Shakespeare and his women

Shakespeare It’s a pity Shakespeare (1564-1616) is no longer compulsory reading in Singapore schools. So many girls here have the perfect figure to play the boy-girl roles of Shakespeare’s comedies. No offence meant. It’s just that Shakespeare is taken so seriously it throws people off. Lighten up, please, Shakespeare wrote for entertainment. One may ask where’s the fun in King Lear or Hamlet. Well, for now, I will confine myself to the comedies only.

The choice may seem curious, particularly on this day which may or may not be his birthday but is certainly his death anniversary. But we all have our favourites and I prefer the comedies.

I just commented on the figures of the heroines of Shakespeare’s comedies. Obviously they couldn’t be DD cups if they had to pass themselves off as young men, which they did so well that other women fell in love with them. Much of the fun in Shakespeare’s comedies comes from the sexual confusion of the characters in the plays. In Twelfth Night, Orsino woos Olivia, who falls in love with Viola, who is in love with Orsino. No, Olivia isn’t a lesbian, she sees Viola dressed as the youth, Cesario. Now there’s no way Viola could have passed off as a youth if she had DD cups. Rosalind, in As You Like It, couldn’t have had an hourglass figure either — or she wouldn’t have been able to dress up as the young man, Ganymede. Not even her father, the Duke, nor her lover, Orlando, can recognise her.

One wonders about the men in Shakespeare’s comedies. They are silly putty in the women’s hands! Excluding Prospero the magician in The Tempest, of course. That’s why I love the comedies. They get the sex thing so right! I know, being a married man myself. Not that my wife could have ever passed herself off as a young man. Thank goodness, I wouldn’t have liked being fooled like Orlando!

But my wife has the same high spirits and vivacity as Rosalind. That’s what’s so attractive about the heroines of Shakespeare’s comedies — their wit and vivacity and high spirits. I think that’s what Shakespeare prized most about women. He couldn’t have been one of those gentlemen who prefer blondes. The Dark Lady of his sonnets had to be a brunette. She could have even been black, according to the writer William Boyd. Shakespeare, of course, expressed mixed feelings about the Dark Lady. But the exotic appealed to him. Otherwise how could his most celebrated heroine be the Egyptian Cleopatra? He was alive to sexual attractions across colour lines and their tensions too, or he wouldn’t have written Othello. But I am straying from the comedies.

My wife prefers the tragedies. After all, she teaches Shakespeare in her college in Calcutta (Kolkata). But I prefer the high jinks of the comedies. And the fun doesn’t stop at cross-dressing. There are other complications too. Think of the shenanigans in the wood near Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Act II, Scene 2 and Act III, Scenes 1 and 2.

Shakespeare can be bawdy but not lascivious. I haven’t read Venus and Adonis and his Poems so I don’t really know, but I don’t think he wrote anything as explicit as some of the passages in Spenser’s Faerie Queene. 

My Shakespeare is far from perfect but I am grateful we had to do Shakespeare in school in India. So did my son for his Indian School Certificate examination before going to college in America last year. He and I both read Julius Caesar but he also had to read The Tempest.

By the way, yesterday was Lenin’s birthday.