Author Archives: cburkhar

The Patriarchy and Same-sex Relations of 17th Century England

Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night  provides us with an interesting outlier concerning the thought processes of those who wished to promote the traditional patriarchy, where the male is the head of the household and all reproductive rights are granted to him, of the time.  The play incorporates cross dressing in the form of Viola impersonating a man by the name of Cesario.  Cesario then becomes involved in a love triangle with the fair maiden Olivia and the Duke Orsino.  Olivia falls in love with Cesario (Viola) while she falls for the Duke who is in love with Olivia.  This provides a type of confusion to the cut and dry heterosexual relationship of the times and somewhat serves to introduce the concept of gender.

Although many theater companies began employing women to play female roles by the 16th century, English companies did not.  This served to reinforce the patriarchy by denying women employment within the theater industry. (Zarrilli, 228)  However, I feel like this choice was a very large contradiction to the country’s aversion to same sex relations.  Men playing female roles would have lead to the portrayal of romantic relationships in theater between two persons who were actually men at a time when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment or death.  Historians say that one possibility would be the fear of female sexuality, although it is somewhat discredited in that the rest of Europe was certainly not more enlightened to this subject at the time.  (Zarrilli 229)

The most likely reason for the continuance of this tradition was that it was familiar to the audiences.  However, it has been argued that artists like William Shakespeare took advantage of the familiarity to explore more outlandish or forbidden topics such as homoeroticism and same-sex attraction. The Twelfth Night is an excellent example as, although the play ends with two traditional marriages (Olivia to Sebastian and Duke Orsino to Viola) to satisfy the common sentiment of the time, the suggested homoerotic relationships established between Viola and Olivia and Duke Orsino and Cesario are simply glossed over. (Zarrilli, 232)  This leaves us to wonder at the state of the relationships, as Olivia was attracted to Viola in the form of the man, while Orsino takes Viola for his wife with the clear image of her as Cesario, even referring to Viola as Cesario before declaring that she shall be his queen. (Anthology, 533)

For further questions, I would be interested to learn more about other plays that also exhibit relationships without the realm of heterosexuality.  Also, I feel that it would be interesting to examine the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian, as Zarrilli also alludes to there being sexual suggestion in their relationship.  Finally, I am wondering if the rest of the class views Shakespeare’s actions deliberate in depicting same-sex relationships as such or if the sole purpose was to divine comedy from the mix up at the end of the play.

Topic 4: Godot and existentialism

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a play that is somewhat rooted in the absurd, but offers us an array of possible interpretations.  In the play, two characters, Estrogan and Vladimir spend two full days waiting for the namesake character of Mr. Godot.  While they wait, they are happened upon twice by the characters of Pozzo and his slave Lucky, as well as a young boy.  The play was composed in 1953 and first performed in 1955, right about at the time when the philosophical concepts of existentialism were gaining popularity following World War 2.

One of the holding theories of existentialism is that there is no objective or universal value in life, and that the individual must derive their own meaning from essentially “living” towards a goal or for a value which is only of relative importance.  Every character in Beckett’s play has their own goal which they are living towards in the play.  For Estrogan and Vladimir, they find their purpose in waiting for the character of Godot who never seems to arrive.  Throughout the play, they lament that as soon as Godot comes, everything will be alright, however, it is the waiting that gives their lives meaning.  They could just as easily leave as “Go-go” consistently points out, but every time, “Didi” will point out that they need to wait in the ritualistic dialogue of:
E:”Let’s go.”
V: “We can’t.”
V: “We’re waiting.”
E: “For who?”
V: “Godot!”
E: “Ah, yes!”
The play causes us to believe that this cycle has been going on for an indefinite amount of time as only Vladimir can seem to remember what has happened in days previous, and even so, his recollections seem fuzzy.

The character of Pozzo places his value in his slave Lucky.  Although when Pozzo is introduced he is intending to sell Lucky at the market, we find out that in fact Lucky and Pozzo are complimentary beings of a sort.  We find that Lucky had quite the intellect and was well versed in philosophical thought, dance, and recitation and taught Pozzo.  However, over time his mind had devolved to the commands of think, recite, and dance, all of which are incoherent and almost disgusting to Pozzo to watch, as the example of Lucky’s speech shows, with Pozzo silencing the slave by getting Estrogan to remove his hat.  The boy of the play is forever tasked with the deliverance of the message to the two men from Godot.

Because all of the characters have assigned these goals or values to their lives, we see that none of them are willing to part with them.  Estragon and Vladimir will wait day after day for Godot, Pozzo will make the trek to the market daily to sell Lucky, and the boy will deliver the message from Godot at the end of the evening.  The closest that any character comes is Go-go’s comment that they could hang themselves from the tree.  However, it seems that this too could simply be a part of the daily cycle, as we as spectators are left to speculate as to the length of time they have repeated this same day.  This is where the existentialism comes full circle as the school of thought suggests that humans are blocked by some mental or philosophical conundrum from finding the true meaning of the universe.  Go-go and Didi are mentally restricted by the possibility of Godot’s arrival and Pozzo is restricted by his philosophical ties to the relationship he shares with Lucky.

For discussion:

In what ways do we as humans manufacture these goals or values for ourselves?  In what ways do Estrogan and Vladimir turn this process of waiting into a life?  What role does ritual play in Waiting for Godot?