To Do a Shakespeare Play or Not To Do a Shakespeare Play

William Shakespeare

“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women; they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.” ~ Charlotte Brontë, Shirley

For quite some time I have had a slow burn on about misogyny. The research I’ve been doing for my second book has fueled some of my anger. My protagonist in the past is a member of the suffrage movement, and the one in the present is caught up in events much like the ones going on today. This project has made me acutely aware of how women have been misunderstood and mistreated over the centuries. If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll recognize a theme.

When I’m not writing, I’m teaching theatre classes and one of those classes offered by the college each semester is a performance class. I don’t always get students to sign up for it because we have a relatively small population at the local campus, and five other campuses spread around our large county, and beyond. With my focus so much on women’s rights, lately, I’ve been thinking about doing Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Which means I’ll have to begin right now doing a lot of recruiting because doing Shakespeare is quite a challenge.

Measure for Measure is about how a seemingly pious and upright man, Angelo, shows his true nature when given absolute power. In the play, the city of Vienna is ruled by a Duke. The laws are harsh, especially when it comes to relationships between men and women. Sexual offenses are supposed to be strictly, and harshly enforced, but the Duke, for reasons we never discover, has not done this. At the beginning of the play he decides to turn over his duties and authority to his second in command so he can take a trip to Poland, which, of course, he doesn’t do. He pretends to be a friar to observe what happens in his absence. Right away, power goes to Angelo’s head and he imprisons upstanding citizens, except for the fact that they have engaged in sex outside of marriage. The most prominent of these is Claudio, Isabella’s brother, and his betrothed, Juliet. When Isabella, who is about to take her final vows to become a nun, leaves the convent to plead for her brother’s life, Angelo is so taken with her innocence, devotion to her brother, her caring, and devout nature, that he finds himself lusting after her. It’s as if he wants to claim her pure goodness by defiling it.

To modern audiences the central problem of sex outside of marriage which drives the true theme of the play, seems inconsequential and even silly. However, during Shakespeare’s time the laws of the church were taken very seriously. Sex was, and still is, considered original sin and is reserved for married couples alone. You can see why Shakespeare may have used this as a jumping off point for the play. Love and lust are sometimes confused. And there are men who will risk their reputations to take possession of a woman they desire as if by doing so, he can absorb the qualities he admires in her.

When Isabella comes a second time to get Angelo’s answer about her brother, Angelo at first suggests, and then demands that to save her brother’s life, she must sleep with him. It’s the kind of situation women from the beginning of time have found themselves in. From Isabella’s point of view, she would be committing a mortal sin and damning her immortal soul. She’d gladly give her physical life for her brother, but does not want to give up her soul.

In a modern context, Isabella might not lose her soul, but she would lose things just as precious, her sense of self and safety, and her peace of mind. She would carry the degradation of giving into a man like Angelo with her for the rest of her life.

Fortunately the Duke is there to save both Isabella and Claudio, and expose Angelo for the fraud he is. The implication is that this was the Duke’s intention all along.

With the current attacks on women from federal, state, and local governments, as well as the ones from powerful men, this seems like the time to revive this play, or at the very least, adapt it for a modern audience. So, though I’ve been going back and forth about whether or not to direct it, writing this post has pretty much made up my mind to do it. Besides, it’s always a good idea to go back and learn something from Shakespeare.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

What We Leave Behind.

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad

“There are no victims, only volunteers.” ~ John Berger

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” ~ George Eliot, Middlemarch

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” ~ William Shakespeare

“I hear my father-in-law’s response: ‘Oho, fine, Whiggish sentiments, Adam. … He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you grasp your dying breath shall you understand your life amounted to no more than one drop in the limitless ocean!’ Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” ~ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

“All the world’s at stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” ~ William Shakespeare

It’s Monday morning as I write this and as usual my mind is a jumble of ideas all fighting for a way out of my head. Normally, my morning routine is to get my husband off to work, then meditate, write in my journal and do tai chi, or yoga before starting my writing day. This morning I had to get these ideas down before they flitted away.

Sometimes I have felt like my little life is extremely insignificant. I guess as a teacher, I have the opportunity to influence more people than most, but still I will probably never have a large range of influence. When I was younger and felt extremely inadequate, that bothered me. I wanted to be famous and adored by millions. But as I’ve grown older and learned to love myself, I have come to see that my job was to be as loving to others as possible. That’s it. That means learning to love myself so I can be authentic when I interact with others.

Since I graduated with a religious studies degree, I’ve read lots of spirituality books. Many of the authors state that we are actually made of energy. Most of us don’t even think about the energy we are sending out into the world. We think our bodies are the container that holds us, but that is not true.

