Sunday, December 31, 2006

Romeo and Juliet - Up the Language Ladder

We'll raise a cup of kindness yet,

In order to break our silence, let me start with Randall's second subject, language, though, alas, without panache of my own. Specifically, let's look at the language pattern with which Romeo and Juliet begins. Randall notes "that three distinct language patterns distinguish commoners, aristocrats, and lovers." (Cindy: this will be old stuff for you.)

When I taught "baby Shakespeare" (my colleagues' sneering description of my sophomore-level course for non-English majors) I always polled my students on prior experience of Shakespeare, what they had read, studied, seen on screen, seen on stage, or acted in. I never had fewer than 43 of the 45 with some experience of Romeo and Juliet (usually two actors, if only in readers' theatre). Therefore, I would start with it, taking advantage of familiarity, then intensifying the experience with close reading. Richard III begins gloriously: "Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York."

Not so, Romeo and Juliet. It opens with a couple of mere servants of the house of Capulet, Sampson and Gregory, armed with swords (not aristocratic rapiers), in a public place. Even if you miss the prologue's exposition of an ancient grudge, you can see something is rotten in the state of Verona if armed servants swank around (I love it; this is the only occasion I get to say "swank" in this context), and away we go. Swords or no, they are comic commoners.

Right from the get-go, we start with a string of feeble puns (carry coals; colliers; choler; collar – if one pun is clever, four must be rilly rilly witty; Four? Let's follow with six plays on "moved"), then frat-guy bawdy: "I will take the wall" (instead of the gutter) followed by "I will thrust [Montague's] maids to the wall" (a little rape joke just between the guys). If definitions of comedy often include the phrase "warts and all," Sampson and Gregory are male chauvinist warthogs. But when the Montague servants enter, all this bravado collapses. There is a pointed pun: "Quarrel! I will back thee"/ "How? Turn thy back and run?," followed by really funny discussion of where the law stands on the act of thumb biting (would WWI have started if a would-be assassin had bitten his thumb at the archduke Ferdinand?), but those swords are finally drawn willy-nilly over a school-boy dispute, my master can lick your master. OK. All this is in prose, the language of the ordinary folk, the bottom level of the social hierarchy.

Enter Benvolio (the name is Latin for good will as in "benevolent") who draws his rapier to separate the brawling clodhoppers: "Part fools!", then "Put up your swords. You know not what you do." Scan that. Iambic pentameter. Then Tybalt: "What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word/ As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee" (I.i.72-3). Iambic pentameter, with a perfectly balanced parallel structure. Short though the passage is, the language pattern is perfect contrast to the heavy-tongued servants. We've moved up the social hierarchy to the Young Turks. Death! Hate! Hell! Coward! We're suddenly (irrietrivably?) beyond "No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir."

But if Tybalt kills Benvolio now, we would have a very short play. Enter the aging Capulet: "What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!" Yes, an iambic pentameter line, but made less heroic than line 73, by the addition of the little syllable-filler ho. And Lady Capulet enforces the change with her parody, "A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?" My ear still hears "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Old Montague echoes this business, "Thou villain Capulet!--Hold me not; let me go," this last to his wife, code for "honey, please don't let me be hurt in a fight." The verse pattern still ascends the social hierarchy, but the comic content deflates the bloody-mindedness of the young Turks. These are the heads of households, the power in Verona, but they are ineffective, because of age. Still, because they enter the battle, Montague and Capulet also sanction it, as heads of the two houses. Thus, says Northrop Frye, they are directly responsible for everything that follows.

"Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel--
Will they not hear? What, ho! You men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins!" (I.i.84-8)

Enter Prince Escalus, with his train. Iambic pentameter. Mid-line caesura in the first line underscoring five-syllable expletive synonyms. The first three lines are end-stopped. The images (neighbor-stained steel, fire of pernicious rage, purple fountains) are more elevated than any language preceding. This is the top of the hierarchy, stentorian, rare words, words with transferred meanings, lengthened words, and everything which is opposite to the ordinary – oh, my, I've just been reading Aristotle's Poetics!! As far from Sampson and Gregory as earth allows. But look at line 86. What is that "what ho!" doing there? Why, nobody is listening. Here is absolute political authority, and it doesn't work. Escalus will forbid, on pain of death (yet another of those unenforceable laws Shakespeare begins his plays with), for the warring tribes to continue the feud. The result? When Mercutio and Tybalt, foaming at the mouth, encounter each other, they go up an alley to fight. Despite the feud, the swords, the fight, the sentence "on pain of death," this is still a comedy.

And then Romeo finally appears, in love with love, his language a ludicrous parody of Petrarchan imagery, oxymorons "Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate," "Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,/ Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,/ Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!," and sighs/eyes, fair/despair, vow/now. Not just blank verse but rhyming couplets. Hugely ornate language, more excessive in its way as the carry-coals puns at the beginning. By the end of the passage one longs for Mercutio's deflating cynical realism about Rosaline's quivering thighs. But even in the middle of this fantastic romantic flight--this glop, if you will--"Alas that love, whose view is muffled still,/Should without eyes see pathways to his will!/ [sd: pause, Samuel Beckett would add] Where shall we dine?" (I.i.174-76), Romeo interrupts himself to say "I dunno, Marty, where should we eat?"

One scene. Five language patterns. The hierarchical social structure of Verona illustrated. The contrast between the myth of civil order and the myth of romantic delusion. A comedy (more on this later). In our ninth play, this seems to me to be the most wonderful texture of language we have yet encountered. Panache, indeed!


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Romeo and Juliet - Opening Questions

Shakespeare lovers,

As a team, we've been more unfamiliar than well-versed going into the first eight plays. Romeo and Juliet, though, bring us I'm sure to our first "universal" text. I can use the following phrases in class and know that many of my students will get the reference, even if they have neither read nor seen the play/movie. "Star-crossed lovers." "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" "O, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" "That which we call a Rose by any other word would smell as sweet." "Parting is such sweet sorrow." "A plague on both your houses." "Never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo." (The last one is a dead giveaway.)

So the first question I have is how do we "discover" this play (as we did Titus Andronicus or Love's Labor's Lost or 1 Henry VI,) when most of us have landed on these shores before? I ask this both collegially and professionally, first because the joy of our group is that we have no pre-determined critical axes to grind, no established beachheads that must be defended. What has resulted, for me reading your posts at least, is a sense of reading Shakespeare fresh. So how do we keep that vibe in a text we know well? Second, as a teacher of young Shakespeare readers, the distance between my reading of Romeo and theirs grows greater every year. So I wonder if there is a technique to reading Shakespeare fresh, one that can allow us (and me, specifically) to bridge the gap between initial discovery and experience.

That's not really a topic for conversation so much as a question about what it means to experience Shakespeare while taking stock of one's growing Shakespeare experience. Will our conversation change in any way, and if so, will it change significantly?

After that, and after finishing the play, I have rounded up many of the usual suspects as initial discussion questions.

First, genre. W. H. Auden says "Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare's first tragedy in the strict sense of the term." And Harold Bloom calls it "Shakespeare's first authentic tragedy." What gives? Why doesn't Titus Andronicus rate? Or, one might point out, Shakespeare's play about that hunchback guy that was entitled The Tragedy of Richard III. So, by the pen, this is Shakespeare's third tragedy. Yet there are striking differences in tone and subject from the previous works. Add to that Shakespeare's neat trick in following comic conventions up to the moment that Mercutio and Tybalt get kilt. So what does Romeo and Juliet tell us about tragedy, and what does it tell us about Shakespeare the writer? (If I might also request from one of you college guys, a definition of 'classical unities.' So often critics refer to following the unities, for the life of me, I don't know what they're talking about.)

Second, language. Rostand (via Cyrano) has a word for this. It is panache. We have plays on words, conceits, reversals, allusions, persistent pairings of opposites ("O brawling love, O loving hate"), and I'm sure half of Abrams' Glossary of Literary Terms to be found roaming freely about this play. Yet there is none of the schoolbook exercise quality of language manipulation that seemed to emanate from Love's Labor's Lost. Add to that three distinct language patterns for the commoners, the aristocrats, and the lovers. Wow. So, what is your favorite language moment in the play? And wherefore?

Third, character. Here's a problem I have had. Romeo and Juliet has become shorthand for great (albeit tragic) romance. They are the great lovers. Yet whenever I read the play, I have trouble taking Romeo seriously. He's …feckless about his love. First there's the whole Rosaline thing; he seems to love and not love her regardless of her actual personality. Then there's "O wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied," which has always sounded a lot like a request for sex. (And when Juliet gets angry about his impropriety – "what satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" – and he's all, like, "Th'exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine," it's, like, nice recovery dude!) So, is there a point at which Romeo goes from boy in love with love, if you see it that way, to mature lover? Does he ever really love Juliet?

And Juliet. In Lloyd Kaufman's Tromeo and Juliet, a modern, twisted, and occasionally pornographic version of Romeo and Juliet, one fascinating sequence stands out. The sick-minded, incestuous Capulet imprisons Juliet, naked, in a glass box after she has defied him. This image seems an appropriate visualization of Juliet's psychological and political position in the play. She is subject completely to the agendae of the men around her: Capulet, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo. Yet, within that frame she makes autonomous, self-determining decisions that defy the patriarchal structure. Is Juliet a proto-feminist? I get the feeling she is the stronger of the two main characters, in the way that tempered steel is stronger than raw ore. Also, we have so many daughters to come: Hermia, Jessica, Cordelia, Miranda; let's start the conversation about daughters. And, then, if you were staging the play, how is it best to play Juliet?

Fourth, productions. We have lamented on occasion the transient nature of our memories when it comes to theatrical productions. What Romeos have you seen and what has stuck in your memory? And how have those productions changed your reading of the play? We might save film versions for our second week discussion, both to give you time to rush off to a friends house and watch a few again but also so we stay focused on Shakespeare for a few days before lighting into Cukor, Castellani, Zeffirelli, Luhrmann, Kaufman, et al.

