Monthly Archives: August 2014

Regan & Goneril: The Bestial Daughters of Lear

By Lauryn W.
Shakespeare uses animal comparisons in King Lear to explore how Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril, “sink below the level of beasts” in their actions toward their father (Taylor 532-533). Lear breaks the law of primogeniture when he divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, who claim to love him most. As a result, Regan and Goneril are able to function beyond the laws of coverture, performing injustices upon their father.
After Goneril, Lear’s eldest daughter, denies her father of his wishes, Lear compares her to a creature of prey, hoping to receive more compassion from her younger sister: “O, Regan, she hath tied Sharp-toothed unkindness like a vulture, here” as he indicates his heart (Shakespeare 2.4.134). According to Alan Dent, “the Vulture […] hates us living and loves us dead”, thus Lear’s reference to Goneril as a vulture not only serves to implicate her as bestial, but also indicates her ill feelings for Lear (149). Feelings that she allows to show only after she has married and been given her part of the kingdom.
Regan is also implicated as inhuman, though since few direct animal references are made toward her, inferences must be drawn from her actions to denote her bestial nature. In Act 3 Scene 7, as Cornwall attempts to pluck a second eye from Gloucester’s head, one of his servants interferes: “Hold your hand, my lord!” (Shakespeare 3.7.72). For this outburst of defiance against Cornwall, Regan kills the servant, stabbing him from behind with a sword. In this instance, Regan uses the element of surprise in order to commit the murder, just as a cat would in attacking its prey. However, Regan’s motives for attacking are not defensive or used as a survival tactic as an animal’s attack would be. Instead, Regan is motivated purely by her brash anger toward the situation.Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.11.47 AM
Prior to his misfortunes at the hand of Cornwall, Gloucester, like Lear, also alludes to Regan and Goneril’s animalism, foreshadowing his fate. In speaking to Regan he says, “I would not see thy cruel nails / Pluck out [Lear’s] poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister / In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (3.7.55-57). Regan’s nails are referred to as “cruel”, meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “destitute of kindness or compassion.” As both kindness and compassion are traits of humanness, calling Regan’s nails “cruel” strips her of her humanity. Gloucester’s more blatant reference to Goneril’s “boarish fangs” depicts Lear’s eldest daughter as a vicious animal unwilling to be merciful toward anyone, even her own family. This passage denotes both sisters, as Taylor states, “are the diabolically evil beasts of Shakespeare” (533).
Shakespeare’s King Lear is driven greatly by the idea of bestial man, particularly when the actions of Lear’s two elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, are called into question. Both daughters turn their father away, denying him the rights a former king and father are entitled to. Regan and Goneril’s denial of Lear goes against the laws of primogeniture and coverture, as both women were given halves of their father’s kingdom and took majority control. As each one of Lear’s requests are denied by his fiendish daughters, his patriarchal position depletes, and he too is stripped of his humanness as he descends into madness.
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Lauryn. is currently a senior at Ball State University in Indiana, majoring in Creative Writing and double minoring in Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies.
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Image: Earlom, Richard. King Lear, act I, scene I. 1792. Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection.Folger Shakespeare Library. Web. 26 April 2014.
Bibliography:
“cruel, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 20 April 2014.
Dent, Alan. World of Shakespeare: Animals & Monsters. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1972. Print.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Grace Ioppolo. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2008. Print.
Taylor, George Coffin. “Shakespeare’s Use of the Idea of the Beast in Man.” Studies in Philology 42.3 (1945): 530-543. JSTOR. Web. 5 Feb 2014.

BAREFOOT GRANNIES: A Special Project to Promote Reproductive Health

By Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa (Guest Collaborator and ICOD Action Network Founder & Director)

In February 2014, our team started a journey to capture extraordinary stories about girls, women, and communities whose lives had been broken down after being forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation. Our journey took us to some of East Africa’s most remote communities where health and social services are almost entirely broken. It’s been a journey that has helped bring unique stories about these communities out to the world. It’s been a journey that has inspired us to work harder to end Female Genital Mutilation and build safer communities for girls and women.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 2.45.51 PMWe recently launched another unique model called the Barefoot Grannies to create sustainable change in communities where we work through grassroots activism.  The Barefoot Grannies is a federation of 8 grassroots organizations comprised of 219 grannies in Northeastern Uganda’s Karamoja region working to end Female Genital Mutilation and promote women’s reproductive health and girl-child education. The grannies are leading efforts to change their communities’ perspective about women’s rights and ensure equal rights all women no matter where they live.

