I’ve written elsewhere about the Rally of Revenge – about my unease that once you abandon all faith in ‘due process‘ or ‘justice‘ (either earthly or divine); once you understand that inequality is endemic, you have nothing left to lose – if you are already losing – so keep raising the stakes until someone has to leave the game. If it’s uncomfortable, perhaps it’s also sometimes necessary, to affect change of a fundamentally broken system. You might not see the benefits yourself. Hey, if you have to leave the game, then so be it: losing can become preferable to playing along, eventually.
There are always other games, other paths, whilst we are still alive – experience has taught me that, even if Shakespeare hasn’t.
And that’s where I find myself, professionally, this weekend. Approaching change, but ready for it, and maybe, in some ways, relieved that an unhappy stasis has broken. There are always other games.
There is a third way – for revenge – I’ve not written about before. The poet George Herbert (1593-1633) suggested that:
Living well is the best revenge.
And I’ll embrace and adapt that, in a ‘standing on the shoulders of giants‘ sense.
Living well equals happiness. LAUGHTER is the best revenge.
Today, I intend to laugh at someone. Long, and hard.
Let’s get moving, shall we?
Acquaintances might make an educated guess as to who’s got on my wick this week. For everyone else, I’ll try hard to make the post useful – not simply as un-subtly vituperative as I can manage.
In a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ way, I wonder if this idea – laughter as revenge – has got anything to do with the increasing appetite for SATIRE on stage as Shakespeare’s career drew to a close? We know how Charles I‘s reign ended, a little down the line. Or indeed the way in which satire flourished under Margaret Thatcher in 1980s UK, or under Donald Trump in 2017 USA? I don’t get the sense of any appetite for satire per se under Barack Obama, but US citizens might be able to correct me. The humour seemed more vicious, less intelligent, back then? Dare I say, it was being written by Trump supporters and their ilk? Satire is, after all, an oppositional art-form. I like to think of satire as creative catharsis by intelligent people who have few other outlets – revenge by writing, when those in charge don’t know what they are doing: and I have genuinely enjoyed writing this.
It IS ‘a mote to trouble the mind’s eye‘ when I hear uninformed people proclaiming that ‘Shakespeare was …’ anything. You saw it in my first ever post here, if you have been following. Worst offence of all? That Shakespeare didn’t write the plays.
It’s not a mic-drop moment.
Every post at The Boar’s Head is a reflection not just of what’s going on in my life, but also what I’m reading – as I prepare to write another Cultural Capital article for my students, based on the Book of Genesis, I’ll get all biblical:
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
Book of Proverbs, Chapter 17, verse 28, if you’re interested. If you think Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, come back when you can stand toe-to-toe with me on it for 15 rounds, rather than throw it at me and run away before I can respond. That’s the action of an intellectual coward. So, pretty clearly, the person I most want to laugh at today is the one who tried the ‘Shakespeare didn’t write the plays’ mic-drop on me a year or two back. They are no less boorish or offensive today. Obvously, the timing doesn’t depend on that incident, but it’s a symptom of a disease: I’ve been terminally pissed-off by that person this week. But this isn’t a rant: OK, it is, but it is also supposed to be useful, or at least thoughtful. Which leads me to Shakespeare’s Sister, on three levels. Or, having just finished writing about Dante, let’s call them ‘circles’.
Circle One: Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit. Briefly, darlings of my late teens. Not just aesthetically to die for; infinitely more attractive personalities to someone viscerally mesmerised by the rebellious, by the edgy, by the intelligent and by those bordering on insanity (as the majority define it). They still are. It’s possibly in poor taste to say all that, given Fahey’s reported mental health issues, but it takes one to know one, so I’m not being judgmental. Both of them just seemed worth knowing, worth being around. The project’s name echoes the borderline madness of The Smiths song from which they apparently took their name. Fahey, when she created the brand, didn’t spell his name conventionally, and couldn’t be arsed with apostrophes, it seems: Shakespears Sister. Nowadays, my students might laugh at the irony of my gushing adulation, written by an unashamed apostrophe nazi. Or suggest I’m a hypocrite given a recent Crimes Against Shakespeare post about pretentiousness in academia. But the words and video to SS’s marvellous ‘You’re History’ are my laughter today … no really – watch it, and see the juxtaposition of high-pitched hysteria, and the lower-pitched cool, calculated, almost scary logic … there’s no point in the video where Fahey’s eyes are smiling with joy; whilst I’m laughing tonight, I’m similarly doing it in deadly earnest …
‘You should see me when you’re not around.’
