Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Princess Promise, Marriage for Lady Happy and Us Happy Ladies Too!

Recently, I stumbled across this article in Salon magazine, which I had to share on my best friend’s Facebook wall.  The article captured perfectly the ongoing paradoxical conversation of our daily discourse- “men ain’t shit and OMG it’s time to panic because as educated, awesome, successful (*aspiring to success) black women we’re bound to end up alone blah blah blah.” This article, however, shared a little nugget of hope, “Feminism isn’t Ruining Your Love Life.”  Sara Eckels writes the article as a myth-buster to us hopelessly heterosexual, independent women who can affirm the popular Irina Dunn quote, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and yet at the same time are preoccupied with startling statistics that tell us our chances of being attacked by a terrorist are greater than our chances of getting married. #Foreveralone.

I chose this article because Dunn’s quote “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” could be a quite suitable mantra for the utopian Cloister of freedom that Lady Happy creates in Margaret Cavendish’s “The Covent of Pleasure”.  Lady Happy, the main character of the play, is a young virgin woman who has inherited wealth and has resilient spirit of female independence. The thick walled wonderland she creates that only grants entrance to single ladies is a testament to her belief that, “Men are the only troublers of Women; for they only cross and oppose their sweet delights, and peaceable life; they cause their pains, but not their pleasures.” Lady Happy acknowledges that for a poor woman unable to afford her own pleasures, a man might be suitable, but in the case of “upper-class women where Fortune, Nature, and the gods are joined to make them happy” the most joy and pleasure can be found in the fantastical world of the ladies-only Convent of Pleasure.

Eckels’ article is written to 21st women who can identify with the ladies of the Convent of Pleasure.  We have the modern day version of wealth and independence (education, good salary, career ambition, etc.).  While Eckels could have simply directed us to the Covent of Pleasure, she instead makes a convincing case that us ambitious ladies will still get married.  In fact, the article cites that women who get married later have increasingly lower divorce rates, women with college degrees are more likely to get married, and claimed “women aged thirty to forty-four earning more than one hundred thousand dollars per year are—once again—more likely to be married than their lower-earning cohorts.” *Cue wedding bells* I’m wondering if these stats can be printed in wallet size as a gift to our antsy and concerned elders…

Hooray! I can breathe—I will find a man.  A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. My elation at the promises of matrimony led me to question if I believed men were actually the bicycle to my fish.  If we really did not need men, why was this article written to celebrate the likelihood of spending the rest of our lives with a man?

In the end of “The Convent of Pleasure”, I was left wondering if there could really exist a Utopia that rejects the need for heteronormative romance.  Somehow, in the play, a prince disguised as a Princess manages to enter the Covent of Pleasure.  It does not take much time before Lady Happy and this Princess are discussing joining “as one Body and Soul, or Heav’nly Spirit” and dancing around the may pole to become Queen and King.  By the time the Princess (formerly known as Lady Happy) does tie the knot with her Prince, the prince is now dressed in “man’s apparel” as a princess disguised as a Prince. Thus, the play ends with the happily ever after of a Prince and his Princess.

Both Eckels’ article and “The Convent of Pleasure” leave ample space for the princess promise of heteronormative matrimony.  And hey, I’m not complaining, but it is certainly ironic that Lady Happy marries a prince in her ladies-only convent that was built on the principle that men are dreadful life-suckers who can offer no more than a respectable, wealthy lady can provide for herself.  Maybe I’m complaining a little.  Lady Happy’s convent had so many luxuries and pleasures- decadent foods, lavish décor, free women in solidarity. Still, and despite any queerness and unstable gender identities, Lady Happy’s utopia was not complete until she had the Prince to her Princess.  Not quite the same as fish is to bicycle.

