This semester’s Shakespeare unit has at its focus the wonderful Antony and Cleopatra which is being presented by Bell Shakespeare later this month.And we are all off to see their production on Friday March 23rd- Yoo Hoo! Accompanying us will also be a group of around 15 students from the Clemente Program(for those experiencing multiple disadvantage) who I will be teaching this semester out at Campbelltown at the Nagle Centre. They also are being introduced to the delights of Shakespeare.
Today’s class was on a general introduction to Shakespeare and his times with a focus on his atttitude to women. From so many of Shakespeare’s plays it becomes clear that, untypical of the times, Shakespeare celebrated women’s strength of character. Women are so often in his plays more intelligent, more resourceful, essentially more human than your typical male. So in Romeo and Juliet for example (which we studied and saw last year) Juliet is the character who is head and shoulders above her half-witted boyfriend. With this in mind we explored Shakespeare’s wonderfully subversive Sonnet 130 “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” in which he dares to challenge the conventional canons of beauty by declaring that his mistress, with none of the advantages of typical beauty, is yet far more precious to him than any one else. She might have dark skin, wirey hair, smelly breath and a loud and raucous voice, but he STILL LOVES HER!!!!! Just as she is:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Please listen to this wonderful reading by Alan Rickman (thanks Louise! –
So we moved on from there to exploring Shakespeare’s representation of women in Antony and Cleopatra. Now this presents a really interesting challenge because conventionally Cleopatra has been seen as a seductive femme-fatale (or a man-eater).But is she? That is one of the questions the play poses. Has Shakespeare used this story to subvert traditional views of Cleopatra? Is she more than Philo dares to accuse her of in the opening speech of the play.
So let’s work together to discover the true or hidden meaning of Shakespeare’s view of his heroine from ancient history… more next week.