By Constance Drugeot
“Listen to us. Listen to every woman who came before you. Listen to every woman with you now. And listen when I say to you to take the fire as your own.” Emilia
On the 1st of June, 2019, the Shakespeare’s Globe’s production Emilia played its last performance on the Vaudeville Theatre stage. Although the show ran for a limited period, only 12 weeks, it was able to bring a fire to life. A fire whose flame will continue to burn bright as long as we have a voice to keep it alive.
Emilia tells the story of Emilia Bassano, a poet, a mother and a feminist from the 17th century. Her name and her story have long been forgotten until writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and director Nicole Charles decided to bring her back to life in a show that would not only give Emilia a voice but also honour her by inspiring generations to come. Composed of an all-female cast, Emilia’ story is our story and this time, it will be heard. Three Emilias – Adelle Leonce, Saffron Coomber, and Clare Perkins – strode the stage every night telling their story, representing three symbolic chapters of her life.
First, we meet a young, hopeful girl. Emilia #1 is passionate about literature and poetry and believes she would one day, publish her own poetry. She is even more determined after having a daughter, for whom she wants a better future. Yet, in this early life, Emilia #1 is already stricken by death. Three times. Her father, her mother, and her young daughter, barely a few months old. Her hope for a new generation is gone.
Emilia #2 then takes her place. She is bitter and angry against the world. Her words, her voice, are taken away from her by the men surrounding her. But she is still full of fire and she wants to do something, change something. Emilia #2 thus starts teaching to women from the South of the River. She will not give up. She will give these women a voice. But, no matter how hard she tries, things never change. During one of her lesson one day, men attack her and her girls, leaving Emilia #2 in a rage while she tries to defend herself. They will never understand.
That’s when Emilia #3 appears. A wiser, older Emilia. An Emilia who has seen the world as it is. She has lived through injustice and hardships. She is not a young, naive girl anymore. She knows what’s the price of speaking up and of being heard when you’re a woman. And yet, she still believes. She will not shut up. Emilia #3 gets her works published. She has a voice.
Until she doesn’t. Although she remains one of the first published female poets in England, her volume of radical, feminist and subversive poetry is not well received at the time. And her voice gets drowned. Because no matter how much she fights, in a society where men lead, where men hold the power, she will always lose.
Yet, the play doesn’t end on a tragic note. It lights up an ardent and inspirational fire that burns inside all of us.
Behind her story, there are the stories of millions of women who have come before her and who came after her. We are all Emilia. We’ve been unheard, ignored, pushed aside. Emilia took her pen, and despite the limitations of the time, she wrote. She taught. She fought. She gave women a choice. She didn’t have a voice so she created one for herself.
It’s now up to us to tell her story. Embrace the fire. Spread it. Let it burn all around you until the entire world finally wakes up and listens.
“The anger that you feel it is yours and you can use it. We want you to. We need you to. Look how far we’ve come already. Don’t stop now.” Emila
Don’t stop ever.