The Convent of Pleasure and HBO’s “Rip Van Winkle”

Part 1/4: HBO’s “Rip Van Winkle”

Part 2/4: HBO’s “Rip Van Winkle”

Part 3/4: HBO’s “Rip Van Winkle”

Part 4/4: HBO’s “Rip Van Winkle”

Cavendish’s “The Convent of Pleasure” is an interesting play. She showcases the role of a feminist in the 18th century. Cavendish introduces us to the main character Lady Happy who has lost her father and becomes very wealthy. As a feminist, Lady Happy is completely against the typical roles for women in the 18th century. Women at this time were not view as independent; they almost completely relied on men or their husband. Women’s roles were to get married, have babies, tend to the house, and take care of their husbands. This is what bothered Lady Happy; she thought women should be more independent. Just the same, it was not as if Lady Happy was not an eligible bachelorette. In fact, Cavendish portrayed her as the wealthy women that everyone wanted.  It does not help the situation how the men viewed Lady Happy as an object to obtain or possess.  When Lady Happy decides she does not want to get married, she easily becomes that women that every man wants but can not have. Unlike typical 18th century women, Lady Happy challenge the men’s power and authority they thought they had. In addition, Lady Happy creates a convent which all women can stay in and enjoy the pleasures of the world without the interference of men. This was basically a group of unmarried women who choose to avoid the pains of men and marriage. This convent was very important in Lady Happy carrying out her feminist beliefs.

Lady Happy’s convent has various connections with the HBO TV show Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child’s “Rip Van Winkle”. The show is seen as a feminist rethinking of Washington Irving’s classic tale. Rip is a chauvinistic rock & roller who marries the talented Vanna, whose music career goes by the wayside when they marry. Vanna discovers finds The Women of Thunder Mountain, who give her a potion designed to help her husband change his rigid and male piggy ways. Instead, he falls into a long sleep. When he wakes up 20 years later, he finds that his ideas about men & women’s roles are too. The president is a woman, Vanna owns her own business, and his now-grown son is a stay-at-home-dad.

Like Lady Happy, Vanna exercises her independence with a group of feminists. The Women of Thunder Mountain went against the beliefs of society; they were loud and powerful women. Like Lady Happy and her convent, Vanna and the Women of Thunder Mountain are ahead their time. It takes nearly 20 years for Vanna’s world to see the needed change. Like the men in the 18th century, Rip had sexist mindset. He often referred to his wife as “My Vanna” and he referred to himself as the “King of his castle”. He just wanted Vanna to cook, clean, & take care of their baby and himself. After 20 years of a deep sleep, Rip sees the power of women.  Like Lady Happy, Vanna had to defy conventional notions of women in order to create this power. However, in the end, both Vanna and Lady Happy could not successfully live without love and marriage. In essence, being a feminist doesn’t ruin your love life….that is another conversation…(that can found here http://www.salon.com/2014/01/08/feminism_isnt_ruining_your_love_life/ )

Lady Happy and the Ladies of TLC

It is refreshing and inspiring to read about a woman who knows her value and knows she does not need a man to be fulfilled. I absolutely loved reading “The Convent of Pleasure” and it reminded me of something else with a similar empowering message: TLC’s song “No Scrubs”.

The misogynistic topics of conversation from the men in the play are exactly what the women of TLC protest against through their song. The opening line of the song, “A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly and is also known as a buster, Always talkin’ about what he wants and just sits on his broke ass,” describes the men in “The Convent of Pleasure”. Men in the play such as Takepl are quite literally scrubs in modern definition. Takepl is on a quest in the play to marry Lady Happy, a female whose wealthy father has recently passed and who is left with riches. He does not attempt to court her out of affection or adoration. Rather, he views her as an object with accessories available to benefit. His objectification of her is visible when he asks if he “shall get the Lady Happy.” It is obvious that Takepl is out to take advantage of the Lady when he states, “Faith, Dick, if I had her wealth I should be Happy.” This scrub wants to obtain her and her money.

Lady Happy sees the value of being independent and not reliant on a man. She sees marriage as stepping into a trap where she gives up her identity and others in the play make comments about this norm as well. Dick comments that, “Because if she Marry your Worship she must change her Name; for the Wife takes the Name of her Husband, and quits her own.” This norm to lose a women’s identity once she commits to a man is too common. It is evident in seventieth century society by studying this play, and it remains common in modern times. The women of TLC defy this attitude through lyrics that show they won’t let any man objectify them or use them. Lady Happy chooses to surround herself with those that will not restrain her, which is what the females of TLC advocate doing in their song “No Scrubs”.

