It’s strange how often I read something and discover it relates to events taking place in the world around me. Many of us are outraged at the lenient sentence given to Brock Turner, a mere six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. As such, I found it serendipitous that Double Falsehood, written over 500 years ago, also addresses the issue of the sexual violation of women.
For those of you who do now know the history of this play, it is thought to be a lost Shakespeare play. The play has only recently been attributed to him and added to the collection of Shakespeare’s works. If you are interested in reading more about the history of the text, check out this Wikipedia page.
Anyway, I want to focus on the text.
First off, I want to point out that one of the central female characters, the one who is sexually violated in the beginning by Henriquez, is named Violante. I instantly noted the similarity of her name to the word “violate.” Remove the “n” from her name and you have violate, symbolizing a violated woman.
After forcing himself on Violante, Henriquez tries to convince himself he did nothing wrong, that even though she resisted, she did not resist enough and therefore acquiesced in his mind.
Hold, let me be severe to myself, but not
unjust. Was it rape then? No. Her shrieks, her
exclamations then had drove me from her. True, she
did not consent: as true, she did resist; but still in
(Act 2, scene 1)
Afterwards, as is often the case with victims of sexual abuse, Violante feels guilt and shame.
Whom shall I look upon without a blush?
There’s not a maid whose eye with virgin gaze
Pierces not to my guilt. What will’t avail me
To say I was not willing?
Nothing, but that I publish my dishonour,
And wound my fame anew. O misery,
To seem to all one’s neighbours rich, yet know
One’s self necessitous and wretched.
(Act 2, scene 2)
In her despair, Violante escapes to the country and disguises herself as a young boy. But her master figures out she is actually a woman and also tries to violate her sexually.
Come, you’re made for love.
Will you comply? I’m madder with this talk.
There’s nothing you can say can take my edge off.
(Act 4, scene 1)
She manages to escape her new attacker, but is then wracked with guilt and despair. Sadly, she considers suicide as the only way to rid herself of the pain she feels as a result of her violation.
And O, thou fool,
Forsaken Violante – whose belief
And childish love have made thee so – go, die!
For there is nothing left thee now to look for
That can bring comfort but a quiet grave.
There all the miseries I long have felt
And those to come shall sweetly sleep together.
(Act 4, scene 2)
While this is certainly not one of Shakespeare’s best works (if in fact it truly is the work of the bard), it’s an easy read and worth checking out, if nothing else but for insight into a social plague that still vexes us today. All sexual assault should be condemned and perpetrators given punishments that suit the crimes. But let me not get too high on the soapbox. Give the play a read and feel free to share your comments in the space below.
Thanks for stopping by and showing an interest in literature.