They didn't go so far as to say "countrywomen."
Well, I went to see the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's production of Julius Caesar--with an all-female cast--last night with my sister. Here's what I think about what they did: I want first to say that it was not all bad, that I am not sorry I went, that there was some good acting even if it was founded upon a dual misrepresentation--I shall explain, by and by.
Perhaps I should start where the evening started. Before the show, the head artistic honcho (not head financial honcho, of course) got up and gave a little history lesson about what acting companies would do back in the days of Elizabeth (or James) when the theaters around London were shut down because of plague or monarchical whim. They would strip their performances down and play at various towns and suburbs (apparently they were still allowed to do this), often at city halls. I mean, just because everybody's dropping to the plague doesn't mean you can stop making a living, am I right? So this was interesting as well as appropriate, because the City of Germantown TN allowed this production to be played in their city hall. Pretty neat, actually.
Now for it, however. He got to the cast, saying two things which I (and my sister) thought completely ridiculous. (1) "What if women had been in the majority in Shakespeare's day, how would he have cast this play..." I think he meant something political--what if women had been in the political majority--though last I checked, in 1599 some incredibly powerful woman named Elizabeth sat on the throne. In a monarchy, you know, wherein majority is not quite as big of a deal. It's not like Shakespeare ignores women in his plays, and many late 16th century assumptions about women are ridiculed (and sometimes reinforced) as much in Shakespeare as they would be in our own day, even in Julius Caesar, that most masculine of plays. In any case, I find it difficult to believe that, even had there been some catastrophic, dude-specific plague ranging through merry England in the 16th century, that a hard-up-for-actors Billy Shakes would consider casting Caesar and Brutus as chicks (or young boys). I also find it difficult to believe that, even if women called all the shots in England at that time (or any time), that they would demand the characters be so cast. Are women so unreasonable as to demand all the great good and great villainy of all times be attributed to them? Is this the way to "enfranchise" them? Surely not.
This leads to (2): "In productions of Julius Caesar, often the aspect of love is left out or is obscured by power and violence..." Really? What productions of Julius Caesar had he seen? This supposed problem would supposedly be solved by casting women. So let me get this straight: women are "loving" while men are powerful and violent? And we're trying to challenge or at least nuance stereotypes, are we? The production was self-defeating, were this its aim. All a person would learn from this production is that women weep when they ought to be hard, shriek when a calmer word would do, and dance about with swords of murder, war and suicide when they ought to get on with the deed. For that is how the actors played it: weeping too much, shrieking too much, and dancing at all (because women are "graceful," I guess). All the things you can imagine an annoying woman doing, making her husband desire nothing after the day but oblivion in the television. I don't know, but I think that's rather insulting. I myself have known a woman or two who loved, and I do not think they loved less or had less power when their cheeks were dry and their faces set. Judge for yourselves, you women, whether I or the Tennessee Shakespeare Company do you wrong.
An example, and I'm almost done. It is no lie: one of Brutus's props was a dadgum hanky! Now, has anybody heard of a Brutus that carried around a hanky? I mean, almost throughout the play, she's wiping her nose and eyes. Stoic? I think not. It was almost comic. Not what you're going for with Brutus.
But perhaps the most distracting thing was that they changed all the pronouns and "man" to "woman." "Here was a woman," and so on. Now, that's ridiculous. If the women had played men, I think I would have enjoyed it much more, but they were all women in the play itself. Brutus and Portia were both "wives." I can't write any more about that. It's too painful.
Caska was good, though. I mean, really. It's a small part, I know, but it was played very well, alternating some comedy with resolve and viciousness. There were other good things about it, believe it or not, but I can't write about it any more. Overall I think it showed a startling lack of respect both for Shakespeare and women. Grant them their bad ideas, though, and they did a good job...but then, that's the thing. If you do a good job with a bad idea, what have you accomplished?