Emilia: A Badass Feminist Play At The Globe Theatre
It is Friday 31 August, 2018. 2.00pm. I am sitting in the stalls of The Globe Theatre awaiting the latest play written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: Emilia. Twitter has been creating a storm of praise for all the Feminist Fury it ignites, and I sit excitedly filled with expectations for what will come.
I was not disappointed.
For those who may not know (because why would you?), Emilia Bassano was William Shakespeare’s contemporary - presumed to have been ‘The Dark Lady’ from his Sonnets and to have even written, not least inspired, many of his plays. So why haven’t you heard of her? Well, to put it bluntly, she was a Woman from African descent. Despite having a privileged upbringing that boasted education and creative freedom, Emilia was undermined and written off at every turn of her creative career as a result of her biological anatomy and colour of skin.
The play takes the audience through 3 separate stages of her life, guided by the 3 Emilia’s you can see in the picture above. ‘Emilia 3’ narrates moments between each stage, guiding us with the wisdom you could only get from a future version of yourself. From forced marriages, a dead baby daughter and the denouncing of her luxury lifestyle, we watch Emilia as she grows through trauma, anger and passion. A story we may be familiar with, to any extent. Morgan’s Emilia not only questions why women’s words have been silenced throughout history, but also uncovers the work of Shakespeare’s Black Female Contemporary in his own ‘gaff’. This iconic, ironic and indisputably powerful play provides the space and recognition she should have experienced whilst she was alive. Whilst work from female artists are being gradually uncovered, it is still a depressing reminder that these women didn’t get the success they deserved in their time. They were silenced, locked away or burnt at the stake for attempting to get their voices heard.
And yet. Emilia is not there to upset, but rather disrupt. Morgan breathed life into her words and The Globe provided her the space to display her talents (finally). Things are happening, theatre is changing, and the women inside want us to join them. For me, and many others who have the pleasure of watching it, Emilia’s final speech will resonate in my bones for the rest of my life; empowering me to scream, to fight, to burn the fucking house down. So join us? I’ll be the woman at the back dancing to the heartbeats of all the women who came before me.
‘Like the earth has the heat of its origins deep in its centre I do too. I have been told that my anger is not to be seen on my outside.
That it is not seemly. It doesn’t help.
I have been told, even by other women, that it detracts from what I have tried to say.
I have been told that it’s distracting people from moving forward as they are too consumed by the guilt I am giving them. And that my hatred of the men who did this detracts from my arguments.
But you say we hate men as if we silence them, as if we beat and abuse them, rape them, as if we shame them for their desires, as if we restrict them from any kind of independence and agency, As if we hang and drown them and burn them.
I am seventy-six years old and I hold in me a muscle memory of every woman who came before me and I will send more for those that will come after.
For every Eve.
I don’t know if you can feel it. Do you? Do you feel it? Inside of you. You don’t need to be a woman to know what is coming. Because why have our stories been ignored? For so long? Ask yourself why.
Listen to us.
Listen to every woman who came before you. Listen to every woman with you now. And listen when I say to you to take the fire as your own. That anger that you feel it is yours and you can use it. We want you to. We need you to. The house that has been built around you is not made of stone. The stakes we have been tied to will not survive if our flames burn bright. If they try to burn you, may your fire be stronger than theirs so you can burn the whole fucking house down. Look how far we’ve come already.
Don’t stop now.’
Article by VERVE Operative Helena Burton - Jones