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.

Why does Iago hate Othello?

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice actually opens with Iago and Roderigo discussing this exact subject, though the audience does not yet realize the subject of their conversation:

Roderigo. Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

Iago. Despise me, if I do not.

Iago goes on to offer several reasons why he hates this person, whoever this person is.

…Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capp’d to him: …and, by the faith of man,
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:
But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff’d with epithets of war;
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he,
‘I have already chose my officer.’
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife;
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the toged consuls can propose
As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practise,
Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee’d and calm’d
By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship’s ancient.

What does that all mean? Iago was lobbying for the lieutenant’s position under Othello (“his Moorship”) and even had some high-powered citizens/politicians (“great ones of the city”) go and offer their personal recommendation, only to find that Othello had already chosen Michael Cassio. Iago is not happy with this decision, and has nothing good to say of Cassio, who has no battle experience (as Iago does), and is instead what today might be called “book smart.”

But! Is this the real reason? Or is this just the reason that Iago is feeding Roderigo? At the close of Act 1, alone on stage, Iago reveals a deeper reason for his hatred:

…I hate the Moor:
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.

“Twixt my sheets done my office” is a polite way of saying, “Slept with my wife.” Iago even admits to not knowing if it is true, but doesn’t care.

So, again, is this the reason? Or is this again another justification for something deeper? This sounds more like he’s preparing an alibi, in case he ultimately needs one.

Does it go back to the racist thing? Maybe Iago doesn’t even want the lieutenant’s job, maybe he’s furious that Othello is in charge at all? He’s not shy about hurling racial epithets at Desdemona’s father in Act 1, Scene 1:

Iago. ‘Zounds, sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on
your gown;
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
Arise, I say.

…Because we come to
do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll
have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have
coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

Twice he refers to Othello as an animal (along with the associated suggestions of bestiality) and once as the devil.

But, again – maybe he’s just saying these things because he knows that they will upset Desdemona’s father Brabantio?

Maybe it’s none of these things. Maybe Iago is a sociopath who truly has no specific reason for his hatred of Othello. That’s what makes this character one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations. Every actor must decide for himself the source of Iago’s motivation. Maybe we can never truly know because there just isn’t a single right answer.