Hey, my name is Alison. I’m eighteen and I’m currently studying English at QMUL. I live in East London and spend most of my time exploring, reading or writing! I have big dreams to go travelling and hope someday to spend my time as a critical theorist and maybe as a lecturer!
Hope you enjoy my post!
Ahead of the release of her latest album, Florence Welch released the video to her latest single Ship to Wreck earlier this month.
The video begins with a stoic Florence standing in the rain. This is a recurring symbol throughout her work and something that she frequently associations with contentment, a small mercy perhaps. This perhaps suggests that her video for Ship to Wreck is a frame narrative, an escape from the events of the rest of the video. The song questions whether the ‘ship’ was built merely to be destroyed, whether catastrophe was inevitable. Instead of the calm before the storm found in the rain, the symbol of contentment is perhaps more readily associated with the saving grace after the events of the video. The ‘shipwreck’ does not have to be destructive or solely negative and all is not lost in being caught out in the rain.
However, even if retrospectively the rain has an entirely different meaning, at the start of the video it certainly sets the tone for the events that unfold. The video focuses primarily on self destruction and the effect the mindset of the individual has on their relationship with others and the way others react to them. Florence wakes up lying on the floor, she crawls and stands and walks to the mirror, she stares into her hands and appears almost surprised that her body is intact, that she remains a physical being. For me, this gesture is perhaps inspired by Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, the action reminiscent of Lady Macbeth’s cries of “out damned spot” when she cannot wash the blood from her hands. Although Florence’s hands are bare and not bloodied, the integral message is perhaps similar. A sense of guilt, an inability to undo what has been done, a constant reminder of what came before.
Although Lady Macbeth is often considered a villainous fiend, there are definitely parallels that can be drawn between the figure that Florence portrays and Lady Macbeth. Both women have a certain amount of blame in their own situations. What is interesting is that the thoughts, or words, of both characters result in their downfall and result in a chaotic reaction from the body. Lady Macbeth starts off as a character of manipulation, pouring “pestilence in [Macbeth’s] ear.” Florence appears in a similar light, and the manner in which this is portrayed is perhaps controversial. Florence manipulates through sexuality, she repeatedly moves to kiss her ‘boyfriend’ in the video before drawing away. She is also dressed wearing a red lace bra, the colour of which is significant in a comparison with Lady Macbeth; this idea of bloodlust, as a mechanism for control through physical manipulation, whether this be through murder or sex.
Both scenarios ultimately lead to the downfall of the strong female. They show not just woman’s fallibility, but human fallibility. That is, a descent into self-destruction does not only impact a singular person, it is not a wholly inward thing, it has the power to destruct those around you. This is perhaps the metaphor behind Florence’s ‘ship’ as a unity, whether this be a feeling of completeness as a person or as a couple. There is safety, something that is encompassing, which can be a protective environment. However, for the ship to then wreck, this doesn’t have to mean outward destruction, a force of waves. Instead, it can come from the inside, boding a claustrophobic and poisoned environment. This is shown when throughout the video there is a frequent use of red lighting; not only is this a danger sign throughout the world, it is internalised in the metaphor of “seeing red,” a sort of unshakable anger.
Elements of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth can also be seen here too. The Court and her marriage, the things that sustain her, ultimately contribute to her own destruction. Despite providing her a position that should allow her to live comfortably, this instead causes her to thirst for more power in an attempt to satisfy or fulfil her role. She is claustrophobic, perhaps infertile. She cannot provide what is wanted from her–an heir. In her inability to fulfil her prescribed role, she seeks more power, she destructs in the confines of the court that is supposed to provide her with an element of security.
Through both of these examples, it is clear how the dialectical relationship of internal struggles in relation to the external world reappears throughout art. The same tropes remain at the fore of artistic thought and depiction. This begs the question of why human torment is such a fascinating hot topic in the creative world. Perhaps it is something to do with strong emotions. Art is about pushing boundaries and extremes, and to portray a person’s innermost feelings is something that can be done in a whole manner of ways. It is a release to create art out of what is often repressed.
Whilst Lady Macbeth is an incredibly dramatised depiction of this – I’ve never felt confined enough to convince my husband into committing a few murders here and there – I have, like everyone else, made poor choices and torn myself apart from them. Florence captures this essence of human flaw in her work, she portrays what is arguably a common experience, something which the vast majority of people experience. It is rather harrowing to watch this video for the first time. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, as a viewer, I could see an element of myself in the character, one that the vast majority of us cannot express. Florence uses choreography as an outlet for this, she puts this often rather closeted issue into an uncomfortable limelight to create an incredible piece of artistic exposure.