Nature versus Nature in The Convent of Pleasure

Lady Happy and the men in The Convent of Pleasure seem to have different opinions about nature and how to serve it. Lady Happy sees nature not in the biological light that the men do, but rather as a kind of hedonistic deity that can live vicariously through the actions of humans. Her opinion about nature is unearthed to an extent in her early and revealing conversation with Madam Mediator: Lady Happy tells her “I will serve nature” by partaking in as many pleasures as possible; in so doing, she continues, she will also serve the gods, because “the gods . . . bid us freely please ourselves.”

Monsieur Take-pleasure and Monsieur Advisor reveal a contrasting opinion during their discussion about how to remove the women from the cloister. Monsieur Take-pleasure says that smoking them out would not be villainous because in doing so “[they] shall do nature good service.” This seems to point to a perception of nature that is rooted in biology, that they would be doing nature good service because they would be forcing the women out and back into the world where they can procreate. It is reaffirmed by Monsieur Advisor’s response: “Why, so we do Nature good service, when we get a Wench with Child, but yet the Civil Laws do punish us for it.”

These two views seem to be at odds, at least according to Lady Happy. Back in her conversation with Madam Mediator, Lady Happy claims “Men are the only troublers of Women; for they only cross and oppose their sweet delights.” It thus seems that were Monsieur Take-pleasure to follow through with his plan and his service to nature, forcing Lady Happy back out into the world where she would be impregnated, he would truly live up to his name. It would require a good bit of interaction with men for Monsieur Take-pleasure’s nature to be served, and this interaction would fly in the face of Lady Happy’s nature.

The Convent of Pleasure and Disney’s Frozen

            In the Convent of Pleasure, the protagonist gets fed up with society and runs away from it. She inherited a large sum of money and is being sought after for her wealth by prospective husbands. More than that, however, she is beautiful and as the character 1 Gent says “Faith, that is too much for one Woman to possess.” Not too much for a man, obviously, so he’ll take her money and leave her beauty. How chivalrous of him!

            Lady Happy wants none of this. “Should I take delight in Admirerers? They might gaze on my Beauty, and praise my Wit, and I receive nothing from their eyes, nor lips, for Words vanish as soon as spoken and Sights are not substantial.” She decides to run away and leave this society, but finds that religious escapes are worthless because God doesn’t care about these nuns and their sacrifices. Lady Happy wants to hide from the troubles of the world and enjoy the happiness and pleasures of it. In this incloisterment, she and the other ladies celebrate their freedom from responsibility and burden of both husband and child. They speak of their freedom from having to bend to another’s will and answer to his commands.

            This past weekend I saw the movie Frozen, and given the snowy state on campus today, the songs have been stuck in my head. One song in particular, “Let It Go,” seems applicable to Lady Happy’s actions. In Frozen, the queen Elsa exiles herself from her kingdom because she has been found out to be a sorcerer and the whole kingdom is after her. She’s lived her whole life hiding her talents at the will of her parents and has not been allowed to truly live. She runs away to escape from the burdens of expectation and hiding. “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small / And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all,” she sings as she walks up a mountain. Like Lady Happy, she’s exiling herself so that she can live her life the way she wants to without having to worry about other people.

I can just see it now – a duet between Elsa and Lady Happy as they belt “A kingdom of isolation / and it looks like, I’m the queen.” Unfortunately for both of them, isolation doesn’t provide the reprieve they seek because Lady Happy falls in love with a woman and Elsa returning to her kingdom because of her love for her sister. But at least she got a sweet solo out of it.

Convent of Pleasure: Ironic. Confusing. Gender.

