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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: August ::
Re: *Shrew* and the Rule of Thumb
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0667.  Wednesday, 10 August 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Aug 1994 21:07:05 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   SHREW and the Rule of Thumb
 
(2)     From:   Diana Rhoads <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Aug 1994 23:16:33 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0665  Re: *Shr.* & Domestic Violence
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Aug 1994 21:07:05 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        SHREW and the Rule of Thumb
 
I'm sorry that Stefanie DuBose brought up the rule of thumb which was hotly
debated -- last year I think -- by other groups. Apparently "rule of thumb" did
not originally have anything to do with sticks to beat wives, but meant what we
always thought it meant: a rough and ready way of measuring (i.e., the width of
the thumb equals about an inch).
 
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, obviously, deals with the abuse of Katherine.
Petruchio deprives her of her name, sleep, food, sex, clothing, etc. As one of
my students (a social worker) pointed out, today the police would have him in
jail for attempted murder.
 
But most students refuse to see it this way. Class after class vindicates
Petruchio. "Well, he doesn't get any sleep either," one student told me.
Another students said, "Petruchio loves her enough to want to change her." And
so on it goes.
 
And, I suppose what makes the play interesting is its ability of slip away from
any hard and fast category. It certainly is not totally about the submission of
wives since Kate hardly submits when she tells Petruchio that his mind changes
even as the moon (i.e., he's a lunatic) and then soon after, upon meeting
Vincentio, points out that it really is the sun, not the moon. And it's only
Hortensio's entreaty that gets her to "voice" submission in the first place.
She seems quite willing and able to fight on -- without food or sleep.
 
And we have to remember that Katherine really is just a figure in a play, a
play being presented to Christopher Sly, who is being brainwashed by the
nameless Lord. Upper class privilege?  You bet.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Diana Rhoads <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 9 Aug 1994 23:16:33 -0400
Subject: 5.0665  Re: *Shr.* & Domestic Violence
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0665  Re: *Shr.* & Domestic Violence
 
RE: The "rule of thumb" as mentioned by Stefanie DuBose
 
According to Christina Hoff Sommers (*Who Stole Feminism?*), the "rule of
thumb" is a myth originating with two Southern judges who alluded to an
"ancient law" allowing a man to beat his wife as long as the implement was not
wider than his thumb.  Sommers argues that there was no "rule of thumb" in
British common law. She quotes Blackstone, who says that in the reign of
Charles II a wife has "the security of peace against her husband."  Sommers
quotes, but does not point to, Blackstone's assertion that a husband "by the
old law, might give his wife moderate correction."  A man had to use "the same
moderation...allowed to correct his apprentices or children."  See pp. 203-07
of Sommers' book for Sommmers' whole argument and for the Blackstone quotation
mentioned above.
 

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