Essay: Space & Hysteria in The Yellow Wallpaper and Dora: A Case of Hysteria

‘I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in […]’[1] muses Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own; an anxiety of space that arises amidst its advocacy for ‘a woman [to] have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’[2]. Although neither are writers of fiction, the women protagonists of two texts, Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, are subject to Woolf’s spatial anxiety. Both are locked in and out of literal and metaphorical feminine spaces, acknowledged by feminist critics Gilbert and Gubar as ‘parallel confinements in texts, houses and […] female bodies’[3]. This study will analyse how in their texts – Freud’s a ‘case history’[4] of ‘petite hystérie’ (Freud, p.19) for ‘publication in a strictly scientific medical journal’ (Freud, p.4), Gilman’s a first-person fictional account of a woman’s experience of ‘a slight hysterical tendency’[5] – the writers’ portrayal of these spaces infers the locking in and out of their protagonists. Finally, this study aims to determine, as Woolf wonders, which is ‘worse’: to be locked in, or locked out? Continue reading “Essay: Space & Hysteria in The Yellow Wallpaper and Dora: A Case of Hysteria”

Essay: Violence & the Visitation Drama

Two plays, Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle and Sarah Kane’s Blasted, although written almost two decades apart and dramaturgically different – the former a mid-seventies commission for television broadcast, BBC’s Play for Today, the latter selected for the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs’ 1994/5 season, where as ‘few as 1,100 people in total’[1] saw the original production – both pose a challenge to the cultural norms of their time. The challenge they pose is immediately evident when one considers their initial reception: Potter’s play was banned from transmission by Director of Programmes Alasdair Milne and not broadcast until 1987, with Milne fearing that ‘real outrage would be widely felt’[2] in the absence of communicating ‘a point of serious importance’[3] that would justify the controversy, and Blasted was branded a ‘disgusting feast of filth’[4] – the infamous headline of critic Jack Tinker’s Daily Mail review – and not revived at the Royal Court Theatre until 2001. This study will analyse how these different but equally divisive plays challenge the cultural zeitgeist through two features they share, the loose formal structure of a visitation drama and the depiction of rape, and finally explore just why they’re so challenging. Continue reading “Essay: Violence & the Visitation Drama”

Essay: Fools, Falsity & the Four Tragedies – An Essay on the Tragic Fool

The Gravedigger in Hamletthe Fool in King Lear, the Porter in Macbeth, all RSC

‘By logic and tradition’, writes critic Julian Markels, the ‘fool belongs to comedy’[1]; and yet, one finds a fool-of-sorts – clown or companion, gravedigger or gatekeeper – in four of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies: King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello. The Early Modern fool likely ‘came down from the Morality plays’[2] as a distant, and altogether more comic, descendent of the Medieval Vice. And, as critics have noted, even when relegated to the practical role of court jester, and thus ‘confined […] to what was set down for him’[3], the fool ‘often disturbed the dramatic unity of the piece’[4]. This study, utilising the views of critics who have endeavoured to identify this elusive figure, will aim to theorise the role Shakespeare’s tragic fools are truly playing. Continue reading “Essay: Fools, Falsity & the Four Tragedies – An Essay on the Tragic Fool”

Essay: Defying Gender in Mrs Dalloway

Happy Publication Birthday, Mrs Dalloway! First published on this day, May 14th, in 1925 by the Woolfs’ publishing house, Hogarth Press; this new Penguin Vintage Classics edition has the most beautifully abstract cover and you can click to buy it (as I’m about to) here!

gender in mrs dalloway

In her 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf defies contemporary expectations of gender with an unfearing portrayal of homosexual relationships, especially between Clarissa and Sally and Septimus and Evans. The publication of sexologist Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion in 1897, whilst suggesting for the first time in Victorian medical study that homosexual behaviour was the ‘manifestation of an instinct which to [those] persons who possess it frequently appears natural and normal’[1], underscored the actuality that ‘in a country like England […] all our traditions and all our moral ideals, as well as the law, are energetically opposed to every manifestation of homosexual passion’[2]. Ellis notes the existence of a ‘compact social force which on every side constrains the individual into the paths of heterosexual love’[3], and this study will analyse how Woolf shapes, explores and strays from those pathways through Clarissa and Septimus’s same-sex interactions, their interruptions by the opposite sex, and the presence – or absence – of parenthood, as well as charting the effect changing feminist ideologies may have had on the 1925 novel, from the relative erasure of lesbianism and femininity in early studies of homosexuality to ‘post-First World War antifeminism’[4] with the ‘laud[ing] of motherhood’[5] in the 1920s. Continue reading “Essay: Defying Gender in Mrs Dalloway”

Essay: Escape, Colour and Entertainment in The Wizard of Oz & The Wiz

In his exploration of ‘musicals as entertainment’[1], Richard Dyer writes that ‘two of the taken-for-granted descriptions of entertainment as “escape” and as “wish-fulfilment” point to its central thrust, namely, utopianism’[2]. Utopic tales of escape and wish-fulfilment are no better epitomised than by two adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: MGM’s 1939 Technicolor classic The Wizard of Oz, and Sidney Lumet’s 1979 screen adaptation of The Super Soul Musical, The Wiz, are both utopian fantasies that reflect upon the colour of their cultural moment.

Released in 1939, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz was part of the ‘breakthrough year for the Technicolor Corporation’[3]. Dorothy’s wish to ‘fly beyond the rainbow’[4] is realised when she leaves monochrome Kansas behind for the bright lights – quite literally, as on-set lighting for the Yellow Brick Road needed to be practically dazzling on account of ‘yellow [being] most saturated at a very high level of lightness, […] quickly los[ing] purity when […] darkened’[5]of Oz, a space defined by colour with its Yellow Brick Road, Emerald City, and Ruby Slippers. Furthermore, as Hollywood legend has it, the Ruby Slippers were changed from the silver shoes of Baum’s original novel to showcase and capitalise on the extensive, and expensive, Technicolor filmmaking processes, which, incidentally, it did, as The Wizard of Oz was one of the three Technicolor pictures that made up the ‘most lucrative releases [of] 1939’[6].

Whilst not the commercial nor critical success of The Wizard of Oz, 1978’s The Wiz did reflect on one cultural colour that MGM’s musical and its moment of production did not: black. From the era of Blaxploitation cinema in the ‘70s, The Wiz was part of a bigger picture that painted ‘black America’s […] need [for] an escape from the brutal reality of the past decade’[7]; a decade characterised by Civil Rights, segregation and assassination. The Wiz facilitated that escape by ‘creating a fantasy world on the big screen where black men and women were the heroes’[8], like Diana Ross’s Dorothy and Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow.

Dyer too discusses ‘The Colour of Entertainment’, and argues that it is a ‘given of the fundamental performance elements of the musical – dance and song’[9] – to illustrate the ‘relation both to physical space and to the cultural spaces of other peoples’[10], and thus this study will seek to explore how these two musical texts use dance and song to reflect on the cultural colours of their moments of production. Continue reading “Essay: Escape, Colour and Entertainment in The Wizard of Oz & The Wiz”