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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1097  Friday, 6 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 09:24:52 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[2]     From:   N. R. Moschovakis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 09:41:53 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[3]     From:   Chris J. Fassler <
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        Date:   Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 10:47:57 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Taming and Apologizing

[4]     From:   Neth Boneskewy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 09:22:02 -0800
        Subj:   Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[5]     From:   John E. Perry <
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        Date:   Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 21:02:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[6]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Nov 1998 02:11:40 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 09:24:52 EST
Subject: 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

> if readers insist on reading into the formulaic
> brutalization and enforced submission of a woman to patriarchal
> authority a narrative of mutual and sublime romantic love, then they
> might as well read the equally formulaic abuse of a servant as manly
> camaraderie.  What is very strange is the biographical turn that a
> number of recent postings have taken.  I had once joked that persons who
> feel compelled to salvage this play as a great love story  seem to
> behave as if their own personal lives and romantic choices were somehow
> at stake; the last week or so has certainly borne this out (in language
> not so far from the recent Baptist directive for wives to "submit
> gracefully" to their husbands).  If Kate and Petruchio are your romantic
> ideal, you are welcome to them; I'd prefer a better paradigm.

Talk about misreading!  No one said Kate advocates "submitting
gracefully" to one's husband; rather, the line of argument turned on the
idea that there were few men sufficiently quick-witted or sharp-tongued
to stand up to the fiercely independent and highly intelligent Katerina,
who is anything but the sort of whining feminist who asserts "formulaic
brutalization and enforced submission of a woman to patriarchal
authority" as an excuse for her failure to defy such authority, and
stand up for her rights, as Kate does.  I am a woman, a businesswoman,
and a teacher; I have experienced the very real and tangibly damaging
effects of sexism in the workplace and in my private life, and I am
nonetheless sick of male-bashing of this kind: Shakespeare did not write
Taming of the Shrew in 1998, when we have been so PCd to death that
everyone is afraid to say anything to anyone, lest someone cry
"brutality!"-the play and the play in the play and the play in that play
is A FARCE, ladies and gentlemen, an exaggerated comic plot that deals
to some degree in stereotypes, in order to subvert them.  Sly is the
only fool who thinks whips and chains can tame a shrew, and those who
defend "poor" Katerina seem to forget that she holds her own pretty well
at the beginning of the play, with a pretty hefty offense of her own.
How anyone could think a woman with that kind of temperament, gradually
coming to revel in the license her role as confirmed spinster gives her
to behave outrageously, could be "tamed" by anyone with less wit or fire
than Petruchio is beyond me.  Petrarchan sonnets would never reach her
(for one thing, she wouldn't believe them) -- Petruchio, as John Perry
has suggested, is the only one with enough sense to fight fire with fire
-- he behaves as outrageously as she does, holds a mirror up to nature,
and Katerina meets her match, and knows it-and thereby hangs a loving
truce that no matter what else it is will always be a union of equals.

It would be interesting to hear an indictment of Kate's unprovoked
male-bashing temper-tantrums written by a sensitive 90s male, in which
(of course) Petruchio's "abuse" or her would be retributive, on behalf
of his much-maligned sex.

Game, anyone?

Carol Barton
Department of English
Averett College

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           N. R. Moschovakis <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 09:41:53 -0600
Subject: 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

Richard Dutton's suggestion about *Shrew* as a possible vehicle of
anti-anti-Catholic sympathy is fascinating:

>I want to second Drew Whitehead's suggestion that people look at 'The
>Woman's Prize' as an 'answer' to 'The Shrew...the
>play as Fletcher wrote it was pretty aggressively anti-Catholic, and
>when you couple that with the fact that Petruccio's domineering second
>wife is called Maria, you have a piece that in the 1630s spoke all too
>clearly to Henrietta Maria's influence at court, and more generally
>Laudian reforms to the Church of England. It seems possible that the
>religious dimension of Fletcher's play might be read back (on the other
>side of the sectarian divide) into the Shakespearean original.

It seems right that *Shrew* might evoke the kind of dread with which any
devoutly unorthodox person might regard official ecclesiastical policy
in the 1590's; Kate's fate could signify the anxieties of nonconforming
populations, Protestant as well as Catholic. In general, though, I'm not
sure how consistently any particular confessional orientation could be
read into the play. If Kate is compelled to conform, then couldn't the
relatively nonviolent strategy employed by Petruchio (compared with
husbands in other misogynistic literature) make Shakespeare an apologist
for the state and its policies?

It's often seemed to me that Kate's first scene with Bianca resembles an
incident of official torture of suspected proselytizing Catholics: tell
me who your lover (your deity) is! So this would make Kate look
something like the Elizabethan state. On the other hand, it might also
make her look like the Inquisition. - Or, even if she does look like the
English church, the audience might approve of her tactics here, rather
than harboring distaste for them. So which side is Shakespeare on?? (Is
Bianca a soul, and Kate's binding of her a forcing of conscience, a
plucking out of the heart of her mystery? And if Gremio is undesirable
to each of them, what denomination might he stand for?...as a thread
about *Merchant* earlier this year made clear, plays can be severely
overdetermined for possible polemic meanings.)

