Surely no one can dispute that William Shakespeare was one of the world’s greatest playwrights, right? A nooooooooooooooo. In She Wolf from Gillian English, Queen Margaret (of Henry VI, Part 1 – 3, and Richard III) has brought herself back from hell, resplendent in her crown, glass of wine in hand, to dispel a few popular misconceptions about the woman she was, and, in her words, the “Shit Shakespeare Put In My Mouth”.
A soliloquy from a woman who in her first appearance never had one, Gillian delivers Margaret’s intensely personal narrative with the growing sense of exasperation she must have surely felt, frequently exclaiming “what the shit!” and “fuck my life”. There’s pop culture references aplenty, because apparently they get Netflix in hell! By all accounts, Margaret was not the nicest of people, but she is not, she wants to make it clear, quite as bad as the Bard made out.
If there’s an overriding message of the piece, it’s this: in Shakespeare, any woman who tries to do what a man does, even if she’s absolutely in the right (Margaret was QUEEN OF ENGLAND), is usually played as manipulative and power-hungry, and not all that much has changed (see the recent US Election). According to Shakespeare, Margaret ruthlessly dominates her husband, lusts after power, personally leads battles and executes people, and mercilessly mocks the Duchess of York when she comes to her for advice, calling her, among other things, a bitch, and telling her that literally everyone is praying for her son’s death.
In reality, Margaret was fifteen years old when she was married to Henry VI, a ruler whose actions had mostly been controlled by regents since he was mere months old and mental health was deteriorating rapidly, to the point that when she gave birth to their son Edward, many suspected he has the result of an affair. When the House of York tried to assert their dominance, she quite reasonably pointed out that no, actually, she was Queen and her son the rightful heir. Which was completely ignored, leading to the War of the Roses. Also, by the time of Richard III – where she’s depicted in primo-bitch mode – she was in France, quite apart from the whole play being a smear job. Did you know Shakespeare wrote propaganda? Oh boy.
Stylistically, Margaret as played by Gillian is just starting on her second glass of wine and delivering a talking head on Desperate (Lancastrian) Housewives, and that, I think, is Shakespeare how it should be performed.
She Wolf is at 7pm at the Butterfly Club until 24 September. $32 Full, $28 Conc., discounts for Members and Groups of 6+.