Diana- Two Different Views of Womanhood

Cicely Hamilton, playwright of Diana of Dobson’s (running now) was raised by foster parents. Her father was busy as a Captain in the Gordon Highlanders and her mother disappeared, assumed to have been committed to a mental institution. Is it because of the lack of her own mother that we do not learn about Diana’s mother in the play? We know about her father- Diana is dependent upon him, and it is due to his death that Diana is forced into the conditions we find her in. But when it comes to Diana’s mother, we know nothing.

Notwithstanding this, Diana of Dobson’s is a good choice of something to do this Mother’s Day with your mom.

In May of 1908 the first Mother’s Day celebration was held in Philadelphia, PA at a Methodist Church, leading to the holiday as we now know it. The organizer, Anna Jarvis, had conceived of the holiday as a way to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children. She led a massive campaign to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar by writing letters to newspapers and politicians. Her idea for the holiday was a day of personal celebration between mothers and families, along with church attendance and wearing a white carnation as a symbol.

That same year, only a few months earlier, Diana of Dobson’s premiered at the Kingsway Theatre in London. Cicely Hamilton’s play was also meant to honor women, though more to bring awareness to their living situation than to celebrate the unique nature of motherhood. The titular Diana is a free-willed, independent woman, determined to better her life.

Both Hamilton and Jarvis were women with strong views of how women were treated by society at large. Jarvis advocated for the addition of Mother’s Day as a national holiday because she thought most American holidays celebrated male achievements and that women deserved recognition as well. Hamilton is a well-known suffragist and feminist, her political views strongly evident in her plays.

Often, these two types of women – the kindly, strong mother and the free-spirited, career woman – are painted as opposites. Interestingly, though, in Roman mythology, one goddess, who shares the name of our production’s heroine, was patron to both types of women. 

That’s right, the goddess Diana, the virginal huntress, was also the goddess to whom pregnant women would pray for a healthy and easy childbirth. Why was the famously strong, single lady goddess connected with motherhood? Because of the inconsistency of mythology, there is no clear reason, though one theory is that because Diana was associated with the moon, which in turn is associated with women’s menstrual cycles, Diana became linked with childbirth. Another theory is that Diana acted as the midwife to her mother during the birth of her twin, Apollo.

For whatever reason, Diana and motherhood are connected. Yet in the modern mind, this is not how we think of Diana. The strong-willed woman who didn’t need a man is our more common association of her. It is surely this picture of Diana that Cecily Hamilton had in mind when creating her play. Her Diana proudly speaks her mind and wants a better life for herself. She is not content to be silent about the conditions in which she lives.

There is no one way to be a strong woman. Focusing on motherhood or on career, or trying to do both, depends upon the person. But this Sunday, we celebrate the strong women who are raising children and all of the sacrifices they make to ensure their children have the best lives possible. If you have the type of mother worth celebrating, bring her to the show or find another way to honor her this Mother’s Day.

 

Art Credit: Guillaume Seignac

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