College Geeklet: Zendaya is the newest Lady Macbeth

I grew up watching “Shake it Up” on Disney Channel. In fact, I grew up watching Disney Channel in general, but there were certain shows that just stuck with me into adulthood. I now find myself obsessed with how Bridget Mendler from “Good Luck Charlie” was able to get like seven degrees, how Sabrina Carpenter from “Girl Meets World” is now touring the world with Taylor Swift, and more particularly, how Zendaya has taken over the world. 

When I saw Zendaya was going to be in the new movie “Challengers” by Luca Guadagnino, I knew I had to watch. I’ve loved everything that she’s been in since her time on “Shake It Up”, and as a former theater kid, I saw Mike Faist was going to be in it as well which sealed the deal for me. But going into the movie, I had no idea that there would be similarities to Macbeth in it.

The whole movie isn’t a modern retelling of Macbeth like “10 Things I Hate About You” or “She’s The Man.” The only real connection is the main female character, Tashi Duncan. 

The gimmick with Tashi is that she’s an obsessed artist. Sort of like Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, or Nina Sayers in Black Swan. Tashi is a tennis prodigy whose entire existence is wrapped around tennis. She spends her free time analyzing players moves and every conversation she has with a character is related to tennis. She can’t even talk to her own boyfriend in the movie without it being about tennis- I’m not kidding. They get into a huge fight because he doesn’t want her to criticize him anymore, and they end up breaking up over it. 

I don’t think the intention was to make her a modern day Lady Macbeth, but she shares too many similarities to not notice. For starters, from the way the movie was marketed, and even at first watch of the story, Tashi Duncan is the villain. She gets in between two best friends and makes them hate each other so that she can watch a good game of tennis between the two. This is very similar to the surface level treatment that Lady Macbeth gets. Lady Macbeth pushes Macbeth to kill King Duncan, therefore she’s the bad guy. Right? Both characters are strongly villainized by readers and viewers. 

Both of them use their power to manipulate the men around them. Lady Macbeth uses Macbeth’s masculinity to manipulate him to kill Duncan, questioning his manliness if he does not want to kill. This works because masculinity was a huge aspect of a man’s identity at that time, and if they didn’t appear as the stereotypical man, they could be shunned by society. It is this manipulation that landed her the role of “villain” according to many readers. Tashi similarly manipulates the two men in the movies, Art and Patrick. She turns the two of them against each other with romantic entanglements that serve as a means to exert control over them. While Lady Macbeth’s goal was to become queen, Tashi knew that if they turned against each other, she would get to watch some good tennis. Art and Patrick were both so good together that she knew if they played against each other it would be a legendary match. And that’s what she got in the end. 

A lot of female characters who feel very strongly about something, whether it be their careers or goals, are often victims of attacks from audiences. I wrote my final paper for my gender studies course on this. Powerful female characters make [mostly] male audiences uncomfortable, even if some people don’t want to admit it. This is for several reasons, but the larger theme is that they feel threatened in their own masculinity, and seeing a woman so comfortable and able to knock down barriers to get what she wants makes them uncomfortable. 

There are several instances of this in literature that I noted in my paper; Eve from the Bible, Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl”, Cathy Ames from “East of Eden”, Bellatrix Lestrange from “Harry Potter”, Amy March from “Little Women”. This isn’t denying that some of them committed horrible acts, but they all matched that definition of female characters who feel super passionate about something but are clumped together as villains. Both Lady Macbeth and Tashi feel very strongly about something, Lady Macbeth feeling strongly about becoming queen, and Tashi feeling strongly about tennis. While they both do questionable things, their passion makes it easy for audiences to call them the villains of the story without looking at their other character traits.

It’s up to you if you think she is similar to Lady Macbeth…I certainly think so. Other sites have picked up on these similarities as well, such as Sports Illustrated, Ensemble Magazine,  Glamour U.K., and more. You’ll have to watch for yourself to see!

College Geeklet Stories: In Defense of Emilia

Welcome back to another Geeklet College story! Unfortunately, I’m nearing the end of my first-ever college Shakespeare class, but I hope to take another one once it’s offered. My college runs Shakespeare in two parts: the first part of his life and the comedies, and the second is the end of his life and the tragedies. I’m in the second half of the class, but the first part isn’t being offered for next semester, so I have to wait. This class sparked my interest in women and gender studies in literature, so I signed up for a WGSS class for next semester. I don’t know if I’ll minor in it yet, but since I liked this class so much, I figured, why not?