In the novel series His Dark Materials of which The Golden Compass is the first, Philip Pullman uses the device of having a character’s, daemon, or soul, outside their body. Characters have conversations with their daemons, and get advice from them. I believe it’s much the same with us and our energy. Just think about it. Haven’t you noticed situations when someone entered a room and everyone stopped for a heartbeat because they felt the energy change? They may not have known, consciously that’s why they stopped talking to look, but they did. Or haven’t you come into a room where two or more people were arguing, and it was almost as if you were slapped in the face with their anger? Aren’t there people you want to be around and others you can’t stand? It’s their energy which is either compatible with yours or not and on some level you know it.

So, we’re all here on this planet playing our parts for some reason beyond our human understanding. And every single life affects many other lives down through the ages. I see this played out on shows like Who Do You Think You Are, and Finding Your Roots. Both shows use genealogy to trace the celebrity guest’s family tree. It’s amazing the emotions that are brought up when a person discovers something about their ancestors and how what their ancestor went through has influenced their outlook on life even though they knew nothing of them before the show. Time and again I saw that no one is ever completely anonymous. The lives of those in the past have tremendous influence on people and events now.

So, if everything I’ve written above is true, we each contribute to wherever humanity is headed be it awakening or destruction. Things look pretty dismal right now if you’re only looking at the mainstream media. But I don’t think the human race is on a path over the cliff. I don’t think once we’ve expanded, we can force our larger selves back into that smaller shell. One thing I say often is that we can find the good and positive things that are happening in the world if we look for them or if we choose to look at events with new eyes. Instead of looking at horrific events and seeing only evil, look for what good came out of that event.

It feels to me like the human race is learning to walk. At first we learned to roll over and only a few people tried to make the world a better place. Then we learned to crawl and people like Jesus and Buddha came along and taught us how to truly love ourselves and others. More people understood that to defend another person is to defend yourself. Now we’re learning to walk. Many more people see through the lies that oppress groups of people.

The problems we face are so overwhelming. Maybe you’re like me and you think, what can I, just one person, do to help solve them. What I decided to do was to pick just one or two problems and put my energy into solving them. I’ve chosen education and hunger. If my money and time can influence a handful of people, the ripple effect can be enormous.

A former student of mine sent me a message the other day, reminding me of just how powerful the ripple effect one person can be. He wrote, “…you have always inspired me, both for the type of teacher you were and the type of person you are. This year I will be starting at ___ as the new Freshman English teacher and I don’t think I would have found the drive or willingness to pursue it if it wasn’t for your caring heart and inspiring work ethic. Thank you.” I’m humbled by his words and find great hope in the influence he will have on his students. He is passing on the legacy I inherited from my parents, friends and teachers, which they got from their parents, friends and teachers and on back through the ages.

You have that kind of influence on the future too.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

I Refuse to be Pessimistic

“If all you do is spend time focusing on what the problem is, you leave no room open for the solution.” –Mastin Kipp

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” –Jane Goodall

Why do we do it? Why do we always go to the cynical, pessimistic place first? Some unexpected challenge happens, and we go immediately into a panic. I do it too.

Something happened this week that made me see that I do that. I didn’t like it and I declared: “I refuse to be pessimistic!” All of a sudden I’d had it up to here (hand placed above my head) with cynicism and being pessimistic about life.

It happened at my book club group. We got to talking about the younger generation. (We’re a group of Baby Boomers.) One of the women said that she didn’t understand the younger generation and the discussion turned, as it always does with the older generation, to concern about whether or not the future was in good hands.

This kind of discussion gets my ire up. I guess it’s because I’ve been a teacher in one form and another for thirty-five years. I’ve taught high school and college classes for fifteen years, and every year, I’m excited by how bright and thoughtful my students are. So, I spoke up and said that I have faith in the younger generation and then I declared, “I refuse to be pessimistic about the young people today! I refuse to be pessimistic about anything!” This caused the other women to pause.

Later, I thought about it and I’ve decided that a better way to say it is, “I’m determined to be positive.”

My generation went through a lot of horrible stuff. We got shell shocked, so letting go of cynicism might be hard. We suffered through assassinations, multiple wars, a loss of innocence about government, and the turmoil around the Civil Rights of humans in this country. Many of those struggles go on today. But, our children have gone through some rough times too. That’s why we need to give them a break.

Let’s face it, life’s been hard for people throughout the centuries, but being pessimistic hasn’t made us happier. So I propose, we turn our thoughts to looking for the positive things happening in our lives.

Now I know that’s not easy. Some people have depression or other mental challenges, which means their brains have a hard time going to those positive places. At least it’s hard to do without help. However, those of us who can snap out of a funk need to give changing our thinking a try. All it takes is paying attention to our reactions and what we say about our challenges both inside our heads, and verbally.

