Tuesday, May 5, 2009

RE: King John - Constance

Derek writes:

Cindy ― this will be a brief paragraph, I promise. Especially because I only just finished Act I. But I want to follow up on what you noted about the GREAT female characters in the play. What’s striking to me is how, in order to be a tough woman in a Shakespearean play, you have to be an old, preferably widowed, matriarch figure. Leslie Fiedler opens The Stranger in Shakespeare with a long exploration of Shakespeare’s apparent views on sexuality and romantic love – Fiedler ends up saying, essentially, that the only kind of female character Shakespeare seems to trust is the one who operates within the virginal confines of Desdemona-like purity (though obviously, even such angelic purity is not proof against evil or slander). When femininity – or woman-hood, anyway – steps outside those boundaries, female characters become monstrous.

Examples are numerous. The weird sisters, who should be women but their beards forbid [people] to interpret that they are; Lady Macbeth, who wishes to be “unsexed”; Fielder points to Joan of Arc and Queen Margaret in Henry VI; there’s always Regan and Goneril, whose evil seems inseparable from their lustful trysts with Edmund; and in this play we have Constance and Eleanor, whose competition for official dowager status certainly undermines their more typically feminine qualities. Especially ironic, then, that Constance is clearly named for a feminine virtue.

I’m curious to see what happens in the next four acts – Constance and Eleanor seem to really direct the action of the play. In that, they remind me of Rosalind and Viola from two of the great comedies, only it feels like there’s something really sinister in the King John women that expresses itself as pure foolery or benevolence in the comedies. For obvious reasons, I guess.

My two cents, anyway,

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