Paris: Younger than she are happy mothers made
Capulet: And too soon marred are those so early made
So the theme this year is Shakespearean. We got that before we got the four ingredient words so I immediately began thinking. I’d just recently seen Julie Taymor’s Titus, as preparation for watching her take on The Tempest, and it had put me in mind of a discussion I’d recently had about Ophelia with a female actress. Hamlet’s Ophelia is not much of a character; she exists primarily to suffer and die. She’s an example of how messed up everyone else is. This is not an uncommon theme in Shakespeare. Outside comedies, and even in them, women exist as macguffins, not people. This is made hideously clear in Titus where poor Livinia is raped and mutilated with incredibly stark brutality, and this is done just because Tamora is angry wtih Titus. Livinia’s torture is just to make a point against someone else, because all Livinia is is a symbol of her father.
Meanwhile in the Tempest, poor Miranda is supposed to do nothing but mind her father in his exile, until of course the first handsome man appears, and she ends up ruining her father’s vendetta by falling in love with an associate of his enemy. Which is also what Juliet does, to her own destruction. Going the other way doesn’t help much – Ophelia chooses her father’s will to reject her love for Hamlet and goes mad; Cordelia refuses to play by her father King Lear’s rules and is equally destroyed. Torn between what their fathers demands and their love for their husbands, they are mutilated, maddened, marred and murdered. Alternatively, they might get very lucky and get married instead – although sometimes their husbands mar them as well, like jealous Othello or jealous Lucuis in Much Ado.
Sure, if you’re very lucky you can be Beatrice or Katherine – a shrew, to eventually be tamed by a husband, and until then, a burden to her father.
Boy does it suck to be a Shakespearean female. And I think Shakespeare is kind of aware of this; his women always suffer because men are jerks who treat women like property at best, as trophies, or pawns, or burdens, or just meat. And he gives back when he can – in Merry Wives of Windsor, the cuckolding Falstaff is beaten with sticks, humiliated and fooled at each turn. But outside a few exceptions – like Merry Wives – he can’t really escape using his female characters are set dressing and motifs. His men do things, his women have things done to them. And again, to be fair, that was his world.
Thinking all this, I wonder if our Game Chef host has not also been reading or watching the Tempest, because our ingredients turn out to be:
Prospero is in exile, partly because of his enemies but also because he wants revenge, not reconciliation. He inflicts this on Miranda – keeping her in nature – to keep her away from men like the Duke. Of course, it is wandering in nature that she finds her man, as indeed do most Shakespearean heroes and heroines. Of course, it is also nature that drowns Ophelia and helps mutilate Livinia – her hands cut off, her torturers replace them with sticks. Nature is Shakespeare’s code for “anything can happen” and “passions run wild”. Fairies play tricks on you, Titanias will fall for Bottoms, Lysander and whatsisname will switch their affections, Miranda will meet her Duke without knowing he is her enemy. Away from their fathers back in civilisation, ladies can at least fall in love (which is, biblically speaking, the only way they can redeem their wickedness).
Any game about Shakespeare, nature and daughters leads me to this place – girls who flee their fathers, only to end up in love – at best – or horrifically destroyed if they fail to flee far enough or love the right man. I’m sure people might accuse me of being some kind of feminist thug but that isn’t a great choice.
And I’d like to explore that in an RPG, I suppose. About being torn between Duty and Love but also the idea that neither is a real choice, that your fate belongs to someone else no matter what. Although the question is, do I except the tenet, and make the RPG expose how horrible it is, thus making an RPG wherein the protagonists are powerless, ie the least fun idea ever? Or do I break Shakespearean canon and tell stories about daughters in exile who have, through some new miracle found a way to choose their own fates?