Education is key to producing a sense of human value for oneself and for others. Through technical support, resource allocation, mentorship, leadership training, and network building, we are building this sense of value and aiding the federation into producing exceptional grassroots leaders capable of moving their communities forward. We have worked with grassroots organizations for the past 5 years and achieved amazing results, we are glad to be working with the Barefoot Grannies to build safer communities for girls and women in Northeastern Uganda.

There is much left to be done. Anyone interested in assisting our project should seek information on The Barefoot Grannies Campaign.


In this special post, Performing Humanity is working in collaboration with the ICOD Action Network to spread awareness about world-wide women’s health issues and to assist in fundraising for victims of female genital mutilation. In line with our mission to explore political, linguistic, and philosophical issues surrounding definitions of humanness, we view human rights and women’s health issues as deeply embedded in social attitudes regarding Otherness.

Thank you to ICOD representative for joining us. Readers can locate further information via CHASING THE CUT – a documentary film about Female Genital Mutilation in East Africa.


“The Rape of Lucrece”: Female Silence in the Face of Male Domination

By Colleen T.
In Renaissance society, men held a position of power over women. However, male anxieties about women gaining an independent voice in society reflected the fear that women would no longer be under male control. To prevent this, men developed ways of dehumanizing and Othering women to ensure that they remained inferior. In Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, Tarquin accomplishes this as he rapes Lucrece, dehumanizing and silencing her, ultimately showing the ways that men in Renaissance society could control female independence with dominant and animalistic behavior.
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Interestingly, as Sara Quay says in her article, “Feminist scholars have been especially interested in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ because of the extent to which Shakespeare develops Lucrece and explores the impact the rape has on her” (3). Despite Tarquin’s success in dehumanizing and raping Lucrece, she spends almost half of the poem speaking independently. In an attempt to stop Tarquin, she uses rhetoric to persuade him not to ruin his own honor or set a sinful example for future generations: “wilt thou be the school where lust shall learn? / Must he in thee read lectures of such shame? / Wilt thou be glass wherein it shall discern / Authority for sin, warrant for blame” (617-620). Strategically, she attempts to prevent the loss of her own honor by showing concern for his instead.
 
However, as Katharine Eisaman Maus’ article mentions, the poem has an “insistent concern with the relationship between sex and power” (66). The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare describes what happens when Lucrece tries to regain power and stop Tarquin from raping her: “Challenged, he tells her, drawing his sword, that if she refuses him he will kill her and a slave, making it appear he caught them in bed together, whereas if not she can keep his violation a secret” (Dobson n.pag). He threatens her reputation, using violence and domination to silence her. He then takes Lucrece’s chastity, the quality of humanness which serves as her only real social power, allowing him to dehumanize her and assert his superiority as a man.
Despite Lucrece’s opinionated, educated, rhetorical voice throughout the poem, she still allows Tarquin to silence her in many ways. Rather than blaming Tarquin for her rape, Lucrece remains silent, and instead blames many other factors. She blames Night for her rape when she says, “[v]ast sin-concealing chaos […] O hateful, vaporous, and foggy Night, / Since thou art guilty of my cureless crime” (767-772). She blames the Night’s darkness for concealing the beast within man. She also blames Opportunity and Time, saying, “O opportunity, thy guilt is great: / ‘Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason; / Thou sets the wolf where he the lamb may get; / Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season” (876-879). She implies in these lines that men are not expected to control themselves if they have the opportunity to rape a woman, as Opportunity makes it simple for the man who “plots the sin.” Worst of all, Lucrece blames herself, not for losing her own honor, but for losing her husband’s; she says to Collatine, “Yet I am guilty of thy honour’s wrack” (841). To rid her husband of this shame, Lucrece finally decides to kill herself, allowing Tarquin’s actions to permanently silence her.
Although Lucrece challenges Tarquin’s power through her rhetoric in the poem, she allows him to silence and dominate her through his animalistic, violent behavior, ultimately making this a poem reflective of male dominance and female silence the face of it.
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Colleen is a recent graduate of Ball State University with a major in literature and a minor in creative writing.
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Bibliography
Image: Faithorne, William. The fates decree, that tis a mighty wrong. 1665. Folger Shakespeare LibraryDigital Image Collection (LUNA). Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/detail/FOLGERCM1~6~6~266617~117887:The-fates-decree,-that-tis-a-mighty>
Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells. “Rape of Lucrece, The.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference, 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Maus, Katharine Eisaman. “Taking Tropes Seriously: Language and Violence in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece.” Shakespeare Quarterly 37.1 (1986): 66-82. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.
Quay, Sara E. “’Lucrece the chaste’: The Construction of Rape in Shakespeare’s ‘The Rape of Lucrece.’”Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 3-17.
Shakespeare, William. “The Rape of Lucrece.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems. Ed. Colin Burrow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 237-338. Print.

