Margot Robbie, who just gave an Oscar-nominated performance as former figure skater Tonya Harding in the film I, Tonya, announced this week she is producing a female-centered TV series on the works of William Shakespeare. That both excites and concerns The Guardian writer Danuta Kean. While it would be a step forward for women, how can Robbie possibly overcome all the sexist stereotypes rampant in the famous playwright's plays?
She pinpoints some specific female characters who were treated poorly by Shakespeare's men. Throughout his career, he "diminished" the fairer sex, Kean argues.
For instance, how can the physical and psychological abuse endured by Katherine at the hands of her suitor Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew be played for laughs, as originally intended? What might have produced belly laughs in Elizabethan England should have modern women running to their nearest refuges as fast as they can shout “coercive control”.
Even when his women are not victims of male caprice, Shakespeare only allows them freedom to express their true character if they slip into something more comfortable, ditching the stomacher and farthingale for a pair of breeches. But women being women diminishes them in his work. Thus the lively intellects of Viola in Twelfth Night, Rosalind in As You Like It and Portia in The Merchant of Venice are only taken seriously when they are mistaken for men. It is the 16th-century equivalent of Margaret Thatcher lowering her voice to be taken seriously.
Robbie and her production company Lucky Chap is hoping that their ten-part, female centric Shakespeare TV series will highlight women's strengths.
"[This is] an opportunity to showcase unique, distinctly female voices in writing, and to demonstrate the high quality of the Australian film and television industry...The project will share diverse points of view, from writers representing the different cultures and areas within Australia, which many would not readily associate with works of Shakespeare." (Broadway World)
Yet, Kean is skeptical.
"So bad is the Bard’s treatment of women, it could earn him a whole MeToo hashtag on Twitter."