Wednesday, February 20, 2013

4: Titus Andronicus - William Shakespeare

TITUS: Was it well done of rash Virginius / To slay his daughter with his own right hand/ Because she was enforced, stained and deflowered?SATURNINUS: It was, AndronicusTITUS: Your reason, mighty lord?SATURNINUS: Because the girl should not survive her shame / And by her presence still renew his sorrows.

First of all, if you are not reading the Arden version of Shakespeare, you're doing it wrong. I have read a variety of different editions of Shakespeare and this one is the best (to the point that I just ordered myself the Arden Hamlet and Othello, even though I already own multiple copies of each). Secondly, there is no way to write about this play without spoiler alerts. I myself had no concept of the plot of "Titus Andronicus" until I began reading the introductory material because it is one of Shakespeare's least popular plays. It is considered by many critics to be a truly bad piece of writing and considered by some critics to not be by Shakespeare. The violence makes it difficult and uncomfortable to stage, so we just don't see it done that often. I can't imagine ever WANTING to go see this play, but I don't think I'd ever miss an opportunity to see it if that makes any sense.

This play is hard if you have any kind feelings towards females whatsoever. I realize that there is not a Shakespeare play that focuses on one issue - his writing is complex and his plots are multi-faceted and blah blah blah I can't get over Lavinia. Lavinia, who is given away like a pig to the new emperor. Lavinia, who sees her fiance brutally murdered. Lavinia, who is raped by two men. Lavinia, whose tongue is cut out so she cannot say anything. Lavinia, whose hands are cut off so she cannot write anything. Lavinia, whose father would rather kill her than look at her. (Depending on the director, the killing scene is either because of Titus's will or because of Lavinia - the text allows it to go either way). 

I read the play over two nights and proceeded to have a nightmare about being raped and my tongue being cut out. After finishing the play I watched "Titus" (with Anthony Hopkins) for my class. A little too much raping, mutilating, cannibalizing, and killing in one weekend for me. 

I am emotionally exhausted from thinking about women, and the way their bodies are violated, and the way they violate their own bodies, and the way they violate each other's bodies. (Lavinia begs the rapists' mother to kill her rather than let her be raped. The mother denies her request). 

Why can't we leave women's bodies alone? Having recently read an article on labiaplasties (surgery, usually cosmetic but sometimes practical, to reduce the size of the labia) I started investigating the different voluntary surgeries women can have done to their genitals. Labiaplasties are rising in popularity, but so is vaginal tightening (narrowing the vaginal canal), hymenoplasty (to reconstruct the hymen - joked about very interestingly in Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel "Embroideries"), clitoroplasty (to reduce the clitoral hood or clitoris). Add this to every thing that can be done to the face, neck, breasts, bum, legs, etc, etc, etc and it just makes me tired. Why can't we leave women's bodies alone?

Although the current class I'm taking is the only class I've taken that focuses on gender, I have almost always found a way to examine it within the curriculum of my other classes. This may be why I'm very burned out on this topic right now. Below are excerpts from a memoir and a novel that I wrote papers on fairly recently which will perhaps be interesting and illuminating - and also explain why I am so. tired. of. people. messing. with. women's. bodies. (Side note: Men should also have their bodies left alone, but they don't seem to be picked apart quite as much as women in literature and life.)

From Nawal El Saadawi's memoir "A Daughter of Isis" - In 1937, at a time when I had just reached the age of six, all girls were circumcised before they started menstruating...Did she [the circumcisor/ear piercer] see in me an enemy? Was it some kind of feud between her and the female sex? Did she hate herself so much? There was a strange gleam in her eyes when she pierced the ears of a young girl, or cut into her clitoris, as though deep down she gloated over her victim, felt a mixture of joy and revenge at what she did...Since I was a child that deep wound left in my  body has never healed. But the deeper wound has been the one left in my spirit, in my soul...Four women cornered me, and pinned me down by the hands and feet...I lay in a pool of blood. After a few days the bleeding stopped, and the daya peered between my thighs and said, 'All is well. The wound has healed, thanks be to God,'...I did not know what other parts in my body there were that might need to be cut off in the same way...

From Thomas Pynchon's novel "V." - Esther Harvitz pays to get the body she was born with altered and then falls deeply in love with the man who mutilated her. Esther sees nothing wrong either...

From another section of the novel, referring to a different character - [a little girl] reached out and tugged off the hat. A long coil of white hair came loose...soon [a little boy] had pulled out an ivory comb...He removed the long white wig...Up came one of the slippers and a foot - an artificial foot..."She comes apart." ...At her navel was a star sapphire. The boy...dug in with the point of the bayonet, working for a few minutes before he was able to bring out the sapphire. Blood had begun to well in its place. Other children crowded round her head. One pried her jaws apart while another removed a set of false teeth...the children peeled back one eyelid to reveal a glass eye with the iris in the shape of a clock...

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