Fall gets me thinking of paradox (cool weather/warm colors, leaves dying/plentiful harvests). Paradox gets me thinking about truth and linguistic limitations. “Paradox” is a label we give concepts and observations that don’t fit into our linear, limited and dichotomous boxes. But truth is enveloping. Ugly is defined by beauty. Finite is infinite. Everything is nothing and nothing is everything. And, of course, this all leads me to Shakespeare.
As many characters and brilliant aphorisms as the Bard created, we don’t really know his personal philosophy or politics. He is everyone and no one. For any passionate and brilliant call to some action or thought, the opposing call to inaction or dismissal can be found uttered from another Shakespearean character.
I’ve been told (and once considered) that Shakespeare was a sexist. I decided otherwise while writing a research paper on the subject. It wasn’t a sexist who created Lady Macbeth, Rosaline and Cleopatra. It wasn’t a sexist who had Desdemona wish, “That heaven had made her such a man,” (which was ridiculously footnoted over 300 years later to be missing “for her”). It wasn’t a sexist who had Cleopatra join the men in battle. It wasn’t a sexist who had Rosaline, Viola and Portia excel in wit once freed from feminine limitations imposed by society. It wasn’t a sexist who had Beatrice “speak poniards.” (For a little while, I believed Shakespeare was a woman. I’ve since decided he was not a she.)
(Yeah, I know… how’d we get here from autumn and paradox?… I’m wondering that myself… Oh, yeah! HERE we go…)
Women dressing and passing as men is a plot devise in a few of Shakespeare’s plays. Gender bending is not exclusive to the obvious, though. In Romeo and Juliet, there is symbolic gender-bending. Juliet is compared to the sun, a masculine symbol. Romeo is compared to the moon. Juliet says of Romeo, “My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words/
Of that tongue’s uttering…” (II, 2) and water (liquid) is assigned as feminine. Here’s the one I noted years ago, the lovers’ deaths: Romeo DRINKS poison (besides the liquid, this is a passive suicide) and Juliet (actively) STABS herself–a sword being an obvious masculine symbol (did you know “vagina” means “sheath”?). I think the main theme of R&J is how freely opposites can envelop, swallow and be ABSORBED (<-there it is) by the “other.”
Paradox. Enjoy the warm colors and cooler air. Enjoy that masculinity and hardness are defined by attraction to femininity and softness. Enjoy the swirl of opposites as they contort, spin, caress and kiss. Enjoy that opposites do not really oppose, but reflect, embrace and express the “other.”