Imperial Jointress vs Sexy Mumma

I was in town today and a salesman said to me “Hey Sexy Mumma” before trying to sell me something I certainly didn’t want. There is much that could be said about this kind of misguided flirtation, but what popped into my mind was how irritating it is to use “Mumma” or mother as a general term for a woman. Not all women choose to become mothers, and those that do are often interesting and rounded individuals who are not solely defined by their motherhood. The other part of the salutation, “sexy” seems to imply that women should want to be desirable to men.  How demeaning to be known as a WAG, as if your only defining feature was your man!

Not all of Shakespeare’s women are simply portrayed as WAGs or WAMs (Wives And Mothers), but modern criticism on his more enigmatic characters seem determined that they should be so. Gertrude is a good case in point. In Hamlet Shakespeare doesn’t give Gertrude much to say, but her silences can speak volumes. In many productions Gertrude is either “sexy” or a “mumma”. She is interpreted as either a weak-willed, sexual being, mislead by her lust for Claudius; or as a gentle and submissive mother, misguidedly trying to protect her son. In truth these aren’t the only options for Shakespeare’s Gertrude. Gertrude is also referred to as “th’imperial jointress of this warlike state”. Perhaps, as “imperial jointress”, she was motivated by love of her country, politics, or ambition. All I’m saying is, she’s got choices.

Photograph by Peter Marsh at ashmorevisuals


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