As part of the call for 2 minutes performance video on the theme The Plague & The Bard. Here is a performance & text by Dr. Janardan Ghosh.
A Shredded Note on the 2 Minutes Shakespeare: Lust, Langer & Lucrece
Popularly, the long Shakespearean poem, The Rape of Lucrece, claims to be a tale of shifting of the state government of Rome from the Kings to the Consuls. A woman’s body becomes the battling field for the men to generate a mass revolution against monarchy. The phallus becomes the reason, the penetration an act of violence creates an uprising amongst the commoners. Sextus Turquinius, the son of the hated King Lucius Turquinius, inflamed by the beauty of Collatinus’wife, Lucrece, surreptitiously steals into her chamber and violently ravished her. She soon called for her father and her husband and while narrating the lamentable plight stabbed herself. Her body was used as a hoisted flag of rebellion against the hated Turquins by the other noble men and soon Sextus was exiled along with his entire family. The King was replaced by a group of consuls to rule the state of Rome.
It was not Collatinus alone who had flaunted about his chaste wife, Lucrece, in the army camp, but the entire Shakespearean poetic luxury had glorified her chastity and had lamented the violence against ‘this true wife’. However, we see that despite her iconic status of an exemplary chaste wife there are many who do not agree to acknowledge her innocence (Roberts 102). From the beginning of its (the poem) creation Lucrece had been a source of controversy. While some considered her to be the ideal model of female virtue, the others found her to be a coward woman, committing suicide to hide something despicable.
“It was Augustine who started the controversy around Lucrece. In The City of God, he raised two central problems in the legend of Lucrece: Lucrece’s submission to rape and her act of suicide. Augustine argued that by committing suicide Lucrice unwittingly acknowledged her complicity in the rape; ‘if it were no unchasteness in Lucrece to suffer thee rape unwillingly, it was no justice in her being chaste to make herself willingly’. There is no way ‘out of this argument,’ Augustine concludes, ‘If she be an adulteress, why is she being commended? If she be chaste, why did she kill herself?’ Augustine speculates that the only explanation for Lucrece’s suicide was her sexual guilt; ‘privy to her own sin’ of ‘lustful consent’ to adultery. Lucrece died not innocent [but] only discovered the infirmity of her own shame” (Roberts 105).
Augustine’s denunciation gave rise to a fierce debate in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Later, we find feminist critics raising the issue of ‘oppressive dynamics of patriarchy’ in Lucrece. They argue that the concerns about house-wifery, modesty, marital fidelity and chastity are accentuated from a prejudiced patriarchal point of view.
I find the piece vulnerable and susceptible to many interpretations. Lust, Langer & Lucrece is a short exploration of the story that emerges out of a critical journey through the original Shakespearean text and a scholarly note by Sasha Roberts, Lecturer, University of Kent. The lines are a few from the poem, The Rape of Lucrece and the rest my construal based on Ms. Robert’s notes. The knife is the metaphorical phallus and the symbol of power. The earth is the vulnerable body. The digging is the penetration. The performer is the idiot.
A political uprising flagged upon a female body is unnoticed by the idiot who reacts only to preserve the Christian law that allows no one to be their own executioner. A possibility of a political change ignored by the common man due to religious fanaticism is a possible metaphor—and therefore, the ‘Performance’!
Augustine, The City of God, Book I, Ch. 18. Ernest Barker, London. 1957.
N. N (trans.)Jacques Du Bosc. The Compleat Woman. 1639
Roberts, Sasha. Reading Shakespeare’s Poems in Early Modern England. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. 2003.
Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets and Narrative Poems. Digireads.com Publishing, 2009.