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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

In Defense of “The Government Inspector”

I have recently heard more than enough denigrating Macalester’s recent stage production of “The Government Inspector,” which I greatly enjoyed. It has been argued that the portrayal of female characters was overly shallow and sexist due to their limited interests (e.g. men) portrayed on the stage. I would like to offer a rebuttal in particular to last week’s editorial on the subject of this play.

To begin with, this is a play from the early 1800s in Russia. Expecting it to conform to modern, politically correct notions of feminism is highly unrealistic. And sometimes it’s nice to put on a play in the fashion the writer originally envisioned, instead of some gender-bending, temporally reset, pretentiously re-imagined version made for the purpose of stroking the director’s ego and reassuring them that they have intellectual merit. I have seen or heard of enough temporal displacements of Shakespeare’s work alone to satisfy my (admittedly meager) appetite for such things for a full two lifetimes. Perhaps, considering that they have already elected to use the writer’s title and dialogue, it is important to also give voice to the writer’s intentions.

I would like to add that at first, I too thought that the mayor’s wife and daughter were too shallow and too focused on men. However, I realized upon reflection two things which justify this portrayal. Firstly—and I would never have believed this, ironically, before this last semester at Macalester, as I generally had had a higher opinion of women than this—women actually do fuss over attractive men (in a fashion somewhat less one-dimensional than in the play, but still). I have heard women say of a male classmate, “I saw his biceps and I just died,” or explain their desire to spend more time with a physically attractive co-worker or classmate simply because they are attractive. (I would like to remind people—of all sexes, not just men or just women—that fussing over a physically attractive person in this fashion is objectifying, shallow and vapid, and should be eschewed.) Secondly, given the social place of those characters, one realizes that they have little else to do. They, being upper-class women in 1800s Russia, are unlikely to have a professional employment, and since they have servants, they are unlikely to be minding the household.

They could spend more time reading and enlightening their minds, and a line from the daughter shows that she does at least some reading, enough to see an error in the fake inspector’s lie, but this is explicitly a very small, provincial town with few resources, so there probably aren’t too many books to be had nearby anyway. So this leaves them with very limited options for what to do with themselves, hence the shallow fascination with the “inspector.”

Continuing on, we should note that this is a sort of comedy of errors, and tends therefore to feature shallow, flawed, one-dimensional characters all around. The women in the play are not supposed to be role models of any kind, just as the men are not. And if you think about it, it is much less “problematic” to have the flawed female characters be foolishly attention-seeking butterflies than it would be to have them be, say, skilled, educated, go-getting sorts, as that would imply that it is wrong for women to be skilled, educated and go-getting.

This is a comedy done in two acts; having all the characters be fully developed people with complex desires and motivations, such as if the mayor had a long-unfulfilled desire for validation from his father which stemmed from his poor athletic performance as a youth, would more likely detract from the experience, rather than add to it. So instead he is merely greedy, self-centered, corrupt and wrathful, all of which may be seen as the same facet of his existence.
In the same way, his wife and daughter don’t talk about the rest of their lives and psyches, which presumably exist somewhere but aren’t important enough to the story to waste the audience’s time with.

As a footnote, I would like to say that I believe Schminkey’s take on the servant woman was incorrect. Of all the characters (including the “inspector” and his footman, who came out on top of the situation by making off with a fortune at the end), she seemed to be the coolest, most collected and most aware. Her continual observation of the main characters, displayed repeatedly throughout the performance, showed that she had a subtle power and control over her situation beyond that of anyone else on stage.

In short, I argue that not every play put on by the Macalester theater department has to be a postmodern examination of something something power dynamics yadayada, that the portrayal of the mayor’s daughter and wife were not unreasonable and that one expects rather too much of a comedy to expect strong, empowered role models for any gender. (A comedy can have one or two strong role models, but they are neither common nor necessary.)

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    Owen AndersonSep 11, 2019 at 2:34 am

    This actually answered my downside, thanks!

  • A

    Anne HemmingsSep 8, 2019 at 9:56 pm

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