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September 14, 2012 / Vandita

Women, Racism and Queer Male Androgyny in Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra and Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare’s age was a cataclysm of religion, gender refashioning, and one in which camouflage, in the public and private sphere was inevitable to survival. Shakespeare’s father was in the suspect and dubious profession of money lending, doubly crossed since they were Catholics in a largely Protestant Elizabethan England. Without a trace of doubt, to remain in the Queen’s favour, Shakespeare consistently uses extremely sophisticated double talk and ambiguities in character exposition. Three plays by Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Merchant of Venice and Hamlet recover the incongruities that have apparently gone undetected in critical parlance.

Hamlet, per se, satires Queen Elizabeth’s seemingly catholic regime where massacre and regicide was the norm. As such, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude microscopes the pathos of contemporary Britain, prostituting its religo-socio identity in order to survive under the monograph, Great Britain. Claudius provides Shakespeare a brilliant razor-sharp smoke screen to critique Queen Elizabeth, while senior Hamlet becomes the playwright’s trajectory to study the ineffectuaility of the gory, ambitious Queen Mary. Young Hamlet is Shakespeare’s vision of an emaciated England that would be the stillborn child of a complacent and passive England under the aegis of parochial monarchs.

A similar gender deconstruct becomes the intellectual playground of Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra at the “scarcely bearded” Caesar’s mercy is a powerful portraiture of the benevolent monarch, Elizabeth’s despotic subtlety in bringing her political neighbours and rivals to heel: Cleopatra is the proverbial Mary Magdalene who would have been better off committing suicide, condemned by all sects of Christianity, than submitting to the Queen. Antony’s ineffectual, though romantic, bravado is the bard’s lyre singing the sorrowful pliant against Britain’s courtiers like Lord Arran and his band of co-conspirators who became Elizabeth’s pawns in her politia.

Renaissance was an era that broke down boundaries to discover new horizons in every sphere – intellectual, social, political, economic and sexual. Merchant of Venice explores the myth of woman’s domesticity, male superiority and euro-centricism. “All that glitters is not gold” is the cornerstone of Elizabethan ethics where the fissure between appearances and reality is pronounced. The Prince of Morocco in the play takes us back in history to the poignant Edward the Sixth who was rejected by Queen Elizabeth, but only after she had sent him her photograph. The French noble, who comes to woo Portia, with his doublets undone is a humorous portrait of Lord Eisenhower. Last but not the least, Portia in a verbal debacle with Shylock is William Shakespeare’s homage and salutation to the brilliant woman monarch, Elizabeth who in 1589 had penned the un-impeachable verse

Never think you fortune can bear the sway

               Where virtue’s force can cause her to obey.


One Comment

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  1. Vandita / Sep 17 2012 4:24 am

    Thank you, Lesley 🙂

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