Feminism

There are two very different associations with the word feminism. Both versions come from reality. One is the idea of equality; women receive equal pay for equal work, receive promotions based on ability on an equal playing field, and have all the same rights as men. The other interpretation of feminism is women trying to take power from men.

When I first understood this distinction, I was surprised. It had never really occurred to me, but after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that a lot of the press that feminism gets is about ‘women power’ and ‘women first.’ There is also the connection that people make with Matriarchal societies.

The original meaning of the word comes from a time when women’s status came from their attachment to men, first as a daughter, then as a wife and mother. All the women at that time were asking is equality; the ability to vote, buy land, and be able to make a living without a man. We have made a lot of progress since then, but there is still work to be done.

Today the meaning of the word has really been hijacked. When people think that people are trying to take power from them, of course there will be resistance. This idea is really damaging to the cause. In many ways, women do have the equality we have striven for. As we move about in society, for the most part women can do everything that men can do. The inequality is really more hidden now than it was. This means that it is easier to believe that the power struggle is the point.

I believe that equality is still the goal of those in the movement. Any gender-based power system is damaging. I encourage everyone to educate themselves to find out what issues are still being combated. I also have to acknowledge that there may actually be some people who are interested in taking power, but please do not let them ruin the battle for everyone else. We cannot afford to be taken back, and we do not want to push too far.

As a side note, all of these issues can also apply to other equality battles like racism and LGBTQ rights.

We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.

RACE, GENDER & SHAKESPEARE IN FILM – INTRODUCTION

Of all English writers, William Shakespeare is probably the most famous. His plays are read by people all over the world and have been used in classrooms for many years. His plays have been produced so many times it is impossible to know how many. There are festivals and companies dedicated to the bard, no other artist has had as much energy spent on his works, by so many different types of people. Historians, writers, artists, theaters, all know and use his work in their own. Most people know his name, if not quotes and plays. The Internet Movie Database shows over 800 films based on Shakespeare’s plays, over ten of which are currently in production. This includes films using the original script, the story, or even just the characters. Film adaptations of Shakespeare range from edgy, small time private pictures to big time blockbusters. They are set in many periods; some productions claim to be as Shakespeare would have wanted them, others are set in modern times. There are such strange titles as ‘Romeo and Juliet vs The Living Dead’, ‘Macbeth; the Comedy’ and ‘The Lion King’. Because the nature of film production necessarily aims at the largest audience, they inherently follow popular trends, and are therefore a great way to understand society and how it changes.

With such a vast wealth of productions to choose from it is necessary to limit the scope of any research on Shakespeare’s works. For this reason I have chosen four plays through which to view some of the immense changes of the last century: Othello, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, and Macbeth. These plays are among the more popular of those written by Shakespeare, and as a result appear in a number of different film versions. These four stories have faced much debate because of the way that they portray central characters who are in groups that have been oppressed socially and politically. This makes films of these plays a great way to view societal change. The issues have become more or less prevalent through time, and so this study is interested in finding out how the portrayal has changed.

Because it is not possible to go back in time to watch the plays as they have been produced on stage, this paper uses films instead. While theatrical performances can and have been documented, film is a more pure source because it is possible to view the production as intended firsthand. The main drawback of using film as a basis is its relatively short history, but the twentieth century has seen many changes, including monumental ones for people considered by Shakespeare’s contemporaries to be ‘other’ and ‘lower’. The civil rights movement of the 1960s has changed how women and minorities are seen and WWII has re-shaped how people relate to Jews. In fact it is during this modern time frame that the most monumental changes have been made for these groups. Because producers must make money from a production, they necessarily try to appeal to the largest audience. This means that productions take great pains to reflect contemporary values and points of view, so film is actually in ideal way to study this evolution.

Even distinguishing film from stage is confusing, as many stage productions have been filmed. Even rarer, some productions, like the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1994 Midsummer Night’s Dream, were originally produced for the stage, and later re-imagined as a film documenting the stage production. They were not originally conceived as a film, and as such we are not viewing the director’s complete stage picture, but the film director chooses the focus of our attention. On stage there can be many things going on, all of which have been thought through and given attention. As an audience member, it is possible to decide for oneself what to watch, but as we are looking through the eyes of a camera in a filmed production this is not possible. The production is filtered through another set of eyes. Since direct access to the director’s original intent is a reason to use films over plays I have tried to avoid these ambiguous productions in which a theater director’s choices are compromised by film techniques.

