Grad Conference Speech: Shakespeare’s Adaptations and Storytelling

*I was invited to speak at the Spring 2018 St. John’s University Graduate English Conference a week or so ago and I figured I should post my speech. I talked about my other WordPress site (I have many, actually) which is an archive for Shakespeare adaptations.*

As English students and scholars, we are certainly familiar with Shakespeare’s works as he is considered one of the most epic storytellers of all time. More than 400 years later, the reach of his tales continues growing. Today, I want to showcase a project I created for a class from the Fall 2017 semester. In this Digital Literature class, we discussed the importance of an archival collection of works from specific writers no longer with us. While Shakespeare’s works are easily available online and in bookstores around the world, I decided to look closer at another aspect of storytelling: modern film. His stories are required readings throughout middle school, high school, and university classrooms, but how many of these teachers implement the film adaptations into their coursework? As we move further into a digital world, the importance of translating his works into film grows greater, which is why I saw a need for an adaptation archive, for something that can be easily accessed by students, teachers, and Shakespeare lovers alike. 

For my archive, I desired something user-friendly and attractive. Focusing on clean lines and simple fonts allows the plays to take center stage. While you can explore on your own, I just want to point out that I found at least one adaptation or filmed production for each play, though some were certainly harder than others. I include a short summary of the play as well as links to where the explorer can find the video to watch or download—legally, of course! It would take much longer than fifteen minutes for me to discuss each play, so for this presentation, I want to perform a close reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside the 1999 production, titled the same, directed by Michael Hoffman to portray how film can be crucial in understanding the characters, setting, and ultimately the story.

First, out of the three adaptations I provided on the A Midsummer Night’s Dream page, this film is definitely the most traditional. Hoffman sets the play in a Tuscany village and begins the movie with a message that the bicycle has just been invented, all which can further convey how timeless this play truly is. Continuing on, each character is more or less exactly as the reader would imagine them—Helena is disheveled and crazy-eyed, Titania is dripping in glitter and gauze, and Theseus and his men fox hunt and wear stuffy suits. There are many scenes and characters I could focus on, but for brevity, I want to discuss the often loved, but equally often forgotten character: Nick Bottom.

His role in the original play, I believe, is to provide comedic relief as the play-within-the-play unfolds. Unlike the main characters, the troupe of actors isn’t given much time in front of the audience, and Bottom is no exception, which is why I found it odd that the 1999 adaptation gives more screen time to Bottom than I have ever seen.

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When the audience first sees Bottom, played by actor Kevin Kline, he is how I have imagined him: sitting at a cafe table, wearing a bright, white suit and hat, clearly set apart from the other people around him in the market. The image I provide here is when he sees a different attractive woman and gives her his signature smile, right before needing to dip into a storefront to escape his wife’s gaze, who has come to the market in search of him. Instantly, we have an image of Bottom’s home life which is something we do not get in the original play. Instead of leaving Bottom as a comedic character, Hoffman gives him a wife who is annoyed with his constant cheating and dreaming, which in turn provides depth to the Bottom we thought we knew.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 8.12.19 PM.pngAfter he successfully hides from her, he then meets with his circle of players, one of whom is Academy Award winner, Sam Rockwell, who plays Thisbe, and once again we see the original Bottom in his interactions with his friends:

Bottom: What is Pyramus, a lover or a tyrant?

Quince: A lover that kills himself most gallantly for love.

Bottom: That will ask some tears in the true performing of it. If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes: I will move storms; I will condole in some measure. (1.2.18-22)

Further down, he continues trying to take over each part, forever playing the arrogant actor:

Bottom: An I may hid my face, let me play Thisbe too. I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice. ‘Thisne, Thisne!’ (1.2.44-45)

Bottom: Let me play the lion too: I will roar that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me. I will roar that I will make the duke say ‘Let him roar again, let him roar again.’ (1.2.62-64).

What isn’t portrayed in the play, however, is after Bottom roars ridiculously for the people in the town square, some children from above pour wine over him, ruining his white suit, and letting everyone have a laugh. While this seems to be a traditional reading of Bottom’s role in the play, that of a person for comedic relief, this production potentially makes the watcher feel sorry for him. Furthermore, after this scene, Bottom returns home and with no dialogue, we see him take off his ruined suit jacket after sneaking past his wife, but when she comes into their room, she crosses her arms and looks at him with disdain before shaking her head and walking off. Bottom, meanwhile, gave her a nervous laugh about the drenched suit, perhaps desiring to start a conversation, but their relationship is loveless. With this scene, we are given more layers to Bottom’s character than what is provided in the play.

What complicates Bottom further, after having seen him with his wife, is when Bottom’s head becomes that of an ass and Queen Titania becomes enamored with him.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 9.07.12 PM.png The audience has already seen that Bottom has different interactions with women: first, he’s a flirt as we’ve seen in the clip. Second, the woman he’s married to potentially doesn’t love him, or at the very least is tired of his antics and constant dreaming, so when he is doted on by Titania, he, perhaps, is finally feeling a truer love. Even though Titania’s love is false to her, Bottom does not know this and while he is hesitant to comply when she says “I do love thee: therefore, go with me” in Act 3, Scene 1, why wouldn’t he attend to her bower? This may be the first time a woman has told him that she loves him. Throughout their scenes together, Bottom is certainly still traditional as in he is funny and slightly overbearing, but Hoffman’s previous scenes complicate his character, making the audience feel a wider range of emotions towards him than by simply reading the play.

Of course, their relationship was never meant to last. After having Puck fix the two pairs of lovers, Oberon fixes Titania by dropping the antidote on her sleeping eyes so she no longer lusts after Bottom. Bottom then gets thrown roughly out of the fairy world, and awakens in a field where he performs the monologue in Act 4. Looking closely at the lines, we see Bottom trying to make sense of what he had, and then lost, from what he thinks is a dream: “Man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was — there is no man can tell what. Methought I was — and methought I had — but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had” (4.1.207-10). He cannot comprehend what he found in Titania and Kline portrays Bottom’s confusion, and ultimately his sadness, when he wakes up in the field alone. While Bottom is sad here, as he stumbles back towards town, his life of humiliation is perhaps over when the other actors, his friends, run to greet him as he returns, actually excited to see him, which contrasts the rolling of their eyes and annoyance they felt towards him in the earlier scenes.Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 9.43.01 PM.png

To further prove that Hoffman makes Bottom a primary star is that he adds two more scenes that have no dialogue and serve no purpose other than to showcase Bottom’s deeper emotions. When the acting crew arrives at Theseus’ manor to present themselves as performers on the wedding day, Bottom notices a statue of what the audience assumes is Titania. In the play, after waking up in the field, Bottom believes everything was a rare dream and the story continues on, but by including this quick scene here, Hoffman shows us Bottom’s perplexity towards what really happened between him and the Fairy Queen. Was she real? Was their relationship real? Can he ever truly feel loved?

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Then, in the ending scene, before Puck gives his final monologue, Hoffman shows Bottom wistfully glancing out the window where fireflies, or supposed faeries, dance outside. This scene leaves me wondering what is Bottom thinking? How has he changed since the beginning of the movie? Is he aware of this change?

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The common consensus on Nick Bottom’s role in this play is to make us laugh and while there are surely countless scholars that read deeper into Bottom’s character, I believe it is safe to say that Bottom is our guilty pleasure, the character we can laugh at and remember once the play concludes. And what is fascinating about film, and this particular film, is that Hoffman leaves us with more to think about in regards to Bottom. Sure, he is still a guilty pleasure character, we laugh at and with him throughout the movie just like we do while reading the play, but we are also left with further thoughts and emotions towards him. This is significant as we continue transforming Shakespeare’s works into modern film: how are the directors, actors, set-designers, producers, and all other members that make the movies going to change, complicate, or beautify these works?

While I hope my presentation has portrayed an interesting close-reading of Bottom’s character alongside the film adaptation of him, my point, however, is not to prove that Bottom necessarily has to be a simple or complicated character. Instead, I have strived to show you that film adaptations can change our original assumptions and images of each character–for better or worse. A Slate Magazine piece written just a few months after the release of Hoffman’s movie has author David Edelstein ranting about the mutilation of Shakespeare’s play, specifically pointing out certain scenes that I have mentioned as a display of “the ass’s head materializing on the director.” What I did not have time to discuss were the other two adaptations I’ve provided for this play on my archive. The one, a teen drama, Get Over It, loosely puts this play into the hands of teenagers much like 10 Things I Hate About You. The other, Were the World Mine, flips the genders of some of the characters and places Timothy, a gay teenager in an all-boys school, as Oberon, therefore giving him the power to control his classmates love interests. The collection of films here, and many more to come, are the example of how Shakespeare’s stories have permeated throughout our history–they are not going anywhere. Instead, we are recrafting his stories, his characters into the modern world, giving them new life and expanding their telling power.

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Senior Thesis: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Rated “S&M” for Mature

*This is my Bachelor’s thesis, which I used to not only complete my first degree but as writing examples to get into graduate school.*

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Rated “S&M” for Mature

Shakespeare seldom paints a happy picture when it comes to romance, and his conception of love can seem slight and superficial throughout his work. Young lovers commit suicide in hopes of staying together eternally; relationships either end in triumph or dismally. Instead of portraying characters who embody true love and sweetness, he creates some characters who feature certain dark, base, and overall sadomasochistic qualities. One critic notes “It has long been a critical commonplace that Shakespearean comedy works to restrain libidinal impulses by directing them into stable and productive ‘normal’ marital unions” (Sanchez 501). However, Shakespeare’s marital unions are far from normal; he takes these unsatisfying notions of love and forces them into traditional marriages.

Note that this is all done through immaculate discipline and art form. If his plays seemed to truly step out of line on the surface, Shakespeare would have been in trouble with the law and the censors of the time. So he masks these baser notions of love in comedic moments or through conversations between characters that only the utmost observant audience would truly understand. Most of the time, these characters display both a sadist and a masochistic role at different times throughout their play. The couples in the comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, estimated to have been written between 1595 and 1596, exhibit these characteristics, but this essay will exclusively focus on Hermia and Helena’s relationship and Oberon and Titania’s.

Through the discussion with Shakespearean scholarship, I hope to encourage readers to relook at Shakespeare’s plays, dissect the dialogue between characters, and become conscious of what each says in regards to sexual tension. Shakespeare was not encouraging people to take up a BDSM relationship with their neighbor or attend sex clubs in New York, mostly because those ideas did not even exist yet. He is also not mocking these baser notions of love as degrading. Instead, he showcases that there are other sides to love and the classic idealistic notion of it, as cultivated by the infamous Petrarch, is false. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare provides a warning for the audience and those potentially in love. He says that Petrarch’s love for Laura is not the only version of love possible and our love should not be solely based upon that. Instead, everyone’s love is different; it could be sappy and require posting poorly-written poems to the trees in a forest like a classic Petrarchan, or it can be darker and more desperate as shown in this play. The main point of his argument throughout this play is that these relationships–Hermia and Helena’s homosocial bond and Oberon and Titania’s marriage–are happy ones. To the surface reader, this seems unrealistic; why would anyone tolerate constant arguing, cheating partners, and insults? But what Shakespeare showcases is how some relationships function and, furthermore, need to function to stay afloat. Not all relationships are the same and we must accept this before getting into a lifelong partnership in marriage.

To begin I will provide a basic, traditional reading the play for summary purposes. The two young female friends in the play, Hermia, and Helena were inseparable as they grew up together, which resulted in their confiding in each other. However, once the women reach adulthood, they find love in someone other than their best friend. Hermia finds love in a forbidden man, Lysander, and this love goes against her father’s wishes for her to marry Demetrius, who is a more suitable man by her father’s standards. This does, however, prove to be fortunate for her childhood friend, seeing as Helena would like Demetrius for herself. Helena aches over Demetrius, believing that Hermia doesn’t deserve him. Hermia has Lysander to love and, therefore, has no need for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander flee to the forest in an attempt to run away from Hermia’s Father, Egeus. Helena and Demetrius run after them. The forest is not only a place full of secrets and mischief but is also inhabited by cunning fairies. Oberon and Titania may be the king and queen of the woods and fairyland, but they do not live in peace and cannot rule a kingdom together. Between ordering the fairies to place pansy juice, or the pollen from the pansy flower found in the forest,  in the eyes of Lysander and Demetrius to make them love the wrong girl, this couple fight constantly because of their adulterous history and present. Meanwhile, the men have, thanks to the pansy juice, stopped fawning over Hermia and have turned their attention to Helena. Questioning who truly is in love with whom readers begin to feel exasperated as Shakespeare turns everything on its head. Thankfully, by the end of the play, everything is right: Hermia and Lysander are to be betrothed, along with Helena and Demetrius at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. The pansy juice is removed from Lysander’s eyes, having fallen back in love with Hermia, and the play comes to a close with true love winning.

This is a very classical and traditional reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, yet it leaves many unanswered questions and confusing thoughts: does Demetrius truly love Helena or does the pansy juice remain in his eyes? What about the king and queen of fairyland and their love triangle with Bottom? Who gains custody of the small Indian changeling boy? This is why there are many other ways to read Shakespeare’s plays, and I will apply an untraditional read of the play. The pairings in this play, mainly Helena and Hermia and Oberon and Titania, can be seen as exhibiting sadomasochistic tendencies. The traditional read as previously showcased leaves out the very interesting behaviors the characters display that is deemed unfit for a healthy relationship. Helena and Hermia, best friends since childhood, take turns being the dominator and the submissive when it comes to their relationship. Hermia, characterized by Helena herself as being petite, willingly creates vicious arguments with Helena so that Helena will, in turn, call her short. Oberon and Titania both mock and torment the other, constantly bringing up past indecencies in order to throw it in the other’s face. These relationships cannot possibly be happy ones; they leave the masochist feeling dejected and hurt, and the sadist feeling privileged and power hungry–only to then be flipped again. This play surely cannot exhibit true love when the couples who seem to have the best love are constantly hurting the other.

Both of the above readings of this play are valid. The traditional read sets the scene for the reader, allowing him to grasp the plotline and characters, but it still leaves much omitted. The untraditional sadomasochistic read allows the audience to place the play in a seedier light. Simply put, why are the characters acting in these crazy terms towards each other? This essay aims to answer that question. Hermia and Helena, as well as Oberon and Titania, switch being the sadist and the masochist as is evident in their dialogue and actions. But they are doing these awful deeds to their partner because it is healthy. Shakespeare creates this comedy to provide a warning for a newlywed young couple and those in attendance: love is a constantly developing emotion and will never settle on one aspect, and couples need to be aware of this change so they can accept the change instead of fighting it. More importantly, sadist and masochistic qualities are natural and can lead to a happy, balanced relationship when performed correctly.

Sadomasochism as a Lens for Interpreting Literature

The term “sadomasochism” and even the words “sadism” and “masochism” would not have been used during Shakespeare’s time, nor would they have been used to describe the character of his plays simply because they were not created yet. Breaking down the compound of sadomasochism, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “masochism” as “the urge to derive pleasure, esp. sexual gratification, from one’s own pain or humiliation; the pursuit of such pleasure”; and “sadism” as “enthusiasm for inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others” or “a psychological disorder characterized by sexual fantasies, urges, or behavior involving the subjection of another person to pain, humiliation, bondage, etc.” In layman’s terms, the sadist is the dominator whereas the masochist is the dominated or the submissive. The Mastery of Submission furthers this definition by stating “sexual masochism” is defined as producing sexual excitement by being bound, humiliated, beaten, or otherwise made to suffer (Noyes 16). Commonly known as S&M this sexual sadomasochism, I believe, is the pop culture form of sadomasochism that most are aware of today, as seen in different movies and television shows, boutiques in metropolitan and liberal cities such as Amsterdam or San Francisco.

The begin, a literary definition of sadomasochism is necessary for understanding its role in literature. According to Lynn Chancer’s book, Sadomasochism in Everyday Life, sadomasochism is referred to as a “common social relationship based on power and powerlessness, dominance and subordination” between two people (3). To be termed as such, the relationship must meet four requirements: extreme dependence; an established ritual; sadomasochistic tendencies; and consequences for when the submissive, or the masochist, violates their role. The first quality, extreme dependence, is where both individuals in the relationship, regardless of who is the sadist or the masochist, feel a strong need for physical, but, most importantly, mental connection with the other. The second criteria is that the relationship has its own repetitive ritual so the individuals have structured contact. Thirdly, the sadomasochistic tendencies are not static, but instead dialectic and constantly changing (3). Finally, and most importantly, the masochist in the relationship must “face severe consequences” if she challenges the power of the sadist (5). Chancer acknowledges that she is giving an overview of sadomasochism as a term and is not discussing the different dynamics that might stem from it such as S&M.

The definitions assume a negative connotation for the individuals who participate in such acts of indecency. Many everyday relationships convey some of the same hierarchy necessary to function, such as student to teacher, or employee to employer, and these relationships are seen as healthy and positive. Chancer argues at the beginning of her piece that “We are living in a sadomasochistic society in that it bombards us with experiences of domination and subordination far more regularly” than one can imagine (2). What these definitions are missing is the idea of balance. By engaging in the hierarchy of sadomasochism, those individuals are accepting the balance of opposites, dominance and subordination in order to function.

Using the above descriptions of sadomasochism helps us to understand different plotlines in literature and certainly in Early Modern literature. These Early Modern writers were concerned with their writing passing through the censors, who prevented offensive materials from getting published, and in doing so, Shakespeare as a prime example adapted to utilizing many layers in his works for the audience to unfold. On the surface level, the work seems inoffensive which allows it pass by the censor, but on a less literal level, the baser notions are hidden. In this play, the surface reading as discussed above allowed it to pass the censor, Shakespeare’s true message and warning come out on a deeper level. As Sanchez asserts, “The imaginative worlds of literature give us access to some of the early modern cultural fantasies that cannot be documented by the period’s moral, legal, or medical discourses” (494). Sadomasochism, or at least the act of it, was not available for discussion, and yet literature like A Midsummer Night’s Dream showcases its attributes before the word even developed.

Furthermore, one cannot discuss sadomasochism without touching on the erotic. Scholar Jason Gleckman argues: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a concise imaginary history of the erotic” (Gleckman 25). The erotic played a large role in the Early Modern literature even though it was a taboo subject. Writing was the only place where people could engage in erotic knowledge and discussion since it was confusing and unpleasant in actual conversation. At this time as well, England was bouncing back and forth between the Catholic and Anglican religions, each having their own ideas about the erotic: “On the one hand, as part of their vehement promotion of married life, Protestants allowed increased space for the erotic impulse within marriage” (Gleckman 27). Sex was clearly not allowed outside of marriage, and even more not allowed between two of the same sex, but even after marriage, sex was never examined in the Catholic faith. However, the Protestants viewed sex as a beautiful gift from God supposed to bring pleasure, but only within marriage. Shakespeare, like many others, had to be careful what he portrayed in his plays as to not get him in trouble with the law, so he channels the erotic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the usual direction of the monogamous marriage that awaits many of the characters in the play.

Continuing further with the erotic, Shakespeare toys with the notion of flipping gender roles by suggesting in his work, particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that “the men…are more childish, impressionable and less psychologically and emotionally developed, whilst the women are more rational, constant, and civilized and wield reason more effectively than men” (Schumann 43). This superimposes “the idea of a linked domination of women and nature by men” in relation to classic marriage (43). Traditionally, women are supposed to submit and then men are to dominate the marriages; sex and the erotic are used only for procreation and even then it is not for pleasure, but simply necessary for marriage. However, “Shakespeare undermines, rather than reinforces the patriarchal social structures” (43) in the marriages and coupling that take place in this play. The women in most cases are the dominating party, not the men.

That this is not a new, modern concept that is being read into Shakespearean works. Instead, renowned Shakespearean scholar, Doctor Carolyn Brown inspects the chronological use of psychoanalytic and other theories in regards to Shakespeare’s work. One of her discoveries is that of the audience’s “pleasure in projected suffering such as that portrayed in violent Renaissance literature” (Brown 104). Suffering and violence were popular and appeared on stage, much the same as people today enjoy violent video games, movies, tv shows, and more. There is something inherently intriguing about watching forms of suffering. When watching a sadomasochistic play, the audience can thrive on the animalistic tendencies that come with watching bad behavior, but it also allows for a  space to reevaluate their own relationships.

Hermia and Helena’s Sadomasochist Relationship

In the case of relationships, having an idealized bond can be boring and tends to imply that someone is not being truly honest. Relationships are in a constant state of ebb and flow; they are forever changing dynamics as each day progresses, and it requires time and courage to keep a cohesive and mutually exclusive balance between two people. When it comes to the two young female lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia and Helena, “successful rivalry extinguishes desire, whereas failure exasperates it” (Brown 89). Each annoys the desires of the other to the fullest extent by partaking in their unconscious sadomasochistic tendencies. Hermia plays the sadistic role more often than the masochistic role in their relationship. Her goal is to torment Helena, ultimately enticing her more. For example, she explains to Helena that she is fleeing with Lysander:

And in the wood, where often you and I

Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie,

Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,

There my Lysander and myself shall meet,

And thence from Athens turn away our eyes,

To seek new friends and stranger companies.

Farewell, sweet playfellow. (Shakespeare 1.1.214-220)

She deliberately points out to Helena that she and Lysander are meeting where she and Helena often met as children, as playmates, and spent hours together. This place in the woods is undoubtedly special to Helena, and Hermia flaunts the fact that she is taking someone else to their sacred hideout. Even referring to Lysander as hers, Hermia boasts that Helena has been replaced, which is made even clearer when she says that she will seek new friends and different companies. Sealing the speech with “playfellow” (1.1.220) connotes that Helena was simply a childhood friend, nothing more than that, which adds insult to Helena’s already crushed self-esteem. Scholar Melissa Sanchez’ article, “‘Use Me But As Your Spaniel’: Feminism, Queer Theory, And Early Modern Sexualities” focuses on the erotic and power dynamic in Hermia and Helena’s relationship. Sanchez suggests that “[When Helena] accuses Hermia of betraying a closeness that made them ‘Like to a double cherry, seeming parted / But yet a union in partition’ (3.2.209-10), critics have almost invariable contrasted the serene equality and gentle reciprocity of female bonds with the violence and domination of heterotic unions” (402). By moving forward and breaking their bond, Hermia activated the dominator and submissive qualities in their relationship. Helena’s lifelong best friend is abandoning her for a man, running away to their special place that once was emotionally charged for both of them, and furthermore, doesn’t really care about their adult relationship at all. Best of all, Hermia understands exactly what she is doing to Helena. She consciously acts this way to hurt Helena, knowing that Helena is going to become upset and come after her, so perhaps Hermia wants Helena to chase after her. This is how their relationship is.

Helena does follow after her friend. She masks her journey after Hermia by telling Demetrius, another of Hermia’s suitors, to ensure Hermia and Lysander will not depart from Athens. By concealing her true reasons for going into the forest, Helena makes it seem as if Demetrius pursues after Hermia instead of herself, in order to keep her true feelings at bay. Helena’s chasing after Hermia would look curious and scandalous to the people of Athens, but her desperately following Demetrius, because he has more reason to follow the girl he is supposed to wed, somehow looks more acceptable. Helena needs an excuse for getting into the woods, and perhaps she believes Demetrius will successfully stop Hermia from leaving with Lysander. Therefore she will not have to get Hermia to stay in Athens with her. Following after Hermia will hurt Helena because she cannot express her love for Hermia herself, and yet this pain is what she desires: “herein mean I to enrich my pain” (Shakespeare 1.1.250). Helena is the masochist in their relationship and extremely hurtful to herself. Furthermore, Helena is more masochistic by her following Demetrius into the magical woods after informing him of Hermia and Lysander’s plan to escape:

And even for that do I love you the more.

I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,

The more you beat me, I will fawn you.

Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,

Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,

Unworthy as I am, to follow you.

What worser place can I beg in your love–

And yet a place of high respect with me–

Than to be used as you use your dog? (2.1.202-210)

Demetrius is not excited about Helena accompanying him into the woods. He does not want her following him anymore, but she explains to him that the more he tries to dispose of her, the more she is going to fawn over him. This is an excellent example of the shocking masochistic qualities Helena displays. The more Demetrius hates her, the more she wants his love. She believes that being used as his dog would be getting his respect.

However, perhaps Helena refers to the relationship between her and Hermia, instead of Demetrius’ hatred towards her. When she pauses over “I am your spaniel” and then inserts Demetrius’ name, the reader sees that she momentarily forgot the façade of true love for him. Sanchez argues that Helena’s conversations with both Demetrius and Hermia can be seen as similar, but most importantly “[Helena fantasizes] herself as helpless subordinate to both Hermia and Demetrius register[ing] the same perverse, masochistic drives” (Sanchez 504). It is hard to imagine Helena being a delicate character after seeing her attraction to pain. She is extremely masochistic and demands to be treated so poorly so that the audience believes that Demetrius and Hermia are simply being mean to her when in reality she is begging for this treatment. Moreover, “Helena’s exchanges with Demetrius and Hermia reveal that women’s unapologetically perverse desires–whether for women or for men–can threaten ideals of proper, ‘normal’ sexuality” (506). However, this does not occur to Helena. She simply is a product of the relationship she has with Hermia, which is by definition an aggressive one as shown by their language towards each other, and yet they both unconsciously desire this aggression. Helena wants to be used like a dog by Hermia, not by Demetrius, nor by anyone else, and, in turn, the girls switch roles once Hermia lets Helena belittle her.

Helena becomes the sadist as Hermia invites her to torment her, in turn becoming the masochist herself. When Lysander has the pansy juice in his eyes, he falls in love with Helena and tosses Hermia aside, causing the two girls to fight. Hermia, however, seems to forget about being upset with Lysander and simply yells at Helena for the sake of it. Instead of arguing about the relationship problem at hand, they get into a fight about each other’s heights: Helena calls Hermia “low” and Hermia calls Helena a “maypole,” something that seems so trivial and yet extremely specific as if the two have used those terms before when harassing each other. (Shakespeare 3.2.296). Their argument is passionate, and their insults are harsh, so much so that Hermia even goes as far as to desire to inflict physical pain on her friend: “I am not yet so low / But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes” (3.2.297-98). Their teasing transforms into physical violence towards each other and therefore more intimate. Such passion, enough to drive one to harm her friend out of sheer frustration, shows the power and connection between the two girls. If she did not truly care about Helena, she would not allow herself to become so worked up over something as trivial as an insult about her height, but Hermia, though physically smaller, has the worse temper of the two, as displayed here: “Helena’s childhood memories of oneness with Hermia are not so much displaced as complicated by her repeated accounts of her friend’s violent temper” (Sanchez 503). As previously mentioned, Helena is upset that her dear friend replaced her and seemingly tossed their shared memories away.

Both girls know how to annoy the other, which “evokes a fantasy of a perfect harmony” (503) since the two of them take turns being the sadist and the masochist in the relationship. Furthermore, the two would be friends forever, at least that is what Helena observed at their young age, but lives change and as the two matured, their sadomasochistic tendencies flourished. According to Sanchez, “It is hard to see how Helena or Hermia could ever have become interested in anyone but the other–or why any woman would willingly abandon such ‘sisters vows’ and ‘childhood innocence’” (503). If Hermia had never broken their unspoken vows to provoke Helena, then Helena would not have experienced the same urge to demand justice from Hermia or follow her into the woods and the play would not be the same. Thus, as the book Shakespeare’s Philosophy of Love written by scholar Herman Horne suggests, Helena berates love for its power to transform baseness into dignity; Helena tries to stay dignified by berating love in the only way she knows how (46). Many proverbs Shakespeare came up with himself, such as “love is blind” and “all’s fair in love and war” claim to be lofty, and yet Helena’s jaundiced views are rationalized by the loss of her lover to another.

Titania and Oberon’s Marriage Rated “M” for Mature

The constant teasing between Hermia and Helena foreshadows the relationship between an already-married couple in the play. Like the two young girls, this couple eroticizes their own submission and domination. Traditionally, as Rieger points out, “Men dominate women in the comedy, and women not only accept this domination, they eroticize it” (78). As already shown, Hermia and Helena, clearly both women, both eroticize their domination, and this can be seen in the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. These two enjoy manipulating each other and disagreeing on small and large things. At the beginning of the play, the two argue about the strange weather that is occurring because of their fighting and magical powers: “Therefore the winds, piping us in vain, / As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea / Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land, / Hath every pelting river made so proud” (Shakespeare 2.1.88-91). Titania describes the dismal scene of raging storms over Athens; she fears for the humans with their “drowned field” and their land filled with mud, whereas Oberon does not care at all about the mortals. Instead, he seemingly brushes off Titania’s fears and changes the subject (2.1.96 & 98). Shakespearean scholar Angela Schumann argues that here Titania is a nobler character than Oberon, which in some cases I would consider to be true as well. However, in the first scene with the married couple, the audience can already see that they do not agree on everything. Perhaps Titania knows that Oberon will dismiss her fears, and so she produces that long monologue to make herself seem nobler and better as to enrage Oberon.

Titania’s nobleness is further explored when the audience sees the king and queen arguing over the possession of the changeling Indian boy. Schumann’s piece suggests:

Titania is a more complex and mature character than Oberon. She wants the Indian boy out of love for his mother, “for her sake do I rear up the boy” (2.1.136). Conversely, “jealous oberon” (2.1.24) who…suffers from a case of wounded male pride, only wants the boy as an exotic trinket…and out of jealousy for taking Titania’s attention away from him: “am I not thy lord?” (2.1.63). (Schumann 48)

Titania raises the Indian changeling boy as her own because of what she claims as a duty to the boy’s mother: “But she, being mortal, of that boy did die; / And for her sake do I rear up her boy, / And for her sake I will not part with him” (Shakespeare 2.1.135-37). This is a touching story and quite noble of Titania to take her late friend’s child and make sure he has a safe and happy home, but considering Titania and Oberon’s constant bickering, the reader is unsure if she says this to make herself seem noble or to hurt Oberon, something Schumann’s piece fails to mention. I believe that Titania is no more noble than Oberon; she is fantastic at seeming to be the nobler to the reader by taking in the changeling Indian boy and raising him, by sticking with Oberon while he puts the pansy juice in his eyes, and more. However, much like with Helena and Hermia, she knows how to irritate Oberon and seeks to antagonize him just as much as he does her.

One way she seeks to irritate Oberon is to speak of the countless nights she and the Indian boy’s mother spent together, a time when she was clearly away from Oberon and more importantly, building a stronger relationship with someone else as seen by: “Full often hath she gossip’d by my side” (2.1.125). This sounds similar to Hermia’s speech mentioned previously about making a deeper connection to someone other than Helena. The audience isn’t really sure why Oberon wants the Indian boy, so it is safe to assume that Oberon simply wants the Indian boy because Titania has him, and Titania flaunts her relationship with him in Oberon’s face. This isn’t the first game the two have played against each other. In one of the first scenes with the king and the queen of the fairies, the audience is introduced to the adulterous relationship the two have:

Titania: But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon,

Your buskined mistress and your warrior love,

To Theseus must be wedded, and you come

To give their bed joy and porperity.

Oberon: How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,

Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,

Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?” (2.1.70-76)

Both parties involved have had romantic and sexual affairs with the mortal king and queen of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta, showcasing that the two love berating each other, as seen above; they want to have these bickering fights where they throw affairs and games in each other’s face. This is how their relationship functions, showcasing that this version of love, though seedier, actually puts the two in harmony, like Hermia and Helena, and provides a perfect relationship for them.

As seen above, Titania plays the sadist quite well in her marriage. Yet much like Helena and Hermia, she and Oberon switch between being the sadist and the masochist. Oberon definitely turns around and desires to be the masochist at times as well. When the pansy flower juice enters the play, Oberon wants to meddle with all relationships and assigns his faithful servant Puck to fix the Athenian lovers, Demetrius and Helena’s, broken and one-sided relationship. He messes up, however, as the audience sees and instead puts the juice in Lysander’s eyes causing him to fall in love with Helena. Oberon, while fixing the dilemma his servant created, becomes more devious. He decides to put the flower’s juice in his wife’s eyes to: “make her full of hateful fantasies” (2.2.257-258). He humiliates his wife by making her see, and ultimately fall in love with, something hideous.

Not only does he want to humiliate her, but more importantly he wants to humiliate himself by setting up his own cuckolding. Rieger’s article discusses the idea of Oberon cuckolding himself. He points out the scholarly work dismisses the notion of realized cuckolding and instead, he suggests that Oberon uses “erotic desire as a weapon to humiliate his rebellious wife and enforce her submission. He does this in order to reassert his position at the head of his family and, by extension, the state as embodied in the fairy kingdom” (70). In order to restore the calm in their relationship, Oberon openly sets up his wife to have sexual relations with another man as to humiliate the two of them, and in doing so, Oberon regains control and the upper hand in his and Titania’s power dynamics. The audience watches Oberon’s plan unfold:

What thou seest when thou dost wake,

Do it for thy true love take;

Love and languish for his sake.

Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,

Pard, or boar with bristled hair,

In thy eye that shall appear

When thou wak’st, it is thy dear.

Wake when some vile thing is near. (Shakspeare 2.2.27-34)

Titania could wake up and see Theseus or one of the lovers or even her king, but Oberon wants her to be even more humiliated than that; he wants to see his wife fall in love with a wild animal, crossing the line into bestiality. Moreover, Lisa Walters’ article, “Oberon And Masculinity In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream” suggests that “Titania’s refusal to obey Oberon is the action of a rebellious and unruly wife against her husband’s authority. Hence, in his drugging of Titania, Oberon parallels Theseus…restoration of order comes about by causing ‘injuries’ to female queens” (157). However, what Walters fails to mention is why Oberon does what he does. By craving the humiliation and setting up his own cuckolding, Oberon wants to embarrass himself. This is his wife gallivanting with a half-man half-donkey, doting and possibly engaging in sexual moments with this creature. If other people were to see Titania’s actions, they would turn to Oberon and question why he is not controlling his wife. Even worse, they could turn to him in pity because ultimately Oberon sets up his own cuckolding. He watches his wife take Bottom into her “bower,” basically her private bedchamber (Shakespeare 3.1.197). This is what Oberon wants. He could potentially give Titania the antidote for the pansy juice spell, ultimately stopping his wife from committing such a gross and adulterous crime against him, but he does not.

Shakespeare takes Oberon’s humiliation and masochistic drive further by representing Oberon and Titania’s relationship as the only happy marriage. Oberon’s use of erotic desire is a form of control; true love comes from harm: “The erotic economies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are predicated upon gendered dominance and submission, upon…love won by the doing of injuries” (Rieger 71). The idealistic relationships, the ones that are supposed to be based on true love, are actually false, either from the pansy juice, as seen in Helena and Demetrius’ relationship because Demetrius still has the juice in his eyes at the end of the play when they are married, or from selfish reasons with Theseus and Hippolyta’s relationship being forced because Hippolyta was raped by Theseus resulting in her having to marry him. Even Hermia and Lysander’s relationship is not sacred: Hermia seems to use Lysander only to annoy her father, but perhaps even to escape the fate of an arranged marriage. She quite possibly does not truly love Lysander; and Lysander most likely only wants to have sexual relations because he is a young man, and when they are finally alone, his advances are obvious: “One heart, one bed, two bosoms, and one troth” (2.2.42).

There are no “ideal” relationships in this play; instead, the characters show realistic emotions of being in love: the angry, passionate, scheming and violent kind of love. Oberon and Titania, on the other hand, are actually compatible. They are both scheming and violent. They both play games and tease the other; everything is in sync and equal. This is how Shakespeare shows a happy relationship and has this be the only couple that has been married and together for as long as they have. The two are immortal and, therefore, have a long time to spend together, and if they didn’t actually enjoy the treatment they get from their partner, then they could have ended things long ago. But instead, the king and queen stay together and continue their harsh, teasing relationship.

Shakespeare’s Insight into Holy Matrimony

There is a commonplace assumption among Shakespeare scholars regarding the origins of this play. Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, it is hard to pinpoint exactly where and when they were written and for what purpose–the world does not even know who Shakespeare was, let alone how his plays came to flourish. But in regards to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the scholars mostly agree, as Charles Lyon’s work discusses, that this play would have been “written for a court wedding” (22). Horne’s piece provides further proof of the epithalamium by mentioning those assumed to be in attendance, such as: “Sir Thomas Heneage and Mary, Countess of Southampton; Edward Russell, Earl of Bedford, and Lucy Harrington,” as well as “It is possible…that Queen Elizabeth would herself grace the occasion by her presence” (Horne 42-43). Shakespeare would have known if the queen was going to be in attendance because someone would have made sure his play would be proper enough. This does not prevent Shakespeare, however, from creating a play that on the surface appears pure enough for the queen and full of love for a wedding and yet still exhibits sexual baseness, gritty relationships, and mockery towards love at first sight.

So what is it that Shakespeare is trying to accomplish by submitting the wedding party and potentially the queen to a technically sadomasochistic play? All of Shakespeare’s work possesses an underlying message to the audiences who watch it. In the case of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare provides a warning about true love and most importantly, how love changes in a marriage. First, as Maurice Charney’s book Shakespeare on Love & Lust points out this play mocks the notion of “love at first sight,” which is also a Petrarchan ideal (9). Love is supposed to enter through the eyes, and it is essentially spontaneous, irresistible, and absolute (9). But Shakespeare ridicules this idea by having his characters control who they see and, by proxy, fall in love with at first sight, with the use of pansy juice. As previously mentioned, Oberon controls Titania’s newest love interest is putting the juice from a certain flower in her eyes, and then whomever she sees first, she falls madly and deeply in love with the person. Shakespeare muddles with the way we perceive love at first sight. It is not as romantic as it might seem but instead can be tortuous, unwanted, and in Titania’s case, demeaning.

The warning extends to the notion of “happily ever after.” The bride and groom of the wedding, and the guests attending, all have a preconceived notion of how love works in a relationship. They used the common definition of love, derived by Petrarch, as being an idealistic and god-like experience, almost something intangible. Soon-to-be-brides were pure and innocent, emulating goddesses, and their love was going to allow their groom to transcend this earthly realm and bring him closer to God. This puts immense pressure on the bride, for she must live up to that unnatural standard and form of love which does not allow for any experimentation with sadomasochism, baseness, or anything the bride might be interested in outside of what is considered the norm. This pressure makes each bride equal to the next, which we know women are not all equal; Shakespeare believes that “Inequality is the natural order of ‘true love’” (Rieger 73). Shakespeare disagrees with the Petrarchan notion of love as described here by C. H. Herford’s work:

Love is a passion, kindling heart, brain and senses alike in natural and happy proportions; ardent but not sensual, tender but not sentimental, pure but not ascetic, moral but not puritanic, joyous but not frivolous, mirthful and witty but not cynical. His lovers look forward to marriage as a matter of course, and they neither anticipate its rights no return their affections elsewhere. (18)

Shakespeare sees love as an ever-changing, amorphous ideal that alters as it grows and matures. Regier even suggests that for love and a couple “to exist in harmony, one party must be dominated and one party must submit” (74). So not only does love change throughout a relationship, but the only way it will continue to exist is not through this idealized version of love, but rather a perfect harmony that includes these unspeakables. Described here are the common binaries that situate themselves inside the notion of love, and Shakespeare took these and made sure that his lovers and couples remained in the balance. All of his created relationships, those romantic and not, can be described as such and if they seem to be too pure or tipping the scale one way, this is used in a mocking manner to showcase how this is not the idea Instead, the balance is necessary here; idealness is irrational and unattainable.

Today’s Notion of Modern Romance

What has sadomasochism defined by Shakespeare taught his audiences? The thought of people willfully submitting themselves to degradation can leave many unsettled, especially when it comes to women craving this treatment: “There is a real difficulty in accepting the female characters’ masochism, their cheerfulness embracing of degradation. It flies in the face of all contemporary, twentieth and twenty-first-century notions of equality and appropriate gender relations” (Rieger 79). Today we are extremely politically correct when it comes to women’s rights and this is not necessarily a bad thing, but there has to be a moment where we can talk about female sexual desires, not just those of males. Rieger further points out that  “This masochistic acceptance and even embracing of humiliation can leave contemporary audiences, and critics, unsatisfied” (78). And to some extent, this is true; there is still uncertainty in accepting that lovers can actually enjoy and crave this sexual humiliation. Our conception of love has come incredibly far since Shakespeare’s Early Modern era. The term “BDSM” and the ever-increasing pornography industry would have been unheard of concepts to Shakespeare and his audiences, but the notions behind them would have been understood. Many of us look down at anything later than the Romantic period as being unrealistic towards the modern notion of love; people in this period “courted” and “wrote love letters” and “dated” without the use of an app. However, as this essay has pointed out, those in the Renaissance and Early Modern times were not too far off when it came to sexual transgression and more “modern” ways of looking at love.

The cornerstone of all modern forms of love now is inclusion, from the acceptance of interracial couples in the later twentieth century to legal marriage rights for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, being passed in the United States government in 2015. The smaller scale events matter as well, such as gay pride parades, and the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco where BDSM and leather clothing is somewhat mandatory, to online communities for people with different tastes personally and sexually. Of course, we cannot forget the pornography industry which has over 22,820,000 searches a month according to a Business Outsider article from 2011, and categories for all forms of fetishes and desires ranging from innocent, such as the classic foot fetish, to more extreme notions of sex (Dunn). All of this leads to an unspoken inclusion noting that sex can be for everyone; if there is something weird or out of the status quo that you might like in the bedroom, you can find it on the Internet.

The point is that in today’s technologically advanced era, porn, and, therefore sex becomes a more widely accepted and understood medium for simple pleasure. There are porn communities, sex clubs, forums, erotic literature and more all saying the same thing: Sex is for everyone. And there is something powerful in owning one’s sexuality, even if it seems to stray from the social norm, and I like to think that in the twenty-first century, society is more embracing of that. There are focus groups and clubs dedicated to those with different sexual preferences. The notions of domination and submission are showcased in movies and pop culture, with Fifty Shades of Grey being an international bestseller. We, as a world, are becoming more aware of different “tastes” in the bedroom and therefore less and less afraid of them thanks to the advances starting in Shakespeare’s time. “Shakespeare so clings to the ideal that it appears in almost all of his plays. He objects to criticism that ‘overemphasize[s] the unresolved and the problematic’ in the problem comedies and suggests that although those plays do not support idealization, their final message is positive” (Brown 52). And one can see that now that there is sexual liberation among couples, there is more happiness by far, which is exactly what Shakespeare was hinting at.

Shakespeare stresses that these couples are not unhappy, “The course of true love never did run smooth” which is the most important factor (Shakespeare 1.1.134). Oberon and Titania are equals in their relationship, as contrasted with Theseus and Hippolyta where Theseus holds all the power. Helena and Hermia, on the other hand, are a great example of the honeymoon phase in a relationship, where they are passionate and angry in one scene, and then loving and forgiving in the next. These two couples are just the start of the relationship dynamics in this play, but they are the prime examples. Ultimately, the two relationships can only function with their own dysfunctionalities; without the arguments and the fighting, their relationship would not be the same; there wouldn’t be any passion and it would cease to exist. Each and every individual relationship has its own equation for how it works, whether it be with some light bondage or through a more traditional sense. Either way, we cannot judge those whose love is not like our own; to them, it is the ideal. However, if reading this has caused any distaste, then please note that:

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend:

if you pardon, we will mend:

And, as I am an honest Puck,

If we have unearned luck

Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,

We will make amends ere long;

Else the Puck a liar call;

So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends,

And Robin shall restore amends.

(Shakespeare 5.1.413-428)

Works Cited

Brown, Carolyn. Shakespeare and Psychoanalytic Theory. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.

Chancer, Lynn S. Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1992. Print.

Charney, Maurice. Shakespeare on Love & Lust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Print.

Dunn, Alec. “Top Google Searches – What Do People Search For?” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.

Gleckman, Jason. “‘I Know A Bank.’: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fairies, And The Erotic History Of England.” Shakespeare 10.1 (2014): 23-45. Scopus. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

Herford, C. H. Shakespeare’s Treatment of Love and Marriage: And Other Essays. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1921. Print.

Horne, Herman Harrell. Shakespeare’s Philosophy of Love. Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton, 1945. Print.

“Masochism, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 26 April 2016.

Noyes, John K. The Mastery of Submission: Inventions of Masochism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997. Print.

Rieger, Gabriel. “‘I Woo’d Thee With My Sword, / And Won Thy Love Doing Thee Injuries’: The Erotic Economies Of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Upstart Crow (2009): 70. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

“Sadism, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 26 April 2016.

Sanchez, M.E. “Use Me But As Your Spaniel”: Feminism, Queer Theory, And Early Modern Sexualities.” Pmla 127.3 (2012): 493-511. Scopus. Web. 13 Feb. 2016

Schumann, Angela. “‘But As A Form In Wax’: An Ecofeminist Reading Of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Colloquy: Text Theory Critique 30 (2015): 42-60. Humanities Source. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. Wolfgang Clemen. 2nd ed. New York: Signet Classics, 1986. Print.

Walters, Lisa. “Oberon And Masculinity In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal Of Short Articles, Notes, And Reviews 26.3 (2013): 157-160. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

Through the Eyes of a Non-Mosher

*This is an essay I wrote while studying abroad for a sociology class titled: Religion, Witchcraft, and Magic.*

Screaming Serenade: Punk Concerts as Religious Rituals

When thinking of an everyday religious experience, something that most people who deem themselves as “religious” participate in regularly, would be the notion of attending church or some form of mass or ceremony. We see this all the time, the streets lined up with cars around a church on Sunday mornings or Saturday evenings, people stereotypically dressed in their “Sunday best” because one has to be clean and proper while presenting themselves to God. Even though this is the first idea that arises when discussing religious experiences, in this essay I aim to discuss whether the theories of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim are prevalent in the more off-beat religious gatherings of today.

Imagine a dark and overly crowded room with low ceilings and sloped floors from constant pressure and movement. There is a small set of stairs leading down to a more open space, directly in front of a platform. Raised up around that open area is more standing room with a balcony to hold the mass of people up against. Everyone in the room is eagerly waiting, almost impatiently. Sweat is being absorbed into the air, mixing with other people’s sweat and excitement as it pulses through the room. Soon the lights will dim completely, allowing the colored light show to begin as the squeal of guitars and the loud beating of drums echo against the walls. The concert-goers scream with joy, their savior has come, has taken the stage and is going to preach to them in a way that they actually understand. I am recanting the scene that took place before me at the Underworld, a venue in Camden Town, London for a Chelsea Grin concert; a band notorious for their deep, guttural “screaming” sounds alongside their melodic vocals.

This concert, unlike any I had been to before, was a religious experience for everyone in the crowd. When it comes to the younger generation, especially with the people I was surrounded myself with that night, church every Sunday might not necessarily be a priority. Everyone has their reasons for either attending or not attending, conforming or not conforming, to a certain religious doctrine, and I believe that the people jumping up and down while violently pushing each other to the beat had found their own religious doctrine outside of a church and it was quite beautiful to witness, and I will allow for some religious theorists to reinforce this claim.

The first theorist is Karl Marx, born in 1818 and died in 1883, and he would probably disagree with the notion that rock concerts are like a religion, specifically because he dislikes religion so much. He believes that religion is unnecessary and he simply detested everything religious. He explains that religion is basically a painkiller; that it is a drug that takes our minds off of the real suffering that is occurring. The concert-goers, who belt out the lyrics almost before the lead singer can even get them out of his mouth, are using this concert as a distraction, as a drug from the real world that awaits them when the lights come on and the music rings in their ears. They come here to feel the beat echo through their hearts, to be a part of this collective feeling, which is the same reason that devoutly religious people attend mass or other forms of a congregation.

Marx says that religion is for the poorer people because they are the ones suffering and therefore need something to take their minds off of this terrible pain and that it becomes a way to solve their problems; this is one of the reasons that Marx dislikes religion to his extent. The concerts, therefore, are a place for anyone and everyone to join in on something that is a distraction for the real world. Perhaps Marx would actually equate a concert like this as a religious experience; however, he would dislike it as well if people were treating it like a religious ritual. He would want the people to see it simply as a concert and nothing divine, but that is not what the people see or feel when they attend these shows.

The next theorist is Max Weber who believes that religion, power, and domination are all interconnected. He lists out three different types of authority: traditional authority, legal rational authority, and charismatic authority. Focusing on the third form, charismatic authority can fit into my example of religious experience. Weber says that charismatic authority involves an individual who has extraordinary power to control and inspire devotion in other individuals, fully knowing that people will follow. It is almost as if these few individuals have a gift of grace. The list we came up with in class included prophets, leaders, and warriors, but I am going to add to that list lead singers. While at concerts like these, one main aspect that everyone tries to participate in is called a “mosh pit” which is where the people in the crowd open up a circle pit and simply run around pushing each other violently, dance as if entranced, and it usually ends with someone getting slightly hurt or even worse: trampled. Why would normal people participate in something that they know is going to hurt them? However, the minute the lead singer shouts into the crowd that he wants to see a pit open up, everyone instantly abides to his commands. They willingly enter themselves into situations that they can possibly get injured just because their “savior” told them too. No one seemed to question it and everyone in the pit was enjoying it so much, it was hard to retain my self control and not join them.

Anthony Kronman compiled Weber’s works into one place and he discusses all of Weber’s famous theories. In the chapter titled “Authority,” Kronman goes through Weber’s different versions of authority, giving adequate time to each type. For charismatic authority, Kronman says that Weber believes that: “Charisma is truly a revolutionary force…since it breaks up existing authority structures by introducing novel claims of legitimacy” (50). Generally, “screamo,” metalcore, hard-alternative-rock music is frowned upon in normal society, and they do a very good job of discussing this in their hard lyrics. Since it is not widely accepted, like some religions, the followers are only driven harder to prove their faith and loyalty to their leaders. These bands break apart the other forms of society that typically disregard them and they ultimately create a place for their fans to feel at home and feel a part of a collective experience. By doing this, these bands and lead singers legitimize their authority.

Finally, there is Emile Durkheim, who came after Marx and Weber, but still pulled from some of their ideals. In regards to the lead singer being a God-like figure to the fans in the venue below them, and the whole concert being a religious experience, I believe that out of all theorist discussed, Durkheim would agree the most with this. Durkheim’s theory explains that religion is important to the sense of social purpose and that it ultimately builds the morals of society that everyone follows. In relation to this, God is an abstraction through which we cement our identities and roles in society. These roles, and society in general are worshipped by the people when they are allowed to worship collectively. The screaming, sweating, fist-pounding participants in the crowd are collectively “worshipping” their “god” on stage before them and they are given a sense of purpose by being here. As an outsider, someone who is unfamiliar with the music blasting through the speakers and the artists on stage, I did feel like anyone and everyone was welcome to join this group of people. There was not just one set of people in the room; the crowd varied in age, gender, race, etc. signifying that their group is a diverse one and it was very easy to join in because it was such a collective experience. There are the different roles, from those that stand ground right at the foot of the stage, to those creating the most pit, and ending with those that stand in the background who simply nod along with the music. Everyone may have their different roles, but as mentioned before, it is still very collective.

So how is a rock concert like a religion? Tobias Werler and Christoph Wulf address this idea in their book Hidden Dimensions of Education: Rhetoric, Rituals, and Anthropology, which is a collection of articles and essays by different authors. The chapter “Pop Concerts as Modern Religious Rituals” by Ruprecht Mattig found in this collection firmly discusses this topic. Mattig takes a performance by pop artist Robbie Williams and points his attention “towards [how] pop concerts…show, the anthropological function of religious rituals for modern societies” (149). Mattig questions why the “thousands of people [come to] sing a song about angels together in ecstasy” and firmly states that his belief is that these people are “performing a modern religious ritual” (151). Obviously, there are those who hold a disbelief in this type of music and also truly believe that a rock concert cannot be a religious experience, it is, in fact, a substitute religious act, and Mattig goes on to use Durkheimian theory to back up his ideas. He, too, points out Durkheim’s theory of the collective experience which allows for “courage and ardour” in those that participate in these rituals. However, the courage does not last forever, says Mattig, so therefore the people have to come and perform these certain types of rituals again in order to feel the same transcendence, or as Durkheim says that these religious rituals give the participants: “impressions of joy, of interior peace, of serenity, of enthusiasm which are, for the believer, an experimental proof of his beliefs” (152). And this is why pop concerts, rock concerts, all types of concerts are still selling out stadiums and performing every day and night.

Nothing proves these ideas more than from the concertgoers themselves. Alternative Press remains a very reputable magazine for all things alternative music, from new bands and concerts to interviews with artists and fans and anything that could be affecting the alternative world. Their online site contains many great articles written by fans and other lesser-known journalists for the magazines. For example, the article “The 9 Phases Of Post-Concert Depression” written by Cassie Whitt, provides an excellent example of what fans feel when the lights come on and the stage clears. Whitt examines how when the fans leave the venue they believe that their lives have been either touched or changed or both, by the artist. Starting with “Euphoria” and going through “Reflection, Realization, Reality, Feeling Outcasted, Stalking, Lake of Impulse Control, Acceptance, and Living” which all fully support Mattig and Durkheim’s notion of having to continue performing this ritual in order to maintain the euphoria that comes from it. Obviously, Mattig and Alternative Press are not scholarly articles or sources, but perhaps that fits the subject completely. These fans and concert-goers are finding alternative means to fulfill their need for a collective experience and also to perform the religious rituals that give them such transcendence and euphoric feelings.

Marx would agree with the notion that the people see these concerts as a religious ritual that they can participate in, but he would severely dislike it. To him, religion is a facade that is there to disguise the pain that the poorer people are feeling, which is exactly what a good portion of the fans are there to feel: something that distracts them from the pain of their daily lives. Weber would probably agree with this theory as well because he can see the impact that the band, lead singer, artist, and their charismatic authority have on the people that attend the concert. He can see that the fans and band together have created their own “world” that they can all feel at home in. Durkheim, overall, could agree the most with this essays purpose in proving that a screaming, hardcore concert is an alternative to a religious experience. At this concert, the lead singer is the God, the lyrics are the doctrine and the teachings, and the fans that fill the stadiums and venues are the practitioners and believers that come to feel something within them, just like those that attend church every week.

Works Cited

Kronman, Anthony T. Max Weber. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1983. Print.

Mattig, Ruprecht. “Pop Concerts as Modern Religious Rituals.” Hidden Dimensions of Education: Rhetoric, Rituals, and Anthropology. By Tobias Werler and Christoph Wulf. Münster: Waxmann, 2006. 149-64. Print.

Whitt, Cassie. “The 9 Phases of Post-Concert Depression.” Alternative Press. Alternative Press, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.

Getting Between the Sheets: Homoerotic Tendencies in Play and Production

*An essay written while studying abroad for my Shakespeare and His World class.*

People have always been curious about the unspeakables, topics of conversation that are never to be mentioned, and yet are constantly brought up in hushed tones. Probably because people were interested in the dirtier ways of life, the thrill of gossiping. One prime example of this is the topic of sexuality and particularly homosexuality, especially in the Early Modern Period. Roger Thompson’s article “Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies” expresses the idea that “sodomy was literally unspeakable. It was customarily described as ‘a sinne not once to be named’” (31), although there were clearly people discussing this subject and even partaking in the act, or else there would not be these theories today. Everyone was interested in the things they were told to turn away from either by their family, government, or church; but censoring only made the curious strive for outlets to learn and discover these tainted topics.

The Early Modern Period was witness to plays and stories highly charged with eroticism, specifically homoeroticism. Charles Forker explains that the “Restoration comedy…[was] often thought of as obsessed with sex and dominated by lubricity” (1). The authors and playwrights in this time capitalized on the sexual comedies that their audience wanted to read and see; one of the authors leading this trend was William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s characters Iago and Rosalind can be read untraditionally as having homoerotic tendencies that add interest and help explain the storyline better, therefore these tendencies should be shown in productions. Shakespeare’s plays contain many layers and are capable of being read on many different levels, such as the homoerotic. In this essay, I will focus on the plays As You Like It and Othello, and using a video production of each, discerning whether or not the production succeeds in showing this other, “unspeakable” side of the play.

Shakespeare’s time may have seen a rise in plays and stories that depicted curious interactions with two men, however according to Robert Matz and his article “Slander, Renaissance Discourses of Sodomy, and Othello,” “the early modern period recognized no distinct homosexual, or therefore heterosexual, identity” (261-62). Forker agrees with Matz and adds on the “notion of sexual orientation or preference as implying a gay subculture within the predominantly heterosexual one would probably have been unrecognizable to Marlow and his contemporaries” (1). Simply put, the time period did not have the terminology used today, and obviously, that topic was quite delicate and therefore not mentioned enough to have required its own terms. Nonetheless, Shakespeare still experimented with this genre of sexuality. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience, written by Marilyn French, argues this by saying: “Shakespeare…attempted to synthesize the gender principles in more earthly locales…[such as the] male figures assimilating, absorbing the qualities of the feminine principle through education and…suffering” (30). And Valerie Traub’s article “Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare” even further backs up French’s argument idea: “Masculinity, for instance, is typically associated with sexual aggression in our own time, whereas during Shakespeare’s life, women were considered to be more lustful than men” (129). Shakespeare, as seen in Othello and As You Like It, manipulates the gender roles in his plays, deciding for himself who can be more lustful or feminine and who cannot.

The play As You Like It contains one of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters: Rosalind. Traditionally read, Rosalind disguises herself as a man named Ganymede and retreats to the woods to find her father, the Duke Senior, and have her family restored to their original power back in the city. There are romantic interests involved, the wrestler Orlando and Rosalind have a blossoming relationship while she is disguised and it truly flourishes in the conclusion of the play when her father becomes the rightful duke and she can remove her disguise. This is the traditional read of the play and how it is generally performed on stage or in movies.

There are, however, many other ways of reading into the character of Rosalind and her interactions with others. As Catherine Belsey explains in her article “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies”: “[Shakespeare’s comedies call into] question a set of relations between terms which purposes as inevitable an antithesis between masculine and feminine, men and women” (171). In As You Like It, Rosalind impersonates a man and completely succeeds. When she finally removes her disguise, no one is embarrassed or chastises her, which is how one would assume that, as a woman, she would have been reprimanded for her actions. Belsey also reminds that the “place of the woman in the dynastic family is clear and well known” during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it is clear that Rosalind is stepping out of her intended place by dressing herself as a boy, which allows for her to “escape the constraints and the vulnerability of the feminine” (176, 182), “perform heroic actions that were generally reserved for men” (Rackin 74-75). Women were held down during this time, and Rosalind is definitely no exception. Her father was banished from the city and she now lives under her uncle’s roof, only to be banished as well. It is reasonable that she despises being a woman, which is shown when she tells Orlando, while dressed up as Ganymede: “I thank God I am / not a woman” (Shakespeare 3.2.337-38). Perhaps Rosalind is simply boosting her masculinity by appealing to something many men would have agreed upon, but she describes it as being too “giddy” (3.2.338) which in turn has ruined the whole female sex for her. Valerie Traub’s other article about homoeroticism states: “Of all the male names available to her, [Rosalind] chooses that of the young lover of Zeus” otherwise known as Ganymede. Traub also explains that this male name “was used from medieval times well into the seventeenth century to mean an object of homosexual desire” (137). Shakespeare must have been aware of this knowledge when picking Rosalind’s new persona, therefore creating her to have homoerotic tendencies.

There are two separate characters that intertwine with Rosalind/Ganymede. First, there is Rosalind’s cousin and childhood friend, Celia, who gives up her royal life to disappear into the forest alongside Rosalind. She too changes her identity, but to that of a lowly farm girl since her stature is smaller than Rosalind’s. In the traditional read of the play, Celia/Aliena is being an understanding cousin and friend by helping Rosalind find her father and restore her rightful place in the kingdom, even though that means removing herself from royalty. To Celia, nothing is stronger than friendship, other than love. An un-traditional read brings forth the idea that Celia is actually in love with Rosalind, who does not return this romantic love. The one-sided relationship is clear from the first act when Celia claims that she can “see [Rosalind] lovest [her] not with the full weight that [she] love [Rosalind]” (1.2.7-8) and the way in which she addresses her cousin: “my sweet Rose, my dear Rose” (1.2.21). Familial love is very present in this society and Celia and Rosalind had been friends since early childhood, however, Celia’s love for Rosalind is vastly different than Rosalind’s love for Celia.

When Duke Frederick, Celia’s father, and Rosalind’s uncle, banishes Rosalind, Celia does not think twice about running away with her cousin, whereas Rosalind does not think of anyone but herself and allows her innocent cousin to leave the safety of her home to follow her. Celia demands that she be banished by her own father, and with a simple argument from Rosalind, Celia is determined to flee to the forest with her cousin, saying: “Rosalind, lack’st thou then the love / Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one?” (1.3.95-96). Rosalind not only does not persist any further that Celia should stay where she belongs, but she is also oblivious that her cousin and dearest friend has romantic feelings for her.

Another example of Celia being in love with Rosalind is when Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, demands to be married to Orlando in the woods:

Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good

thing? (To Celia) Come, sister, you shall be the priest

and marry us.–Give me your hand, Orlando.–What

do you say, sister?

Orlando: (To Celia) Pray thee, marry us.

Celia: I cannot say the words. (4.1.115-20)

Celia is aware of the game Rosalind is playing on Orlando, so why would she be so uncomfortable with helping in this childish marriage? Celia does not want to bear witness to her love being married to someone else, even if it is not a real wedding. Seeing Rosalind leave her for someone else is heartbreaking and she cannot even to joke around; and the audience only hears from Celia one more time after this wedding scene, as if she has been silenced from this scene.

This scene is also very important for the other relationship that intertwines with Rosalind/Ganymede. Orlando, son of Sir Rowland de Bois, falls in love with Rosalind in the first act, seeing her as a gorgeous and rich duchess at his wrestling match. When he flees to the woods from his murderous older brother, Oliver, he brings with his infatuation and defaces many trees with Rosalind’s name. He ends up meeting Ganymede and Aliena, where Rosalind/Ganymede convinces him to play in a love game in order to cure Orlando of his love for Rosalind, which is to make him dote on Ganymede as his love. This love cure means that Orlando must come “every day to woo [Ganymede]” (3.2.393-94), and oddly enough Orlando complies. The main question the audience has is does Orlando know that Ganymede really is Rosalind and is that why he plays along with her little game? Or does he in fact harbor some homoerotic tendencies? In the wedding scene, Orlando immediately jumps up to marry Ganymede. He does not question that he is about to “marry” another man, something known to be not allowed during this time.

The Globe Theatre put on As You Like It and filmed it to make it accessible to everyone. In this adaptation, there are definitely some homoerotic tendencies shown between Orlando and Ganymede. When Orlando first meets Ganymede in the woods, he is slightly perturbed by the young lad asking him questions, but does not immediately dismiss him and is instead curious about Ganymede. He tells Rosalind/Ganymede that his “accent is something finer than [he] could purchase in so removed a dwelling” (Shakespeare 1.2.331-32). Orlando, played by Jack Laskey, is questioning where Ganymede comes from, but Orlando’s words come out flustered and he hesitates frequently as if he is trying to understand who this person is in front of him. Perhaps this is because he recognizes his love Rosalind behind the short hair and men’s clothing, or perhaps he is discovering something within himself.

The ultimate scene that differs from the original text is the fake wedding scene. Once the two men speak their vows, they share in a kiss, which is not stated in the original text. The producer, James Whitbourn, definitely paid attention to the multiple layers that this play can be read. Once again, one could argue that Orlando does know that Ganymede is really Rosalind in disguise, and is, in fact, kissing Rosalind. However, if he really did know, then why wouldn’t he simply tell her, instead of playing along with the game? Instead, he steps willingly and excitingly into a homosexual marriage and kisses his new love before him.

This production was fantastic at portraying the homoerotic relationship between Orlando and Ganymede/Rosalind, however, it does fall short of portraying Celia’s relationship with Rosalind. In fact, Laura Rogers, the actress playing Celia/Aliena, is a stronger and more powerful character than how Naomi Frederick portrays Rosalind. Their relationship, and the two actresses who play them, is the only aspect of the production that disappointed me, other than those few scenes, the Globe did put on a great show and accurately stayed with the original text, even adding new and different stage actions.

Neely discusses in her article: “Othello, like the other problem plays, has generated passionate and radically conflicting responses–responses that are invariably tied to the critics’ emotional responses to the characters and to the gender relations in the play” (79). The play Othello features a Moor who is the general of the Venetian army. He has just married a beautiful woman, Desdemona, and has appointed Cassio to a higher up position in the army. All of these actions anger what I presume to be considered the main character of Iago. “[Iago] experiences himself doubly rejected when Othello…[marries] Desdemona and [chooses] Cassio as his most intimate professional associate” (Stockholder 95). Iago, much like Rosalind in As You Like It, can be read and interpreted on many different levels. Traditionally and simply put, he is jealous of Othello’s success and wants what he cannot have. However, I believe that there is more to this character that Shakespeare wants us to see.

Iago is upset because he wants both what Othello has possession of, and Othello himself. As Ronald Draper phrases it: “Iago’s feeling towards Othello seems to be a contradictory mixture of envy and resentment” (108). This interpretation can be seen in Act 3 Scene 3 where Othello discovers the handkerchief he gifted his new bride has been found in Cassio’s bedchamber, therefore insinuating an affair. Iago, the mastermind behind this false accusation, is present to comfort and console Othello by taking vows of homage that, as Matz describes,  recalls a marriage ceremony (264). The scene even ends with Othello telling Iago that he is now his lieutenant (3.3.481) and Iago replies: “I am your own for ever” (3.3.482). Matz also argues, however that “[the term] ‘friend’ (or ‘lover’) was a term that in the Renaissance included and frequently overlayed political and effective alliance: to be a powerful man’s ‘bedfellow’ was to have a most valuable political access–and honor” (262). Othello very clearly is gaining more and more trust in Iago, because Iago is making himself available whenever something negative happens that sets Othello off, and his trust shines through in this scene. Othello could very well be “marrying” a great friend who has brought forth some truth to his life, but perhaps while he is saying his own brotherhood-type vows, Iago is giving himself over to Othello. The scene ends with a very intimate sentence from Iago, and nothing from Othello, almost as if what Iago has said was under his breath or did not warrant a response from the angered Othello.

Iago will do anything for love–even kill. In the introduction to his casebook on Othello, John Wain argues that “Unaware of the power of love, [Iago] cannot imagine the suffering into which he will plunge Othello by plausibly slandering Desdemona” (12). Iago knows perfectly well about the power of love because he is controlling it. Even if one takes away the notion of Iago having homosexual feelings for Othello, Iago certainly still loves himself and will do anything to move himself up the social ladder to ultimately be successful like Othello. He knows that by framing Desdemona, he is setting her up for death because if she does not die at the end of the play, his secret of planting the handkerchief in her room will come out eventually and then Othello would come after him. Because of this, he has to be aware that Othello will be sorely upset about his bride supposedly cuckolding him, leading him to think irrationally. Randolph Splitter goes even farther saying: “Iago’s ‘love” for Othello, Cassio, Desdemona or anyone else is buried in a general mistrust of human relations” (193). Perhaps the only human Iago trusts is himself and his own actions, hence why he is always thinking of himself and his desires.

Using a modern adaptation of Othello titled “O”, I will describe how the movie portrays or does not portray any homoerotic tendencies from Iago. This movie, starring Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett and more, is a teenage drama that takes place in a high school setting. Odin, or Othello, is the only black student at a prestigious boarding school and is the star basketball player, winning awards like Most Valuable Player of the year from his coach, who also happens to be Hugo, or Iago’s, father. Hugo and Michael, or Cassio, are both on the basketball team with Odin and when Odin wins his MVP award, he shares it with Michael instead of Hugo, which starts Hugo’s plotting to make himself succeed more than Odin.

Overall, the movie does excel at keeping with the overall plotline of the play all while keeping it in a modern setting and interesting. Almost all events from the play happen in some way or another, despite all of the murderings. However, what is left out is the homoerotic tendencies that Iago possesses in the play. It is clear that Iago obsesses over Othello and Othello’s actions, which is evident in this adaptation. The camera is always cutting towards Hugo’s reaction to something Odin does, for example during the basketball games when Odin only seems to pass to Michael, the camera will cut to Hugo’s expression of anger. Hugo accurately portrays Iago’s jealousy towards Michael/Cassio, but falls short when it comes to the intimate male-male scenes. There are small interactions between Hugo and Michael where Hugo says phrases such as: “I love you man, but you’re a momma’s boy” or “Mike, am I your boy?” Taking out of certain context, these sentences can be portrayed slightly homoerotic, however, in the movie, Josh Hartnett (Hugo) does not indicate any romantic feelings towards Michael, but instead says these phrases towards him with a brotherly love.

Because the movie leaves out these homoerotic scenes that take place with Iago and Cassio and Iago and Othello, the movie loses what makes Iago so interesting. Since this movie is newer, having been filmed in 2001, I assumed that there would have been more tolerance and willingness to include such things. The setting, a private school with connected dormitories, would have fit extremely well with having one of the characters be gay. But instead, the director decided to stick with the traditional and in turn lost the many-layered Iago from the play. If the movie accurately portrayed these scenes, they could have earned a better following of younger fans and ultimately portrayed Iago how Shakespeare wanted.

Both Rosalind and Iago are complex characters, to say the least. They leave many things up to the interpretation of the audience and reader, but what is important is that all of the facts are presented when reading and/or watching Shakespeare’s works. When a production leaves out the necessary details, whether they be homoerotic or not, they are leaving out key points that Shakespeare originally intended to be seen. Forker agrees by saying:

“Shakespeare, as usual, provides the healthiest and most humane view of sexuality in the period by refusing to isolate sex from a more comprehensive view of the human condition, from those moral and spiritual values in the light of which he invites us to assess all aspects of human experience.” (10-11)

Shakespeare wanted to make his audience think. He could have come up with any simple storyline or character and create a normal play that entertained but does not stick with the audience. Instead, he toyed with his audience’s emotions and thoughts, making them see things they were curious about, but not brave enough to think about. He helped the people of the early modern period realize how closely their sexuality connected with their everyday lives (6-7). And to create a production that does not include any of these aspects is to offend and disregard the play and Shakespeare’s original meaning.

Works Cited

Belsey, Catherine. “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies.” Alternative Shakespeares. By John Drakakis. London: Routledge, 2002. 170-94. Print.

Draper, Ronald. “Unholy Alliance: Othello and Iago.” Othello. Ed. Linda Cookson. London: Longman Group, 1991. 106-26. Print.

Forker, Charles R. “Sexuality and Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage.” South Central Review 7.4 (1990): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

French, Marilyn. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience. New York: Summit, 1981. Print.

Matz, Robert. “Slander, Renaissance Discourses of Sodomy, and Othello.” ELH 66.2 (1999): 261-76. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Neely, Carol T. “Women and Men in Othello.” William Shakespeare’s Othello. By Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 79-104. Print.

  1. Dir. Tim B. Nelson. Perf. Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Martin Sheen. Chickie the Cop, 2001. Amazon Instant Video. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

Rackin, Phyllis. “Boys Will Be Girls.” Shakespeare and Women. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 72-94. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 655-80. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “Othello.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 873-907. Print.

Splitter, Randolph. “Language, Sexual Conflict and Symbiosis Anxiety in Othello.” Iago. By Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1992. 191-200. Print.

Stockholder, Kay. Dream Works: Lovers and Families in Shakespeare’s Plays. Toronto: U of Toronto, 1987. Print.

Thompson, Roger. “Attitudes towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies.” Journal of American Studies 23.1, Sex and Gender in American Culture (1989): 27-40. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Traub, Valerie. “Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. By Margreta De Grazia and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 129-46. Print.

Traub, Valerie. “The Homoerotics of Shakespearean Comedy.” Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender. By Kate Chedgzoy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001. 135-57. Print.

Wain, John. “Introduction.” Shakespeare, Othello: A Casebook. By John Wain. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994. 186-208. Print.

William Shakespeare: As You Like It. Screenplay by William Shakespeare. Prod. James Whitbourn. Perf. Jack Laskey and Naomi Frederick. Opus Arte, 2012. ITunes. Web. 8 Apr. 2015

Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

14 May 2016

Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Welcome to the Victorian era: there are horse drawn carriages, exponential growth in industry and science, and, most importantly, men continue to rank as the superior gender simply because of women lacking a certain genital. Being oppressed as ever, women were not only still inferior in more ways than one, but were absent from the pages of literary texts and bookshelves among all classes. Perhaps this is because women had a larger societal role to play besides spending their leisure time writing–in fact, women did not have leisure time even in the upper class. Either way, many of the famous stories to come out of this period did not feature women and were written by men for men. One example would be Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886.

The lack of women within this text is evident–the role of women is to simply be a maid of Dr. Jekyll, a prostitute outside on the streets, or the maid that witnesses Mr. Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Other than these few characters, women do not grace the novella with much of a presence. Because of this, the story is commonly read as misogynistic and takes on a feminist lens when discussed. Taking a feministic read of the novella to argue about the lack of women, and therefore what Stevenson was thinking when writing, is not necessarily incorrect. However, in this essay, I aim to discuss that though there is a lack of biological women in the text, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inhabit the characteristics of females, therefore, rendering any additional female characters as unnecessary.

Firstly, women are not completely void from the text. In a way, in regards to the maid that watches Hyde’s gruesome murder, they do play a small role. Without that maid watching, the hunt for Hyde would not have begun, or would Dr. Jekyll be forced into choosing between his two sides. As Charles Campbell says, women are the “key to a reading of the novel as it concerns the suppression of sexuality” (310). He suggests that: “The men of the novel are the city incorporated as lawyers, doctors, scientists, and sadists; they are associated with fog, lights and interiors. The women are the city as sexuality, innocence, sentiment, and victims; they are associated with street life, the outside of buildings and doors” (316) and this critic is not incorrect, but he misses a bigger point throughout the text. The maid did not necessarily have to be a maid. It really could have been any passerby, male or female, but more likely male since the women were constantly off performing their duties. This shows that women in the text, though seeming to have a role, are still unnecessary.

The Victorian period was the starting point for many new discussions regarding sex, as showcased by Antonio Sanna’s work: “The late nineteenth century saw an explosion of discourses on sex and sexuality” (Sanna 21). Sex became a part of a conversation; it was not totally accepted, but it was a curious subject and earned its place in discussion. Furthermore, “the attacks and campaigns against sexual excesses such as masturbation and coitus interruptus, which had lasted for the whole nineteenth century and were commonplace in medical literature, now focused on homosexuality” (22). Perhaps sex became a familiar subject because homosexuality became a more familiar action, which is why many critics see “The all-male pattern [in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde]…[suggests] a twist of thought that Jekyll’s secret adventures were homosexual practices so common in London behind the Victorian veil” (Nabokov 187) and these critics are not incorrect. They see Jekyll’s “secret pleasures” as a “strong argument” for the exclusion of women in the text (Linhan). Suppose that Jekyll’s secret pleasures and need for Hyde is because of his undisclosed homosexuality, this is a further point that women are unnecessary. Men are able to find love and release from their needs with other men, therefore taking on a “feminine” role as the second partner in certain erotic escapades.

Continuing with the erotic, as discussed by Parker in How to Interpret Literature chapter on Feminism, the term “the gaze” is used when talking about women’s role in literature and movies. “The masculine subject gazes, and the feminine object is gazed at” (170); the only use of women in a text, and also on screen, is to be looked at, to be gazed at. Their sole purpose is to serve as an idealistic image for the protagonist, generally a man, to physically look at and that is that. This then turns erotic when: “Written literature often lingers over a narrator’s or a focalizer’s erotic gaze at a focalized character and often at a focalized woman” (172). Since the feminine object, a female character, is constantly being looked at and described, the gaze of the narrator can seem erotic and obsessed to some extent. And this is probably why scholar Laura Mulvey claims that “This is what men do: they look, and they look in abusive ways; and this is what women do: they are looked at, and they remain passive” (173). Perhaps this is why there is a large push for female protagonist novels, especially in the young adult genre of fiction to be written, since women generally did not have much a part to play in literary scenes. Stevenson’s novella then could be seen as a fantastic example of not objectifying women to the gaze, seeing as women do not play a large part in this novella. However the gaze is still present, it just is not directed at women.

The reader is constantly drawn to Hyde’s physical appearance. Mr. Enfield attempts to describe Hyde to Mr. Utterson in the first chapter: “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable…He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity…He’s an extraordinary looking man” (Stevenson 11-12). Immediately the reader, alongside Utterson, contemplates how atrocious this man must be, therefore transforming Hyde into the “looked at” and the reader into the “gazer”. The descriptions continue: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to [Utterson] with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice” (17). I understand men to lack such eloquent vocabulary especially when describing another man, at least today, but the speaker spends ample time lingering and reporting on what Hyde looks like more than once. The speaker goes into such detail, narrowing down to the way he talks and smiles, not just his physical stature–crossing the line to the erotic and forcing the reader to tag along. This further exemplifies Hyde as the feminine object, and the speaker–and therefore the reader too–as the looker, willingly crossing the line into eroticizing Hyde.

Though the descriptions of Hyde are not as pleasing as a woman would be described, when contrasted with Dr. Jekyll, the gaze turns even more erotic. Jekyll is described as “handsome” whereas Hyde is distasteful (20). The speaker enjoys focusing on the hands of both men, showcasing Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde through his hands. Jekyll recounts a morning when we woke up to realize he was actually Hyde:

My eye fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll (as you have often remarked) was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde. (54)

The reader is led through this long-winded description of the difference in hands; Jekyll’s hand being attractive, masculine, whereas Hyde’s hand is baser and off-colored. Once again, even though Hyde is not represented as attractive and feminine per se, the notion of spending time to describe and stare at the men’s features connotes the gaze as previously mentioned. Forcing the reader through this descriptive session, submits him to perform the gaze as well as sealing the image of the men’s physical features for the reader to revert back to when thinking about the two characters later. Furthermore, by setting up Jekyll and Hyde to be described so specifically and so often, renders the description of women useless, since the gaze is forced in a different direction, this time towards men instead of women.

More so, the few female characters are the ones performing the gazing and looking, as exampled by the maidservant who witnesses the gruesome murder of Sir Danvers Carew: “It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window, and fell into a dream of musing” (21). The maidservant happened to sit down next to her window and watched as an older man, Carew, approach Hyde to inquire about something, but instead of answering, Hyde simply beats Carew to death with his cane before running away–all witnessed by the maid. While she watched Carew down on the ground, she contemplates his appearance: “the girl was pleased to watch [his face], it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content” (21). This is an obvious example of a woman taking on the role of the gazer, and the object of the gaze is a well-off gentleman. This maid servant’s only scene in the novella is this one, where she slightly objectifies Carew and serves as witness to Hyde’s murder. After this scene, she is never brought up or mentioned again. She lacks any purpose outside of this one task, which is sure to anger some female readers, forcing them to take a feminist approach when analyzing this text.

When using a feminist lens to interpret literature, the scholar must ask what type of agency do the women in the story get? In the case of this novella, the women, much like all women in the Victorian period, lack agency completely. Not only is the reader introduced to the women who are of the lower class, maids or prostitutes, therefore suggesting that they have no outside agency other than the orders they get from their masters or what they must do to obtain money, but the reader comes to the realization that the women lack agency because the men of the text have taken over their agency. Jekyll’s main servant, Mr. Poole, takes charge of delegating the housekeeping and performing any acts Jekyll insists. Not only this, but Poole is the one who confronts Utterson about Jekyll’s state of mind, proving the man has worrisome tendencies like a woman might: “Mr. Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner, when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole. ‘Bless me, Poole, what brings you here?’ he cried; and then taking a second look at him, ‘What ails you?’ he added, ‘is the doctor ill?’ ‘Mr. Utterson,’ said the man, ‘there is something wrong.’” (32). Poole, though being the head of Jekyll’s servants, goes out of his way to contact Utterson out of fear for his master, which even as Utterson believes to be quite out of the ordinary. Poole treats the ever-changing Jekyll delicately, feminizing a man with multiple accolades. The men perform tasks commonly suited towards women: Poole rushes over Utterson’s home instead of sending a female servant over, therefore giving her some agency; Utterson and Poole are the only who tend to Jekyll/Hyde, never letting any of the female staff near him.

Continuing with women’s lack of agency, Jekyll himself embodies the characteristics of a female by, in a way, giving birth to Hyde. By finding a way around traditional birth, Dr. Jekyll proves that women are unnecessary to the final extent–now men can create a different life without the use of a woman. Obviously, Jekyll does not physically go through pregnancy, but he does bring life to a different form from his own body, much like how a woman gives life to something created by her body. In fact, the first transformation into Hyde resembles that of labor: “The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death” (50). Though I have never given birth, from other descriptions and images, the process seems horribly painful and not too dissimilar to Jekyll’s transformation. Additionally, in a way, when a person has a child, they are no longer a singular person but instead two: constantly watching out for another human being, feeding, caring, and loving a small person. Jekyll has created, to some extent, another person to now watch out for and care for, and when he realizes that Hyde became too much for him to handle, and he tries to subdue Hyde’s power, Hyde only forces himself farther into Jekyll’s life.

A man has taken over not only the basic tasks like running errands and caring for a household, but now reproduction as well, showcasing that women are completely unnecessary. Many “[Suspect] that Hyde is Jekyll’s illegitimate son” (Nabokov 187), but he is much more than that. Jekyll disavows what he has done by taking on the role of a father figure of Mr. Hyde: “[I] had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference” (Stevenson 55). Hyde certainly is a son, a teenager even, but in reality, Jekyll has taken on the motherly role by creating and caring for this extra being. Mothers are the caregivers of their children, rearing them while the father attends to the other more masculine tasks, and in some scenes, Jekyll deals with an unruly teenager and has to raise him a certain way–therefore taking on both roles of the mother and father. Even further, “Hyde was ‘knit’ to him, he writes ‘closer than a wife,’” (Linehan 204). Jekyll does not want to admit that his creation forces him to a maternal role, however, the evidence is apparent–a mother to child bond is certainly closer than that of a wife and husband, nothing can oppose the link between the mother and her newborn baby. Therefore, nothing can oppose the bond between Jekyll and his Hyde.

The lack of biological women in the text is apparent, however Stevenson makes up for that lack by creating the men to take on women’s roles. The main question, however, remains: why does Stevenson create his male characters to perform feminine duties? During this time in Great Britain, women’s suffrage movements were taking on the streets and government. There were seventeen different societies created, all devoted to women’s suffrage, in the span of a few years that then created the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Myers). This article featured on UK’s International magazine notes that: “Britain did not leap from no voting rights at all to full suffrage, but that there were many bills taken to parliament and many small gains ahead of the 1918 declaration of suffrage for women, and then the declaration of full suffrage for women in 1928” (Myers). Some of these smaller bills included rights to hold property, agricultural rights, and more. Women rose more and more out of the dirt that their male oppressors shoveled over them, and perhaps this novella is a conversation at that. The women advocated for more rights, as they should be, but throughout this time, some men were left behind. Most men were likely to disagree with their wives and sisters, people they have had innumerable control over for the better part of their lives, suddenly rising to challenge their government; and these men were left to tend to things some of those fighting women may have left behind. In a way, gender roles flipped with women taking on government and men left to take care of the house. Perhaps this is the conversation Stevenson implements in his novella–the gender rolls overturned forcing the men to take on the feminine roles.

Stevenson has been called many things–misogynistic comes to mind–but what about feminist? I am not suggesting that by showcasing women as lacking is in any way feminist, but perhaps this lack shows that women are off fighting the battle for equal rights. They aren’t on the streets toiling around, performing meaningless tasks, but instead, they are at parliament arguing for their societal freedom. This, then, forces the men to take on those female roles because their wives, sisters, suitors are battling for their rights, which leaves the men to take care of the children, the home, and ultimately to their own devices. Therefore, instead of looking at Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stevenson as anti-women, one should read the novella through a lense of women’s empowerment.

The claim that women are unnecessary may not seem that empowering for women, but in this tale perhaps it can be seen as such. Instead of viewing women as a threat against the male dominance as they attempt to counteract the ardent dominance, which would have been considered the reason for the lack, Stevenson renders women as unnecessary. Women are unneeded in this text because the men have taken over the mundane and everyday tasks that a woman would normally be forced to perform. By depicting them as nonessential, Stevenson showcases that women do not need to be the only humans undergoing the stressful tasks of the everyday world–like housekeeping, running errands, and birthing children. Women should welcome this notion of being unnecessary because for once they will have a break from stereotypical womanhood. Men are obliged to finally cover their wive’s tasks, no longer portraying women completely and utterly necessary in order for life to continue.

Stevenson, whether conscious or unconscious, has created immense dialogue for women for centuries to come. Most of this conversation will revolve around the lack of women in his most known text, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but as I have attempted to point out in this essay that there is a concrete reason for the absence–the women are off, battling the British government and the men are finding ways to cope with their loss, learning to take on the mundane and feminine tasks that they never would have thought to cover, but end up enjoying those duties. Poole takes pleasure in running errands for Jekyll and Jekyll takes pleasure from “birthing” Hyde and creating his dual-personalities. In the end, men actually enjoy, to some extent, performing feminine tasks; this shows women as unnecessary, not because of misogynistic tendencies, but instead puts women in a place of equality.

 

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Charles. “Women And Sadism In Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde: ‘City In A Nightmare’.” English Literature In Transition 1880-1920 3 (2014): 309. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Closer than a Wife’: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll’s Significant Other.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism 292 (2014): n. pag. Gale. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Sex, Secrecy, and Self-Alienation in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 204-13. Print.

Myers, Rebecca. “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 27 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2016.

Nabokov, Vladimir. “A Phenomenon of Style.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.184-88. Print.

Parker, Robert Dale. “Feminism.” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 148-84. Print.

Sanna, Antonio. “Silent Homosexuality in Oscar Wilde’s Teleny and The Picture of Dorian Gray and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” Law and Literature 24.1, Silence (2012): 21-39. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2016.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 7-62. Print.