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

 

 

“What shall we ever do?” Entrapment and Alienation in TS Eliot’s The Waste Land

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
 “I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
 “With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
                         The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

   TS Eliot’s The Waste Land has become a staple in the literary canon, and encompasses the Modernist melancholy that echoes throughout many 20th-Century works. It explores many complex and varied themes, but it’s exploration of entrapment in the two stories that form “II. A Game Of Chess” feel the most poignant to me.

    Out of the two character’s stories in this section, he woman in the first half of this section is particularly interesting. She surrounds herself with luxury; ivory, jewels, and even a throne. However, Eliot weaves in the idea that her decadent lifestyle masks her true emptiness. Her “synthetic perfumes” “drowned the sense in odour”; the artificial nature of the products she surrounds herself with are drowning her in superficiality- they replace real human connection and emphasise her emotional estrangement from her from her husband.

The woman and her husband are trapped in an unending routine. As the woman attempts to connect with her husband, pestering him with a series of questions to which he gives answers of no real depth; we become increasingly aware of the maddening routine that they experience. As the title suggests, it is a game. Instead of achieving any sense of union, this married couple routinely play out this disjointed game of question and answer (or lack thereof). The husband’s refusal to acknowledge his wife’s questioning maddens her to the point where she asks “what shall we ever do?”. To this his response is simple. He lists their regimented and dull daily routine, closing it with their “waiting for a knock at the door.” This reflects the struggle to find true meaning in modern life following dehumanising events such as war. People are struggling to connect with one another and therefore they try to find other, more artificial, ways to make their existence matter. However, as seen in the opening stanza of this section, this just becomes a way of alienating people further. They, and we as a collective, wait in anticipation for someone to “knock at the door” and break the routine, bringing a change in direction.

I’m sure that if you’ve gotten this far into my post, you’ve already read this poem, but just in case you want to read it again, go to: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47311 – enjoy! 🙂 

 

The Revival of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in Trump’s America

Due to the upcoming release of The Handmaid’s Tale television show in the UK, I figured a good first post would be an analysis of the recent revival of The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of recent political events.

Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a dystopian society in which women’s rights have been stripped from them and they have been reduced to their primary reproductive functions. Now, over 30 years on, Margaret Atwood’s novel is experiencing a revival, soaring to the top of Amazon’s Bestsellers list. The most likely reason for this? Trump’s presidency.

The rise of Donald Trump to be111111come the 45th President of the United States has sparked worldwide controversy. His strictly conservative views and frequently sexist opinions have inspired a backlash from all genders that culminated in the Women’s March in January. Furthermore, consisting almost entirely of white males, the lack of diversity in Trump’s cabinet mirrors the cabinet of Ronald Reagan, who, coincidentally, was president at the time Atwood first wrote The Handmaid’s Tale.

One of Trump’s first acts of presidency was to restrict women’s reproductive rights with his anti-abortion bill. Frighteningly, this seems to mirror the issues raised in The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel concerned with reproductive rights and women’s autonomy over her own body. The dystopian future depicted in the novel may seem a far cry from Trump’s controversial anti-abortion policies, but Atwood herself claims that this is only the beginning; a “bubbling up” of ideologies that exist to oppress women. This is seen in The Handmaid’s Tale, where gender-based monetary restrictions evolve into nightmarish rituals that exist in Republic of Gilead; thus, Atwood’s own prediction of a “bubbling up” is haunting.

It seems like history is doomed to repeat itself, and, as Atwood herself states, she “did not put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done.” Her novel is based on historical violations of human rights. One example of this is the Ceausescu regime’s extreme pro-natalism and “birth promotion”. Ceausescu made pregnancy a strict policy for Romanian women. He outlawed abortion and contraception, and would have women questioned by state officials if they were unable to conceive. Sounds familiar, no?

In addition to this, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge climate change has also raised concerns. This, too, increases the topicality of The Handmaid’s Tale, as the environmental pollution is significant in the rise of the Republic of Gilead. The diseased and radioactive land due to “chemical and biological warfare stockpiles… toxic-waste disposal sites… and the uncontrolled use of chemical… sprays” (p.317) is at the root of the reproductive issues in women. The environment has had a detrimental effect on fertility, causing panic, which was then utilised by a totalitarian government to gain control; eventually leading to the classification and exploitation of women based on their fertility.

With the rise of the pro-life movement, climate change cynics, and anti-feminists that have been enabled and encouraged by Trump’s policies, it is no wonder that women are feeling anxious about their rights. The Handmaid’s Tale’s surge in readership is due to its enduring relevance. It can be viewed as a cautionary tale, prophesising a future that is possible if people like Trump prevail.

Thank you for reading an let me know what you think in the comments!

 

And for those that are interested… Further Reading:

Lozada, Carlos, “Donald Trump on Women, Sex, Marriage and Feminism”, Washington Post, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/08/05/donald-trump-on-women-sex-marriage-and-feminism/?utm_term=.cb4801faebc9

Sharman, Jon, “Margaret Atwood says rise of Trump has made The Handmaid’s Tale popular again”, Independent, at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/margaret-atwood-handmaids-tale-puritan-values-donald-trump-republican-party-abortion-a7575796.html

Atwood, Margaret, “For God and Gilead”, The Guardian, at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/mar/22/classicalmusicandopera.fiction

McGrath, Matt, “Trump’s ‘control-alt-delete’ on Climate Change Policy”, BBC, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38746608

So, here goes nothing…

I suppose the best way to begin my blog is to introduce myself. My name is Taylor and I am an English student living and studying in London, and I have decided to create a blog to hone my writing style as well as using it as a sort-of diary so that I can look back on this in the next weeks, months, or even years (!) and see how much I am changing and developing as a person and as a writer!

I’d love to be able to write a few literary- themed posts as well as any random/ interesting things that I feel warrant a blog post so I suppose this will be a bit of a mish-mash of styles and genres. I guess we’ll see what happens, right?

I doubt that anybody will ever read this but this is an entirely new experience for me so let me know how I’m doing in the comments!