A young director's examination how gender is performed on stage especially within the works of William Shakespeare

31 July 2012

The category 'women'

I am currently archiving a rather neglected library for some friends. The main bulk of the books are on Shakespeare, his life, his London, then on acting the Bard, how to speak the lines, and on to the biographies of various great Shakespearian actors. There is also a section entitled ‘women’ with books on Shakespeare’s women, women in Shakespeare and an intriguing title that I’m going to explore later ‘Shakespeare’s Queer Children’. I also notice that a biography on Simon Callow has found it’s way into this category. As I said, the library has been somewhat neglected of late…

I have been given carte blanch to reorganise the whole collection in whatever way I choose so am currently staring at the wall of books before me, trying to bite down the rising panic associated with this rather vast task, and forcing myself not to regret offering to help out. But my current internal dialogue is debating about whether to retain the category of ‘women’ in this library. As always, there is the category ‘women’ but not ‘men’. Man, in this library and in so many others, is the norm, neutral, base 0; and woman is the addition, the auxiliary, the extra, added 1. Men find themselves in ‘education’ in ‘biography’ in ‘history’ in ‘music and food’ and in ‘tragedy/comedy’. Books about Lear or Macbeth or Hamlet are peppered around, but studies on Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Anne Hathaway, or indeed, children, are bunched together in a corner of these shelves as their own ‘special category’.

Several books all with ‘women’ and its associated words in the title seem to lend themselves well to being categorised together. However, if the same rule were to apply the other way around, if I put all the books with ‘men’ and it’s associated words together under the rubric of ‘men’ it would look weird. And probably all those books wouldn’t naturally fit together anyway as a man’s experience of Shakespearian England or male biographies or the male hero’s of the plays have been written on more extensively and cover a broader range of topics.

The category ‘women’ seems at once incongruous, as I want to place women’s contributions everywhere; and at once necessary, as there are some very specific and crucial writings on women in Shakespeare and it would make sense to keep them altogether. But then where to put ‘Shakespeare’s Queer Children’? Whilst queer theory and analysis owes much to its forerunners in feminist theory, it is not the sole enterprise of feminist thinkers and would be a welcome addition within many fields of thought, resistant though some fields remain to queer analysis.

Maybe it’s time to sod the thematic approach and go alphabetical. 

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