For my second project I really wanted to continue what I worked on for project one. A quick overview; I took a selection of women characters from the texts we read, and redesigned tarot cards for their characters. The idea that inspired this was that each woman’s character we examined could be taken in two very different ways, usually her personality and actions in a very positive and empowering way, or in a negative or oppressive way. You can view my original project, which includes a bit of history on tarot here. To continue on with this project I wanted to work with the characters of Una and Errour from The Faerie Queene, and Desdemona and Emilia from Othello.
The first card that I created was for Una. Una is personified by her pureness, (ie. whiteness) and her mission to save her parents and town from a dragon. The tarot card I chose to depict Una was “the world”. Upright, this card means success, achievement, travel, sense of belonging, and wholeness. These attributes connect to her mission to have the dragon keeping her hometown captive defeated. This quest is the driving factor of Book 1 in The Faerie Queene. This is demonstrated in Book 1, Canto 1, stanza 5,
“She was in life and euery vertuous lore,/And by descent from Royall lynage came/Of ancient Kings and Queenes, that had of yore/Their scepters stretcht from East to Westerne shore,/And all the world in their subiection held;/Till that infernall feend with foule vprore/Forwasted all their land, and them expeld:/Whom to auenge, she had this Knight from far compeld.”
While this language is tricky, it is basically explaining that she is a princess who has recruited the Redcrosse Knight to aid her in avenging her lands and people.
Upside down, the world card means lack of success, disappointment, burden, and lack of completion. These attributes seem to constantly haunt Una as her and Redcross journey throughout the land. She is constantly reminding the knight to rest, keep his energy, and stay safe until he can participate in the big fight against the dragon. During the battle with the dragon, Una is described as watching from afar, as such:
“Which when his pensive Ladie saw from farre,/Great woe and sorrow did her soule assay,/As weening that the sad end of the warre,/And gan to highest God entirely pray,/That feared chance from her to turne away” (Book 1, Canto 11, stanza 32.
She is here not only worried for the safety of the knight, but what it might mean for her quest if he has fallen.
As for my artistic choices, I had the most fun designing and drawing this card. I wanted to not only pay tribute to the original card from the Rider-Wraight deck, and acknowledge how perfectly some of the designs already fit, but make a few key changes. First, I have of course given Una clothes, since a maiden as pure and religious as her would never be caught naked. She has been given a black dress as according to her description in Book 1, Canto 1, line 32, “And ouer all a blacke stole she did throw”. I kept the lion in the corner of the card, since from some brief research I did seemed to say that there is another story in which Una tames a lion with her pureness, and the ram/sheep-like character in the other corner was turned into a lamb, which represents the lamb that travels with her in Book 1, Canto 1, stanza 4. The biggest change that I made was to turn the garland type item encircling the woman into the dragon, to visually represent what her main drive and motivator is.
The second character that I examined was Errour, the protagonist in Book 1, Canto 1 of The Faerie Queene. Errour is a half woman, half serpent creature, who lives in a cave and battles and is killed by the Redcrosse Knight. The card I chose for Errour was The Devil. The Devil card represents addiction, mental health issues, obsession, sexuality, abuse, and violence. These themes fit in with the perspective that Redcrosse Knight has of Errour; she is horrendous and awful because she is not religious, she has mental illness because she is full of books, knowledge, and little awful demonic creatures, and above all she is a violent abomination that must be slain. As is stated in Book 1, Canto 1, line 115, she is “[a] monster vile, whom God and man does hate.” On the flip side, The Devil card represents detachment, indepence, overcoming addiction, freedom, and reclaiming power. As much as Errour is depicted as a villain, she is also just trying to raise her kids in a cave, away from anyone else, and not inciting any violence of her own. She is described as hating the light, where no one might see her. As much as she is independent, she is also detached from the rest of the world, and tries to reclaim her own power where she can. “For light she hated as the deadly bale,/Ay wont in desert darknesse to remaine,/Where plaine none might her see, nor she see any plaine.”
I had to make some interesting choices in drawing this card. As you can see in the original, the tones are very dark and red, which did not entirely line up with what I thought the bottom half of a serpent might look like. So the tones in the serpent part of her are more green, but still dark. I also wanted to hint at the devil’s wings from the original image, and tried to do this in the way the cave is framed by stalactites and stalagmites. I kept the podium that the devil is seated on, and replaced the individuals on either side by a small stack of books, and some indiscriminate black blobs that could be Errour’s children. My version of the card may not be as dark and intense as the original, but I hoped to capture some of the points that would link these two characters together.