The play Convent of Pleasure by Margaret Cavendish is a comedy filled with role reversals, disguises, irony, and copious amounts of dark humor. We have men portrayed as oversexed and evil men that leave their wives and children poor, hungry, miserable and alone. Then we have women who are unhappy all the time, either in search of a husband or married to one.  This play was an obvious commentary on the social and gendered interactions, behaviors, and expectations of men and women. However, I found that the underlying homoeroticism of the play, and then the sudden demolition of that element was so abrupt. Then again, maybe I am the only person that thinks there was any homoeroticism to begin with (obviously my mind is in the gutter).

At the beginning of Act IV Scene I there is a dialogue between the “Princess” and “Lady Happy.” During this scene, Lady Happy is struggling with the idea of falling in love with a woman. She says to herself, “But why may not I love a Woman with the same affection I could a Man? No, no, Nature is Nature, and still will be. The same she was from all Eternity.” Lady Happy is obviously questioning her sexuality; going back and forth with the ideas of what is natural and what is not. The symbol of nature harkens back to Act I Scene II of the play where Lady Happy discusses her commitment and servitude to Nature. Madam Mediator informs Monsieur Take-pleasure and the Advisor, “Alas Gentlemen!…for she is not a Votress to the gods but to Nature.” Therefore, Lady Happy’s romantic desires for the Princess are against nature, or the social norm where man and woman can only develop desires for each other.

Then the entire situation in Act IV gets more complicated when the Princess decides to dress up as a man, specifically a Shepherd. The “Prince-ss” passes so well as a man, that the other towns people do not suspect a thing during the country dances. At this point in the play we are at this weird moment where the Prince-ss is a woman, pretending to be a man, but is actually a man. As we later find out, the Prince-ss is actually a man, pretending to be a woman, pretending to be a man.The confusion of the gender identities and roles is then adds to Lady Happy’s inner conflict with Nature. Does it now become acceptable for her to fall in love with the Prince-ss because she has the appearance of a man? Or is it still against nature because Lady Happy knows the Shepherd to be a woman? She does not appear to continue her contemplation about nature once her relationship becomes acceptable to the public’s eye.

Everything goes out the window at the end of the play. Any possible ideas about homoeroticism, challenges to Nature, and resistance to the social gender norms  become completely irrelevant when we realize that the Convent of Pleasure was infiltrated by a man, that the convent’s founder has fallen in love with a man and then proceeds to marry him. My question is: What was the point of it all?

“The Convent of Pleasure” and “Why I Still Want A Wife”

            The play “The Convent of Pleasure” touches on a variety of issues in relation to this class. Themes of sexuality, femininity, independence, and a woman’s right to choose a life alone over marriage permeate the play. 

            Lady Happy, the protagonist, comes into a large sum of money after the death of a family member. With this money, Lady Happy is expected to marry one of the suitors presented later in the play and become a simple wife. This speaks to the time period and what was expected of women. With money, Lady Happy is very eligible to marry. It is not expected of her to keep the wealth herself, but rather to marry and to give control of her estate to whoever her husband was. She decides to reject this future and live in a convent amongst other women, as Lady Happy believes the root of all women’s troubles are men.

            Another idea presented in the play was that marriage was not the key to women’s happiness, as many believed. Lady Happy rejected the idea of marriage being the ultimate fulfillment, which reminded me of many of the ideals of second wave feminism. Many of the treatises and articles of this era showed the disconnect between marriage’s portrayed happiness and the reality of the potentially unfulfilling life of a wife.  An article in particular, Judy Brady’s “Why I [Still] Want a Wife” (http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/everythingsanargument4e/content/cat_020/Brady_I_Want_a_Wife.pdf) embodies the idea that marriage is not fulfillment at all, but rather a large amount of work that simply causes the objectification of the woman.

            One of the quotes from the play shows this:

“Dick.

Because Women never think themselves happy in Marriage.

Takepl.

You are mistaken; for Women never think themselves happy until they be Married.

Dick.

The truth is, Sir, that Women are always unhappy in their thoughts, both before and after 

[Page 10 ] 

Marriage; for, before Marriage they think themselves [25]  unhappy for want of a Husband; and after they are Married, they think themselves unhappy for having a Husband.”