And you CAN, vicariously. By looking at my exam results, and – I challenge you (talking to only one person here) – other measures like student satisfaction: practically everything. Except the fact that you don’t fancy me … you ARE history, as far as my regard for your opinion is concerned.
Circle Two: Virginia Woolf. Anyone who believes women cannot be more intelligent than men – or rates them solely by their sexual attractiveness – should be consigned to the dustbin of history, as Lenin might say (oops, back to circle one, sorry – let’s keep trying to make this useful). I can’t argue with Woolf’s argument that her hypothetical Judith Shakespeare’s life chances are inexcusably thwarted by Patriarchy – to the detriment of us all. I mean, who employs people only on their age, gender and looks, for example? (Crap. Back to circle one again. Sooooo sorry.)
But Woolf is not vituperative (unlike me, today). She refuses to condemn Shakespeare himself, I think. I agree with her. Much Ado would be insipid without Beatrice; Lady Macbeth‘s ‘will to power’ has to be viewed with some awe, I think; and tenuously channeling Fahey and Detroit again, my reading of the HVI and Richard III history plays was made infinitely more enjoyable by my frisson of excitement every time Margaret of Anjou was on stage. To say nothing of the way I fall in love with Rosalind every single time I hear or see As You Like It played – regardless of who is cast, and whether or not I can see her. Again, it’s that mixture of intelligence, independence and humour. I like this passage from Woolf very much, with my emphasis.
Professor Trevelyan is speaking no more than the truth when he remarks that Shakespeare’s women do not seem wanting in personality and character. Not being a historian, one might go even further and say that women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time—Clytemnestra, Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Phedre, Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona, the Duchess of Malfi, among the dramatists […] the names flock to mind, nor do they recall women ‘lacking in personality and character.’ Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater.
Now THAT is a Feminist text.
Circle Three: Sophie Duncan. The internet has so many downsides, yet without it I wouldn’t have chanced upon Sophie Duncan’s Shakespeare 400 lecture on Shakespeare and the Suffragettes, for the BBC. I thought it excellent. It’s 15 minutes out of your life, for Christ’s sake: listen to it!
Duncan’s as much to blame for this rambling post as anyone, because today was the first time I listened to it, and – as ever, standing on the shoulders of giants – it started me thinking!
She broadened my ideas about Shakespeare’s Sister to the Feminist movement, back in the day when it espoused principles of equality that I completely connect with (before, perhaps, empowerment became the joke it is today). Thanks, Dr. Duncan.
Here’s a quotation for you:
‘Shakespeare had created the eternal suffragette.’
Which almost brings me full circle. Duncan leads inevitably, in the mind of the Shakespeare maniac, to Lady Macbeth.
‘What’s done, cannot be undone.’ (V.i.67-68)
a) revenge, people, is the art of LAUGHING at those who wrong you. Perhaps it is the essence of SATIRE. It can, maybe should, involve reference to 80s music;
b) systemic, unchallengeable inequality eventually leads to revenge in one form or another; – unless/until the struggle turns violent, artists are key to any popular groundswell in challenging an unfair status quo; and
c) if you believe that Shakespeare hated women, you really need to engage with people like Virginia Woolf or Sophie Duncan, who can articulate why you’re wrong far, far better than I can.
I feel so much better. Thanks for listening 🙂
REFERENCES not otherwise attributed or linked
Clark, Sandra and Mason, Pamela (eds.), William Shakespeare, Macbeth (Bloomsbury Publishing: London, 2015)