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          In William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Othello, the language of food and hunger play a vital role in establishing the characters' sexuality and desires. More specifically, this culinary language perpetuates a heterosexual, hierarchical belief of what relationships, love, sex, and marriage should look like. In Antony and Cleopatra, food and sex are so often conflated that the two become hard to separate. Cleopatra, the notoriously sexualized queen, is repeatedly referred to as a “dish” by the men of the play. They say “she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies” and that “Julius Caesar / Grew fat with feasting there” implying that her very presence sparks desire within men and once had for themselves, they cannot get enough of her (2.3.278-9, 2.6.82-3). Additionally, Antony refers to Cleopatra as a “morsel” in act three. Through this language the men’s sexuality becomes equated with hunger and Cleopatra herself becomes the food. Through this, her humanity is lost and her own desires are suppressed beneath the needs of men.


          In Othello, Desdemona becomes food as well as all women. Emilia states that “[Men] eat us hungerly, and when they are full / They belch us” (3.4.122-3). In this proto-feminist statement, Emilia places women in the role of food for men to eat and discard as they please. She recognizes their inferior position, adopting the language of men, and looks to draw Desdemona’s attention to it. She does so again with the language of food later in act four: “They see, and smell, / And have their palates both for sweet and sour, / as husbands have” (4.3.105-7). Here, she uses the language of flavor to show that women at their core are truly no different than men. While women are again equated as food in Othello, their sexuality is also degraded through this savory language. In a monologue plotting his revenge against Othello, Iago says, “Even as her appetite shall play the god / with his weak function” (2.3.367). The “her” in these lines is Desdemona and she is being looked down upon for her appetite, which can be read as her love for Othello. Iago sees this love as the very thing making Othello “weak” and vulnerable, suggesting that a woman’s love and sexuality are the ultimate downfalls of men. Othello also refers to Desdemona’s sexuality as her “appetite”: “O curse of marriage, / That we can call these delicate / Creatures ours and not their appetites!” (3.3.310). In these lines, Othello is claiming his wife, but not her appetite implying that he does not approve of her sexuality and her desires; he would rather erase that part of her.


          In thinking about this relationship between sexuality and food, I was drawn to the ways in which it diminishes women’s desires, and thus, Fat With Feasting was born. This photography series gives the women of Shakespeare’s plays the space and power to reclaim their appetites. Inspired by Emilia’s words and perspectives, these images depict women eating immense quantities of food with little to no regard for an external gaze. They are eating for themselves and for the first time, they are eating without restraint. With her own meal, each woman is finally given a chance to express her hunger and satisfy it, which is an experience that is rarely given to women by Shakespeare. Their facial expressions are beaming with starvation, rage, pleasure, and enjoyment; they capture the reclamation and satiation of a hunger that has been suppressed for an eternity. 


          Accompanying these photographs is a poem titled Sisters, which takes lines and plot points directly from Antony and Cleopatra and Othello, as well as Titus Andronicus, and twists them into a feminist call to action. These words, written by the women in the photographs on the napkins featured and used during the making of the images, represent a second inversion of women’s appetite in Fat With Feasting. Beyond the actions of the play, the words Shakespeare himself wrote are becoming the basis of women’s empowerment and sexual liberation, rooting this body of work in the visual as well as literary worlds. This poem acts as the framework for the photographs to exist. Without these words, there is no context and the women in the images are simply eating passionately. With the power of language on their side, the women are able to make their desires known and inspire others to take action themselves.

          With these images, I hope that women begin to grab seats at the table, make their own meals, and grow fat with feasting.

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