Wonder Women in Dublin and Shakespeare

I had planned to write a review of the new Wonder Woman film, but, having finally seen the film, I feel totally unable to write one. I don’t think it was a particularly good film, but I found the experience so emotionally uplifting, I’m thinking of seeing it again. Perhaps it was watching a film dedicated to the adulation of the strength and beauty of a straightforwardly good female character, in a way that didn’t seem like objectification, that made me feel uplifted. This film had so much wrong with it, in terms of plot, characterisation, appalling racial and cultural stereotyping, scripting, and, sorry, in terms of David Thewlis. Frankly, all the things that are usually wrong with big budget superhero films were wrong with this one. How could I enjoy it, despite all this? Well maybe because this gloriously silly waste of a big budget was finally centred, wholly unapologetically, around a woman. Gadot’s Diana wasn’t mired in some whiny love triangle; she lead rather than followed, and instead of providing a plot mechanism to change or motivate a man, she forged her own destiny. Instead of the old cliché of a powerful woman compromised by her love for an unsuitable man, Diana’s love made her more powerful. But was it a good film? I don’t really know; there were a lot of things wrong with it. Despite all its flaws, Wonder Woman made me feel euphoric, but since I can’t articulate why, I decided to blog about some other wonder women who have inspired me lately.

Hen dos in Dublin have a reputation for being wild. Really wild. So, when I set off for a hen weekend in Ireland’s beautiful capital city, I have to say, I was more than a little bit anxious. It turned out, of course, to be my kind of hen party with very well-chosen entertainments and activities that were both educational and fun. I met some really wonderful women, and had a great time. Importantly, we also played the game where you put an After Eight on your forehead and try to get into your mouth without using your hands. There were moments when things did get a little wild. This was Dublin. This was a hen do. I had a gin and tonic AND half a glass of prosecco. Laugh if you will, but that slurp of prosecco was the nail in my coffin. Towards the end of the night we all piled into a taxi to go and hear some live music in a bar. I got my wallet out to pay for the taxi, and then got out. As I returned my wallet to my hand bag a claw of cold dread clutched my stomach; my phone was not there! I realised I must have left my phone in the taxi. The taxi was driving off. “My phone is still in the taxi” I whimpered, vaguely. This was when the hens revealed themselves to be wonder women. “Let’s catch it then” the Bride replied, and without missing a beat, set off at a sprint down the cobbled street, her mini veil streaming behind her like a superhero’s cape. Realising I had no idea which taxi we were following, I ran lamely after her. We didn’t catch him. At that point, I had given the phone up for lost, and went into the bar imagining all the information that could be gleaned from my phone when it was inevitably found by some arch-hacker with a maniacal interest in my rather tiny bank account. But no one else had given up. The Chief Bridesmaid set up Find My iPhone on her mobile. While I watched forlornly as my iPhone blob moved around the Dublin tourist traps, others were formulating plans. “This means it’s still in the taxi” stated the Chief Bridesmaid encouragingly. “But we can’t get to it. I think I’d better just go back to the hotel, I don’t want to ruin the rest of the night” I sniffed with faux Stoicism, my only motive being to go somewhere private and cry about the lost phone. Well, no one was having any of that rubbish. The Bride, meanwhile, who had somehow memorised the taxi’s licence number mid-sprint (I had no idea she had a photographic memory – talk about wonder woman – she will surely be recruited for the special forces after this display of athleticism and mental acuity), had accosted another taxi driver and made him look it up on the Dublin taxi database. She returned with a photograph of an information sheet on the driver whose taxi contained my phone. “Take this to the Garda and they’ll get your phone back.” Hopelessly, imagining the derisive laughter of the Dublin Garda as I told them the situation, and with a gallows mentality, I allowed myself to be escorted to the Garda station by the Chief and another of the very helpful Hens. They were pretty optimistic, but I was the Eeyore of the group. The station was very close by, and, contrary to my expectations, we were met by an incredibly friendly young woman who said that since our man was a registered taxi driver, she could ring him up and ask him to bring the phone to us. “I’m so glad we could help you” she beamed, and I watched in amazement as the Find My iPhone blob on the Chief’s phone slid nearer and nearer to our location. Miraculously, the phone was returned to my hands in hardly any time at all. I still couldn’t quite believe it, but I was glad that these wonder women, the Bride, the Chief, and the other Hens had ignored my ‘you go on without me, and leave me to die here’ attitude, and worked together to save the day.  Their optimism, practicality, and cool-headedness was something to behold, not to mention the Bride’s photographic memory! All along I kept apologising – I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been and I was worried my mini drama would overshadow the great evening we were having – but, with characteristic generosity and positivity, the fantastic group of hens replied: “Don’t worry. It’ll be a great story.”