As we all know life’s not all a bed roses and rainbows. Everything worth doing grows out of commitment and struggle. The baby is born with a lot of pain and effort on the part of the mother. But the pain and struggle vanish the moment the baby arrives. The child goes to school and learns discipline so they can be educated. At each achievement the child sees the value of the effort. The artist uses talent, discipline and an open connection to something larger than themselves to create their work, which gives pleasure. Any endeavor humans undertake is fraught with challenges. But people keep having babies, and children continue to go to school. Artists continue to follow their muses and create. People still start businesses, volunteer, or work for good causes. Life goes on and society progresses. The reason we continue to strive is because we see the benefits of the effort.

So, I propose for those of us who can, let’s make the effort to stop being cynical and pessimistic about the future. I don’t mean that we should ignore the problems we face. What I propose is that we look at the problems in a new way. What if, when faced with a challenge, we said to ourselves, “There is a solution to this and I can find it.”

So, going back to my generation’s relationship with our children, what if we trusted them? What if we remembered what it was like to face the condemnation of our parents and grandparents and refused to do that to our children and grandchildren? We Baby Boomers are rabble rousers. Let’s continue to be rabble rousers and strive to understand and support our children as they make their contributions to society. After all they came into the world we built for them. We have to take responsibility for that.

My generation has done some pretty amazing things. I trust the generations coming along to do even more astonishing things that will help make this world a better place in which to live. In fact they already are.

And, since I’m not ready to give up making my contributions to society, I’m going to stop concentrating on the ills, and look for all the good things that are happening. When enough of us do that, who knows what great things we’ll create.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden
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Remembering Dad

Sunday is Father’s Day, which makes me think of my dad. He died in 2004. That was a hard time, because he was my mentor. Even now I have a hard time articulating what he meant to me. The deepest feelings are the hardest to express. However, I’m going to try by telling a story about him that illustrates his character.

When I was a Junior and Senior in high school my dad was the camp director for the youth camps sponsored by our church. The kids at the camps came to love him, because he didn’t deal with problems the same way other adults did. Here’s an example of what I mean.

One year at camp, a rivalry started between a group of girls and a group of boys. One group had played a prank on the other group and of course retaliation was required. I don’t remember how many rounds of this went on before, the girls came up with a smashing idea: Take all the faucet handles from the boys bathroom. Of course, I wasn’t part of the group, they were sure I’d tell my father what they were planning. The next morning, none of the men and boys could take showers or even wash their hands because all the faucet handles were gone. During breakfast, dad announced we were going to suspend the regular schedule and have a special meeting. The girls were shaking in their boots. They were sure they were going to be sent home in disgrace.

During the meeting dad said that he understood how fun it was to play pranks. It could build camaraderie. But, it’d gone too far now and the faucets needed to be returned so the men and boys could get cleaned up. If the girls responsible brought the faucets back, all would be forgiven.Then the girls and boys responsible would need to make amends. All the campers looked around at each other in disbelief. I knew what they were thinking. “An adult is going to forgive and forget and not humiliate us?” We were dismissed to our first activity. The culprits had until lunch to return the faucets.

The girls came to me, “Is your dad serious. If we confess and give back the faucets, he won’t send us home?”

“Yep. He always means what he says.”

“Will he punish us?”

“Well, yeah. But, he’ll talk to you first and you’ll get a chance to decide your punishment. And the guys will too.”

“Man, you’re dad is cool. You’re lucky.”

“I know.”

The girls turned in the faucets to my dad right then. I went with them at their request. When they handed dad the bag, he looked at the girls and then in mock despair said, “Oh, I can’t believe you sweet girls did this. Oh, my, what are we going to do?” He went on for awhile like that until he noticed that the girls were embarrassed.

The girls laughed, but hung their heads. Then my dad said, “Well, we’ve got to fix this. You’ve proved that you’re mature young ladies by admitting what you did. Now, we need to talk about how this got started, who the boys involved are, and put things to rights again. What do you think?”

I could tell by the look on the girls faces, they couldn’t believe it. He was asking for their help in resolving the issue. They weren’t getting yelled at, or slapped, or sent home. In a way it was a much more painful process, because my dad was requiring them to do some self-examination. Then of course the boys and girls involved were required to do extra chores, or some such thing and the camp went on. After that, my dad was the hero of the camp. He’d treated those kids like human beings who make mistakes, but are intelligent and can think of ways to make things right. Not only that, he didn’t humiliate them. They knew, as my brother and I did, that he cared about us no matter what we did. He trusted us.

That’s how I was raised. When I did something wrong, my dad and mom would talk with me. “Why did you do that? What were you thinking and feeling when you did it? What can we do to make things right?”