Finally, from all, and perhaps specifically from Ernst who has done this for us before, I would love a list of questions one would ask students, "the answering of which would open up their …understanding and appreciation of the play."

And so we're off. Pick a topic, any topic.

Thank me no thankings,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shakespeare Search Tool


I've done a little concordance work in my commentary this year – "honor" and "dishonor" in Titus Andronicus, "vegeance" variants in 3 Henry VI – and to do so I used MIT's complete works web site, searching each word by using the "Find" feature in my web browser. Sort of a pain, but lately I've found a tool I wish I'd had earlier and which makes the process faster and more effective: Shakespeare Searched

Briefly, this web site allows you to search any word in any play, and it displays the results in the context of entire speeches. For example, put "coward" into the search field, select "All Characters" and the play Macbeth, and the search engine reveals two occurrences, Lady Macbeth and Macduff, both of whom use the term referring to Macbeth.

Put the same word in and search in the play Hamlet and you'll find three occurrences, all Hamlet essentially referring to himself.

Northrop Frye comments in On Shakespeare that A. C. Bradley saw Shakespeare's tragedies as "tragedies of character." "The tragedy," he writes, "comes about because a particular character is in the one situation he can't handle" (4). With this one word, "coward," we find an example of this character difference. In Hamlet, part of his problem is that he worries he does not have the resolve to follow through on his fatal task. In the milieu of honor and vengeance (chivalry), to not act is cowardice. Thus his self criticism. With Macbeth, his problem is that he makes rash and self-destructive decisions. He is a man of tremendous power, but he is vulnerable pyschologically to the goad of being called a coward. If he weren't, Lady Macbeth's challenge could easily have been laughed off in favor of a wiser choice than killing Duncan.

Word searching, I have found, does not always lead to enlightenment, but it does often point to interesting correlations. And for fun, or when I have papers to grade, I occasionally put random words into the Shakespeare Searched search engine and see what turns up. Searching for "coward" in two texts took all of 20 seconds. The pleasure of your discoveries may last a lifetime.

Bookmark it if you like it,

Monday, December 11, 2006

Taming of the Shrew Redux - How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Tamed ones,

As in action films the villain, believed killed, will return,
Bloodied but still more lethal, not just once,
But sometimes twice – Die Hard, Terminator,
Alien, Men in Black, and Halloween,
And many more use this convention –
Forcing the weary hero once again
To fight in post-scriptorial battle,
So our Taming conversation staggers
Forth for one last epistolary gasp.

In response to John's question about "what people think of the Kate character in comparison with other such characters in and outside of Shakespeare," Gil offered from outside of Shakespeare (inside of Shakespeare it's too dark to read) the women of Etheridge and Congreve. I offer those of Fletcher.

John Fletcher, who collaborated on a play or two with Shakespeare and was house playwright of Shakespeare's company The King's Men after Shakespeare's death, wrote a play called The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed, a sequel to The Taming of the Shrew. First staged in 1611, The Tamer Tamed is about Petruchio's marriage to his second wife Maria, Kate having died. Petruchio it turns out never did actually tame Kate, and their constant battles have left him something of a shrew himself. Maria's friends see trouble ahead. Biancha counsels Maria to this course of action:

"Nay, never look for merry hour, Maria,
If now you make it not; let not your blushes,
Your modesty, and tenderness of spirit,
Make you continual Anvile to his anger:
Believe me, since his first wife set him going,
Nothing can bind his rage." (Act 1, scene 2)

So after the wedding, Maria refuses to sleep with or spend time with Petruchio. She invokes a muse:

"Lucina, hear me
Never unlock the treasure of my womb
For humane fruit, to make it capable;
Nor never with thy secret hand make brief
A mothers [sic] labor to me; if I do
Give way unto my married Husband's Will,
Or be a wife in any thing but hopes,
Till I have made him easie as a child,
And tame as fear, he shall not win a smile,
Or a pleas'd look, from this austerity ..." (Act 1, scene 2)

With that, Maria and Biancha barricade themselves in Petruchio's house, and refuse to let him in for conjugal celebration or anything else (shades of Antipholus locked out of his house during dinner). Petruchio is taken aback. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Over the course of the play, Petruchio threatens her with physical torment, and when that doesn't work he pretends he's sick, and when that doesn't work he pretends he's going away forever, and when that doesn't work he pretends he's dead. But nothing works, so he gives up. He is tamed, and Maria relents:

"I have done my worst, and have my end, forgive me;
From this hour make me what you please: I have tam'd ye,
And now am vow'd your servant: ...
Thus I begin my new love." (Act 5, scene 4)

The deference sounds a little like Kate at the end of Shrew, but here the emphasis is on the equality the two have achieved. The three women in The Tamer Tamed are all strong. Biancha is an early Mary Wollstonecraft, organizing Maria's campaign against Petruchio, and also Maria's sister Livia's campaign to marry her chosen suitor rather than the old fogey her dad picked (and Biancha oughta know about that). Maria is resolute in her principles and smart enough to sniff out each of Petruchio's stratagems. We never get the impression that she is fooled by anything he does. And Livia, going Juliet one better, gets her man by feigning near fatal illness and tricking the mourning men into signing papers granting her the right to marry dashing Rowland rather than the ancient Moroso.

I frankly was surprised by what I considered the modernity of the women's actions, although I did recognize a Lysistrata-like quality to the plot. Still, what impressed me is not that the men are foolish while the women aren't, or that the men act like children while the women pull the strings, but that the tone of the play suggests that women deserve relationships in which they are considered equals. And while Petruchio rails at Maria for being a whore (she's clearly not) and Petronius (Maria and Livia's father) is just as vituperative, it's clear that the women are the play's heroes.

Fletcher opens The Tamer Tamed with a Prologue,

"Ladies to you, in whose defence and right,
Fletcher's brave Muse preapar'd her self to fight
A battel without blood, 'twas well fought too,
(The victory's yours though got with much ado.)"

and concludes with this Epilogue:

"The Tamer's tam'd, but so, as nor the men
Can find one just cause to complain of, when
They fitly do consider in their lives,
They should not reign as Tyrants o'er their wives.
Nor can the Women from this president
Insult, or triumph; it being aptly meant,
To teach both sexes due equality;
And as they stand bound, to love mutually."

I hear in this a slightly didactic tone (something Shakespeare neatly avoids) and certainly a political one. I wonder how this went over in front of the Jacobean audience? But to answer John's question more directly, I find it intriguing that such strong women (in a positive way, as opposed, say, to the Duchess of Malfi) inhabit the stage so soon, and what's more, that Shakespeare's play would have inspired a direct riposte, in which the women have the upper hand. This suggests to me that the battle of the sexes was not just a comic turn for entertaining stage fare, but also something going on more explicitly in the lives of early 17th-century families. Is this the result of Elizabeth's reign, even into James's term? Or is that too much spin to set on one little play?


Thursday, December 7, 2006

RE: Taming of the Shrew - The Taming of Petruchio

I am informed that I must bring bring this conversation to some sort of conclusion. I tremble at the task. Please excuse any oversight – I am certain to give short shrift to someone's favorite argument or ancillary point.

This has been primarily a Findlay-fest. Gil opened and closed the discussion with a challenge to modern interpretations that would see the play as embarrassingly non-PC. As he has summed his points up nicely below, I will not attempt to boil them down further. Randall questioned the possibility of such an interpretation for modern audiences, while granting that it may have been how at least some contemporaries would have received the play. Randall also contributed a wonderful array of parallels from modern pop culture, while Gil graciously and laboriously responded to my question about how a certain (to me) odd moment of silence on Kate's part has been directed, concluding that none of the many film versions he reviewed were very satisfactory to him on this point.

Randall made interesting comparisons to a very similar anonymous play, and proposed that what we have here is a mock epic (though not the first – that would be the Greek Batrachomyomachia "Battle of the Frogs and Mice," in the West, at least; the opening of the Sanskrit Mahabharata contains what I take to be a mini-mock epic, structurally parallel with the opening of The Iliad.) I'm going to quit there, though this doesn't begin to do justice to the richness of insight and detail contained in these missives.

On to Romeo and Juliet!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - The Taming of Petruchio

John – We have no guideline disallowing looking forward or outside Shakespeare's oeuvre. In fact Ernst has been back to Gorboduc, I have been over to Dryden and Congreve, and Randall has been forward to the end of all Shrews, Ten Things I Hate About You. We might, however, consider that we could break new ground in Shakespeare studies if we explore how all 37 plays are derived only from 2 Henry VI.

I convinced myself in the "Do not make denial" posting that Kate is among the many strong Shakespearean women. I hope I made a case while exploring her first encounter with Petruchio (II.i) for her wit (intelligence), her equality to Petruchio, and her social position as outcast, dismissed by all of Padua according to her father's prejudice. She is more physical, more violent, than other Shakespearian women (though doesn't Cleopatra pound on Mardian and Charmian?). However, we never see this side of Kate again. Though she has vowed (for policy or public consumption?) to see Petruchio hanged on Sunday first, she is nonetheless dressed and ready for the ceremony and the feast, her due after all she has been denied by Baptista's favors to Bianca. Gremio reports Petruchio's outrageous behavior at the [off-stage] wedding, but this may be no more than Gremio fictionalizing what all of Padua anticipated with the match of such a pair.

Certainly it is to the suitors' advantage to claim that they did well to avoid Kate, even though she is the better match (half of Baptista's estate plus 20,000 crowns). Petruchio arrives late, dressed in rags ("to me she's married, not unto my clothes"). Kate is angry, and loses the high ground I think she achieved in her earlier contest with Pertruchio. "Gentlemen, forward to the bridal dinner./ I see a woman may be made a fool,/ If she had not a spirit to resist" (III.ii.219-21). Great lines, but unfortunate in this context because they are so insistent on her antagonistic posture, so Petruchio rebuts her with "an accurate statement of the law as it stood in regard to married women in Shakespeare's period" (says Stevie Davies, who hates the play, in her little Penguin Critical Studies book on Shrew, 10). So, before all Padua, Petruchio takes Kate and skips the lavish wedding feast. Petruchio overstates his behavior at the wedding--his clothes, the feast--to suggest he understands what the purpose of these conventions are; they socialize the couple into the material values of the materialist patriarchy (I sound like a Marxist, but really I'm not). As cruel as it appears to Kate to be denied, at last, her moment to celebrate, Petruchio is really liberating her. The Paduans gloat: her unloving sister says "That being mad herself, she's madly mated" (Bianca will pay for this) and Gremio caps that, "I warrant him, Petruchio is Kated."

