Blood and Guts in Shakespeare

In my Elizabethan Lit class, we have to write short responses to the texts we’re reading. I couldn’t think of anything to write for Venus and Adonis until I started reading Kathy Acker’s “Blood and Guts in High School”

**This response focuses solely on the story of Myrrha and Cinyras**
I recently started reading “Blood and Guts in High School” by Kathy Acker. If you haven’t read anything by Acker
1) you obviously didn’t get to take Jason Wiens’ amazing Obscene Lit class a few years ago and
2) I don’t know if you’re lucky or totally missing out. Acker is brilliant but disturbing and I feel very conflicted over whether I love her or I’m scared of her.
What does this have to do with Shakespeare??
WELL. BGHS (at the beginning, at least) parallels PERFECTLY with the beginning of Venus and Adonis: In BGHS, Janey Smith has a seriously incestuous relationship with her father. She treats him as “boyfriend, brother, sister, money, amusement, and father.” IN V&A, Myrrha passionately lusts after her own father, Cinyras.


In both texts, there is a focus on the perspective of the young girl as she desires her father, which subverts the usual script of the incestuous nature stemming solely from the man. In both texts there is complacency, willingness, or ignorance on the part of the father that leads to the two sleeping together, but in both texts, the father ends up pulling away from the daughter; the father ends the incestuous relationship, leaving the daughter bereft. These are not narratives of abuse or coercion (at a SURFACE level- there are many problematic subtexts that lead to the incestuous relationships), but rather an obscene lust. The story being told from the perspective of the daughter is extremely interesting, and demands that we pay attention to the female desire as much or more than we pay attention to male desire.

In both texts, there is a mediator who “helps” the young woman to come to terms with her attraction to her father. In BGHS, Janey speaks with her father’s best friend about his distance and lack of attraction to her. The friend, who Janey has also slept with, encourages her to give her father space, but she ends up sleeping with him again anyway, and eventually he leaves her for another woman. In V&A, Myrhha confides in her nurse, who is replaced but helps her trick her father into sleeping with her several times. Eventually he realizes he is having sex with his daughter and is repulsed, threatening to kill her.

Both Janey and Myrrha end up pregnant (Janey is not pregnant by her father but her desire for him remains). Jane is 10 years old in the beginning of BGHS, and if Shakespeare’s other sexually active female characters are anything to go by, Myrrha is likely a young teenager or pre-teen.

The emphasis on sexuality in both texts offers a unique insight into female sexuality that is otherwise not usually seen. Both young women are capable of sexual thought and action, but have no one to project that onto but their fathers.

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