Part 1 — To love or not to love Shakespeare? Or, what do we do with a broken Bard, not to mention the cognitive dissonance?

I was nine years old when I first became enchanted with Shakespeare. My fourth grade class had gone on a field trip to see a neighboring school’s talent show. There were the typical amateur tap dancing and piano playing youngsters, but when a few kids in the older grades performed the first witches’ scene in Macbeth, I became hooked on the Bard.

I fell for him, loving every word in the scene without understanding much of it. I still remember the witches, dressed in billowy black rags, the cauldron they stirred with darkened wooden spoons, the fake flames whipping all around it, the fake thunder punctuating the air. It went like this:

SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.

Thunder. Enter the three Witches.

First Witch

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

Second Witch

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch

Harpier cries ’Tis time, ’tis time.

First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison’d entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf

Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,

Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Gall of goat, and slips of yew

Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,

Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,

Finger of birth-strangled babe

Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,

Make the gruel thick and slab:

Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,

For the ingredients of our cauldron.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

Here’s one of my favorite musical performances of the scene (I do love me some awesome percussion):

Dan Adams: Witches’ Cauldron Scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth

I’ve been hooked on William Shakespeare ever since I saw that talent show performance.

But it isn’t all love between Will and me.

Although the magic of his words still enthralls me, the misogyny in his work does not.

The misogyny does not.

The misogyny does not.

In fact, it infuriates me.

To my core. It inflames me.

My rage joins with the wrath of all who came before me. The fury is enormous. If the Big Bang was the emergence of the universe, then Misogyny (with a capital M) is the warped, distorted, evil, and misguided value embedded in human culture. Women have been getting Bigly Banged (yes, you read that right), Bigly Banged, every which way since . . . well, for a very long time.

This is what happens when you grow out of a childhood enchantment that wasn’t right to begin with but you were too young to know it. You flow out of childhood innocence and fascination, you discover context and real life, then you have to make tough decisions on how to deal with the cognitive dissonance. As adults, the disconnect grows more intense. It’s never really gone because the problems aren’t gone.

In reading Shakespeare, finding that perfect balance between sweet love and poppycock (a word Will himself might use here) is not so easy, at least for this feminist and lover of William’s words.

And especially as a woman myself who has been the target of misogyny all my life.

All my freakin’ life.

And I’m tired of it.

Sick and tired of it.

By the time the Renaissance came along, when most of Shakespeare’s plays were written, misogyny was well embedded in society. So there’s that, but I still can’t — and won’t — buy into it for the sake of enjoying a play. I can’t even handle willing suspension of disbelief in this situation for the sake of the Bard. Misogyny is just too big, too present, too painful. A brutal and traumatizing beast.

Sure, okay, Will wrote some feminist characters — Lady Macbeth and Queen Titania to name a couple of them off the top of my head — but for all their strength and independence, in the end the ladies came around to the male point of view, acquiescing to the guys. As all good girls should.

Pfffft!

Shakespeare was not focused on the problem, but we are. Given that . . . is it time to ditch Shakespeare altogether?

Nope, I don’t think so. The words, you see. Some of those words are magic. Some of them. Although Shakespeare’s integrity is at stake here, I can’t let go completely. Not yet anyway.

So if we don’t scrap Shakespeare, what do we do with and about all those sonnets and plays?

We must at least present them alongside a hefty analysis of toxic masculinity.

Will that make me love Shakespeare? No. It still hurts, and it most likely will for the rest of my life, even considering the many hours of therapy I’ve had and with more yet to come. Some wounds won’t heal until you remove the source of the injury, the thing doing the scraping and digging and burning. The laceration that can’t be scarred over because it’s just as fresh as the first time it was made.

That’s why I can’t say I’m an admirer of Shakespeare.

But, then, why do I love him?

The magic of his words, his sonnets and plays, still enthralls me. But why? What is it about Shakespeare’s work that’s attracted me all my life? What charms, captivates, and hypnotizes me when I read him or see one of the plays in person or on screen?

To answer this question, I started out on my own mini quest — my personal dilemma of “to love or not to love.” That is the question.

And that’s when I turned to fairy tales, for surely some of Shakespeare’s plays contain some of the elements of fairy tales.

So I decided to take a closer look at what I think (and I’m not alone here) is the Bard’s most misogynist play: The Taming of the Shrew.

I’ll talk about that in my next post — Part 2 — which will be up soon.

But in the meantime, if you’d like a refresher before we dig into Taming, here’s a summary from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, with an entertaining 3-minute video that recaps the play.

Summary of The Taming of the Shrew

If you prefer, you can also watch a 3-minute video summarizing it. The link is in the summary but why click on two links if you’re interested only in the video? Here ya go . . .

A video summary of The Taming of the Shrew

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And if you really liked it, share it and tell your friends.

And if you really, really liked it, you might want to check out my ebook, The Grapes of Dementia: My Journey of Love, Loss, Surrender, and Gratitude, available worldwide through Amazon.

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Writing mostly to heal myself from life; sharing in hopes you’ll find some of it helpful. Also books, personal development, and anything else I’m drawn to.

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Wren Wright

Wren Wright

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Writing mostly to heal myself from life; sharing in hopes you’ll find some of it helpful. Also books, personal development, and anything else I’m drawn to.