The Flipside of Twelfth Night: Feste

    In my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, Twelfth Night, I am drawn to Feste’s character. He brings a level of darkness to a generally cheerful play that celebrates misrule and folly. I enjoy the fact that the very figure of misrule, the fool, is not a typically comic character. Instead, he is one of the few characters that seems serious, presenting a sobering world-view amidst the revelry in Twelfth Night.

Feste’s songs that are peppered throughout the play appear to be happy and add a festive musicality to the action. However, when one looks closer at the lyrics they appear to be deeply melancholic. Feste’s final song stands out to me the most as it features the lyric “the rain it raineth every day” (5.1.379). It is interesting how in a play where everyone is acting foolish, the only licensed fool recognises everything will revert back to normality after the Twelfth Night festival, and thus after the events of the play. The rain will continue “every day”, and is a reminder of Feste’s unchanging position. Whilst other characters are in constant flux, moving forward and progressing, Feste is the only character who remains unaffected by the events of the play. He is a figure of stability and serves to remind the audience that despite the festivities in the play, normal life continues after; rain and all.

The rain, too, is a symbol of sorrow and is reflective of the darker aspects of the play. It seems that through life, even when times seem happy on the surface, there will always be hardships that follow. For example, the audience is encouraged to side with characters such as Maria, Toby, and Andrew as they trick and subsequently imprison Malvolio. However, much like the way that the lyricism of Feste’s song masks its melancholic undertones, the playfulness of the more likeable characters masks the truly deplorable way that they treat Malvolio.

His perceptive ability stems from being removed from the class structure within the play, and yet still being confined to it. He is separate from the power struggles and main events of the play, able to comment on the characters as an outsider with insider knowledge. He seems free of boundaries, and yet he is confined to servitude. Despite the illusion of freedom, one must remember that at the heart of his role he is in fact a member of the lower class that is mocked and made to perform foolishly for the entertainment of the ruling class in order to make a living.

When looking at Feste in such a way, his ending in Act 5 Scene 1 should be taken into consideration. The stage directions bid farewell to all but Feste, and he is left to sing his closing song. As mentioned before, this song, despite the happy ending, seems tinged with melancholy, repeating the two lines “With hey ho the wind and the rain” and “The rain it raineth every day”. The final line of the song breaks this repetition and states “and we’ll strive to please you every day.” It seems that Feste’s character is revealing a discontent at his social standing role of pleasing others every day, as he seems to gain no pleasure for himself, being the only character unpaired and left on stage. I suppose, at least, that it is a small reconciliation that he is awarded the freedom to express himself in ways that Malvolio cannot.

The dark undercurrents of such a cheerful play are what make it so interesting. It is enjoyable to watch but clear to me that those that do not conform to the overarching values and ideologies of the ruling class are mocked and alienated like Malvolio, or completely “other” like Feste.

 

Side note: I’ll be travelling to the USA in the next few days, so expect some travel posts coming up!

The Absent Mother in Shelley’s Frankenstein

Motherlessness is at the heart of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It drives the character’s motivations and shapes the entire plot, as well as throwing into consideration the position of women in an alternate universe where they are no longer needed.

The removal of the woman’s role when creating life is a controversial subject even to a modern reader. The comparison of the Creature’s awakening to childbirth are frequent and occur throughout. Victor’s creation of the Creature itself is described as “days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue”, and again referred to as “painful labour”; far too obvious to be coincidental. In fact, in Chapter 4 alone, the word “labour” appears six times, as a precursor to the Creature’s birth in the following chapter. Considering that Victor is the sole parent of the Creature and the one to undergo “labour” dismantles the idea of the nuclear family and subverts any traditional familial expectations, particularly in the 19th Century, of what a family should consist of.

The significance of this is that through creating life without the inclusion of a woman, the primary function and biological need for a female is dismissed. The non-sexual method of reproduction that is described in Frankenstein illustrates the problematic nature of removing females from the equation. It demonstrates a dark dystopian universe in which mothers are no longer relevant, and females no longer possess their source of natural and cultural power. Women are therefore reduced to subordinate members of society in comparison to the males in the world of Frankenstein. Unlike the professional, well-travelled men in the story, women rarely exist outside of their domestic spheres and are barely relevant in the over-arching plot. They are dismissed in a society where men have full power and control, and can even reproduce on their own.

