How Shakespeare Laid The Way For Kate Sheppard

In her first column, Dawn Sanders ONZM, QSM, gives this quote…

We know who we are, but know not who we may be

“Let husbands know,

Their wives have sense like them: they see, and smell,

And have their palates, both for sweet and sour,

As husbands have.” Emilia to Desdemona in Othello Act IV sc iii

290 years before Kate Sheppard

Two hundred and ninety years before Kate Sheppard, as leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, succeeded in 65% of women in New Zealand being eligible to vote in 1893, Shakespeare was already leading the precursor ‘suffragette movement’.

Kate Sheppard

The irony was that in Shakespeare’s day, all roles were played by men.

However, leading the country until 1603 was one of the strongest women to lead England and Ireland.

For 44 years, relative stability was maintained under Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.

Lavishly dressed, this ‘Virgin Queen’ could be equated to the ‘girls can do anything’ adage of today, without even having to resort to literally wearing the trousers.

A chief patron and supporter of Shakespeare, ‘Good Queen Bess’ was accorded mutual admiration by the Bard.

As a member and shareholder of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare and his fellow actors performed frequently at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth in her palaces in Greenwich and Whitehall.

The result was her influence inciting the flourishing of the arts. If only…

Shakespeare’s women

From the ‘fairie queen’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s women range from the clever and resourceful, Rosalind and Celia, to the passionate Phebe, and witty and comical, highly spirited Audrey, in his pastoral comedy, As You Like It.  

Audrey reassures Touchstone that: “I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.”

There was definitely something ‘foul in the state of Denmark’.

Speaking of his mother, Gertrude the Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s descriptive “frailty, thy name is woman” is sharp contrast to the then Queen of England in 1600-01.

However, it is Ophelia whose fragility led her to commit suicide…or Hamlet’s treatment of her, depending on the interpretation. 

Shakespeare in prisons

Frequently used in prisons, Shakespeare’s plays provide opportunities for multi-layered different role- playing, with offers of alternative outcomes.

The power of language has the ability to deflect physical abuse. 

In Cellfish, written by Rob Mokoraka, Miriama McDowell and Jason Te Kare as T.O.A. Productions, the themes and plot of Macbeth creep into Miss Lucy’s drama classes in a high-security Kiwi men’s prison.

Jason Te Kare, director and star of Cellfish

Passion, frustration, anger and anxiety are among the plethora of emotions inmates experience which, in this play, lead to not such a ‘merrie dance’., but much thought-provoking.

The currency of Shakespeare’s themes and entwined, complex relationships are fuel to ignite student-directors to explore their own lives.

Investing in fostering this has a valid place in addressing issues which, suppressed, result in the worst outcomes.

Long live the Bard!

  • Dawn Sanders ONZM, QSM
  • SGCNZ CEO & Member Shakespeare Globe Council, London
  • 23 September 2019
  • M: 027 283 6016
  • E: dawn@sgcnz.org.nz
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