This portion of the play shows the large disconnect between what men and women think of marriage. Many of the main male characters of the play believe that marriage is what gives a wife happiness and fulfillment. Comparing this to Judy Brady’s piece, she is a wife who ponders the reasons why she herself would want a wife. A wife does everything in this article, “I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. “ (Brady 1) All of these tasks are supposed to bring one fulfillment, while Brady shows that this is not the case.

            What Brady’s piece satirically shows is the expected duties of a wife and how that is supposed to lead to fulfillment, yet does not. “The Convent of Pleasure” also seeks to show this point, showing that women’s fulfillment does not come from marriage.

           

 

Tyler Perry is a Total Shakespeare Wannabe

               Shakespeare’s plays are filled with high drama, intrigue, suspicion, betrayal, sex, and the list goes on. In A Winter’s Tale we have all of these elements. A suspicious husband, a pregnant wife, the supposed lover, illegitimate children, revenge and death! But wait! Within all the angst and anger we have loyalty, trust, devotion, and deep sadness. Funnily enough all of these descriptions can be used to characterize a Tyler Perry movie or play. It makes me wonder to myself, is Perry truly an original or is he just another one of those wannabes claiming things from the 80s, 20s, or in this case the 1500s, as their own. The particular Tyler Perry movie that comes to mind is “The Family That Preys.” This movie includes every description that I gave above.

               One of the many issues that I have when always reading Shakespeare is trying to discern the plot. The language is so difficult to understand that it takes a few reads before I truly understand what is going on. In A Winter’s Tale I found that the stage directions were the only things keeping me a float. However, with Shakespeare’s tough to understand old English, it is often quite easy to know when you have gotten to the juicy parts. By Act II we all know that the drama has begun and this continues through the end of the play. In Act II the number of exclamation points from Leontes increases drastically. Words like honesty, virtue, justice, mercy, and (if you still did not know what was happening) adulteress are thrown around. Hermione calls her husband a villain three times in the same breath. She implores him to see his mistake saying “You did mistake.” All these characters come into the fray and plead for Hermione’s sake. You could only image the large group of yelling people. Then in Act V we have revealed identities, moving statues, and engagements.

               *“The Family That Preys,” a 2008 Tyler Perry production, has much the same situations as Shakespeare’s play, though the plot line is much easier to follow from the beginning. The difference in this story is that the wife turns out to be an actual horrible adulteress with an illegitimate child. Characters in this movie are forced to flee, people are banished from town (so to speak), some die, the wronged are “righted,” and everyone at the end gets their just desserts. You feel sad at the end of the story, but also feel a certain sense of closure and justice. Unlike Shakespeare, it lacks the magic, music, transformations, dancing statues, romance, and happy endings.

               I do have to say that Shakespeare does a much better job with the end. The first reason being there are multiple ends. At the end of Act III all seems to be over, but then you realize that there are two more acts to go. The closure of Act III is so very tragic and sad, but at the same time you feel that Leontes deserved to lose the people that he was so quick to discard. There is a feeling of hope, that the small baby deserves to be cared by others, especially those who might make her happy (one of them is a Clown for goodness sake). Then we have the second happy ending filled with all the joys of resolution, forgiveness, reunion, and love. Tyler Perry and Shakespeare have a talent for creating intrigue and drama, but I have to say, Shakespeare does it so much better.

*Link to info about movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1142798/?ref_=nv_sr_1

The Sunne Rising

John Donne’s “The Sunne Rising” is a short poem in which the speaker seems to reverse the reverence typically displayed for the sun, instead chastising and belittling it. The poem progresses from lobbing bitter insults in the first stanza to elevating the speaker and his beloved in the second; the third combines and builds upon the first two.

The speaker first addresses the sun as a “Busy old fool” and a “pedantic wretch,” insults that ring like a reluctant youth pleading with his mother for more time to sleep. The rhetorical questions situated between these two insults, though, seem to betray some measure of respect: “Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?”