In film production, unlike stage, the script is taken over completely by the producers, who can do what they want to it. Editors are trained to cut and paste pieces for dramatic effect. While many producers respect Shakespeare’s language more than most screenwriters, others freely adapt his characters, language and story. Different periods will cut out what they do not approve of, and may add things to bridge the gaps. These cuts and alterations can convey a lot about contemporary attitudes and are one of the ways this paper will seek to understand societal changes. In addition to films using the bard’s language, this paper also seeks to use retellings. These take the story and put it into a new context. Each of these types of films have their own methods of conveying society’s standards.

For each of these four plays in this study, I tried to use at least one film from before and after the civil rights movements, at least one set in the time that Shakespeare set the story, one where the time has been changed. I have also attempted to use one film that is very accurate to the script and are telling. I have tried to use a big budget and a small time film for each. These categories can overlap, with one film filling a few of my guidelines. Availability has also played a large role in my selection of films–part of the reason that I chose to use film is the large audience that they can reach. If a film is not easily accessible it does not fit that qualification. While films of Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, and Macbeth are numerous, for The Merchant of Venice I was unable to find neither an adaptation nor an early film, but I have nevertheless drawn upon the filmed sources as this play is an important means of examining attitudes to gender and to race.

This paper will explore cinematic portrayals of Shakespearean characters who were, by virtue of their gender, religion, or ethnicity, offered limited roles–theatrically, socially, and politically. To trace the progress of ethnic minorities, I will look at presentations of Shakespeare’s “Moors,” primarily with reference to Othello, but also giving consideration to Morocco in The Merchant of Venice. The latter text offers opportunities to consider the portrayal and position of religious minorities in the figures of the Jewish characters Shylock and Jessica, as well as strong women in the figures of Jessica and Portia. I will continue my explorations of gender roles by looking at portrayals of Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew and Lady Macbeth. In tracing the portrayals of these characters in twentieth century films, I hope to demonstrate that Shakespearean film can be used to view social and political change.

CHAPTER 9 (WIP) – ANCHORS

Jessica found herself sitting in a classroom. Surrounding her were people cheerfully discussing their class project. It did not take her long to notice that there were young kids in the class with adults, seniors mentoring teens, while the teens helped the grownups with the technology.

Suddenly Jessica heard a voice from behind. “Haven’t seen you around lately.” Jessica peered around to find the source of the voice. “How have you been doing?”

Jessica finally noticed a gentleman sitting nearby her looking at her in anticipation. She suddenly felt uneasy. “I am doing alright, I guess.”

“What are you doing for your project?”

Jessica forgot where she was for a moment. “Project? Oh, uh, right the, uh….project…” She trailed off.

“You seem a bit lost, are you sure you are alright?”

Jessica looked around to get her bearings. She knew she recognized the man but could not place him, she tried to figure out what she was supposed to be doing, or rather, have done already. For a few moments it felt like Jessica lost herself. She had trouble focusing on any one thing as she tried to remember where she was and what brought her here.

Faces flashed in front of her and a voice – “Are you alright?”

She saw the classroom again and realized that the room was geared towards teaching history.

Again the faces flashed before her – “Do you know your name?”

Jessica tried desperately to hold on to the classroom, since it was the only thing that made any sense at that moment as she found her bearings enough to mutter “Jessica.” The name came out of her mouth as a reflex, but it did not feel like it belonged to her.

But the classroom was slipping away and Jessica slowly realized that she was in the hospital and all the terrible memories came flooding back.

“Hi there Jessica. Do you know where you are?”

“Hospital, -Who?” She managed to get out through her confusion.

“I am so sorry, my name is Rodney.” For the first time Jessica had a specific person to focus on and things began to clear up. “Do you remember anything?”

“There was a robber, he had a gun…” Jessica trailed off for a moment as the rest sunk in. “How is Kenzie?”

“She is doing well, but you need to focus on you right now though. You have been through a lot, and I am afraid that these guys won’t help, but they are insistent.” Rodney waved to the nurses. Soon two men in cheap suits entered the room.

