Shakespeare's Fallen Women
Elizabeth Sloas: Solo Exhibition
What does it mean to fall? A fallen man is an honorable man. He fell in battle, he risked his life. However, a fallen woman is a dishonorable woman, she has fallen from grace. She has failed. For centuries the word fallen has been divided denoting either honor and dishonor crushing those lesser than beneath. What happens when you change the meaning? What happens when you instead look at those deemed “fallen” with strength and compassion? What happens then? Within this body of work titled Shakespeare’s Fallen Women, artist Elizabeth Sloas seeks to highlight the female characters within Shakespeare’s tragedies and see them not as just fallen women, but soldiers in their own right.
This dramatic self-portrait is a culmination of self-reflection and direct artistic influences. The painting itself depicts the artist, kneeling upon a golden fabric, dagger in hand. Below her is an abundance of coins, gems, and gold, leading the viewer to believe that she is surrounded by wealth, however, due to the position of the dagger, it is unknown whether the figure is about to stab herself or someone else. Behind her is a traditional curtain associated with theatrical productions insinuating that the figure feels that they are on display or being closely watched. The spotlight is shining directly on her, her eyes are closed either unaware of the audience or purposely closing them out.
In this heartbreaking painting, Juliet is depicted at the moment leading up to her death. The painting itself is based on the classic tale, Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare. The painting depicts the moment in which Juliet has awoken from her coma, only to find that Romeo has taken his own life. Filled with the despair of losing her only love, she has decided that the only way to truly be with Romeo again is to take her own life.
This painting depicts the young Ophelia, from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The stylization of Ophelia is directly sourced from Hamlet. According to Queen Gertrude, “Her clothes spread wide and mermaid-like as they bore her up… till her garments heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death.” In the foreground of the painting, the viewer can see that Ophelia is tangled in the reeds of the river, almost as if they are pulling her down into the dark depths of the riverbed. She wears a simple dress, and small air bubbles float from her lips, her last words of song lost to the world.
This painting features the character Desdemona from Othello by William Shakespeare. Desdemona can be seen staring at her own reflection as she contemplates her life so far. Her image is dimly lit, only the edges of her face and body revealed within the candlelight.
We are looking in on a private moment between Desdemona and herself after the tragic assault by Othello, her husband. Though the scene ends with Desdemona’s death, this is a fabricated scene in which we witness the quiet anger of a woman scorned. Her hand gently pulls away from the top of her nightdress to reveal a bruised neck and face. There are tears in her eyes the culmination of both anger and sorrow.
The scene represented in the painting displays one of the most famous quotes from Lady Macbeth within the play, Macbeth. Here she says her famous line, “Out damned spot!” This scene is both tragic and heartbreaking. Before the moment displayed in the painting, Lady Macbeth and her husband murdered King Duncan. Unable to cope with the murder Lady Macbeth dissolves into a psychotic breakdown. She believes that her hands are covered in blood and that no matter how much she washes them, they will never be clean. This is of course a reflection of her guilty conscience.
Based on the play Antony and Cleopatra, this painting displays one of the historical characters portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays, Cleopatra. This work shows the moments just before Cleopatra’s death, loosely based on the descriptions from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, as well as from Plutarch’s Lives. Wrapped around Cleopatra’s left hand is the asp that takes her life. She holds in her hands the power of life and death, instead of being captured by her enemies, Cleopatra decides to end her own life before they can take her or her people. In a powerful display of female power, Cleopatra is surrounded by rich emerald green, alluding to her snake-like persona and her own cunning nature.
Cleopatra can be seen in a quiet but seductive pose. Her eyes are soft and her lips are slightly upturned. She holds an emerald green cloth to her chest, her wrist relaxed. The background is bare, leaving the viewer to focus solely on Cleopatra.
Cleopatra came from the Ptolemy family and while she was born in Egypt she was in fact not Egyptian. She was of Macedonian descent, which made her closer to Greek than to Egyptian. Though this is not to fault her as a ruler. She was the only Ptolemaic ruler to learn Egyptian, making her much closer to the people than any ruler before.
While Portia does not have as many lines in Julius Caesar as other characters, her strength and power shine through nonetheless. She is the wife of Brutus, known to be the mastermind behind one of the most infamous betrayals in all of history. In this scene, Act II, scene II Portia confronts her husband, conveying that she knows that a terrible secret plagues him. In order to show her loyalty to him she threatens to stab herself in the thigh. Though she does not stab herself in this scene, Plutarch recounts that she stabbed herself, suffering for days with the affliction. Portia is even quoted saying, “Thou, indeed, art faultless as a husband (Brutus); but how can I show thee any grateful service if I am to share neither thy secret suffering nor the anxiety which craves a loyal confidant?” Portia not only shows that she has earned his loyalty and his secrets but displays that she is strong and powerful herself.
This painting portrays Juliet at the time of her entombment. She can be seen lying on top of her funeral monument. Her arms are crossed over her chest, grasping a single red rose. While it can be seen that Juliet is within the Capulet tomb, it is up to the viewer to determine at what point in the play the painting portrays. Juliet is seen wearing a simple gold wedding ring, signifying that this scene does take place after her and Romeo’s forbidden marriage. However, it is up to interpretation whether she is simply lying in wait for her love, Romeo, or if she has already taken her life.
This painting depicts an imagined portrait of Juliet. She can be seen gazing softly out of frame, the artist displaying the youth and somberness of Juliet. The background of the painting is dim, leaving the viewer to instead focus on the figure within the painting.
Juliet is shown wearing a dark green which goes against the colors of the Capulet house, which are blue and yellow. She instead is portrayed in one of the Montague’s house colors, green. This is meant to highlight her relationship with Romeo and her betrayal against her own house. Juliet does not smile, she does not look into the viewer's eyes, she instead is seen gazing contemplatively onward.