Don’t Rain On Her Parade: Something Rotten‘s Bea is “more than just a woman, baby”

Heidi Blickenstaff as Bea in Something Rotten.

Heidi Blickenstaff as Bea in Something Rotten.

Note: This article is part of a bigger project honoring strong females, fictional and real, in theatre as part of Women’s History Month.

by Brooke Robinson 

The past couple years have been a veritable showcase of strong female characters on Broadway, and one of the best and most recent examples is Beatrice “Bea” Bottom from Something Rotten.

Portrayed by Heidi Blickenstaff, a spectacular woman in her own right, Bea is gutsy and spirited. Considering she lives in the Renaissance, the decisions she makes in the show are incredibly courageous and, at times, downright reckless.

Let’s look at a few quick facts about the time period in which Something Rotten takes place: Women in the time of the Renaissance were considered to be their husband’s property and were expected to submit to their every demand. Before they belonged to their husbands, women belonged to their parents; this was not a time of female independence. Women also had no political rights. They were expected to be meek, obedient, and passive.

Bea breaks nearly every one of these rules.

Right off the bat, the audience is made aware that Bea is a woman who’s not going to take any nonsense from anyone. Her character can be summed up in “Right Hand Man,” particularly in the following lyrics:

  • “Just to be a pretty lady, that would be a pity, baby.”
  • “I am stronger than you think, don’t be thinking I ain’t tough.”
  • “Don’t forget I’m not a shrinking violet, a solid rock am I.”
  • “There’s no problem that’s too big; when you’re married, that’s the gig, so don’t be a sexist pig.”

Bea also ends the song by telling Nick and Nigel, “I’m going to get you boys some meat!” These are pretty audacious words coming from the mouth of a lower-class woman in England during the Middle Ages.

While her husband Nick is a pretty lovable guy, he tries to keep her from doing what he sees as a man’s job in making money for their family because that’s what he’s been taught. But Bea frankly couldn’t care less about gender norms, a character trait that could get her in serious trouble in the real-life Renaissance. She suggests joining Nick and Nigel’s play as an actor, but when that idea is shot down on account of women not being allowed onstage, she goes out hunting for food.

Later, she decides to dress as a man, beard and all, in order to do any menial jobs she can find to support her family. Nick doesn’t approve, especially once Bea reveals to him that she’s pregnant. But again, Bea’s headstrong nature prevails.

In the end, Nick is saved by the very thing he disdains: just before he is sentenced to a beheading in court, Bea, still dressed as a man, calls Shakespeare as a witness. Shakespeare then suggests that Nick should instead be sentenced to exile, and Bea happily moves to America with the husband whose life she’s saved.

It’s possible to be a loving, supportive wife while simultaneously standing up for women’s rights. Bea exemplifies this by defying medieval gender norms while still trying to help Nick’s career in any way she can.

It’s fair to say that if Bea had been a real person, she would have been one of history’s earliest feminists. She is a remarkable character and a fitting role model for any woman who may feel restricted by her gender. Just because society says women can’t or shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean you have to follow the rules.

Follow Bea’s example: Make your own rules. Be your own woman.

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About Brooke R.

"Don't wait for people to tell you who you are. Show them." - Laura Benanti

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