Elizabethan drama championed secular topics, evoked terror and pity in tragedy, and boy, was the Bard bawd! with lewd lines and actions to keep audiences laughing. Mediocrity was not tolerated; throwing rotten veggies, anyone? Theater for the masses was a new concept. London was growing exponentially, and theaters and playhouses were open and affordable.
Competition drove comedy, tragedy, and history into new territory as playwrights like William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlow one-up’ed each other by pen and punchline. Violence against women was a touched upon topic, as was infidelity, social structures, current events, and historical pride.
Fast-forward 410 years, mix in reality TV extreme extremes, a Survivor, a violent narcissist, and an arrogant TV anchorman, and, yes, we do have the things in Shakespearean plays.
Australian Broadcaster Alan Jones has announced his support for Foxtel presenter and Australian Survivor contestant Joel Betts, convicted of brutally stabbing his ex-girlfriend 30 times, admitting “that for a ‘fleeting moment’ he intended to murder her.” She survived, jumping to safety from a thrid-floor balcony.
Mr. Jones intends to maintain his support for Mr. Betts through the sentencing and jail term, noting first, “I have seen these things in Shakespearean plays. It just happens.” (Survivor contestant stabbed ex-girlfriend almost 30 times: court”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 April 2012) Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/survivor-contestant-stabbed-exgirlfriend-almost-30-times-court-20120430-1xts1.html#ixzz1v5eyvUII
To state that anything “just happens” in Shakespearean drama is to insult the practice perfected by playwrights, and not just Shakespeare, since Shakespearean is synonymous with Elizabethan, but Marlow, Ben Johnson, and Thomas Heywood. But enough about that, and back to violence against women.
Sometime around 1590, Shakespeare produced a historical tragedy, presumably to outdo his competition in gore. It was a work of rape and revenge to satisfy the insatious audience appetite. Titus Andronicus satisfied as Rated R for graphic violence as the audience witnesses a rape and physical mutilation, followed by some clever cooking.
Titus returns from War with a new, exotic queen and her 2 adult sons. Queen Tamora’s sons rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia, and to prevent her from reporting the crime, they cut out her tongue and cut off her hands, and leave her bleeding, dying, victimized, and alone. Lavinia survived and found a way to report the crime. Her attackers were brought to justice, albeit on a platter served to their mother.
Shakespeare didn’t just happen to plot rape and revenge. He selected subjects which mattered to his contemporaries, so although rape, revenge, and cannibalism is what the audience saw, what the audience felt was more important. Shakespeare plotted rape and revenge, and he plotted victimization, helplessness, survival, social injustice, and the irrevocable bond of family.
Violence against women happened then and happens now. But it doesn’t just happen. Violence against anyone doesn’t just happen. Justifying supporting a Domestic Violence perpetrator by dismissing the crux of the crime as something that just happens to have been happening for centuries is ignoring every victims’ plea for recognition as not-at-fault. Attackers don’t just happen to attack, although they may just happen to attack you.