Chez Petruchio, we have the taming, Kate denied sleep and food (reminds me of Army Basic Training at Fort Ord): No mustard for her beef, the wrong fashion for her dress. "This is the way to kill a wife with kindness." I'd be hard pressed to direct this without huge sympathy for Kate. My witty Kate really is stripped down in order to be reemerge free of the social expectations. The crux is whether being guided (benevolently?) by Petruchio is superior to being negatively defined by Baptista/Bianca-ism. Back at Padua, the "good" people continue to lie, deceive, cheat and otherwise behave unethically for the sake of romance and profit. Hortensio's deathless ardor lasts only for a moment, and he has a wealthy widow already lined up. Lucentio, having cheated to assure dowry, elopes with Bianca. Elopement is supposedly true love, but the couple cheat Baptista's nonetheless. Which wedding is really more "honest"? Kate and Petruchio are on the road greeting Vincentio as a "lovely maid" Petruchio has said the sun or moon or star shall be "what I list," and Kate responds "Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me," (IV.v.15) – Kate's first "me" in the entire play. They argue over the orb in the sky and Kate says:

"Then God be blest, it is the blessed sun,
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine." (IV.v.18-22)

There is no broken spirit here. Notice she even manages to call Petruchio a lunatic. They kiss in the street and affectionately go in to join the others at Bianca's wedding banquet and the (in)famous homily.

So, the witty repartee of their first meeting is never repeated, though I think the "equality" of understanding that I saw back at "do not make denial" is here present at "and so it shall be so for Katherine". The contrast is Bianca, pretty, sweet, selfish, spiteful little Bianca, who manipulates everyone except her sister, then shows her true shrewish self by humiliating (taming?) her husband once the contact is fixed. There is a song in Guys and Dolls, titled "Marry the Man Today" that goes something like this: "Marry the man today, happy though he may be. Marry the man to day, though happy and wild and free. Marry the man today, give him your girlish laughter. Give him your hand today – and save the fist for after." [my italics]

Other Kates? The Princess of France and the dark Rosaline in Love's Labor's Lost are just as witty, naughtier, and they truly humble the self-deluded Ferdinand and Berowne. They are just as sharp, but their wit is more important than character in this flimsier plot, driven to overwhelm the unreasonable "law," three years of celibate study without the distraction of women. It's the same vow with which Lucentio opens Shrew that lasts only an augenblick [my favorite German word]. In Midsummer NIght's Dream, Oberon has magic on his side in the war against Titania. I'd like to see Hippolyta take on her captor/fiancé Theseus, but because of the other plots, there are only a dozen lines. Merchant's Portia, when not in court, seems willing to cast herself in the role of submissive wife to the egocentric fortune-hunting Bassanio. Yeah, the ring trick is worthy of my Kate or of Beatrice, and after the last scene, Portia forever can call in her power, but she is the tamer and too gracious to show Bassanio he is "Kated."

I don't much remember Merry Wives, but its Falstaff is no match for the Ford and Page women, who are middle-class rather than witty. Twelfth Night? Viola's position is terribly vulnerable. She is at her strongest, wittiest, when she contests Olivia, and transcends repartee when she soars into Shakespeare's finest lines: "Make me a willow cabin at your gate,/ And call upon my soul within the house." [More on that later, of course.] Juliet is stronger than Romeo but they are not cast in a "battle of the sexes." Cleopatra is the most incandescent. Lady Macbeth is the toughest of all. And I agree with John that Beatrice is the one we will come back to, with poor "Benedick, the married man," aware of what Petruchio may not recognize, that equality of the sexes is a wonder that transcends social convention.

Outside of Shakespeare go for Etherege's Harriet (Man of Mode) and Congreve's Millamant (The Way of the World) to see truly witty women displayed with transcendent intelligence, until poor Kate Hardcastle, a century later, must stoop to conquest.


Saturday, December 2, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - Kate's Last Words, Take 1


Just for fun, a final d-i-y comparison to the earlier edition (published in 1594, I think I was off a bit before), A Pleasant Conceited Historie called The Taming of a Shrew (and aren't you glad I didn't get ahold of the other two earlier editions?). Gil used the word "homily" to describe Kate's last speech in The Taming of the Shrew. You thought THAT was homily, wait 'til you hear this:

Now, lovely Kate, before their husbands here,
I prithee tell unto these headstrong women
What duty wives do owe unto their husbands.

Then you that live thus by your pampered wills,
Now list to me and mark what I shall say:

Th'eternal power that with his only breath,
Shall cause this end and this beginning frame,
Not in time, nor before time, but with time, confused; --
For all the course of years, of ages, months,
Of seasons temperate, of days and hours,
Are tuned and stopped by measure of his hand; --

The first world was a form without a form,
A heap confused, a mixture all deformed,
A gulf of gulfs, a body bodiless,
Where all the elements were orderless,
Before the great Commander of the world,
The King of kings, the glorious God of heaven,
Who in six days did frame His heavenly work
And made all things to stand in perfect course:

Then to His image did He make a man,
Old Adam, and from his side asleep
A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make
The woe of man, so termed by Adam then
'Wo-man,' for that by her came sin to us;
And for her sin was Adam doomed to die.

As Sarah to her husband, so should we
Obey them, love them, keep, and nourish them,
If they by any means do want our helps;
Laying our hands under their feet to tread,
If that by that we might procure their ease;
And for a precedent I'll first begin
And lay my hand under my husband's feet. (5.1.111-142)

Now, I've talked a whole lot, so at this point I just have a few questions. What is your reaction to this in comparison to the version you read? How is the argument that women should serve their men treated differently? Does the heavily biblical imagery used here suggest something about Shakespeare by its absence in the later version (later Kate says, for example, "Such duty as the subject owes the prince, / Even such a woman oweth to her husband.")? What is the origin of that wacky etymology Kate uses for "woman"? Did that originate here? Or was it floating around earlier? And holy mother of God, Cindy, if your students were reading either version of the play, what would you do with Kate's last speech?


Taming of the Shrew - Auden Addendum

Blast-ended Shrew(t)s,

In his short (two pages) discussion of Taming of the Shrew, Auden argues that the play is a failure because no farce can succeed if it must contend with a serious issue. "In our time the war of the sexes has become much too serious an issue to be treated in a farcical manner. This has been true in England ever since the passage of the Married Woman's Property Act of 1882. Up to that point there was no question, basically, that man was boss" (64). So Auden puts Findlay fils in his place by pointing out that what was once farce is now failure, and not worth discussing. (And he moves abruptly on to King John just a couple of paragraphs later.)

Because Auden is giving a lecture (in 1946), fortunately transcribed by a student, he is prone to digression. And the rest of the paragraph, somewhat startlingly, finds him waxing wistful about American women:

"In England things are run for the benefit of men, and it is too bad if you are a girl. In America things are run for the benefit of women, and the men have an unfortunate time. … In England women are colorless. In America they are more interesting than the men. They are better educated, confident, and amusing to talk to. Perhaps, however, they suffer more in this country than they are willing to admit by holding such a dominating position, and one that is increasing. In fifty years most American men will be honorably employed as gigolos" (64).

Ha ha ha ha ha ha … ha … uh … ha.

Hey, fifty years! That's …uh …2006.

Ye gods, maybe we finally have an answer to the decline in American employment due to corporate outsourcing! Sign me up.


Taming of the Shrew - The Shrilliad, or Paradise Bossed

A Shrew! Geshundheit!

I. Shakespeare's Shrew and genre

Looking back over our correspondence, I find one of the most intriguing emerging themes is Shakespeare's relationship to genre. Gil started us off early with his comment from our first play, Comedy of Errors: "Back when they talked about genres ... someone claimed Shakespeare wrote histories until he perfected the form with the Henriad, then stopped; wrote comedies until he wrote a perfect Twelfth Night, then stopped; wrote tragedy until King Lear, then stopped; wrote romance until The Tempest, then stopped all together. He began it all with The Comedy of Errors, got 'farce' right the first time out, so he never wrote another, in that he had nowhere else to go."

Eight plays into our Shakespearean expedition, I have a somewhat revised view of this assessment, wherever it comes from. It implies that each play Shakespeare writes fits into a linear continuity of refinement: Love's Labor's Lost – rough, Twelfth Night – perfect; Titus Andronicus – rough, King Lear – perfect. Because we've only read one tragedy as a group and no romances, let's set aside those genres for the time being. I would argue that this assessment fits the history plays and add that it does so because Shakespeare seems to have invented the genre, so that with each subsequent play he makes adjustments to bring that particular type of play to its full capacity. Compare, for instance, the dramatic balance of Richard III to the more episodic, cast-of-thousands attempts of the first two Henry VI plays, and observe the growing focus on character through the first tetraology which we know will be further intensified as we work through the second.

When it comes to the comedies, though, I think we run into trouble characterizing Shakespeare's progress the same way. We have read three comedies now, and they couldn't be more different. We talked a lot about farce with Comedy of Errors. But Love's Labor's Lost found us focusing more on Shakespeare's toying with contemporary attitudes about language, euphuism and Lyly. In generic terms the two plays didn't have a lot in common; that makes sense because Comedy of Errors is farce and Love's Labor's Lost is not …much. So far so good. In terms of character and theme there are more similarities: we can see in Petruchio and Kate echoes of Antipholus and Adriana, and Berowne and Rosaline, and foreshadows of Beatrice and Benedick, all examples of the couple-at-odds. Having observed this, though, it does not necessarily follow that each couple's repartee and complex relationship improves on the one that precedes it until we arrive at some divine distillation of the battle royale of the sexes.