“Hi there, I hope you are feeling all right, I am Detective Haskell and this is my partner Barnes. We just had a few questions about the other night.”

“How long has it been?”

“You have been out for about 24 hours now.”

“Shit.” Muttered Jessica as she slid deeper into the bed.

Barnes turned to the doctor, “Can we have the room please?”

Rodney looked at Jessica and said, “Please try not to upset her.” before he reluctantly followed the nurse out of the room.

Jessica felt that her anchor had been taken away, and tried not to panic. She sat up a bit and tried to re-arrange the pillows.

Haskell continued, “I know you have had a traumatic experience, but anything you can tell us will help to put this guy away.”

“Can’t you just look at the footage from the desk?” asked Jessica, who just wanted to hide.

“We would, but cameras have not been working for a few months according to the owner.”

“Well I lost a dollar for nothing.” muttered Jessica.

Barnes looked at Haskell and shrugged.

“The drawer is always off. One day I added a dollar from my purse. The next day the drawer was over by a dollar. I knew that no-one would pay any attention to me adding a dollar, but taking one would be frowned upon. So I left it. Turns out I could have taken it back anyway.”

Haskell glossed over this statement, and seeing that Jessica was finally talking he got down to business. “So what did this robber look like?”

Shocked by the abruptness of his question, Jessica took a minute in answering, which clearly irritated the detectives. “Um, he was young, probably younger than me. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.”

“Hard to see ‘em going bad so young” muttered Haskell as he wrote in his notebook. “So was he black, Hispanic, Muslim…?” Haskell trailed off.

Jessica shook her head, “I don’t really remember, white I think.”

“How about that, a white kid…Who knew?” Haskell muttered to his notebook. “Do you think that you could describe him to a sketch artist?”

“I am really bad with faces. I wouldn’t be able to describe either of you even if I were looking right at you.”

“Oh well. Guess we gotta hope the other one comes out of it.” He muttered before asking Jessica, “So what can you tell me about what happened?”

“I dunno-it all happened so fast. I hit the floor as soon as I saw the gun. He wanted all the money we had. I tried to get Kenzie to safety, but she wouldn’t…She just kept talking to him. She got the money from the safe,” Jessica stopped. “–somehow… But she wasn’t giving it to him,” She started trailing off a bit, “That’s how the fight started.”

Haskell looked up from his notebook, “Fight?”

“Yeah, he grabbed for the cash that was in her hand and fell over the counter. In the scuffle the gun went off… While he grabbed the money, I dragged Kenzie to the back to take care of her. That’s when I called 911.”

“Thank you miss, if you can think of anything else, here is our card.” Barnes slid the card over on the tray next to the bed.

As soon as they left Jessica heaved a big sigh and closed her eyes.

She was back in the classroom, this time it was the students’ faces staring back at her as they stood around her as she laid on the floor. The same gentleman from before helped prop her up. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, thank you. I am fine, um—” She looked at the man questioningly.

“You don’t remember me? I am hurt. Rodney, we met at the diner.”

“Oh, right, thank you.” Then she directed a quick, “Thanks I’m good.” to the group that had gathered around her. They hesitated for a little more reassurance, but when Rodney nodded to them they backed away and filtered back to the tables. Rodney helped Jessica to sit up.

“You know if you aren’t feeling well you didn’t have to come to class today.” Rodney sat on the table next to Jessica. Jessica felt better having him nearby, like an older brother.

“But isn’t there a project due today?”

“Yeah it’s the last day, but you can just join the next week’s class to finish it out. It is much more important that you are healthy.”

“I feel much better now. But I don’t have a project to turn in.”

“I will tell you what. Let me take you home so that you can get some rest.”

“No, no, that’s not necessary.” Jessica stumbled over herself as she tried to explain all the reasons that he shouldn’t. “I couldn’t impose, –your project,– I’m fine, I don’t need help.”

“Just listen to yourself, you need to take some time for you. I can turn my project in next week too.”

Jessica got up to go alone, but Rodney got down off the desk to give her a hand. “So where do you live?” The question stopped Jessica short. She didn’t really know this guy. She didn’t want to go to his place, but she didn’t want him to know where she lived either.

“Can we just go to a park or something?”

“I think that sounds like a fantastic idea.”

Chapter 10 – Settling In

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