, which was made much more watchable for me through this device), further muddying the waters.

Given that Shakespeare is so frequently reproduced in modern times, can we just say his work was acceptable because it's a product of his times and leave it at that? I've never studied Elizabethan England, but I do have the impression that Shakespeare's women are in fact more bolshie than their real contemporaries would have been, although so many of them do get tamed by curtain's fall.

On the other hand, should we be interpreting these four hundred year old plays with a feminist eye* for the modern audience? I'm thinking particularly about new(ish)films that base themselves on Shakespeare's work, like Ten Things I Hate About You** (based on Taming of the Shrew). Could Shakespeare, with the shackles of his time around his writing wrists, have written differently about the outcomes for women (and I don't mean could he have produced Shakespeare in Love) or should all these sad plays (even many of the comedies) be laid out straight to show the tragedy for the female characters, as Maia suggests?

I'd be fine with Maia's point of view, if these modern interpretations did actually show the tragedy, but in fact so often these "fairytale" endings are considered everything the Kate, Hero or Tatiana should ever want.

Apparently we women of the 21st century should seek the same sexist subjugation that we had to put up with in the 16th. In other words, Shakespeare's work may sadly be just as Ben Jonson described the Bard himself, "not of an age, but for all time."

* Or even a non-heteronormative eye, that would make things interesting!
** Perhaps there is a reason why Shakespeare's plays translate so well now into the stereotypical view of a contemporary American high school.


Apathy Jack said...

All of the hardcore Trekkies claim that Star Trek having the first interracial kiss on tv was as sign that they were blazing new trails of acceptance and harmony, boldly going etc.

Of course, if you actually watch that episode, Kirk only kisses Uhura because he's being telekinetically controlled by aliens, and he protests loudly that what they're forcing him to do is wrong and that they're monsters for doing it and such forth...

Sure, Shakepeare wrote strong women for the time he was writing, but they're rubbish by today's standards. Looking for feminist role models in Shakespeare is like looking for African-American role models on cop shows from the sixties - there were a bunch of them, and it certinaly was a statement and revolution for the time, but we've moved on, things are better now.

Also: Shakespeare blows.

zANavAShi said...

Piss off Andy and go post your pro-child violence spam somewhere else.

Does anybody have any links to counter-protests please?

Span said...

Andy, I've deleted your comment because that was basically the definitive trolling - posting completely off topic in an overt attempt to promote an event that has nothing to do with Shakespeare or his female roles.

This is particularly annoying given that I have written two recent posts on the actual topic your comment is about, and you could have posted your comment there quite easily. I would not have deleted it had it not been in the wrong place and so obviously trolling (even though I staunchly disagree with you).

Somehow though I suspect you are the kind of troll who leaves their droppings in as many places as possible but doesn't come back to them in case they start to stink.

zanavashi I have kept you may be off topic but you are responding to Andy going off topic.

Span said...

Also, Apathy Jack, don't they revoke your Dead Poets licence for that kind of blasphemy against the Bard?

I wouldn't mind so much if Shakespeare wasn't still so widely taught and reproduced.