So, do we see the structural variations as Shakespeare trying different comic patterns on his way to Twelfth Night? Or simply tossing his language into different popular forms, even, in some cases, just borrowing lesser predecessor plays like Rosalynde or The Taming of a Shrew as vehicles? Or I wonder if, when it comes to the established genres like comedy, Shakespeare's early plays demonstrate that he is an innovator, an experimentalist, more likely to build new forms out of old ones than merely pour his alchemical language into preset patterns. Or, put a little differently, that Shakespeare is as much a master manipulator of form as he is of language, and that in fact the two are not so separable.

Critics I've read (for each of our previous plays) tend to focus on the language and overlook or disregard any discussion of genre or form. F. S. Boas, writing in the introduction to A Pleasant Conceited Historie called The Taming of a Shrew, which I mentioned previously, notes "that in The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare gives one of the most remarkable examples of his unique faculty of transforming his materials, of vitalising and refining them, while largely preserving their substance. The general structure of the old play is retained, but it is enriched with new treasures of imagination, dramatic insight, and verbal music" (Boas, xxxviii). See? Shakespeare is given no credit for any innovation of form or bending of generic expectations. And that's because on the surface the two plays – Taming of A Shrew and Taming of THE Shrew – don't show much structural difference. Both open with the Christopher Sly piece, and both are mirror images in exposition, event and resolution of the Shrew sequences. Nor do they seem much adjusted in their generic nature, although the first edition is much more farce than Shakespeare's.

II. Shrew and farce

Which brings me to one final thought about our initial statement about Shakespeare and genre. It suggests that Shakespeare sets aside farce early on, after Comedy of Errors. Yet The Taming of the Shrew is seriously farcical. W. H. Auden, in Lectures on Shakespeare, tells us the "plot of Taming of the Shrew belongs to farce," and it is Shakespeare's use of this genre that makes the play "a complete failure" because he is too good a writer to contain his play within the strictures of farce -- his characters have individuality, his conflicts suffer the necessity of resolution, and his plot is too serious. Maurice Charney, in All of Shakespeare, calls Taming of the Shrew an experiment in farce. He doesn't see the play as a failure at all, explaining that "in farce, not a great deal of attention is paid to psychological subtleties of character as the action presses forward to fulfill its mechanistic assumptions" (25). When forced to consider Auden's idea that Shakespeare's characters do indeed have psychological subtleties, or individuality, Charney neatly gets around it by arguing that yes, they do, but "they fall in love with each other without actually knowing it" (26). I think this echoes Gil's argument that by the end of Act 2, scene 1 the couple share an unspoken attraction, but Gil, being smarter than Charney, gives Shakespeare more credit.

I suspect if I continued to thumb through critical assessments of Shrew that I'd find a lot of discussion of farce, but Auden and Charney neatly frame the responses and outline the problem I think modern readers have with the play. It wears the trappings of farce but these hide an alter ego, a Shakespearean comedy more in keeping with his later works. We saw something very similar, although to a lesser degree, with Egeon at the beginning of Comedy of Errors threatened by imminent death; hardly the way to get a good farce off the ground. Shakespeare is not, it seems, well suited to farce. His language endows characters with complexity that frequently carries them beyond the stock dimensions needed for functional farce. (In this I agree with Auden, although I don't see Shrew as a failure.) And he is far too interested in why things are and in people's motivations to sacrifice rationale for the fickle demands and necessary non sequitors farce needs to stay comic. So, I think he attempts both – farce and comedy. If this is true, what we find once again is Shakespeare the innovator, a writer capable of transforming a genre from the inside out.

But how? In the Henry VI plays, we have seen Shakespeare invent a genre out of the unlikely ingredients of historical chronicles and political primers. In Taming of the Shrew he invents, I believe, another – the mock epic.

III. Shakespeare's Mock Epic

OK. This is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. The standard for mock epics is Alexander Pope's 18th-century poem, "The Rape of the Lock," which parodies the long narrative poem (by being relatively short), the serious subject and elevated language (by being trivial), and the larger-than-life hero typical of the traditional epic. Throughout Taming of the Shrew I find not only striking similarities to what Pope will accomplish a little over 100 years later, but many of the conventions of epic portrayed with the same sly subtlety that we saw when Shakespeare was "out-Lylying John Lyly" (as Ernst put it) in Love's Labor's Lost. For example:

1.) Invocation: While Shakespeare includes no traditional invocation, Lucentio does set the scene by letting the audience know that the play takes place in Padua, "nursery of the arts" (1.1.2). One might argue that in addition to Padua's specific inspiration to those seeking enlightenment, Italy -- its arts and intrigues -- in general inspires much of what Shakespeare writes. Every 'renaissance' must have its nursery.

2.) In medias res: Lucentio and Tranio may have just arrived in town, but we pick up Baptista practically in mid-sentence: "Gentlemen, importune me no further" (1.1.48). Yep, folks, Gremio and Hortensio have been hounding him for Bianca prior to the beginning of the play, Kate's shrewishness is already legendary, and we have reached that critical point in story where Baptista's decision about marriage order will set in motion the events that bring the story to its conclusion, not unlike Hermes telling Calypso to release Odysseus from her island.

3.) Concern with the fate of a nation or people: Here, Shakespeare employs a mocking reversal that anticipates Pope, shifting the national scope to a domestic one; it is not the fate of the Italians or the founding of Rome at issue, but the fate of a few Italian lovers and the founding of a marriage. Or perhaps we really are concerned with more. After all, Kate's final speech and the comeuppance of Hortensio and Lucentio's wives make it clear that Petruchio's heroic accomplishment is to make the institution of marriage safe for all men.

4.) Epic hero: According to Philip V. Allingham on The Victorian Web, "Although [the hero's] fellows may be great warriors (like Achilles and Beowulf, he may have a comitatus, or group of noble followers, with whom he grew up), he undertakes a task that no one else dare attempt." So doth Petruchio. Hortensio explains why no man will marry Kate:

"Her only fault – and that is faults enough –
Is that she is intolerably curst
And shrewd and froward, so beyond all measure
That were my state far worser than it is,
I would not wed her for a mine of gold." (1.2.87-91)

Despite this warning, Petruchio takes on the labor, using language more in keeping with a man facing an angry god. "I will board her though she chide as loud / As thunder when the clouds in autumn crack" (1.2.94-95), and indeed he later compares Kate to the goddess Diana. Humorously, Petruchio's comitatus is two bumbling servants, one who openly mocks him and the other who is something of a village idiot. Allingham continues, "The hero's epic adversary is often a 'god-despiser,' one who has more respect for his own mental and physical abilities than for the power of the gods." In Kate's conversion speech, she refers to her husband as "lord," "sovereign" and "governor." At the beginning of the play, however, her view of her potential husband is different.

"No shame but mine. I must, forsooth, be forced
To give my hand opposed against my heart
Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen." (3.2.8-10)

She does not despise marriage. She is angry at her father when she thinks that her wedding will not be as important as Bianca's, and she doesn't respond when Petruchio proclaims them engaged. It's men she doesn't like – her father, her music teacher, the elderly Gremio, Petruchio – those who, in the Christian view, should be like a god to her.

5.) Description of hero's armor and weapon: Here, again, we find Shakespeare mocking the convention. When Petruchio is late for his own wedding, his servant Biondello describes him to Tranio thus:

"Why, Petruchio is coming in a new hat and an old jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turned; a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckeled, another laced; an old rusty sword ta'en out of the town armory, with a broken hilt and chapeless; with two broken points; his horse hipped (with an old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred) ..." etc, etc (3.2.43ff).

When I was at Carleton, my Milton teacher, Heather Dubrow, explained the concept of a capite ad calcem (the rhetorical device of describing a character from head to foot). I've had a bit of trouble tracking down specific information about the technique but it seems to be something that was common in the classical period, then again from Petrarch on (Gonoji, 1996). Biondello does this: hat, jerkin, breeches, boots. Perhaps it is intuitive, but given Shakespeare's awareness of rhetorical device (so vividly on display in Love's Labor's Lost), I'd lay good money that he knows what he's doing here, invoking a heroic description. One might argue that the same technique is used to describe the poet's beloved in other poetic forms, but because this is Biondello describing Petruchio, I don't think that fits.

I particularly love the bit about the weapon. In traditional epics, "the hero often has a special weapon (e. g., Achilles' Pelian ash spear) or quality (e.g., Odysseus's ability to adopt disguises)" (Victorian Web). Often it is a gift from the gods. Here Petruchio's weapon is rusty, broken, and stolen from the town armory. I expect the Elizabethan audience, familiar with their classic epics, would have gotten a particularly good laugh.

6.) Battles: Epic poetry gives us two kinds of battles – the big ones in which everyone fights and single combat between the hero and his nemesis. Pope, in "Rape of the Lock," turns these into a card game. In the single battle the heroes are often near equals, and in Taming of the Shrew it is obvious what Petruchio and Kate use for weapons – language. We certainly see their equality in their early exchanges, and Gil has provided a neat argument for how Petruchio uses language not to defeat Kate but to win her, by using contradiction. That word, "contradiction," means "language against," an appropriate image for what the two warriors do and for what Petruchio achieves.

7.) Elevated language: Shakespeare also mocks the formality expected of epic. Petruchio, for example, is blasphemous at the very moments he should be most formal. Gremio reports an example from the wedding ceremony:

"I'll tell you, Sir Lucentio, when the priest
Should ask, if Katherine should be his wife,
'Ay, by goggs woones!' quoth he and swore so loud
That, all amazed, the priest let fall the book." (3.2.158-161)

And not only does Petruchio swear, he can't even pronounce his oath right (maybe he's drunk). You could jump in here and say, 'look, it's not mocking the elevated language of epic, it's just funny.' I think it is interesting, though, that we've seen language used as a weapon in the play, but something very different is happening with language here. What is it? Why is Petruchio tearing down the ritual formalism of the wedding ceremony? How does this de-shrew Kate? Everyone seems to think he is mad at this point, so perhaps that gives him more license to act irrationally with Kate and wear her down. To me, the point is his blasphemy, in church, is an example of anti-formal, or descended, language.

