Essay on William Shakespeare

Submitted By easa1996
Words: 1687
Pages: 7

In his play Henry V, William Shakespeare wrote the character of Captain Gower as a man, an officer in the English army. In his version of the play at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., director Robert Richmond makes Gower a lusty tavern wench crushing on Captain MacMorris. He also turns the soldier Bates into a nun, but still gives her the line, "Be friends, you English fools, be friends. We have French quarrels enough." Go get 'em, sister.
But, hey, the argument goes, Shakespeare did not write enough roles for women in the modern theater, so let's re-engender some of the roles to give actresses more Shakespearean acting opportunities. That was the stated purpose of writer and director Tom Mallan in his 2011 adaptation of Shakespeare's Prince Hal cycle as The Mistorical Hystory of Henry (I)V at WSC Avant Bard in Arlington, Va. To give his actresses more meaty roles, he set his play in an Edwardian-era brothel with the prostitutes playing the historical characters in burlesque shows.

See a pattern here? To cast more women in Shakespearean roles, directors are turning male roles into sluts, whores, and nuns. That says more about male archetypal attitudes toward women than it does any Shakespearean insights. Even scarier, this is a modern take on women in Shakespeare. Modern man's take.

Any discussion about Shakespeare and gender inevitably gets wrapped up in the fact that women were not allowed to act on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages, so boys played young women when he wrote his plays. I hereby am decreeing that element of this discussion irrelevant. That women did not act in Shakespeare's time is a non-factor in the matter of giving women opportunities to act in his plays today.

The fact that women weren't allowed on his stages seems to have mattered little in how Shakespeare peopled his plays; more important was the acting abilities available to him within his companies. Many argue that, contextually, the prohibition on women may have factored into his tendency to have several of his heroines disguise themselves as boys. But was this a logistical matter or his chance to pull off a multilayered joke? After all, he only pulls this trick five times in 38 plays, and, except in Cymbeline, each boy playing a woman disguised as a boy is paired with another boy playing a woman remaining a woman throughout the play. Loves Labour's Lost aside, with its two major female roles and three midmajor women's parts, Shakespeare seems to have proportioned his roles for the ratio of men-to-boy actors in his company. Furthermore, when he wrote history plays, most of the characters were, by default, men (similarly, Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln is sparse on women's roles).

We can't suppose what Shakespeare might do today, but he was a commercial dramatist first and foremost writing for a company (one in which he held a financial share). That company featured some of his age's best acting talents, including a pair of boys who played the likes of Viola and Olivia and may have later originated the roles of Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra. Today, Shakespeare would be writing plays or screenplays knowing he had access to Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kate Winslet. It was what it was then; it is what it is now.

So let's put behind us the whole "Shakespeare didn't really write for women" posit. He wrote women. More importantly, he wrote people, and because many of the people in his plays need not be gender specific, their parts need not be dramatically altered to be played by a woman.

"I feel like no matter if you're a man or a woman, how well you love a person is the same. The love is going to be the same no matter what gender you are and who you're loving." So said Shauntai Quinlon, a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School who played Othello as Othella, a lesbian, in a class project production. Her Othella was not a prostitute or nun: she was a commanding general, physically strong and Army Strong. She, like the Moor…