Next, I worked on Desdemona. I gave her the The Hierophant card, which represents traditional institutions and values, marriage, commitment, and knowledge sharing. These paired really nicely with her character. She is defined by her marriage to Othello, and we as a reader know the truth of her commitment to him. She does place values in traditional institutions such as marriage, which we know from her speech on not cheating, even for the reward of all the world. Knowledge sharing is also key, since she is never anything but truthful, but those truths become twisted by others.
Upside down, The Hierophant card represents challenging tradition, unconventional lifestyles, unconventional relationships, reversed roles, and nonconformity. For me, these are all also traits Desdemona portrays. She challenges tradition and unconventional relationships when she marries a black man, and stands up to her father in his defense. She participates in an unconventional lifestyle by actually traveling across seas to be with her husband during a war, when most women would have waited at home. She is very much a character placed in a situation that is unusual, and puts her in a position where people notice her and her actions.
For the artistic piece of this project I made a few key decisions in creating Desdemona’s card. First I wanted to place her on her bed, a central theme and location of the story. The bed is where she is accused of spending time with Cassio, it is where she never got to spend time with Othello, and where she is eventually killed. I switched out the character’s scepter with Desemona’s handkerchief, and turned the two men at the bottom into Othello, and another man who could easily be Iago or Cassio. Desdemona’s face is stern, and perhaps a bit too much so, but I was more looking at the original card for inspiration there than thinking of her actual pleasant and forgiving character. I kept her dress red to match the color scheme of the original as well.
Lastly I created Emila’s card, and I was thrilled to learn there is a card called The Justice. Upright this card represents justice, consequences, law, truth, honesty, and cause and effect. While Emilia at the start of the story is complicit in some of Iagos’ actions unwillingly, she is what brings our story to a close and the villain to justice. She puts the pieces together of his crimes and lies, and makes sure that everyone knows them. She speaks so confidently in her truth, and pays with it for her life, but Iago faces some effects of the destruction he caused. Emilia’s last lines are making sure that Othello knows the truth about his wife, and only after speaking the truth does she die. “Moor, she was chaste. She loved thee, cruel Moor./So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true./So speaking as I think, alas, I die” (Othello, act 5, scene 2, line 299).
All very similarly, The Justice card upside down represents injustice, dishonesty, lack of accountability, and unfairness. These are all the things that Emilia was trying to fight against, since it had cost Desdemona her life, who was so dear to her. Emilia sees the unfairness in Desdeoma’s death, since she was falsely accused of all wrong doings, and never got to have her voice trusted or listened to. Emilia so easily could have also protected her own life, by being dishonest, not holding Iago or anyone accountable. However, she was driven by the need for truth and justice for Desdemona.
As the Justice and Hierophant cards already had quite a few similarities I was able to make some fun choices with Emilia’s card, and having it match with Desdemona’s card. Both of the women are wearing red, both are in Desdemona’s bedroom, but Emilia stands apart from the bed in the foreground, where I hinted at Desdemona’s body remaining. Emilia holds the same scales of justice in her hand just like the character in the original, and her face is sad at her loss, and perhaps knowing of the fate that will soon befall her. Emilia’s card may be the simplest of this set of four I created, but I think the way it matches and is simplified, is powerful and in line with her character.
Normally here I would go into the long winded reason as to why it is important that we recognize the two sided roles we often allow female characters to inhabit, and recognizing that in reality many of these characters fall somewhere along a scale of many attributes and values. But, I already did much of this in my original Tarot Cards project conclusion here!
This response I have created in relation to The Faerie Queene and Othello matters because it shows that there are many ways to analyze and demonstrate knowledge of literature. It may seem base level to say “I drew some female characters from the story as tarot cards” and assume that not a lot of actual critical thinking or analysis went into that kind of project. By providing textual evidence, as to why I chose specific cards for detailed reasons, and reasons why I chose to make certain artistic choices, I hope to prove that a response like this can be just as deep as an analytical essay. Response to literature and stories varies widely from person to person, and being able to present that response in different ways will expand what we view as an intellectual response, that just requires a bit of out of the box thinking.