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Millennium Post

How Shakespeare contributes to male myths of rape...

Following the heinous incident of rape in New Delhi last December, the most depressing of all the ridiculous jibes one found  was from a woman agricultural scientist in Madhya Pradesh, who while speaking at a seminar on the theme of sensitivity towards women, rather put the blame squarely on the  hapless victim herself. She intellectually suggested that the victim should have rather meekly surrendered when she was being abused by six rapists. Her point was that by doing that she could have at least saved her intestines from being ripped apart.

This is the most distasteful of all abhorable opinions  as it’s a kind of prop-up of the crude male  myths of rape which hint that if one is sure that one is going to be raped, one might as well relax and enjoy it. Any lawyer defending the rapists  would be happy to argue by terming the fight-less surrender as cooperation, or worse still as collaboration.

That it had come from someone from the field of science depresses. But it is no less depressing to find that literature too is no innocent bystander. The latter, which is guilty of propagating women’s beauty to the point of stirring up male desire for possession, uses beauty as a sort of metaphor for desire and craving. If you don’t agree, take William Shakespeare for example.

One wonders what made Shakespeare shift the blame of rape squarely on his protagonist victim Lucrece in his poetic narrative Rape of Lucrece in which he retold the story of Lucretia from Livy’s History of Rome. Livy lived some 1,600 years before Shakespeare did, and he very sympathetically treated the character of Lucretia as a victim of her own virtue, unlike the latter.

When Livy’s Lucretia was raped by the King’s son Saxtus, his reason was that the royal rapist wanted to deprive her of her wifely virtue by physically defiling her in order to trivialise the prized possession of his relative, Collantinus. Lucretia who was driven to suicide was absolved of being in any way responsible for her physical violation, because it was a result of male rivalry between ravaging sexes.

But then Shakespeare took over one and a half millennium later, painting the character of Lucretia in a new avatar as the beautiful Lucrece, very meticulously shifted the blame from the rapist to the victim.

He allowed the rapist Tarquin who is a recreation of Livy’s Saxtus to justify his act and pass the blame to the victim by charging her with being too  beautiful and hence irresistibly seductive. Shakespeare’s rapist insists that the victim’s sexuality ruined his reason. His shift of blame is at its height when he declaims that ‘the fault is thine’.

One finds it amazing that Thomas Hardy too joins the brigade of  advocates of male myths of rape. In his 19th century novel, Tess of D’Urbervilles, he hints at the possibility of the violation of Tess not as rape, but as a consensual intercourse. Thereby he too appears to take out criminality from the unacceptable act of rape. The myths of rape surely grew more convincing over a period of time, which got hijacked by the Asian pseudo-intellectuals who won’t hesitate to deliver the jibes for a woman victim who is unable to make them understand what it feels like to be dehumanised in body and soul.

Gurbir Singh works with the Information and Public Relations Department of Odisha

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