As the poem progresses, the speaker seems to decide that the answer is no – that both he and his beloved are in fact greater than the sun. “I could eclipse and cloud [the sun’s beams] with a wink,” the speaker declares. He continues the disparagement by telling the sun that all of the Indians and kings that it has seen can be summoned right here, to this bed.

Perhaps the speaker is referring to the power of dreams when he claims that “’All here in one bed lay,’” but moving into the third stanza it appears that he really intends to exalt himself and his lover, their bed and their room, to the center of the universe. “She’s all states, and all princes I; / Nothing else is,” he continues to apostrophize, throwing now his most authentic sounding insult: “Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we.” He reassures the surely shaken Sun by telling it that its duty to warm the world can be fulfilled by simply warming this room: “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; / This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.” Thus the poem has reached its crescendo, evolving from a dream-clouded and angry entreaty to a lucid and confident claim; nothing else, not even the Sun, is of any importance when compared to the world he and his beloved have built for themselves.

Shakespeare vs. Donne vs. Timberlake – Sonnet 129

While reading this poem, I could not help but think to myself that Shakespeare was a completely different man than Donne. His lustful desires cause him to feel ashamed, as well as a host of other dark emotions. In contrast, the poems by Donne that we just read portray a man hungry for sex, that uses any kind of cunning to get his female object of desire to undress and sleep with him (referencing “The Flea” and “Elegy XX”). I find it very interesting that these two poets, these two men, have such completely differing perspectives on lust. John Donne seems to embrace desire and lust, while Shakespeare portrays one filled with darkness and shame. When meshing Donne’s eagerness and Shakespeare’s obsessive problems with lust, I could not help but think of Justin Timberlake’s song “Pusher Love Girl,” in which a man so longs for the “love” of his girl, that his desire is like the need for a variety of illicit and addictive drugs.

“Sonnet 129” surprises me because Shakespeare is not averse to sex or sexual desire, as some of his other poems and plays will demonstrate. Taking this into account, I think his poem is trying to demonstrate the obsession that develops out of lust for sex, not any problems with the act itself. The poet is bothered by the amount of time and energy exhausted on desirous feelings, noted with “the expense of spirit in a waste of shame / is lust in action.” The darkness that occurs in want of “lust in action” is “perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust.” Even after the lustful act, it is “no sooner but despised straight.” Shakespeare is filled with a complex set of emotions that appear to be fighting one another. It appears that the fixation of lust does not justify sex or the sex does not alleviate any of the dark emotions that occur. This might explain the frustration and anger portrayed in the metaphor of the hunter and “swallow’d bait.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is the cunning John Donne who uses philosophic and metaphysical mind tricks to coax women to sleep with him and undress themselves. There is no sense of shame or darkness in any of his propositions or desires. Instead of Shakespeare’s dark imagery of savagery, murder, blood and cruelty, Donne describes his desire in religious, hopeful, and comedic ways. “Elegy XX – On Mistress Going to Bed” demonstrates this best, using religious and conquesting imagery and ending with a surprising twist. Ironically, while Shakespeare’s sonnet harkens to religious ideals of being chaste, there is no hint or mention of religion, whereas in Donne’s poem “Elegy XX,” religious references are used to bolster his lustful propositions.

Pulling Shakespeare and Donne’s poems together is Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl.”* This rather long, but very catchy song describes how much a man is “hopped up on” his love interest. Like Shakespeare, his lustful feelings are obsessive to the point of addiction. The woman or the “lust in action” is  “My [Justin’s] heroine, my cocaine, my plum wine, my MDMA…And I can’t wait ’til I get home to get you in my veins.” I doubt Justin feels any hate or madness after getting his fix. The extended metaphor in “Pusher Love Girl” reminds me very much of the persuasive philosophical techniques that Donne uses to try to woe his love interests. Instead of using a flea, Justin Timberlake uses drugs.

These three men of the Renaissance and of the twenty first century all portray the pull and irresistibility of lust and love. Lust is the source of much pleasure, but also deep emotional upheavals and obsessive and addictive compulsions.

 

*Lyrics to the song can be found at http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/justintimberlake/pusherlovegirl.html