Thursday, November 30, 2006

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.


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