Racial Othering in Shakespeare’s “Othello”

By Allyson H.
In Othello, Shakespeare uses the titular character to explore the Othering that dark-skinned people would have faced in Elizabethan England. Through the story of Othello, Shakespeare simultaneously reinforces and tears down racial Othering. Othello himself is a man of color in a powerful position: a general in the Venetian army. Othello has control over other soldiers, and his men trust him and treat him with respect. By putting the character of Othello into a position of power, and by making him kind and respected, Shakespeare calls to mind the idea that racial Others may not be as bad as the general population believed. By the end of the play, however, Othello has been reduced back into a stereotype. He has fallen from power and is now considered a monster for having killed his wife. In an act of stereotypically violent rage, Othello is reduced back to the dark-skinned Other that Elizabethan audiences had expected to see all along. In the end, Othello has lost the respect of those around him and has been reduced to his “proper” place at the bottom of society. But, by calling those thoughts into question in the first place, Shakespeare questions the validity of stereotypes. His play brings to attention the idea that racial Others were not as inhuman as they appeared; but in an effort keep his audience in a comfortable place, he returns to the stereotypical view of those Others at the end of the play.
A person of color in a position of power was something almost unheard of in Elizabethan England, due to the way in which the general population treated those viewed as racially Other. Those who came from racial backgrounds other than English were seen as lesser than the English people, based mostly on a religious views. People’s “hostility would be encouraged by the widespread belief in the legend that blacks were descendants of Ham in the Genesis story, punished for sexual excess by their blackness” (Cowhig). Racial Others typically had religions that were unfamiliar, causing the Christian public to believe that those Others were from barbaric societies. By calling them heathens, English imposed an image of wildness and inhumanness that justified the poor the treatment of dark skinned people and linked them back to animals.
The stereotype of a violent dark-skinned Other is played up even by the men who played Othello on the stage. It must be remembered that during Elizabethan times, Othello would have been played by a white man. The audience would have been painfully aware of the fact that the actor was white. The actor would have used many techniques to show the audience that he was meant to be playing a dark-skinned Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.02.32 AMperson, one of which being “the covering of the actor’s body with black cloth, its function being to materialize the imagined black bodies of real Africans existing in the world outside” (Smith 4). The men who played the part of Othello frequently spoke of feeling that “Othello’s tremendous passion overtakes and even overwhelms the actor who plays him, and ‘swells’ or ‘surges’ out” (Marks 101).
The men who played the role of Othello fully believed in the stereotype of the angry, passionate, dark-skinned Other to the point where they themselves felt overwhelmed by those feelings while on the stage. This creates an odd juxtaposition of the actors who fully believe the stereotypes against the content of the play that implies that Shakespeare himself felt as though those stereotypes were unbiased and untrue.
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Allyson is a graduating senior at Ball State University. She is majoring in Literature, with a minor in Theatrical Studies.
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Image: Small, William. Othello, Mr. Irving and Miss Bateman performing at the Lyceum, act IV, scene 2. 1876. Folger Shakespeare Library. luna.folger.edu. Web. 28 April 2014.
Cowhig, Ruth. “Blacks in English Renaissance Drama and the Role of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’.” Shakespeare for StudentsCritical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays and Poetry. Detroit: Gale, 1992. Student Resources in Context. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
Marks, Elise. “”Othello/me”: Racial Drag and the Pleasures of Boundary-Crossing with Othello.” Comparative Drama 35.1 (2001): 101-23. Project Muse. Web.
Smith, Ian. “Othello’s Black Handkerchief.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 64.1 (2013): 1-25. Project MUSE. 26 Feb 2014. Web.

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