A G&T and half a glass of Prosecco
Photograph by Peter Marsh at ashmorevisuals

The optimism, resilience and resourcefulness of these wonder women reminded me of the heroines of Shakespeare’s comedies. In particular my Dublin adventure followed the pattern of act 1 scene 3 of As You Like It. Rosalind and Celia are having a conversation about a bloke one of them fancies, when suddenly Rosalind’s tyrannical uncle, the Duke, storms in and declares that Rosalind is banished on pain of death. Yes, this situation is slightly different to losing an iPhone, but bear with me. Rosalind is understandably a little shaken by this sudden announcement, but her friend and cousin, Celia responds, not with tears, but by coming up with a plan. Celia tells Rosalind that she will join her in exile rather than part with her. Rosalind, who later becomes a very dynamic character (and, as they say in Dublin, "is great craic"), is not feeling very perky at this point: “Why wither shall we go?” she asks, at a loss. Celia is quick with a reply, and suggests the Forest of Arden, where Rosalind’s father is also hiding. Rosalind, like me during my mobile phone fiasco, is not having any of this and resists Celia’s confident assertion. It’s just too dangerous, she objects, but Celia counters her doubts with both a positive attitude and a plan.
Rosalind: Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far!
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold. 
Celia: I'll put myself in poor and mean attire,
And with a kind of umber smirch my face;
The like do you; so shall we pass along,
And never stir assailants.
The journey is long and dangerous, and Rosalind fears they will be attacked on the road, robbed, and as young women alone, very possibly raped. Celia suggests a disguise. Instead of dressing like the daughter and niece of a duke, they short dress like paupers and smear dirt over their faces, so that they will pass under the radar of would-be thieves. Celia’s dynamism buoys up Rosalind’s spirits, and she adds to the plan, that she herself will dress as a boy. Instead of sorrow and fear they are filled with hope, and the scene ends with Celia’s iconic lines “Now go we in content / To liberty, and not to banishment.” Much is made of male friendship in Shakespeare’s plays, but here we see women cooperating to solve problems and get things done.

Celia by no means stands alone in Shakespeare’s canon as a level-headed woman with great lines. Viola and Portia, (and Hermia and Helena for that matter) would certainly have run after that taxi! Helena in All's Well That Ends Well act 1 scene 1 explains that sisters – well, anyone really – should be doing it for themselves:
“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.”
Rather like Cassius' assertion that if we don’t get what we want “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves,” (Julius Caesar act 1, scene 2), Helena decides that there’s no point waiting for fate to sort your life out for you. Both references to “stars” allude to the practice of horoscopes, popular in Shakespeare’s day. The wealthy, in particular, would pay for their horoscopes to be drawn up that would predict the course their life would take, which days or years would be lucky for them, and even when they would die. Some people took horoscopes very seriously, while others thought they were nonsense. One of Shakespeare’s patrons, William Herbert, the third earl of Pembroke, declared that he thought his horoscope was a load of nonsense and he didn’t believe a word of it, but then, he is said to have died on the very day predicted in his horoscope. That uncanny coincidence happened long after Shakespeare’s own death, and the playwright gives us plenty of characters who make their own fate. Self-determined and resourceful female characters often drive the plot of comedies. In All’s Well That Ends Well when the object of Helena’s affection leaves their home and her with it, she decides to set off to follow him. Bertram (the bloke in question) is of a higher social status than herself, Helena says he is as far above herself as a “bright […] star”, but nevertheless she decides to pursue him. In this way, she provides a stark contrast to Ophelia, who is told, using another starry image, that her socially superior love interest is not destined for her. “Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star. / This must not be” says her father, Polonius (Hamlet, act 2, scene 2). Ophelia accepts this blow, and is mistreated and manipulated until she goes mad and kills herself. Helena presents an alternative in which a woman defies these societal constraints. She goes to the King’s court, and cures him of his illness, and as a result is granted the husband of her choice. However, her problems don’t stop there. When she chooses Bertram, the young nobleman is appalled at the thought of a match with someone of such low birth. He goes off to war and declares that he will never be her husband unless she can get her ring on his hand and his heir in her womb; conditions that Bertram believes to be impossible. “When thou canst get the ring upon my finger which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband: but in such a 'then' I write a 'never.'” Oddly this doesn’t discourage Helena all that much, and by the end of the play she has achieved these impossible tasks and Bertram consents to be her husband. To be honest though, you wouldn’t really want him after all that, would you? All in all, it’s a bit of a dodgy play, even by Shakespeare’s standards. I mean, Helena is more or less Bertram’s adopted sister, and she achieves her ends with a ‘bed trick’, which is deeply sinister. Perhaps Helena wasn’t a good example, but we can’t talk about Viola and Portia all the time.

On the way home from Dublin we completed another hen party tradition by irritating everyone on the plane. We played the Shakespeare name game. One of the hens called out obscure names from Shakespeare, and we all tried to guess to which play they belonged. For unknown reasons, perhaps because of names like “Fang” and “First Goth”, or perhaps just because of the company, this game was hilarious, nay, hysterical and lasted not only throughout the flight, but all the way home in the car. Like the Dublin hen do, Shakespeare’s dramatis personae contains many extraordinary and inspiring women. Shakespeare knew that a dynamic woman at the centre of a good plot is box office gold.

The After Eight Game


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