We’ve now read Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear. All besides Romeo and Juliet were new reads for me, and I greatly enjoyed them. Lear was pretty hard for me to understand, and I would argue that this is the most complicated read so far, but I still think I understood it well. I think I’ve seen so many interpretations of Romeo and Juliet that I’ve kind of become desensitized to it. Rereading it yet again didn’t do anything for me, though I did find the conversation about whether or not Romeo and Juliet were actually in love interesting (no, they weren’t, and I will argue that for as long as possible).

The play that falls just behind Macbeth for me is Othello. The content of Othello was pretty horrific with the sheer amount of racism and misogyny, but to me, the analysis of the characters was fascinating. I wrote my second essay for the class on the Goldilocks’ rule of gender in Othello. You have Desdemona, the ideal woman for men at the time. Bianca, who is the unideal woman, and finally, Emilia, who is “just right” in a sense.

I wish Emilia were talked about more because there is so much depth to her character and her relationship with Desdemona and Iago that is barely touched upon, from what I can find. I mean, Iago is awful to Emilia, and she still does what he asks of her. There seems to be a mutual lack of love between them, though, whereas, with Desdemona and Othello, Desdemona still loves Othello despite how awful he is to her. I found it really interesting that so many of the relationships that Shakespeare writes are filled with unconditional and frankly insane love, but Iago and Emilia really don’t seem to love each other at all. They’re just doing what’s “required” of them in a marriage. 

When you search the relationship between Iago and Emilia, the results typically say that she loves him because she does what he asks. I would argue against that. I can’t find a single part of the play where Emilia shows that she loves Iago but rather is simply obedient to him. The issue of associating obedience with love is an entirely different issue, and I thought in this century, we stopped associating doing whatever your partner wants with love.

I think Emilia fell victim to what marriage was in the 17th century. Women were expected to get married not only for social acceptance but to be financially stable. Love came second. So, I believe Emilia is really just going about her job as a wife at the time.

Her “Are you a man?” speech is what made me so interested in Lady Macbeth. Emilia’s speech on female sexuality was similar. “Their wives have sense like them. They see, and smell, And have their palates both for sweet and sour, As husbands have.” I remember reading this for the first time and saying, “Woah.” I feel like a female character openly admitting that women should be able to cheat on their husbands is so out of pocket for that time, but the way she worded it made so much sense as well. It’s almost as if she cheated herself, but I don’t have enough evidence for that theory.

The depiction of female friendships was also very interesting to me. Emilia asks to be laid next to Desdemona when she dies, which speaks to how close the two women are. Even in the scene where Emilia confides in her about how women should cheat, they appear to be extremely close. Those were a few examples, and though it wasn’t mentioned much, their friendship. However, men get in the way of their friendship when Iago asks Emilia to take Desdemona’s handkerchief. And though she loves Desdemona, she has to do what her husband asks of her, even though it’s not necessarily right. Today, the belief lies in choosing friends over who you’re dating, but Othello flips it and emphasizes choosing your partner over your friends. 

I would love to learn more about Emilia because so much is unknown about her. I often see retellings of Lear, Hamlet, or Macbeth, but someone has to write their own creative interpretation of Emilia for my own sake. Maybe I’ll do that at some point. Who knows.

College Geeklet Stories: Macbeth

Hello! It is so cool for me to be writing for my dad’s blog after reading stories about me as a young kid reciting Shakespeare and the fact that I named my dolls Goneril and Regan before I had even read King Lear. There is something so full circle about this, and I’m so excited.

I’m in college, studying English with a Creative Writing concentration and Journalism. Unfortunately, I have no plans to be a Shakespeare academic (right now). I’m actually leaning more toward the journalism path. But of course, when I saw a Shakespeare class offered, I knew I had to take it. Learning Shakespeare again in college has been so fascinating as someone who grew up with Shakespeare. I have so many thoughts now that I’m old enough to have a deeper understanding of the plays.

