Saturday, 28 November 2009
(For some very annoying reason my embedding feature isn't working, and neither is copy and paste, so i can't embed videos or paste the code, so you'll just have to follow the link. Enjoy.)
The soundtrack is amazing, i got it a couple of months ago. The anticipation is almost killing me.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
“Their wives have sense like them...” An argument for the importance of female characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
Shakespeare’s female characters have a hard time. Vastly outnumbered by male characters, often marginalized in the plot, and originally written to be played by men, it is easy to see why many critics have either focused on their flaws or disregarded them entirely. Shakespeare named no play named solely for a woman; no female name appears except as the second part of a male-female couple. This could be an indication of a dislike of women on the part of the playwright, perhaps an (incorrectly) perceived inability to write women strong enough to carry a play, or simply a sign of the time and culture in which the plays were written. This essay will, I hope, address the question of why Shakespeare’s women are still regarded as inferior to his men, and put to bed the idea that “most [of Shakespeare’s] women have no character at all”.
A.C. Bradley stated that “it is only in the love-tragedies, Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra, that the heroine is as much the centre of the action as the hero. The rest,” as he puts it “are single stars.” By this I assume he is taking the view adopted by many before and since, that the female characters serve more as an impetus for plot progression than as fully formed characters in their own right. The characters can certainly be read that way, Ophelia is simply weak and mad, Lady Macbeth only wants power, Cleopatra only sex, but reading in this way is entirely uneven; why subject the male characters to intense Freudian psychoanalysis and take the women purely on face value? Upon closer reading all of the female characters have emotions, motivations, flaws and strengths equal to their male counterparts, or as Emilia from Othello puts it, “their wives have sense like them: they see and smell,/ and have their palates both for sweet and sour / as husbands have” (4.3.93-95).
For centuries Desdemona has wrongly been considered naive and weak-willed, as a “helplessly passive” girl going to her death without a fight, despite the huge amount of textual evidence to the contrary. The statement that “everyone in the play fails to understand her, and fails her” seems far more apt. The woman described by the men who surround her, the “maiden never bold” (1.3.95) whom every man puts on a pedestal, is banished as soon as Desdemona herself enters the stage. We see before us a woman unafraid to stand up to her father and the heads of state in order to marry the man she chooses, regardless of the consequences. Neither is she the “cunning whore of Venice” (4.2.88) described in the latter half of the play; in fact, Desdemona throughout treats everyone she speaks to exactly the same, honestly, politely and openly. In a play as male dominated and set in such a feminine free environment as this, we are given a heroine who cannot be dismissed as a peripheral character or simply a catalyst for action. She has more lines than anyone excluding Othello and Iago, and shares a dramatic position equal to either of them. The play would quite simply not exist without her. Unlike other tragic heroines she seems to have no great flaw; she is not a shrew, nor maddened by ambition or blinded by love. Desdemona presents to us a fully rounded character, a creature of intense tenderness, but also of wit, humour and courage.
These characteristics are far more common for female characters in Shakespeare’s comedies, where the women are given more scope and are allowed to direct the action in a different way. I think this is summed up best in the introduction to ‘The Woman’s Part’ by stating that “in the comedies women are most often nurturing and powerful; as their values educate the men, mutuality between the sexes may be achieved...In tragedy...their roles are at once more varied, more constricted, and more precarious.” If the values of the tragic heroines, Desdemona’s understanding, Cordelia’s level-headedness, even Lady Macbeth’s guilt, had influenced their male counterparts there is a sense that the outcomes of the plays could have been quite different. In the comedies the heroines bring about the resolution in a way entirely absent from the tragedies. The men of the comedies listen and are influenced by the women, in the tragedies “the men’s murderous fancies are untouched by the women’s affection, wit and shrewdishness” and thus a peaceful resolution is never reached.
The heroine most in control of any Shakespeare play is almost undoubtedly Rosalind from As You Like It. Rosalind’s actions direct the play; it is her choice to hide in the Forest of Arden, her idea to adopt disguises, her agency which brings the four couples together at the end. Shakespeare gives her character all that she needs to do this, “in wit and energy, Rosalind has no male rival”. Even this wit is unlike other Shakespeare heroines. As opposed to Catherine or Beatrice, Rosalind’s wit has no hint of shrewdishness, and is directed solely at lovers and women. Rosalind being both a woman and in love, she makes herself the butt of her jokes as much as anyone else, thus making her seem both self aware and self deprecating in a way that other heroines are not. Orlando’s character pales in comparison, he appears almost one dimensional, and were Rosalind not so persistently in love with him the match would seem dreadfully uneven.
The adoption of disguises, especially men’s clothes, allows the comic heroines a freedom never afforded to their tragic counterparts. These disguises gain a woman entrance to places she would never normally be allowed and let her act in a way which would be unthinkable for a respectable lady. It is by dressing as a man that Viola gets Orsino and that Rosalind gets Orlando. In disguise they are allowed to speak as men, and are spoken to openly, as friends. Orlando looks to Ganymede for advice where he had “Not one [word] to throw at a dog” (1.3.) upon his first meeting with Rosalind. She is free to tell him what she really thinks, rather than being constricted by propriety, “male dress transforms what otherwise could be experienced as aggression into simple high spirits”. The element of disguise is denied to the women of tragedies, and consequently they are never given a platform to discuss their true feelings with the men of the play without fear of retribution. Had Desdemona been able to adopt a disguise and convince Othello of his wife’s fidelity the play might have ended in a different manner. When Emilia stands up to Othello and Iago in the final scene she is threatened and eventually killed for her trouble, despite tempering her outburst with an explanation, “’Tis proper I obey him, but not now” (5.2.195), and speaking nothing but the truth. Had she been a man there is a greater chance she would have been listened to and gone unpunished.