8.) Epic similes: And what's an epic without an extended simile? Describing himself to Baptista, Petruchio says:

"I am as peremptory as she proud-minded.
And where two raging fires meet together
They do consume the thing that feeds their fury.
Though little fire grows great with little wind,
Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all.
So I to her ..." (2.1.131-136)

Ah yes, Petruchio, the poet is telling us, is a blowhard.

9.) The epic feast: Shakespeare takes two rips at this convention. First Kate is not allowed to attend her wedding feast, and second, when she goes to Petruchio's country house she is offered sumptuous food that she is not allowed to eat.

10.) The boon: Joseph Campbells' monomyth cycle suggests that the result of the heroic journey is a "boon," some valuable item or knowledge with which the hero can return to his home or people triumphant. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars masters the Force, defeats the evil empire and destroys its doomsday machine, the deathstar. Neo in The Matrix frees his mind from the simulacrum created by computers to delude humans, conquers death, defeats the evil "agents," and saves mankind; Moses receives the laws of God and takes his people into the promised land. Petruchio gets 20,000 crowns and half Baptista's land, a bit more than 40 acres and a mule, but still a mocking boon in comparison to the great epics. Yet he also gets the perfect wife, and takes this valuable experience public, beginning the process of saving others from their shrewish wives.

As often as we can point to events within the play to identify mock epic conventions, we can also see the use of these conventions specifically in the language -- the epic simile, the descended language, the battles (of wit), the head-to-foot description. What Shakespeare adds to the earlier edition of Shrew, then, is language that captures and pokes fun at the conventions of epic, shifting more than just the words, but the type of play we are watching. Boas comments that Shakespeare enriches the original "with new treasures of imagination, dramatic insight, and verbal music"; I would add that in doing so he affects the generic nature of the play.

Does Shrew work better as a mock epic than a farce or comedy? Playing up this aspect might solve Auden's concern about seriousness while retaining the complexity of the characters that keeps the play from being merely farce. Whatever. The whole mock epic thing might be a conceit. But from the man who created the history genre, the man who joyfully parodies the hyper-rhetorical trends of his time, the man who will shortly, seamlessly, bind the genres of comedy and tragedy into a single play called Romeo and Juliet, that man I would not put it past to trot Petruchio out on stage as a mock hero, and take a dramatic stick to many of the conventions associated with the heroic, just for fun.

So there,

Friday, December 1, 2006

RE2: Taming of the Shrew - Shrew, Do Not Make Denial

I completely agree. Language often possesses a greater "reality" than the reality it purports to convey. This, and what you say below, puts me in mind of Marshall McLuhan's line, "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." Language is, arguably, our greatest tool, yet the extent to which it has become divorced from what we might call truth in today's discourse (and at moments in this play) generates a violence that is potentially far more disturbing than physical blows.


RE: Taming of the Shrew - Shrew, Do Not Make Denial

I'd like to thank the Findlays for their thorough responses. I feel like the undeserving recipient of great riches. Clearly Kate's silence in the face of Petruchio's lies was something that directors struggled with and resolved in a variety of mostly unsatisfying ways.

Before we are done with the play, I would like to know what people think of the Kate character in comparison with other such characters in and outside of Shakespeare. Beatrice of Much Ado About Nothing seems to me the closest parallel, but that is a tale of mutual "taming" (and more interesting for it, to my mind). Is it too teleological to see Kate as practice for Beatrice? Are we disallowed from looking forward to plays we haven't officially read together?

On an unrelated note, my first assumption would be that the name Ferando (the Petruchio character in the alternative Shrew play that Randall found) is just a mangling of the much more common Fernando. But such mangling often has a purpose, and it is notable that, if Ferando is "Man of Iron" Petruchio might be "Man of Rock" (or "Heart of Stone"? Or just "Rocky"? A new roll for Mr. Stallone?). Coincidence?

And if I may be allowed one more disconnected thought – the power of language to persuade us that things are other than what they are seems to me a central theme of the play from the induction through to the end. Though most of these persuasions seem far fetched, psychological experiments have shown repeatedly that most people can be persuaded to ignore the evidence of their own eyes in the face of group pressure. A similar kind of willing disbelief is of course necessary for a play to function. But the ease with which entire societies can come to believe things that are simply not true (that oil resources will last forever, or that we can dump a trillion odd tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without consequence) makes our comedy look tragic indeed. But maybe that's just the mood I'm in today.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - Shrew, Do Not Make Denial

as I was saying...

If you plowed all the way through my last ("Petruchio the Mild"), you noticed I never did answer John's inquiry abut how recent productions handle Kate after "Petruchio, lying, tells the others that Kate has agreed to marry him." Among the regrets I have after having spent about 500 nights in the theatre is how quickly a live performance begins to dissolve in memory as the curtain falls. I may remember that a production was powerful (Olivier's Titus) or godawful (Colorado State's Comedy of Errors) but I am hard pressed to recall specific evidence.

I have seen, I think, four productions of Shrew on stage. 1) Ashland, Oregon, 1967, when I led a band of "Northwest Gifted Children" camping, play going and playing Botticelli, and what I remember most vividly is that before a backstage tour, two ladies' clubs laughed at my kids when we were told the "gifted children" should gather in one corner. 2) Boulder, Colorado, maybe 1985, directed by Tom Marcus (Google him; a significant director at Williamsburg and Salt Lake), an old college classmate of mine, and I remember especially the colors, a 19th-century Sly in forest green and brown, then the play they fantasize for him: pastel Padua, then bold primaries for Petruchio. 3) The RSC in an armory in San Francisco, 2000, with Sly set in front of a TV set ("Is it not a comonty?") then with a "TV set" proscenium arch the play plays out, unmemorably, I remember – do you recall, Randall? 4) Then CalShakes, Orinda, California, 2000, a restorative antidote to the flat RSC – but I can't remember any detail at all.

Ah, but right upstairs I have a shelf full of videos. It may not be an attic full of actors, but a video is the same every time I watch it. This time I only watched the opening three scenes of each.

Sam Taylor, director (1929). Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Bianca is a brunette, because Pickford is famously blond. No Christopher Sly. It opens with a Hortensio-Bianca kiss (running time is 68 minutes so Lucentio is cut). Kate trashes much of the mansion before we even see her. She uses a bullwhip on Bianca. Petruchio notes "she is a lusty wench," and duels her with his own bull whip. Kate' response is silence. Duh. It is a silent movie. Just kidding. My tape has been dubbed. II.i.279 ("Never make denial") is missing so the scene goes straight to "I'll see him hanged on Sunday first!" Kate bites Petruchio, he kisses her, she is breathless. Exit Petruchio, so the lines go back to "Call you me daughter?" and Kate horsewhips Baptista for making the match without her knowledge. This Kate is neither tamed nor astonished. Instead she needs Clyde Beatty for a tutor (sorry for an ancient reference: Beatty was a famous lion tamer with Barnum and Bailey circus).

Franco Zeffirelli, director (1966). Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is a buxom (!) brunette so Bianca is a ringletted blond. No Christopher Sly. Starts with Lucentio (Michael York) entering a very Tuscan Padua at Carnival time. Love at first sight (he utters "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"). Horatio is a Restoration fop and Gremio is senex (so there is a commedia dell'arte beginning). Taylor trashes the scenery, smashes stuff, horse whips Bianca. The Petruchio-Kate scene ends in a long (!) chase, up the stairs, along the halls into the granary, finally along the roof ridge until they both fall through into a large bin of sheep fleece. He falls on top of her. Ho, ho, ho. Kate is exhausted by the chase. At II.i.279, "Do not make denial," she is so tired, she just limps, exhausted, but she smiles, but she spits out "I'll see thee hanged on Sunday first," then, alone, she repeats "I'll see thee hanged," softened a little as she thinks about it, maybe, second thoughts, a little smile. Not tamed nor astonished, but, I think, seduced.

Bill Ball, director (1976). This is an American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, production made for TV. Marc Singer and Fredi Olster. Hal Holbrook opens with a lecture on commedia dell'arte. No Christopher Sly. The play starts with the company, in commedia masks and white clown suits, filing on stage before a citizen audience (when first I saw this on TV they disembarked from a ship, climbing down cargo nets). The production is hugely stylized, including speaking the dialogue. Bianca has long blond hair, while Katherina's hair is light brown. Hortensio looks like Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Mark Singer wears a leather jerkin over his bare chest. As he prepares for his first meeting with Katherina, he removes the jerkin, and Kate, behind him, ogles his bod lustfully. The "interview" is very physical, with Petruchio flipping Kate around, over his shoulder, etc. At one point he stamps on her foot, which gives a new twist to "Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?" so his denial, "O stand'rous world," is a flat-out lie. At II.i.279 ("Never make denial"), Kate is just speechless, amazed at the manhandling, before she gets her breath back for "I'll see thee hang'd on Sunday first."

Jonathan Miller, director (1981). BBC. John Cleese and Sarah Badel. Bianca's hair is light brown, while Kate is a mature brunette. Though BBC pledged to archive all of Shakespeare, Christopher Sly is cut out. BBC's other pledge, "no interpretation ," which is, of course, a kind of interpretation, is abandoned here with a remarkable, unconventional portrayal of Petruchio by John Cleese, who is thoughtful, circumspect, solemn. His opening stroll through the crowded marketplace is careful observation by a stranger. Before his first meeting with Katherina, his constructs his contradiction strategy, thinking it through extempore. The repartee is perfect rational discourse: listen, think, respond. He does take Kate by the wrist after she strikes him (hard). After II.i.279, Kate smolders, then, as Randall notes, takes her anger out on Baptista. When Petruchio asserts "If she be curst, it is for policy," Kate bites her lip. Then, as though to demonstrate she has heard his cue, "I'll see thee hanged on Sunday." But as Petruchio tells Hortensio and Gremio about the "love" which has transpired, Kate is shocked and speechless. Baptista is ecstatic to be rid of her. I think astonished would be my take on this. (Has anyone else seen this? What is your take on Cleese's Petruchio?)