My college offers two Shakespeare classes, one from the beginning portion of his life, focusing on comedies, and another on the second half of his life, focusing on tragedies. The tragedies course was the only one offered this semester, so I signed up. So far, we’ve read Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello. Currently, we’re reading King Lear, and we still have Antony and Cleopatra and, finally, Pericles.

I had read the first three before the course, which made rereading them at a college level interesting. I didn’t have to focus on understanding the plot at first because I already knew the summary of these plays. That’s why when I read Othello, I interpreted it a lot slower because I wasn’t as familiar with the characters and story the way I knew Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet from the heart. Not that I didn’t love Othello, but it’s much easier to take away specific details when you know the basic summary of the story by heart.

The most significant discovery from this class was how much I love Macbeth. If you were to ask me my thoughts on Macbeth pre-college, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. To me, Macbeth and Hamlet were very interchangeable, and I would have preferred to discuss Much Ado About Nothing or As You Like It. I think I was more familiar with comedies because while my dad always taught me about tragedies, it’s hard to teach a little kid a story about a guy who wants to kill his uncle for revenge compared to a guy who turns into a donkey.

My new love for Macbeth came from my class’s in-depth analysis of Lady Macbeth and gender. Reading Macbeth in high school, the complexity of Lady Macbeth never crossed my mind. But when I sat down and read her monologue, I was blown away. When she said, “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,” I knew that this character was different than any character I had ever read. Most of Shakespeare’s women I had read were very restricted by the gender norms of the time. Now that I’m thinking out loud, most of the comedies I read are heavily romance-driven. This was one of the first plays I had read that not only had zero romance but also a female character who took on the male characteristics of the time.

This led to me being fascinated with how exactly Shakespeare can challenge gender roles in some of his plays while also reinforcing them in others. I would say Taming of the Shrew is a pretty blatant example of him enforcing the rules, but most of the tragedies I’ve read break away from the gender rules. Except Ophelia, that I know of. I wrote my first paper for the course about the irony of Shakespeare’s strong female characters being in the tragedies, almost symbolizing that women who defy what society expects from them will meet tragic demise.

In my essay, I wrote about how women at the time were associated with Eve for being manipulative and needing a man to control them so they would not cause harm. I took this to explain why Lady Macbeth is villanized by most readers, rather than being a woman who knew what she wanted but was frustrated by the limits of her gender. Growing up reading Macbeth, I fell victim to this, and I thought she was the story’s villain. And while I obviously think murder makes someone a wrong person, I have a better understanding of why she wanted to kill Duncan so severely. I used to think she was crazy for wanting to kill Duncan so badly, but she is such a complex character.

Frankly, her character makes me sad. She isn’t afraid to face the challenges her gender presents her. Still, in the end, she falls victim to her biological gender (Though I do have questions about this, I think this was Shakespeare’s intention). In my essay, I wrote,

“Lady Macbeth mentally recognized that she needed to take on male characteristics to get what she wanted, but this was not something she could maintain, as she died shortly after going mad, presumably by suicide. Shakespeare believes that the cruelty that Macbeth can maintain naturally as a man is not something Lady Macbeth can hold on to for a very long time.”

The idea that she was doomed from the beginning is frustrating. She felt guilty about the killing, and she wasn’t entirely inhumane. There are several cases where she expresses her worry for Macbeth, which shows that she isn’t sociopathic but does show emotions and regret.

In the other plays I’ve read so far, there have been women who strayed from the gender norms of the time, but I have yet to find a character who stands out to me the way Lady Macbeth has. The comparison between Emilia and Desdemona in Othello is probably a close second for me. They weren’t as intense with their gender defiance the way Lady Macbeth was, but the small moments throughout the play interested me. When Emilia announces that she believes women should be allowed to cheat on their husbands, I was kinda like…oh wow, that was not something I would ever expect a Shakespeare character to say. I found Desdemona frustrating, but the fact that she married Othello despite society being against interracial marriage I thought was interesting. Though if she actually loves Othello, that’s an entirely different question that I will try and figure out for my second essay on Othello.

This is a lot of writing, so I’ll cut it here. But I’ll continue to brain-dump my thoughts on relearning Shakespeare as a college student regularly!