Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jillian Keenan's Memoir 'Sex With Shakespeare'

Sex With Shakespeare: Here's Much to Do With Pain, But More With Love

I knew from the moment I laid eyes on the title of this book that I had to know more. When I spotted it on the autobiographies shelf at my local Barnes and Noble, I knew I had to buy a copy.

The author, Jillian Keenan, is a spanking fetishist. I am not. Despite the fact that I myself am not a part of the spanking sub-subculture of the BDSM subculture, I found that I felt a tremendous amount of sympathy with the author as she told her story.

This is, after all, a love story. All love stories are relatable, to some extent, to anyone who's ever been in love.

Each chapter is themed around a particular Shakespearean work. The first chapter centers on my favorite of the Bard's comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here Keenan addresses a topic also brought up by E.T. Malinowski in her romance novel A Midsummer Dream: Are Demetrius and Helena ever really in love?

Keenan thinks they are, as I do. But she adds an interesting new spin. She contends that when Helena says:

"I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,--
And yet a place of high respect with me,--
Than to be used as you use your dog?"

...she is being literal. She wants Demetrius to treat her like his dog. In Helena, Keenan sees a kindred soul, a woman whose sexuality is incomplete, virtually nonexistent, without her submissive, masochistic side being expressed. Keenan sees Helena as a woman embracing her emerging kink, while Demetrius is still coming to terms with his Dominant/sadist tendencies. Genuinely afraid he will hurt Helena, Demetrius turns his attentions to the woman he perceives as the safe, vanilla choice: Hermia.

Kinky headcanon accepted. Since I can't seem to stop crushing on Christian Bale as Demetrius, I want the interpretation that puts Demetrius in the most sympathetic light.

The second chapter deals with a character I find much less likeable: Caliban from The Tempest. Keenan has a special relationship with Caliban, but I can't get over the fact that he admits he tried to rape Miranda. Keenan doesn't excuse that, but she does remind us that Shakespeare was a humanist and even he, in the authorial voice, allows mercy for Caliban in the end.

There are a few plays mentioned in this memoir that I haven't seen or read yet: Twelfth Night, Cymbeline, Antony and Cleopatra, and As You Like It. By and large, though, all the characters with whom Keenan has a series of imagination conversations that help her find her way are all familiar, beloved characters to me.

Now, Keenan has a master's degree in literature that focused on Shakespeare and is recognized as an expert. Productions call her in when they have questions about interpretation of the text. I'm an amateur fan who fell in love with my fifth grade teacher cast me as Peter Quince. I don't know nearly as much about Shakespeare as Keenan does, but as a fellow fangirl, I can certainly appreciate her enthusiasm for the subject.

She writes with remarkable honesty and openness about matters both deeply personal and professional, and I felt privileged to accompany her on this inward journey. I may not share the specifics of her sexual orientation (and she does call spanking fetishism her orientation - in the more conventional sense of the term, she is bisexual, like me - and like Shakespeare, probably), but through this book, I have new insight into the experience.

One quibble: Keenan mentions that in Shakespeare's time, the liver and not the heart was considered to be the seat of love. However, it seems to me that I have seen references within Shakespeare's plays to the heart as the seat of love. Did she mean that the liver was considered to be the seat of lust?

Either way, I really, really enjoyed reading this memoir.

I purchased this book with my own funds and was not obligated in any way to review it.

1 comment:

Erin O'Riordan said...

I saw 'Twelfth Night' twice this past summer, so I need to reread that chapter once I get my books out of storage again.