John Allison, Director (1982). Bard Productions. All the Bard shows are uneven. Franklyn Seales and Karen Austin. Bianca is blond, a big pile of curls and my note says "buns," and Katherina has lots of light brown curls. No Christopher Sly. Opens again in a market place and, as Lucentio is telling Tranio of his plan for "moral discipline" in Padua, he is greeted by a florid hooker (I thought, if this is Bianca, we're in trouble). Kate greets Petruchio skeptically, but she seems turned on as she hits him with her fists. Very physical. Petruchio's lines are irrational, and Kate responds by pounding and hitting and biting. In fact, they exchange bite for bite. "I'll tame you" is a threat. At the end of what is an extended fight, Kate is supine and Petruchio is breathless. "Never make denial" is cut, so Kate's response is "I'll see then hang'd on Sunday." She is justifiably furious. Thus, she is neither tamed nor astonished. Nor silent.

Therefore, John, I don't think any of them get it "right." The play I read is much more subtle than these. I do think, as Randall has just noted in "Kate Speaks," that Kate's real anger is directed toward her father who has "sold" her to a stranger without any consultation. If so this is consistent with Act I, when she has bitterly complained about Baptista's preference for his younger daughter and the humiliations she has suffered. Petruchio, witty or male chauvinist or abusive or misogynistic or hot stuff, is still just the latest of Baptista's humiliations.

Gilbert, bleary eyed.

Taming of the Shrew - Kate Speaks!


I, too, was surprised by Kate's silence at what I considered Petruchio's ultimate presumptuousness in Act 2, scene 1. Despite a spirited, and often sharp, back and forth, Petruchio makes the following statement, which goes uncommented upon by Kate:

"And therefore, setting all this chat aside,
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry 'greed on,
And will you, nill you, I will marry you." (2.1.261-264)

He gets off eight more lines, Baptista and Gremio and Tranio enter, there's discussion with them, and finally Kate gets a word in. And she's angry. I decided she was speechless with rage the entire time, but did feel her silence was curious. I am glad John has made it an issue.

What's more I very much like Gil's reading up to this point – sorry, I know many of you were looking forward to a response entitled "Taming of the Shrew - Findlay Grudge Match!" – not only for its logic, but for the compelling dimension it added to my understanding of the characters. While Gil goes to the tape or tapes, though, to discover how directors handled the moment, I went to A Pleasant Conceited Historie Called The Taming of a Shrew (1594), one of the editions of the play that precede what we now think of as Shakespeare's version and which may or may not have been written by Shakespeare, to see if Kate's silence had a precedent.

First, things happen much more quickly in the older version; the wooing scene takes place early in Act 1, scene 1 and contains the same battle of wits between Kate and Ferando (the Petruchio character).

Ferando: Twenty good morrows to my lovely Kate!
Kate: You jest, I am sure; is she yours already?
Ferando: I tell thee, Kate, I know thou lov'st me well.
Kate: The devil you do! Who told you so?
Ferando: My mind, sweet Kate, doth say I am the man
Must wed, and bed, and marry bonny Kate.
Kate: Was ever seen so gross an ass as this?
Ferando: Ay, to stand so long and never get a kiss.
Kate: Hands off, I say, and get you from this place;
Or I will set my ten commandments on your face.
Ferando: I prithee do, Kate; they say thou art a shrew,
And I like thee the better, for I would have thee so.
Kate: Let go my hand for fear it reach thy ear.
Ferando: No, Kate, this hand is mine, and I thy love.
Kate: In faith, sir, no; the woodcock wants his tail.
Ferando: But yet his bill will serve, if the other fail.
Alfonso: How now, Ferando, what says my daughter?
Ferando: She's willing, sir, and loves me as her life. (1.1.144-161)

The superiority of the later Shakespeare version is evident any number of ways. For one, it takes Ferando (does that mean 'man of iron'?) less than 20 lines to betroth himself to Kate. In Act 1, scene 1. What is rising action in Shakespeare is wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am exposition in the earlier edition. For another, the development of their relationship as a result of Petruchio's wooing, as Gil has described it, is completely absent here. What is so charming or spirited about this Ferando that might sway this Kate? So far, nada. The wit's not quite as witty; this passage displays a kind of de rigeur stichomythia, but there's little of the word play that gives the later text its flash. Whereas Petruchio may be seen as battling Kate with his rapier wit, this Ferando batters her more like a blunt instrument. Colonel Mustard in the street with an "ay, to stand so long and never get a kiss."

But what happens when Ferando makes his announcement that, despite her clear denial ("In faith, sir, no."), she's willing to marry him? The earlier edition continues thus:

Ferando: She's willing, sir, and loves me as her life.
Kate: 'Tis for your skin then, but not to be your wife.
Alfonso: Come hither, Kate, and let me give thy hand
To him that I have chosen for thy love,
And thou tomorrow shalt be wed to him.
Kate: Why, father, what do you mean to do with me,
To give me thus unto this brain-sick man,
That in his mood cares not to murder me? (1.1.161-168)

No silence. She's right back at him, parrying his presumptuous audacity. And here the two texts are similar. Kate's response to her father in both texts reflects shock and querulousness, as well as her suggestion that her suitor is insane.

Kate (in Shakespeare): Call you me daughter? Now, I promise you
You have showed a tender fatherly regard
To wish me wed to one half lunatic,
A madcap ruffian and a swearing Jack
That thinks with oaths to face the matter out. (2.1.278-282)

And when Petruchio further asserts that their wedding is a foregone conclusion, Kate shoots back "I'll see thee hanged on Sunday first." At this point, however, her doppelganger reveals a very different character. In the early edition she follows her questioning of Ferando's sanity with an aside:

"But yet I will consent and marry him,
For I methinks have lived too long a maid,
And match him too, or else his manhood's good." (1.1.169-171)

If the earlier edition informs the later, I think this supports Gil's contention that Kate has found a suitable match, and here it is explicitly made clear to the audience. Yet the aside is problematic because it makes what follows – the struggle to rid her of her shrewishness – largely disingenuous. Shakespeare's leaving it out makes Kate's attitude toward Petruchio more ambiguous, but it also makes more dramatic the conflict that follows. Most intriguing, though, is the early Kate's last line (she speaks no more after this, exiting with Alfonso), specifically "or else his manhood's good." What I take this to mean is that if Ferando is a rube she will match his wit and be his equal. However if he is a real man, she will be inferior to him. Her admission of this, unless I've misread it, completely digresses from the version we have come to know.

Kate's shrewishness becomes something less than non-conformity, less than the wild, untamed force that Petruchio must corral, and more stock or merely duplicitous. The early edition in this light becomes mild domestic comedy or, dare we say it, more consistently farcical than Shakespeare's version. Once the audience has heard the aside, they know she really likes him and that she's tired of her virginity. She just wants to check his manhood. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

We may not find Shakespeare's Kate's silence to be completely in character, but it seems to me that her silence says more than the more verbose Kate does with her aside. Paradoxically, the more independent woman is the one who is seen and not heard.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - Petruchio the Mild

Shrew tamers,

After their very first "interview,' Petruchio announces he and Kate have agreed to marry and, John notes, Kate says nothing. Has she been tamed already, is she just too astonished, or is her interest no longer with Padua society, her father and the gaggle of suitors, but with the unconventional force who has entered her life, Petruchio?

To re-review. The play opens with one of Shakespeare's unreasonable laws, that Bianca may not choose among her many suitors until her older sister Katherina marries. In Comedy of Errors, Egeon must ransom himself before sundown or die. In Midsummer Night's Dream, Hermia must marry her father's choice or die. And so forth. Thus, serious jeopardy throws the plots into motion. Bianca is to be cloistered, so suitors devise multiple deceptions, intriguing to disguise fake tutors, invent fake fathers, grasp at some adventurer from Verona to remove the Kate obstacle from their path to eternal bliss with their ideal woman, the blond air-head, Bianca.

And Kate?! As I argued before, with her father Baptista setting the point of view, all view her as a froward shrew, too rough, too wild, a devil-too independent!! She is unsocialized. Hortensio tells her she will never wed "unless you were of gentler, milder, mould (I.i.60). Kate responds that he need never fear her marriage: "Iwis it [marriage] is not half way to her [Kate's] heart" (I.i.62), whereupon Tranio, on his very first view of her, says "that wench is stark mad or wonderful froward" (I.i.69), for not primarily seeking matrimony. Here, on our first introduction, any woman who is unwilling to marry a Hortensio or Gremio or Lucentio or Grumio or Tranio or Sir Toby Belch, for that matter, is, by social standards, stark mad. Can you see my direction? It is Kate who is independent of social convention, the predefined role for women, and if she were to be tamed she would marry Hortensio or some clone and society could resolve back into the materialist status quo, Bianca-like, where "in the other's [Bianca's] silence do I see/ Maid's mild behavior and sobriety" (70-71). Lord, deliver us from uppity women!

Enter Petruchio. Antonio, his wealthy father, is deceased, and Petruchio has crowns in his pocket. Nonetheless, he still sees a marriage as an investment. "I come to wive it wealthily in Padua,/ If wealthily, then happily in Padua" (I.ii.75-76). In Franco Zeffirelli's production, Petruchio is already fingering the household silver before he is even introduced to Baptista. He may be a crass fortune hunter; he buys into the materialist values of society. At least, he is the opposite of Gremio, who has vowed he will spend a fortune in order to sleep with Bianca. Our gang provides a grace note to Katrina – she is rich, young, and beauteous, but intolerable curst with that scolding tongue. Tush, tush, quoth Petruchio, frighten boys with bugs.

