Shakespeare's Sisters

                                                                                                           Having just finished Eleanor Brown's marvelous debut novel, The Weird Sisters, I have been thinking a lot about sisters in general, but more particularly, sisters in Shakespeare. Though her story is modern, Brown's trio of sisters, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, each carry traits of their Shakespearean namesakes (How could I not love this book?) and themes from the plays echo subtly through the novel. The women in Brown's novel, like so many of Shakespeare's sister characters, are studies in contrasts, yet are bound by their shared histories. In Much Ado about Nothing, for example, Beatrice is elder cousin to the younger Hero. Where Hero is demure, passive, and ripe for marriage, Beatrice is outspoken, sharp-witted, and happily single. While the women aren't biological sisters, their sister-hood is evident in their affectionate banter and fierce loyalty to each other. On the other hand, Twelfth Night presents a pair of women, Olivia and Viola, whose names are near anagrams for the other. They're not related, but are actually sisters under the skin (or breeches, in Viola's case). Both women are without parents, and grieving for lost brothers; they're alone in a man's world, and they're both pining for someone they can't have. Olivia falls in love with Viola-dressed-as-a-boy because in her she finds a sympathetic listener who understands her. At the end of the play, when the two women actually become sisters through marriage, that relationship becomes explicit. My current project features a biological pair of Shakespearean sisters, Kate and Bianca Minola. When my sister asked to read the book, I said, "Okay, but just so you know--the sisters in the story are not us!" My Kate and Bianca, like their originals, resent each other and fight constantly. My sister and I never fight. (And no one ever believes us when we say this.) My fictional sisters have drifted apart, but my real-life sister and I are close. And yet. . . Like my Kate and Bianca, my sister and I couldn't be more different. She was always the risk-taker, I the cautious one. She was social, I was bookish; she's athletic, I'm. . .pathetic.  As a teenager, she drove confidently and fast, while I gripped the wheel, white-knuckled, refusing to move from the right-hand lane. And you could have drawn a chalk line down the middle of our shared bedroom, her half neatly dusted and picked up, mine looking like my closet exploded. When we ended up in the same gym class in high school, I looked to her for protection from the bigger, tougher girls who ate skinny chicks like me for breakfast. Did I mention she was a freshman at the time? Even now, our lives have gone in completely different directions, but she's my touchstone, and I'm hers. We know each other better than we know ourselves. And this truth about sisterhood, like so many other aspects of human nature, is something Shakespeare got completely right.  (P.S. Happy birthday, sis!)

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