On the 400th an­niver­sary of the Bard’s death, Jeanette Win­ter­son ex­plains what we can learn about mod­ern-day re­la­tion­ships from old-school drama.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture -

help her play­boy hus­band, Bas­sanio, get his friend An­to­nio off the hook for debts he owes. How does he re­pay her? By giv­ing away his wed­ding ring – the one thing she made him swear never to do. And he gives it to the “young lawyer” who turns out to be Por­tia in dis­guise.

But it’s not all bad. As Shake­speare got older, he got tired of see­ing women screwed up by men. Cordelia, in King Lear, is a daugh­ter who won’t do what her father wants, nor will she whee­dle and flat­ter to get her own way. Shake­speare hates de­ceit. “Stop that!” says Shake­speare. “It’s be­neath you. Be the glory that you are.” When Cordelia is killed at the head of her own army, she’s a role model. Cordelia doesn’t die for a man, but she does die for love in the big sense of the word: love of truth, love of hon­esty, love of jus­tice. She’s Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t give up that seat on the bus to a white man.

As for Cordelia’s ugly sis­ters, Goneril and Re­gan, Shake­speare might as well have put a sticker on their backs say­ing, “Do not copy.” Treach­er­ous, spite­ful, and ob­sessed with sex and power, th­ese are women who hate other women. We’ve all met them and suf­fered at their per­fectly man­i­cured hands.

In The Win­ter’s Tale, it’s fe­male power across the gen­er­a­tions that pre­vents the killing spree of rage. The king ac­cuses his wife, Hermione, of sleep­ing with his best friend’s mur­der, and throws the new­born baby out onto the streets. Hermione makes her case with such sane dig­nity that you know the hus­band is a gun-tot­ing nut job.

But it’s the aban­doned baby, Perdita, in whom Shake­speare of­fers a dif­fer­ent model of love. When we meet her again, grown-up, un­ware of her own story, but courted by a prince who has no idea that she is a princess, Perdita is open-hearted and sin­cere and un­fazed by power or riches. She doesn’t use her beauty or her sex­u­al­ity to get her own way. She waits to give her heart be­cause she knows her own worth. And how many women can re­ally say that?

Shake­speare’s mes­sage is that it’s women who have dig­nity, pa­tience, and love – and that women need to stick to­gether against the mad­ness. Brush up your Shake­speare, girls. Jeanette Win­ter­son’s novel The Gap Of Time is a reimag­in­ing of Wil­liam Shake­speare’s play The Win­ter’s Tale.

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