We see the spirited Katrina strike her sister in frustration for Baptista's clear favoritism, and then Hortensio, the fake music master, returns from encountering Katrina wearing his lute around his ears. Petruchio is impressed with such spirit: "Now by the world, it is a lusty wench!/ I love her ten times more than e'er I did./ O, how I long to have some chat with her!" (II.i.160-62). Let's ignore the math-10 times zero is still zero-and see this as evidence of Petruchio's enthusiasm for the woman as well as the wealth. So, before their first meeting, Petruchio outlines his tactics. I see this as planning a difficult campaign aloud rather than introspective soliloquy, but he gives the audience a grace note to a series of contradictions to the advertised frowning, railing Kate. I think it is significant that this strategy, though apparently denying appearances, is not as baldly dishonest as all the deception and duplicity everyone uses in the Bianca plot to deceive Baptista.

Findlay fils has rejected Findlay pere's theory of holding a mirror up to the inner "real" Katherina, but let's look at the first meeting anyway. "They call me Katherine that do talk to me" [that is, keep your distance, stranger], but Petruchio plays all the variations on Kate, including you are called "sometimes Kate the curst," so, says I, Petruchio acknowledges both the actuality and the "mirror," ending with "Myself am mov'd to woo thee for my wife" (II.i.194). He is open (unlike her father who has already bargained her away behind her back). And thus starts the repartee, about movables and bearing and bees and stings. Wit on both sides. We know from Restoration comedy that such wit is the audible proof of intelligence. But Petruchio oversteps with "What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again,/ Good Kate; I am a gentleman-" (II.i.218-19). That tongue in your tail is just too dirty a line for a "first date," and Petruchio seems to realize it right away with his "Nay, come again."

Forcefully, Kate holds him to his excess before he can go on Letterman to apologize, and she strikes him He reacts, do that again and I'll cuff you, but she sets the limits, "If you strike me, you are no gentleman" (II.i.223), so it is Kate, not Petruchio who "wins" the opening round and tames him from potential bullying, if only a little. (I'd like to point out again that never in the play does Petruchio strike Kate). So off they go with crests and crabs and coxcombs until Petruchio becomes lyrical: "thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous" [true of their dialogue so far, isn't it?]. And listen:

Kate like the hazel-twig
Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels

O, be thou Dian, and let her be Kate,
And then let Kate be chaste, and Dian sportful! (II.i.253-55, 260-61)

Kate: Where did you study all this goodly speech?
Petruchio: It is extempore, from my mother wit.

She is won, not tamed, no? So Petruchio shifts into frank, plain terms-her father has already bargained her away, he will marry her willy-nilly, "for I am he am born to tame you, Kate,/ And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate/ Comfortable as other household Kates." Yeah, yeah, "tame," "comfortable," "household," all perhaps offensive to the modern ear. And yet, she has been wild when we saw her trashing her sister out of frustration. She has been uncomfortable, as we have seen with her fury about Baptista's favoritism to her silly blond sister. And she has no household, being the alien not only at home but in all of Padua.

Enter the anxious patriarchy. Note two crucial lines : Petruchio to Kate: "Here comes your father. Never make denial" (II.i.279) and then Petruchio to the Paduan aristocracy: "If she be curst, it is for policy" (II.i.292). Thereafter, Kate does not make denial, and when Petruchio announces "we have 'greed so well together/ That upon Sunday is the wedding day," she does not deny, but she is "curst" – "I'll see thee hang'd on Sunday first." She knows, we know, that in front of the chorus of scoffers, "policy" is the best policy. So, reader, she marries him.

OK. OK. I have not taken this through the madcap wedding (though I would argue that Petruchio is trashing the conventions which socialize society into the materialist patriarchal status quo), the killing her with kindness by denying her food and sleep, and insisting that freedom is slavery, war is peace, and ignorance is strength – oops, that the sun is the moon and a senex is a maiden. Nor have I addressed the homily at the end which Randall has denounced so forcefully. But I hope I have addressed John's question of how we arrive at Kate's nondenial that she and Petruchio have reached a mutual accord that is none of the rest of Padua's business.

How would a production treat this? Stay tuned.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

RE: Taming of the Shrew - Kate the Prom Queen


I realize that the famous dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady was not "empire-waisted," but rather an Ascot dress (designed by Cecil Beaton, who won an Academy Award for his work on the production). Here endeth the trivia.


Taming of the Shrew - Kate the Prom Queen

Shrewd colleagues,

Let's set the misogyny aside for a moment. Let's talk male fantasy. One of the comments I hear often when discussing Shrew is how hard it must be to stage it these days. So right or wrong, people have a perception that the play embraces values we are no longer comfortable with. Tacit in this assumption is the self-congratulatory thought: we've gotten over that. After all, even The Stepford Wives (the 1975 original) is a horror flick, suggesting that we will no longer stand for scripting such a transformation for laughs or, more important, as unironic smug male wish fulfillment.


So I've got the TV on, and I'm watching a tepid teen romance with Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook called She's All That (1999). In it Zach's (Prinze) gorgeous girlfriend, Taylor, dumps him. Attempting to help him get over it, his friend Dean makes a bet with him that he can turn any girl in high school into a prom queen. Dean then picks ugly duckling Laney (Cook) and Zach goes to work. Transformation ensues when Laney loses her glasses, lets her hair down, and puts on a little makeup. Voilà! Instant swan.

You're groaning. You've recognized one of the biggest clichés in television and film. It's Humphrey Bogart removing the glasses of a bookshop employee in The Big Sleep (1946), and discovering a hidden beauty that makes her worth seducing. It's Sean Connery's James Bond ju-jitsuing mannish Honor Blackman out of her lesbian proclivities and into a roll in the hay in Goldfinger (1964). It's Molly Ringwald's Claire giving a makeover to rebellious antisocialite Allison (played by Ally Sheedy) in The Breakfast Club (1985), causing jock Emilio Estevez to fall for her. It's Andrew Keegan bribing Heath Ledger to get him to woo uber-hellion Julia Stiles so that her newfound social conformity will free her sister to date in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).

The cliché has come so far it even has its own parody film – Not Another Teen Movie (2001) – in which the school principal announcing the prom winners says, "And now the moment every popular guy who's made a bet to turn a rebellious girl into prom queen has been waiting for." And of course you recognized the 10 Things I Hate About You example as a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

So how far have we come? What these comedies, and the countless other movies and TV shows that have also used the same commonplace, suggest is that, first, women achieve their true selves (there's Gil's argument) when tutored or molded by men. This is, of course, Shaw's Pygmallion as well as its subsequent popularization My Fair Lady (again, a wager is involved). Not too long ago, my daughters went through a period of watching Hollywood musicals – An American in Paris, Kiss Me Kate, Wizard of Oz. I got them My Fair Lady because we'd started it one night before bedtime, but owing to its three-hour length, they weren't allowed to watch all of it. And when we sat down for the whole thing, I remember feeling pretty uncomfortable with the scene where Eliza returns to Henry after the really awful way he's treated her. I thought, that's no lesson for three little girls to see! It is also exactly the way I felt reading Kate's last speech in Shrew.

Second, these moments also suggest that women must give up something we now recognize as important -- their individuality or "rebelliousness." In its simplest form this rebelliousness is mere ugliness. But ugly makes women unattractive to men. Can't have that. Not if they want to be happy. In its more pernicious form, their rebelliousness is non-conformity of a more political sort that attacks the male gaze: not interested in dating (Kat), not interested in men (Pussy Galore), not interested in arranging herself within a narrowly defined high school clique (Allison). Is Eliza's true self revealed by her schooled breeding at the hands of Professor Higgins? Actually it's not. My Fair Lady very clearly demonstrates that Eliza remains true to herself in spite of her transportation to the upper crust because she fails to become an insufferable bore. However, her transformation from grubby flower girl to empire-waisted arm candy is what makes her attractive to desirable men.

And so it is with Kate in Shrew. She tells us in the final scene:

"A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it." (5.2.142-145)

Fountains, I would point out, are ornamental things, although Kate alludes to their practical use (thirst quenching). And it is this absence of ornament in the simile that makes the woman unworthy. I also find the implications of "moved," which means ill-tempered according to my Signet edition, compelling. The opposite is "unmoved" or static, and that is what Petruchio makes of Kate, a woman whose natural movements become restricted, not unlike an ornament. For this, Petruchio has received a significant reward, the result of his own "wager" with Baptista Minola – if he can woo and marry Kate, he gets the dowry of half Minola's lands and 20,000 crowns. No one actually bets him he can't do it, but few expect him to pull it off. That he does gives all the males cursed with uppity girlfriends hope.

And up in the balcony, while this male fantasy plays out, there's Christopher Sly, nodding off. "My lord," his attendant says, "you nod; you do not mind the play." Perhaps that's because, with his subscription to Netflix, he's seen this story before.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - Kate Goes to Guantanamo

Shrew Tamers,

John asks "to what extent should [Taming of the Shrew] be regarded as merely misogynist male fantasy?" Gils says none, absolving Petruchio (and Shakespeare?) of misogyny because he has held "a mirror up to her uncurst identity" and shown Kate to be good.

This interpretation was difficult for me. A resident of the 20th century cannot read the final scene with any sense of comfort. I'd almost grant Gil the "happily ever after" at the end of Act 4. Yet, the imagery of Kate's final sermon (she speaks when bidden, and does not speak again) reveals a creepy Stepford wife. Women are portrayed throughout this speech as not only inferior but flawed.

"I am ashamed that women are so simple," she says, over-generalizing.

"Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, / Unapt to toil and trouble in the world," asks the woman who clearly has not yet birthed or raised a child.

"I see our lances are but straws, / Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare, / That seeming to be most which we indeed least are," comments the wife in whom Gil sees a "spirited partner."

A man becomes "thy lord, thy king, thy governor … thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign," Kate apposites, sounding a lot like an evangelical Sunday preacher or Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly once asked, "When will American men learn how to stand up to the nagging by the intolerant, uncivil feminists whose sport is to humiliate men?" Clearly she could ask the same thing of the men in Shrew not named Petruchio.

But Petruchio does stand up to the slings and arrows of outrageous puns and scorn. Gil points to one half of his technique for "curing" Kate's shrewishness -- his contradiction of her socially ingrained behaviors. Petruchio, though, has two soliloquies, of which this is the first. His second comes after he hauls Kate off, even though she wants to stay in Padua for her own wedding banquet, to his country house. There he tells us that by the same technique of contradiction,

"She eat no meat today, nor none shall eat.
Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not.
… I intend
That all is done in reverent care of her,
And in conclusion she shall watch all night
And if she chance to nod I'll rail and brawl
And with the clamor keep her still awake.

And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor." (4.1.191-192, 197-201, 203)

The techniques of sleep and food deprivation, often following the removal of a person from his or her family or community, no matter how benign the goal, we now recognize as a form of psychological torture. Deprogrammers, "rescuing" misguided adolescents from religious cults, have done it. The US military, charged with getting information from enemy combatants, has done it. And in light of these recent examples it is hard for me not to read what Petruchio is doing as cruel, and that combined with the indication that he applies these techniques in order to adjust the character of a woman because she does not fit society's male-oriented norms (the opposite of normal is "mad"), it also seems misogynist to me. I realize that I am looking at this play through a modern lens, but I found it impossible not to.

What is removed most by Kate's reprogramming? It is easy to say that her sharp tongue and combativeness, but I think it is something more significant: her ability to please herself. After the wedding, Petruchio tells her she must away to his place. She replies, "Do what thou canst, I will not go today, / No, nor tomorrow, not till I please myself" and "For me, I'll not be gone till I please myself" (3.2.208-209, 212). Petruchio quotes the Tenth Commandment at her, the one that reduces her to "goods" and "chattel," and off she goes. When she comes back, her last lines are "place your hands below your husband's foot, / In toke of which duty, if he please, / My hand is ready, may it do him ease" (5.2.177-179). Her pleasure has been replaced by his. That and all the stuff about "thy lord" and "thy sovereign" seem very much like male fantasy.

Gil mentions that Juliet finds herself in similar circumstances when it comes to the wishes of her father, but it is interesting that Juliet, even under Capulet's dire threats, continues to seek a path of her own choosing. And after such powerful characters as Tamora in Titus, the Princess in Love's Labor's Lost, and Joan of Arc and Queen Margaret in the Henry VI quartet, I find it difficult to account for Kate. Setting aside, for a moment, the extreme claims built on modern attitudes about misogyny and male fantasy, how is it that a playwright capable of providing decades of material for such highbrow expectations as Masterpiece Theatre suddenly produces a work commensurate with Married … With Children? Did the theater manager tell him he needed something low brow to really bring in the paying crowds? Did he have a huge argument with Anne, and Taming of the Shrew was his revenge? Did he just mail this one in? Somehow, I didn't see the presentation of Kate as one of Shakespeare's more shrewd choices.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - beShrew Gentle Kate


You know the old Tao conundrum: There was a Chinese philosopher who dreamt he was a butterfly and for the rest of his life he wondered if he were a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher.

John gives us a dozen good leads and, not to distort our discussion, I'm going to bite on the initial relationship between Petruchio and Kate, especially given that "taming" and Kate's "thy husband…is thy sovereign" homily seems to draw the most contemporary attention.

In the Christopher Sly induction, Sly wakes up to the Lord's practical joke. All the visual evidence says he is a noble gentleman-the sweet clothes, the bed, the fairest chamber, music, servants, "his lady wife." Then household testimony provides a necessary and sufficient explanation-he has been restored to health after seven (later, fifteen) years of a delusion that he was a beggar. How can he not believe he is what all evidence says he is? There is no window to dis-illusion him. I recall going to Othello with the Shakespeare-innocent husband of a friend of mine. How can Othello be so gullible, he asked. Because he is innocent, I replied. Innocence has no defense against a clever (shrewd) manipulation, especially when confronted with hard "evidence" such as Desdemona's handkerchief. Sly's only defense is the vividness of his "delusion" and a touching thirst for a pot o' th' smallest ale. He must accept what the world insists about him. The induction sets up a contrast between identity and self .

Take Kate (would you please, says her father, Baptista). There is no doubt to anyone in Padua that Bianca is Baptista's favorite daughter. He has announced to the suitors in front of Kate that his youngest daughter cannot marry until his older daughter does, an action designed to humiliate her in public company. Her very first utterance is a rebuke to her father: "I pray you, sir, is it your will/ To make me a stale of me amongst there mates" I.i.57-58. Among the six or more puns here, "stalemate" is the most powerful-not defeat as in "checkmate" but trapped so there are no legal moves left to make (in society). The chorus of suitors has been freed to embellish Baptista's attitude toward his eldest daughter: "she's too tough for me," "that wench is stark mad or wonderful forward," "this fiend of hell," "[Bianca's] elder sister is so curst and shrewd," "intolerable curst and shrowd and froward," "renon'd in Padua for her scolding tongue." My hard drive isn't large enough to catalogue all of these horrific descriptors, many spoken baldly in front of Kate. After the hurt and outraged Kate confronts Bianca (she acts out the character society has imposed on her, cursing and striking her sister), she decries her father's favoritism:

Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband,
I must dance barefoot on her wedding-day
And for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me, I will go sit and weep,
Till I can find occasion of revenge. (II.i.31-36)

Enter Petruchio. Practically, he bargains with Baptista for dowry, should he wed the still-unmet Kate. Two provisosare put forward: should he die, Petruchio guarantees Kate all of his estate to assure her widowhood, and Baptista, perhaps a little guilty for how he has treated his eldest daughter, insists that Petruchio obtain Kate's love. Watch out, though. This is the same proviso that Capulet insists on from Paris as they negotiate for marriage to Juliet, yet we see, a day later, that Capulet will cast Juliet penniless into the street if she refuses the match with Paris.

Petruchio then, solus, tells the audience his plan to contradict (not practice deception which dominates the Bianca plot) all the behaviors that society expects of Kate. Indeed, his repartee with Kate is sharp, witty, and bawdy, and she strikes him, thus demonstrating to him that she has great spirit, but then he directly describes her: "for thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous" (II.i.245) and goes on to a series of absurd, but witty contradictions: "Why does the world report that Kate doth limp? [Of all the insults we have heard, "the world" has not spit up this one]/ O sland'rous world! Kate like the hazel-twig/ Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue/As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels" (II.i.252-55). So, either this is his devious plot to stun the spirited Kate into stupefaction or Petruchio, in effect, reveals the "real" Kate to herself, she who has been systematically belittled.

When the nattering crowd returns, Petruchio (aside?) tells Kate he will announce their engagement and asks her to "never make denial." So she does not deny, though she twits her father for having prearranged the engagement without consulting her. Petruchio accurately sums it up for the incredulous anti-Kate crowd. "If she be curst, it is for policy" (II.i.292).

My point? If Sly has become what it appears the world believes him to be, then we first hear of and meet Kate doing the same thing. It is only Petruchio who directly addresses her, holds a mirror up to her uncurst identity and so they can go forward, into Petruchio's admittedly dangerous games of contradiction, until Kate has softened into a compliant partner (I'll note again that, though Kate strikes Bianca and Petruchio, Petruchio never once lays a hand on Kate*), not equal by the Church's legal definition of spouse ("chattel"), but a spirited partner after all against the cant, hypocrisy and duplicity of the conventional social sheep. Thus, I do deny your "misogynist male fantasy" and raise you one "happily ever after."

Let's raise a pint of small ale to Kate, the Uncurst.

P.S. - Cindy's and my friend and mentor Dick Henze saw a production of Shrew in the North of England. In the last act Petruchio beat the prostrate Kate with a horse whip, viciously, and the curtain came down on Kate lying inert, comatose on the stage. The audience was so stunned they sat absolutely silently, then rose and filed out without applause or even murmur.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - Opening Remarks

Since I have been dubbed Shrew-host(ess?), I might as well start with the word itself (I warned you I'd be rather word oriented): Had anyone else connected "shrew" with "shrewd" before? I hadn't. Preparing for a course on Tolkien, I happened this week upon his opinion (he was a philologist before – and after – becoming a best selling author) that this semantic melioration speaks volumes about the change in society's valuation of a kind of (to him) overly worldly, practical cleverness. Can we make such cultural claims based on the quirky history of one word?

The obvious question for the play itself is: To what extent should it be regarded as merely mysogynist male fantasy? As delightful as I found their initial dialogue, the developing relationship between Petrucio and Kate certainly strikes me as similar to that between a pimp and his bitch (the animal metaphor of the latter term being also seen in "taming" and in "shrew" itself).

From anyone who may have seen this performed within recent memory, I am curious to know how the actors handle the moment when Petrucio, lying, tells the others that Kate has agreed to marry him. It seems competely out of character for Kate to say nothing in protest. Are we to believe that she has alrady been essentially "tamed" at this point already? How does one act her part at such a moment? Too astonished for words?

Is there a bit of a connection here with Richard III in that both are essentially case studies in the use of language to control others?

The heavy element of slapstick really struck me. How much is this simply a rip off of the commedia dell'arte of the times? Is "The Shrew" a stock character from it? If it is not completely derivative, what important innovations does Shakespeare provide here? What is his main contribution to the form of comedy here? How is it and isn't it like his other comedies?

To turn from "shrew" to the other content word of the title, what kinds of "tamings" go on here? It appears that in both the frame (which is never returned to – why?) and the play, the unruly (dare we say "raw") one is tamed partly by kindness, and made to accept that things are true that they know to be false. Is this the main connection between the two stories?

And how are the Kate and Bianca stories related? Is it Baptista and the other suitors who are tamed in the latter (again through crative use of language)?

These seem like quite different sorts of taming from that of, say, Caliban. Are there other comparable "tamings" in Shakespeare?

I could go on, but I probably already have said too much. Let the discourse (or rap?) begin!