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!


No comments: