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.


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