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.

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

This Savage Song

Of course, I had heard of Schwab’s other series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic, and had been interested in quite some time (don’t worry, I am currently reading that one now!) but I hadn’t really heard much about her earlier duo. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was the same author at first since she uses only her initials on the Shades of Magic series.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Friendship, Romance, High School, Fear
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


To begin, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given a book here 4.5 stars out of five. I don’t even have a half star image to use.

As we pass the first-week mark of 2018, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our environment. The North East where I live is still frozen, but Chicago is thawing out on this balmy, 34 degree Monday. San Francisco was just hit by a moderate sized earthquake a few days ago and I’m assuming parts of southern California are still on fire, but since the news only reports on things for about two days and forgets about them, how am I ever to know? Things certainly haven’t changed immediately in the political sphere of the US and even though it’s a new year, new you, I highly doubt that they will. While the women of the Golden Globes made their voices loud, people are still laughing about it on Twitter and such. And what was I doing during all of it? Finishing Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song. I had originally picked up her A Darker Shade of Magic to read first and after reading a few pages I knew I would like it too much that I didn’t want to get sucked in right away–I wanted something lighter, I suppose. And that clearly didn’t happen. This Savage Song is breathtaking–and, more importantly, relevant.

“What do you want?” chided Leo. “To be ordinary? To be human?” He said the word as if it stained his tongue.

“Better human than a monster” (81).

Schwab tackles the question: What makes someone a monster? And while not not successful, can this question ever really be answered? Based in a world where monsters, like the ones from our childhood nightmares, exist, This Savage Song directs the readers’ attention to how a label or an identity can be changed. August Flynn is one of our two main characters and he is, more or less, a monster. As one of only three known Sunai–the deadliest and most unknown monsters out there–the reader would like to assume that he’s creepy crawly like how the other monsters (Malchai and Corsai) are, but he isn’t. August is a timid boy, cute but probably not sexy, too young for me no doubt, but all around sweet. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he doesn’t want to be what this society has already labeled and created him as.

On the other hand, our other main character, Kate Harker, is a human but does this make her any better than August? She might not kill people and feed on their souls, but she’s still…a bitch through and through. Her father runs the north end of their city, Verity, and forces people to pay for his protection from the things that go bump in the night. Kate really only wants to please her father and make him see that she is capable of running a corrupt empire like he does.

She was her father’s daughter. A Harker. And she would do whatever she had to do to prove it (119).

August lives in the southern part of Verity, the war-torn half that offers as much protection as possible–but still isn’t enough–and doesn’t force the residents to pay for it. North and south sides are obviously opposing, the north and Harker’s domain want control of the entire city to build a greedy corporation that “protects” people from the monsters Harker himself controls. The Flynn family in the south, though far less wealthy and resource heavy, are honest and good people. They don’t want a war, but they realize that they cannot let Harker take over Verity for his horrid reasons. In a way, Schwab’s tale takes from Romeo and Juliet. To warring families with children of the same age that team up together to fight the battle their families created for them.

Of course, there’s bad guys and fight scenes ensuing all over the place as the reader inches closer and closer to the climax, but something that never really happens, while I, as a fangirl, was certainly craving it, was August and Kate never had a romantic moment. Sure there were times when I could feel the tension crackling off the pages myself, but even in the end, there was never an embrace or a kiss or anything. And I left both shocked and pleased. Sure, Schwab could have finally let the fangirl’s dreams come true and let Kate and August be together–perhaps this happens in the next book, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it yet–but she didn’t. Schwab chose to exclude that crucial part of any good YA romance-type book because, at least what I’d like to believe, is that this book isn’t about Kate or August really. They are just the examples, the vessels used to further discuss her main, overarching question of who is the real monster?

“And you?” asked Kate…

When August answered, the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. “Lost.” He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. “I’m what happens when a kid is so afriad of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently” (308).

I could pick up the first five YA books on my shelfie and find at least one kiss scene in each of them–and don’t get me wrong, I love the kiss scenes, when my heart fills and flutters and happiness pools inside me cause two people that aren’t even real are happy–but by omitting that scene from This Savage Song, Schwab forces the reader to think closer about who is the true monster in this story. Is it the actual monsters? Sure, they do horrible things and are creepy, and are rightfully labeled “monsters” because they kill and eat people. But then there are people who think they’re doing good, but end up doing bad–like Kate’s father for example, or August’s older brother Leo. These characters might not look like monsters in the traditional sense, but their beings are monstrous.

There are too many people in power right now who aren’t technically a Malchai or Corsai or Sunai, but they still are monsters. Women are still mistreated left and right, and have to work in solidarity to at least be heard (hinting at the Golden Globes again) and even when we do speak out, we’re mocked or cringed at for not letting Guillermo del Toro be happy for winning his (rightful cause he is a great director) best director. Our president doesn’t care about us citizens unless we’re in the one percent and a white male. He could care less about anyone else; he only himself like Kate’s father. He might as well have branded his minions with T’s under their eyes, like Harker does his.

So while people hashtag New Year New Me, maybe we should really be looking at our own actions and those of the people around us. Just because we are human, doesn’t mean we are not monsters.

He was a Sunai–nothing was going to change that–but he wasn’t evil, wasn’t cruel, wasn’t monstrous. He was just someone who wanted to be something else, something he wasnt (351).

 

Replica

I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.

Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.

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Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.

The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.

Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.

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The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!

And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.

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So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.

In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.

What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.

Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).

And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.

Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.

She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:

Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).

How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.

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Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.

Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.

But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.

Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).

Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.

Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).

She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.

If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!

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Strong Female Protagonist

I feel so strongly about this comic; everything about it speaks to me as a writer, as a young adult (okay I’m 22, but still), and most importantly, as a woman.

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Strong Female Protagonist writing by Brennan Lee Mulligan; illustrations by Molly Ostertag
Published by Top Shelf Productions on November 25th 2014
Genres: Comics, Feminism, Coming of Age
Pages: 220
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


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First, I’m going to express my love for the title: Strong Female Protagonist. Mulligan and Ostertag are pretty much me when it comes to procrastination, and but then run with it. This title sounds like something they typed into the file’s title just to be able to find it on their desktop later–and that is the brilliant part of it. It’s so commonplace that you can insert any female into the title. It tells the reader exactly what they need to know, what they should know, about the piece. This comic, like Paper Girls, is in silent conversation with the feminist talk of today. As I’ve noted in my Paper Girls 1 and 2 review, the mere fact that this comic follows a girl, instead of a boy lead, already turns the stereotype of comics on its head. Comics used to be a hobby for boys, and I think it’s safe that to say to some extent it still is. Most of today’s comics feature male superheroes or female leads wearing barely any clothing on–who is that for I wonder? Don’t get me wrong, though, the male lead comics are still entertaining for anyone of any gender, but that’s why I love comics like this one and Paper Girls. Girls are now the superheroes, but they aren’t without their flaws or regular pants and shirts. In some cases they are children, like in Paper Girls, or college students, as in SFP, who try to juggle school, friendship and romantic relationships, and supervillians.

This brings me to the other amazing part about this comic: the storyline. There is no cheesiness to be found here, folks. Ostertag and Mulligan have thought about how a real teen hero would react to her hidden identity and sudden super strength. Alison Green never once enjoys being called a hero–she much prefers being unnoticed all together. She knows that as a superhero for the town, her profession comes with broken relationships as well as hatred from the common people. No tax-paying individual wants to deal with a destroyed city once Mega Girl and her gang are done battling some radioactive villain. So Mega Girl faces a lot of backlash. On top of this, Alison is still young–young enough to be unsure of her path and who she wants to be. Does she want to hang up her cape? Is being a superhero for a town that seems to hate her really worth it? Is she suffering as a consequence? Sure, I’m not a superhero during the day, but I was once a college student and understand the struggle that resides in someone who separates themselves too far–between school, romantic interests, social life, and a job, it’s hard to know which way to turn when they all need you at once.

Ostertag and Mulligan create this young woman and give her the ability to be a hero, though she doesn’t need to have super strength in order to do that. The reader watches Alison repair relationships with her younger sister and family, the relationship hurdles that all growing teenagers find themselves in; as well as friendships when she does decide to take off the mask. How does she handle a drunken, but offensive statement from a friend? Or a friend that uses her as a punchline? So Ostertag and Mulligan use super strength as a medium to converse about the real issues, issues all young women are facing today–hatred, confusion, frustration, identity, masculinity and patriarchy, our own bodies, and so on.

Finally, the art style is just so lovable. It comes across as classically comic-like as well as sketchy, something that someone drew offhand and then was told it was good enough to be turned into something–there is something remarkable about that. This comic doesn’t need perfection in the drawing, or realism for that matter–the storyline is certainly real enough. By keeping with the classic cartoon-like style, the illustrator shifts the focus to the dialogue and plot line, as well as keeping with the 180 degree comic twist. So it looks like a regular comic, feels like a regular comic, but is made for strong women who want to be everyday heroes.

Please read this comic if a real female superhero is your cup of tea–no skimpy, tight “superhero turned stripper” outfits. Also read this comic if you like classic comic art style, funny, but real relationships, and overall coming of age tales. I desperately want the creators to come out with Book 2 in trade paperback, but for those that cannot wait, please continue reading their amazing work at: strongfemaleprotagonist.com.

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Beware That Book

I actually stepped out of my genre comfort zone and read a teen thriller! This is a first for me, guys. I normally do not enjoy dramatic books that question my own sanity, not just that of the characters and Toten’s Beware That Girl certainly does just that.

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Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten
Published by Delacorte Press on May 31st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Romance, Friendship
Pages: 336
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review 3.5 out of 5 / 5 out of 5

★★★☆☆  /   ★★★★★

Kate O’Brien finds herself as the only scholarship student at New York City’s most prestigious all-girls high school, Waverly. Her admittance isn’t only for academics, Kate has many plans when it comes her to time at Waverly.
Olivia, a mysterious, pure-bread socialite in the making owns the hallways of Waverly, but she certainly has things to hide.
The two become unlikely friends, Kate using Olivia and Olivia using Kate. However, when a new, delicious male administrator comes into the pictures, all the girls are enthralled except for Kate–she knows that something is up.
Toten keeps her readers on the edge of their seat with this thrilling depiction of wealthy girls, forbidden love, and New York City’s secrets. Every chapter reveals something different as well as raises more questions than before. Some mysteries get solved, others remain a mystery.


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I don’t even really know where to begin with this book. Usually, when I read, I dog-ear pages so I can go back and retrieve quotes or passages that really spoke to me or that I thought embodied the text as a whole. This book does not have any dog-eared corners. And not because I didn’t enjoy it or it didn’t speak to me–quite the contrary actually. This book spooked me, just like it claimed it would.
Toten powerfully creates this twisted world that is part Gossip Girl, part Pretty Little Liars, and another part psychological thriller Gone Girl. You are right in assuming that this book will lead you on a mental wild goose chase of whodunit. I have given the book 3.5 stars not out of the book being bad, but out of my fear and bias towards it. Generally, I do not reach for this genre. I, in fact, abhorred Gone Girl even though it’s my boyfriend’s favorite movie. I don’t like horror, or thriller, or anything that can be described as “scary.” I don’t see a point in freaking myself out over something, especially something that is fucked up enough to be real. I read Toten’s story and pictured the New York that I know and could almost see it happening. The girls that are close enough to my age, all with their own bottles of pills and personal therapists, all taking drugs and drinking, all wanting to sleep with a teacher (I was in high school once!).
I also wanted to give the book an accurate 5 out of 5 rating for those that do enjoy this type of genre. Toten will blow you out of the water. The twists that she throws out at all corners are unlike any other that I’ve read (probably because I don’t read these types of books). The ending? Literally, did not see that coming. Other than the Valium-coated high school girls, nothing in this story seems overdone or cliched. Everything is a surprise.
I didn’t say anything, couldn’t trust my voice. After he locked up, we walked through the crowds in silence. Except, of course, everyone in Chinatown kept calling out his name and greeting him. I kept my mouth shut. I was too busy sucking back tears. Because not for the first time, but with more fervor than I could ever remember, dear Jesus I wished that I was someone else.
If only, if only…I could be anyone else (page 271).
There are certain things I want further explained (what happened with Johnny???) but alas those much-needed answers will never come. I think this is why I dislike thriller and dramatic genres as much as I do. There are characters that just randomly disappear, storylines that don’t end nicely, and a general unease after closing the book, not a sense of release. I suppose that this is how Kate feels, though. She never gets a sense of release. She is constantly on edge, worried that her past is going sneak up on her. She has so much to lose and could be in deep danger if she is found. But what secrets does she hide? What secrets does Olivia hide? And what secrets do they have together? Neither girl is allowed a happy ending; Toten’s story is too realistic to let that happen.
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Professional Sequence in Editing Haul

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instead of posting my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses today (which is coming along!) i decided that i couldn’t really call this a lit major’s bookshelf without talking about some lit major things.

this past month i enrolled in UC Berkeley’s Professional Sequence in Editing certificate program and i am very anxious to begin in september. i already ordered all the books i would need for the four courses, even though i’m only taking the first two this semester and then the last two in the spring. i figured what better way to showcase what being a literature major is all about than to show you the course materials i need to get my certificate in editing.

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for the courses i need only four books, but i figured there was no fun in taking pictures of only four books, so instead i gathered all of my editing-related books and did this shoot. here are the books i’ve included, starting with the first four that i need for school:

now to the passerby, these are certainly not as interesting as say my haul of young adult books or my reviews and that is partly true. these books come with the boding sense of impending school ahead–a feeling i both love and hate. school to me is a sanctuary, a separate space for the intense learning that i crave on a daily basis. however, school is also a lot of work, as most of us know, and knowing that i need such large and in charge books for a simple certificate program is scary. however, some of these books, like The Subversive Copy Editor or the Grammar Girl’s collection are quite silly and entertaining to read. they are each written in a style that is easy to understand and follow and that slightly excites the reader to read on.

now of course there is a copy of the dictionary and the chicago manual of style which are not as fun to read–i am deathly afraid of the CMS and am not looking forward to having to learn in.

but these books are for my career–they are not supposed to be here for my enjoyment. it helps, though, that i am interested in the topic and am excited to begin classes. one day, hopefully soon, i’ll be a recognized editor who still does my own novel writing and book reviewing. this certificate is just the next stepping stone.

if you have any questions regarding editing program (i’ve basically looked at them all) or what it’s like to be a starving copyeditor, then please don’t refrain from asking. i only know as much as i tell people i know–which isn’t a lot, but i still like to chat about editing to anyone who’s interested!

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