Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Feminist Friday and Shakespeare

Over at the Conversation, a website that celebrates "Academic rigor and journalistic flair," there's an essay on how Shakespeare helped writer Germaine Greer shape her feminist masterpiece, The Female Eunuch. It's a long-ish piece and if you're someone who tags blog posts with TLDR, then you'll want to skip down past the photo of Greer speaking at Sydney University in 2005 for the good stuff. My favorite takeaway from the article was this quote: "Greer cites Shakespeare’s poem The Phoenix and the Turtle, as an example of the fullest expression of the ideal of love “as a stabilizing, creative, harmonizing force in the universe'."

I don't even remember that poem--my knowledge of Shakespeare's poetry is mostly limited to a few of his well-known sonnets. So I looked it up. Wikipedia, bless their hearts, has an entry on the allegorical poem.  they call it one of Shakespeare's "most obscure works" (making me feel better for not having remembered it), and one that is open to multiple interpretations. The one thing I do remember is that the "turtle" of the title is the "turtledove," not the reptile everyone used to have as a pet before fears of salmonella made ownership of turtles a health risk.
The "Phoenix" portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

Some scholars have identified "the Phoenix" as Queen Elizabeth 1 and the turtle as John Salisbury, who was a married courtier from a powerful Welsh family.

The language of the poem is gorgeous:

Here the anthem doth commence:
Love and constancy is dead;
Phoenix and the turtle fled
In a mutual flame from hence

but you'll need footnotes all along the way. The Conversation essay makes a persuasive case for a Shakespearean influence on Greer's work, and it's just one more example of how Shakespeare's work continues to resonate almost half a millennium later.

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