Publisher's Note — July 7, 2016, 6:26 pm

A Night of Political Theater

“In the next four months, Hillary Clinton will be promoted as a female pioneer. But she’ll also be ridiculed as a caricature of feminine success, a woman who owes everything to her husband and is at the same time constantly humiliated in the light of his past infidelities.”

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on July 4, 2016. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

Is Hillary Clinton a feminist or just another submissive woman? In the real world of politics, the question has been asked for many years, but it suddenly crossed my mind during a performance of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. This play—a comedy about the war between the sexes, full of irony and double entendres—is normally regarded as an amusing spectacle.

But we don’t live in normal times. And so there I was the other evening, sitting in the audience and watching an “anti-misogynist” interpretation of Shrew staged by Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater in New York, and the British film and theater director Phyllida Lloyd. Performed by an all-female cast, this production is, like others, meant to make us laugh, but in a totally different way. By using rock music and frequently interrupting the text with contemporary language and new dialogue, Eustis and Lloyd are looking to reverse the masculine domination celebrated, according to Eustis, by the great playwright. We have, therefore, two unmarried sisters—Bianca, the younger, sweet-tempered and docile, and Katherina, the elder, who is vehement, selfish, and independent—presented as contestants in a beauty contest organized by Donald Trump. Foolish sexist remarks made by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate blare through loudspeakers while women in sexy outfits parade across the stage.

The message is clear: this evening, the phallocrat Trump’s grotesque manners will be mocked, and consequently Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will be supported. Toward the middle of the play, one of the actors gives a speech not in the original text, lamenting the loss of yesteryear’s privileges, when a gentleman could pay his mistress a visit before calmly going home to find the table set and dinner ready. Not far from me, a lady of a certain age, wearing a Hillary campaign button, expresses her approval.

I’m not a big Shakespeare expert, but all the same, I’d like to advance the notion that Oskar Eustis’s justification, as offered in the program, is frankly simplistic: “The Taming of the Shrew is the only major Shakespeare play which I have never produced or directed.… The reason is simple; I have never been able to get behind the central action of the play, which is, well, taming a woman.” I imagine that his distaste goes back to the nineteenth-century tradition of providing Petruchio, Katherina’s suitor, with a whip (in the twenty-first century, he often gives her a spanking) to evoke the application of sadistic discipline. According to Richard Hosley, the editor of the play in my Pelican edition of Shakespeare’s complete works, the text contains nothing that could authorize this brutal bit of stage direction. Furthermore, Hosley writes, “Kate’s speech on the subordination of wife to husband is sometimes misinterpreted as the blueprint for a husband’s tyranny.… Certainly the Elizabethans, in their view of the marriage relationship as of other things, were much more conscious of ‘degree’ than we are.” 

Apparently, the paradoxes of a politically incorrect marriage are contrary to the order of the day at the Shakespeare festival in Central Park. None of this is so important in itself, except that it’s no longer a merely theatrical matter.  In the political drama to be played out in the next four months, Hillary Clinton will be promoted, on the one hand, as a model of the successful woman, a female pioneer. But on the other hand, she’ll be ridiculed, portrayed as a caricature of feminine success, a woman who owes everything to her husband and is at the same time constantly humiliated in the light of his past infidelities. In defense of Hillary, Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state in Bill Clinton’s second term, denounced the lack of solidarity demonstrated by the young women who support Bernie Sanders: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” she thundered. In an article in The Nation, the writer Liza Featherstone, for her part, denounced Hillary’s lack of solidarity with poor women. According to Featherstone, “It would be hard to imagine a bigger blow to the material well-being of poor women in America than” President Clinton’s 1996 welfare-reform bill. “As first lady,” she points out, “Hillary wasn’t a mere spectator to this; within the White House, she advocated harsher policies like ending traditional welfare, even as others in the administration, like Labor Secretary Robert Reich, proposed alternatives.” Considering our obsession with the private lives of candidates for political office, the debate about Hillary’s feminist credentials will inevitably concentrate on her conduct with regard to her husband.  Writing in The Spectator, Emily Hill opts for derision: “Achieving power by means of marrying, and putting up with, a shitty husband is something women have been doing for centuries.” 

As for Trump, he won’t hesitate to attack his rival for her alleged support of Bill’s extramarital escapades: “She’s not a victim.  She was an enabler.… Some of these women have been destroyed, and Hillary worked with him.”

In the final analysis, Hillary is neither Katherina nor Bianca. And in any case, I would never vote for her. That would amount to backing an inseparable couple who have led us into a situation where the richest Americans, in alliance with the political class, are crushing the spirit of democracy in our country.  As far as I know, oligarchy has no gender.

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note February 14, 2020, 9:28 pm

The “Affair”

“I was immediately struck by the fundamental difference between the ‘seventh art’ and literature.”

Publisher's Note February 12, 2020, 10:47 am

On Book Events

Publisher's Note December 13, 2019, 5:40 pm

The Art of Persuasion

“Making fun of the negative interest rates offered by some European banks, Trump sniggered, ‘Give me some of that…I want some of that money.’ In my corner of the hall, around table 121, several merry-faced brokers and accountants applauded.”

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2020

Out of Africa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Waiting for the End of the World

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Harm’s Way

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Fifth Step

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A View to a Krill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Old Normal

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Old Normal·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

Article
More Than a Data Dump·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Last fall, a court filing in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently suggested that the Justice Department had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets reported soon after that Assange had likely been secretly indicted for conspiring with his sources to publish classified government material and hacked documents belonging to the Democratic National Committee, among other things.

Article
The Fifth Step·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Article
Out of Africa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

Article
In Harm’s Way·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

An Iraqi man complaining on live television about the country’s health services died on air.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today