This gender bias on the part of the characters undoubtedly has something to do with the time in which the play was written, where “the employments of women, compared with those of men, [were] few; their condition and of course their manners, admit of less variety”. Men expected their wives to be subservient, and even though Queen Elizabeth’s power and influence are undoubted, the society was still dominantly patriarchal. It is interesting to note that the women of the comedies, with all their wit, charm and influence, are all unmarried, whereas the stifled, thwarted and ultimately destroyed women of the tragedies are parts of couples from which they cannot or will not escape. Being spouses, they are controlled by the will of their lord, which inevitably brings about their downfall.
The question of whether female characters are unimportant in Shakespeare’s plays is, to me, one with a fairly obvious answer, but perhaps I am being obtuse. There is no question that the plays would not be the same if the female characters weren’t there, if Romeo or Antony were plays in their own right. Replacing the female characters with male ones would also entirely change the elements of the drama; undoubtedly Romeo and Julian would find an audience, but the essence of the tale would be altered. I find the accusation that “Shakespeare did not bring forward his female characters into a full and striking light” to be entirely without merit. Working within tighter parameters than the male characters and hampered by the constraints of society, gender and class, these women are still written as complex characters, both gifted and flawed, each of them “capable of passion and pain, growth and decay”.
 William Richardson, Essays on Some of Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters to which is added an Essay on the Faults of Shakespeare (London : J. Murray and S. Highley, 1797), 5th edition, p.361
 A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, 2nd Edition (London, The Macmillan Press, 1905) p.7
 Bradley, p.179
 Philip Edwards, Shakespeare and the confines of Art (London, Methuen, 1968) p.123
 William Shakespeare, Othello, ed. E.A.J, Honigmann (London, Arden, 1997). All subsequent quotations are from this same edition.
 Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz and Gayle Greene and Carol Thomas Neely, The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1983) p.6
 Neely, Carol Thomas, ‘Women and Men in Othello: “What should such a fool/Do with so good a woman?” in The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, p.215
 Claiborne Park, Clara, ‘As We Like It: How a Girl can be Smart and Still Popular’, in The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, p.107
 Claiborne Park, p.108
 Richardson, p.341
 Richardson, p.339
 Lenz, Greene and Neely, p.5
Aren't i smart?! I promise the fashion, man-boobs and film-geekery will be back very soon.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
If you’re expecting a review slating this film you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This film is far from high art or great film making, but it isn’t trying to be. The filmmakers know they’re making a film for horny teenage girls and their equally horny mothers, and they deliver exactly that. This isn’t deep or meaningful, it has no message or moral, but it’s fun, silly, and annoyingly engrossing.
However hard you might be trying to avoid it, you probably know the story. Bella Swan (Stewart) is madly in love with vampire Edward (Pattinson), but he dumps her for her own safety. She becomes severely, pathetically and a little comically depressed until she gets back in touch with Jacob (Lautner), her super hot friend who happens to be a werewolf. It’s hardly Shakespeare.
The film sticks faithfully to the book, adopting its strange pacing (the climax takes place in about 10 minutes right at the end of the film, after an hour and 40 minutes of build up), but sucking out most of the intentional humour. Most of the laughter comes from the copious amount of bare male chests in gratuitous slow motion. Not that I’m against buff men wandering around topless, but after 2 hours all those nipples start to detract from the action. And then there’s the creepy aspect of it. If it makes you more comfortable, try to forget that Jacob Black is supposed to be 16, so every time you let out an involuntary moan at his spectacular chest you could potentially be put on some sort of register. Edward is supposed to be 17, so you’re not allowed any of that either, sorry to disappoint.
There are some nice shots, but all in all the cinematography is un-dynamic, and the same goes for the soundtrack. The film is not supposed to rattle any cages, it’s for the fans, and it knows what the fans want. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, it takes time to cover every aspect of the book, but does so without losing momentum. If you hate the books, it stands to reason that you’ll dislike the film, but if you are a Cullen fan then you won’t be disappointed. If you’re ambivalent then you could do worse than spending a rainy afternoon staring at R-Pattz man-boobs, who knows, you might even enjoy it.
Monday, 23 November 2009
The first thing that strikes you about Humpday is how homemade it feels. The aesthetics, the dialogue, the acting, all of it, make it feel like a movie you and your friends could have made, only a hundred times funnier, more tender and quite simply better than you could ever hope to achieve. From the first shot you feel for the characters. Each of them are written and acted with such subtle perfection that it feels like you're watching some kind of absurdly funny docu-drama.
The basic story follows two college friends who have grown up and taken very different paths, one settling down with a wife and prospective children, and one travelling the world trying to be an artist. Over the course of a drunken night they decide to enter "humpfest", and amateur porn festival, with a film pushing the boundaries of art, namely two straight men having sex.
The premise might sound like a Will Ferrell vehicle, but stick it out. The natural-ness of the actors and the low-key beauty of the cinematography make this one of the most human films i've seen in a long time, as well as one of the funniest.