The context of this novel, too, makes these points all the more poignant. Mary Shelley’s own mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died shortly after giving birth to her. This offers an explanation for the many allusions to absent mothers in Frankenstein, and a reason as to why the novel is so heavily focussed on the female’s role in birth and in their child’s life thereafter. Additionally, Mary Shelley herself experienced a great deal of loss in the lead-up to her creation of Frankenstein. Before the end of 1816, she had already given birth to, and lost, three children. One of these children was, rather hauntingly, called William: the name of the Creature’s first victim.

This supports the common idea that the lack of a female mother figure in Frankenstein is essentially the cause of all of the tragedy in the novel. Victor’s rejection of maternity is what creates this monstrous Creature and catalyses the death and destruction that follows. Frankenstein can be considered an exploration of birth and death, as well as highlighting the importance of the female role in society, and the impact that the lack of females, mothers in particular, would have.

 

Elinor Glyn: Defining the “it” girl

Elinor Glyn exploded onto the scene in the early 20th century following the 1907 release of her controversial novel Three Weeks. She became Hollywood royalty, coining the term “it”, the definition of which is still used to describe women today, but what exactly is “it”?

“It” is a quality that can be described as an innate sex appeal, something that draws people’s attention without even trying. In an interview in 1930, Elinor Glyn herself states that “it” comes from being “perfectly self confident”. She likens this quality to a “tiger in a zoo”, and the way in which it is “utterly indifferent”. In addition to this, Lindsey baker has written a thoroughly interesting  article  for The Guardian on what it means to be an “it” girl. In this, she details a timeline of the “it” girl and quotes the most concrete definition that Glyn has given to this term:

“To have ‘It’, the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes.   ‘It’ is a purely virile quality, belonging to a strong character”

The qualities of “it” certainly applies to the mysterious woman in Three Weeks, known simply as “The Lady”. The lack of a name allows her character to be a sort-of blank canvas, perhaps creating an archetype for the original “it” girl. Indeed, the Lady appears to possess the “strange magnetism” that Glyn describes. Even from Paul’s first sighting of her, she entices him in a way that he cannot resist; a feeling that he describes as an “absorbing interest thrilling his whole being” (p. 19).

Elinor Glyn’s comparison between “it” and the image of tigers also holds great significance in Three Weeks. The Lady is commonly associated with the motif of the tiger skin, first mentioned when Paul enters her room and notices a couch “covered with a tiger-skin” (p.37). This image of the tiger is mentioned throughout the novel no less than 33 times (a fact that I discovered through use of the Voyant tool). The last mention of the tiger is in the penultimate chapter of the novel, when Paul thinks of how The Lady “had loved tigers, and been in sympathy with them always” (p.263), cementing her connection to these animals as well as her status as the embodiment of “it”.

Glyn, too, seemed to enjoy being associated with the image of a tiger. She would often be pictured posing alongside tiger skins- an image that quickly became her trademark. Her highly-refined public persona was so iconic that it prompted a short poem satirising Three Weeks; including the linesWould you like to sin/With Elinor Glyn/ On a tiger skin?”. This poem addresses her image as a tiger-adorned “it” girl as well as the controversy stemming from the “sin” in Three Weeks.

Striving to define “it” as well as embodying the qualities she herself described, Elinor Glyn has managed to cement herself as part of Hollywood history. The term she has coined has endured through decades, and The Lady in Three Weeks remains an interesting case study as to what it takes to have “it”.

 

And for those that are interested… Further Reading:

Anonymous, “Would you like to sin with Elinor Glyn?”, Forgotten Patriot , at

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Elinor_Glyn

Baker, Lindsay, “Got It?” , The Guardian, at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2001/apr/21/weekend.lindsaybaker1

Glyn, Elinor, for British Movietone, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAoFIYulf90&feature=youtu.be