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!