Last year I was asked to participate in a group show at Museo Gallery, where we were asked to pick a quote from a Shakespeare play and depict it visually. I chose the quote "If I be waspish, best beware my sting" by Katherine from "Taming of the Shrew".
I enjoyed painting her so much I decided she needed a friend, another angry female friend: and Ophelia from Hamlet joined her. But only two paintings a series does not make: so I just completed the angriest of them all: Lavinia from Titus Andronicus.
So we have a "mini" series of three that I have decided to call "Vexed", for obvious reasons. And guess what? There is no lacking in other Shakespeare heroines who wish to express their anger, so this may become more than a mini series.....
The Story of Shakespeare’s Lavinia Andronicus
Lavinia is the virtuous and often silent daughter of a Roman Soldier, Titus Andronicus in the Shakespeare play by the same name.
Because of her fathers’ war crimes and ensuing revenge drama with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, Lavinia’s husband is murdered and she is raped, after which her hands and tongue are cut off to prevent her from revealing her attackers.
However, she is able to communicate the names of her rapists, by both using her nephew’s copy of Ovid’s book Metamorphosis, and writing in the sand with a stick she holds with her arms and teeth.
In Ovid’s book, the character Philomela is raped by her sister’s husband, Tereus, who also cuts out her tongue - similar to Lavinia. Philomela’s ultimate fate is to be turned into a nightingale by the Gods. Unfortunately, Lavinia’s ultimate fate is to be executed by her father, who cannot bear the shame of her rape, after assisting him in the murder of her attackers.
Well, Fuck that noise.
Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? (cue remind noise)
…Because Lavinia’s beloved nephew, Lucius, has revealed to her that her father is deranged and plans to kill her, she stays for one last evening to participate in Titus’ revenge upon her ravishers, Demetrius and Chiron.
After collecting the blood from their cut throats, she throws it in her fathers face and flees the premises.
She joins a group of traveling Roma people, who design new hands for her out of stolen silver from her former family.
They take her to Britain, where she joins Queen Boudica’s army against the Romans. She becomes known for her heroism and skills as a defender of women and children, and burning down Roman settlements. Her new name is Tacita Mulier, which is Latin for The Silent Woman.
The Story of Ophelia from Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, sister to Laertes, and sweet on Hamlet. Polonius and Laertes both believe Hamlet to be not a good match for Ophelia, however. That is, until he bursts into her room uninvited and stares at her. Which isn't creepy at all. But that apparently is enough for Polonius, who goes to Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius of Denmark. They decide they should spy on Hamlet and Ophelia to confirm that he is, in fact, sick with love for Ophelia.
Hamlet, however, tells Ophelia in no uncertain terms that marriage is for suckers. Ophelia, being a kind person, is worried for his mental health due to his odd outburst.
She is rewarded for her concern the next time they meet, at a play, where he then accuses women for being fickle and also makes sexually inappropriate remarks. Great guy. He follows this up by killing Ophelia's father later that night. Did I mention that he was a great guy? What a catch!
Poor Ophelia is heartbroken, and the rest of her time in the story is singing and rhyming about the symbolism of herbs...
"There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays. You may wear your rue with a difference. "
Rue is a bitter and stinky plant, and in folklore was a symbol of repentance (hence "rue the day"). Ophelia calls it "an herb of grace on Sundays;" because the wearer of rue, when entering a church on Sunday, dipped it in Holy Water, and blessed himself with it, in the hope of obtaining God's "grace" or mercy.
"There's rue for you," she says to the Queen, and "here's some for me." The Queen, however, is to wear hers with a difference, that is, in token of repentance, while Ophelia will wear it in regret and grief at the loss of her father and Hamlet as her love interest.
The story for Ophelia ends after an ill-fated climb into a willow tree, which she falls from into a brook and drowns. Then Laertes and Hamlet fight over who loved her more over her grave.
Let's try again.
~VEXED RE-WRITE ~
We re-open the scene at her grave, after Laertes and Hamlet have their skirmish (spoiler: things do not turn out well for them).
Three women approach her grave with shovels, and dis-inter our heroine. They are the Weird + Weyward Sisters from Shakespeare's Macbeth, who noting Ophelia's knowledge of herbs and plants, decide to bring in a fourth Sister. They bring her back to life, and the now Undead Ophelia joins them in the woods and works as a Hedge Witch and Psycho-Therapist.
The Story of Katerina, from Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew"
Kate is a daughter and a sister, who is far too clever with her words, and quite frustrated with her life in a small Italian town, and isn't afraid to let everyone know this. Her younger sister is nice and quiet and pretty, and has many suitors. However, her father tells these suitors that she cannot wed until her older sister, our Kate, is married.
One of little sister Bianca's suitors finds a gentleman who is looking for a rich wife and does not care what she is like: angry or otherwise. Petruchio meets Kate; and tells her they will be wed no matter what she thinks, and tells her father that she's into him (nope).
Her father agrees to the marriage: then comes the wedding day, and Petruchio shows up late, dressed badly, and drunk. Then he calls Kate his property, drags her away to the country - and proceeds to deprive her of food and clothing, as well as manipulate and shame her for her shrew-ish behavior.
By the end of the play, Kate is parroting her husband regardless of what he says is true or not; and delivers a long speech to her newly married sister and another about the virtue of obeying their husbands. The End.
So what happened THERE?
Option A: Petruchio changed her behavior and her mind by reflecting her bad attitude back to her.
Option B: Stockholm syndrome: Petruchio brainwashed Kate through food + sleep deprivation and by being a dick.
Option C: Kate learned to pretend to be a good wife just to get through.
New and Improved "VEXED" ending.....
...after Bianca's wedding and Kate's speech, she gets her husband drunk and escapes. She's been stashing money and valuables this whole time and investing them in real estate with a secret partner - the un-named wealthy Widow that marries the same day as Bianca. One of the things she purchases is una taverna in southern Spain, where she and her new best pal the un-named Widow travel to. She then creates a channel from Italy to Spain for abused wives. The name of la taverna is "La Arpía y La Viuda" (the Shrew and the Widow).