My dad understood that sometimes people do things out of fear, or anger, or lack of self-love. They go a little bit crazy. Whenever we’d ask dad why people kill, or mistreat others, he’d always say, “Because they’re in so much pain. They think if they hurt others it’ll make them feel better, but it doesn’t. That never works does it?” That’s always the way it was. Dad asked us lots of questions to get us to think. My dad, who’d dropped out of high school because he had undiagnosed dyslexia, used the Socratic Method to teach us great lessons.

I guess he’s the one who started me on the path of personal growth. I’m always asking questions about movies I’m watching, or books I’m reading or things that happen. And I learned something else from my dad. I am not my mistakes. I’m more than that. That’s why my friends liked to hang out at our house. My parents, and especially my dad saw value in them, even when they messed up.

Dad, I miss hearing you say, “I’m proud of you.” Having you as my dad has made all the difference.

Reading is Dangerous

My husband suggested that I might want to write a humorous story to break up the tone of my posts. I wish I could do that, because I gain insight from humorous stories too. But, unfortunately, I’m not Erma Bombeck, or Mark Twain. I wish I were. I may at some point be able to craft a humorous story, but not today. Today I’m writing about how something I’ve been reading helped me understand something that happened that has been a puzzle until now.

Have you ever read a book or a story that affected you so deeply that you continued to think about it long after you finished the last page? I have several on my list. Many of them have made me laugh or cry. They certainly made me think. That’s why reading is dangerous.

When I get emotional while reading, I’m usually alone. Which is the way I prefer it. When you cry in public it makes everyone uncomfortable. This story is about what happened one day, when I was teaching English. I hadn’t thought about that incident for years until this morning.

I was reading the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene’ Brown for my up coming book club meeting. In today’s section, Brene’ was relating an incident when she felt deep shame over a response to one of her blog posts, and how she dealt with it. (In case you don’t know about her, she researches the effects of shame on us and how vulnerability can lead us to wholehearted living.) While I was reading, I was reminded of this incident in my English class and thought I’d relate it to you.

The class was American Lit. We were reading the account of Olaudah Equiano, a slave who later bought his freedom to become an abolitionist in England. The section titled, “The Middle Passage”, describes his capture and trip across the Atlantic to one of the Caribbean islands. It’s a harrowing story, so much like the account in Roots, which made me stop reading the book for several days until I could recover enough to pick it up again. The slaves are whipped and crammed into tight quarters. The description of the callousness of the captors, the beatings, filth and stench were so real for me, that I was deeply affected. When I was reading it at home, I thought, I hope I can get through reading this in class without crying. Of course, I couldn’t.

My students were understandably concerned. I think it’s sad that crying in public is not okay.

The classroom became deadly silent. They didn’t know what to do with a teacher who was crying over a passage in the story.

One of the braver students asked me, “Miss, why are you crying?”

I had no idea what to say, but honesty seemed the best policy. “I’m crying because I feel bad about what happened to the slaves.”

“You mean, like you had something to do with it?”

“Yes, I guess. I feel bad that the whites treated the slaves so badly.”

“But, Miss, you weren’t there. You didn’t do it?”

“You’re right,” I said. “I still feel bad.” Then I wiped my eyes and blew my nose and we continued discussing the selection.

It’s important for you to know, that I was teaching in a school that has an over 90 percent population of Mexican/American students. The school is on a border town in Southern Arizona. Those students understand persecution. I don’t know if the fact that I’m white and I was crying about what happened to the slaves so long ago affected my students or not. I think it did. I hope it did.

I write about this incident because, I think it’s important to write about the good and the bad things about being human. Some of the biggest insights have come to me when I’m reading about a person or character’s greatest struggles. As a writer, though, it’s hard to dig down deep and write about those most painful feelings. At least it is for me. I can write about them all day in my journal, but if I know someone’s going to read them, well that’s a different matter. The thing is, that’s why I should dig down and write about the pain, because someone’s going to read it and gain insight. That’s what Olaudah Equiano did, that’s what Brene’ Brown does.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately. Reading Brene’ Brown’s book is just one aspect of the work. It’s helping me see that if we keep secret our wounded places, it can destroy us. On the other hand if we share them, we can help someone we don’t even know. Olaudah Equiano helped people understand what it was like to be captured, tortured, and transported to a far off place and be sold into slavery. His was one of the first slave stories. Many more came after. Who knows maybe his story touched enough people who saw how wrong slavery was and they started the Abolitionist movement.

I guess that’s why I read. Because I’m looking for insight into myself and into what it means to be human.That’s also why I write. It’s part of my process of healing and understanding.

What books or stories prompted you to think long after the reading was finished?