N. R. Moschovakis
Instructor in English
Sewanee College
The University of the South

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris J. Fassler <
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Date:           Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 10:47:57 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Taming and Apologizing

At the risk of appearing to kick John Perry when he's down, I can't
resist expressing the hope that Clinton follow Perry's lead if/when he
appears before an impeachment hearing:

"You invite an attractive young woman into a deserted hallway for some
privacy.  You lose your head.  You make a dumb mistake . . . nine or ten
times. . ."

I hope C-SPAN shows the effect those second person pronouns have on the
comfort of the committee members' chairs.

Irrelevantly yours,
Chris Fassler

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Neth Boneskewy <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 09:22:02 -0800
Subject:        Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

I guess I'm still feeling Halloweeny, or maybe it's the chilling spectre
of Katherine and Petruchio's marriage as an ideal of true love (I have a
shy, diffident suggestion for Jerry Adair who was very troubled by Ellen
Fein's book: as a kind of antidote to The Rules, try a little bestiary
called Misogynies by Joan Smith.) Has it been mentioned that Shrew has
potential value as a horror movie?  Petruchio assumes the care of an
uncontrollably violent Katherine, who is psychologically unfit and
dangerous.  By the end of the movie he has turned her into a calm,
useful, and eerie member of society, and into a personally useful wife.
And if he falls in love with her it makes the story even more
shuddersome.  Choose a setting earlier in this century, make Petruchio
the director of an ominous sanatorium that specializes in electric shock
treatment, figure out where Petruchio can lobotomize Katherine before
scene 5, and you'll have a nifty tale of terror.

Strange.  It feels familiar.  Has it been done?

Ta.

Neth Boneskewy

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John E. Perry <
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Date:           Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 21:02:42 -0500
Subject:        Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

Carol Barton and I have been exchanging some private messages, and she
suggests that I condense some of it to send to the list.  Our exchange
has helped fill out some of my own ideas, and may contribute to clearing
up our viewpoint.

(JP)
To S topics usually set me off because few commentators are interested
in understanding and representing the play -- they want to find ways to
make it socially acceptable.  I happen to think it's already acceptable,
though uncomfortable.

(CB)
I don't even think it's "uncomfortable": it wasn't written in 1999, and
for its era, it's pretty damned progressive -- *I've* encountered more
real male chauvinism (working in my field) than Kate does!


(CB)
I can't quite agree that Petruchio is all "gentleman" (he's a bit too
much the swaggering cad at the beginning of the play to fit that role)
or that Kate is all "monster" ...

(JP)
OK, I exaggerate a bit.  Does my exaggeration compare with others'?  And
I did say "eccentric".

(CB)
No, actually, I found your comments quite rational.  And P is definitely
"eccentric": I think the biggest clue to the fact that what he does with
Kate is all a put on is his "wedding attire": since he's "come to wive
it wealthily in Padua," he knows better than to show up for a high
social occasion dressed like a bum, and risk being rejected at the last
minute by his prospective father-in-law (think of the social
embarrassment that would cause!).

(CB)
Kate does what she has to do to survive -- rejected for her
intelligence, she is an "old maid" who feels nothing but contempt for
the idiots who can't  appreciate her fiery independence and quick wit
because she isn't a Southern belle simple pussy cat like her sister . .
. she is defiant and angry and, underneath it all, hurt -- as well as
humiliated, and
perhaps even lonely, particularly for a man who can understand her, and
has the guts to stand up to her.  ...

(JP)
But consider:  when you're feeling hurt, lonely, etc.,  do you run into
a public street screaming invective at perfect strangers? does any
healthy person?  Do you grab a weaker sister and tie her up?  Do you
break things over a stranger's head in a fit of rage?

(CB)
No, but I might *want* to: Kate is something of a caricature, remember,
a broad-brushed type whose foibles have to be exaggerated to be
communicated in limited time and space.  I think she has given up on
ever being a bride, and is somewhat perversely enjoying her role as
confirmed spinster, in terms of the latitude it gives her to behave
outrageously.  (Have you ever seen the Jenny Jones poem about wearing
purple?)

(JP)
Especially when you have a sharper wit and tongue than anyone you've
ever met before?  I've advanced this as the thing that initially
attracts Petruchio to Kate, and his own equally superior wit (after all,
he's the only one in the play who can begin to keep up with her) as the
thing that attracts her to him.

(CB)
Been there, done that, and you're right on both accounts.

(JP)
They're made for each other, but she's in serious trouble, and he's the
savior she needs.

(CB)
Well, she's in serious trouble to the extent that she's begun to revel
in her shrewishness, and yes, she needs the kind of love she can accept
(rather than any old love) to rescue her from that. He too is tamed, you
know-the rakehell becomes a loving husband, in the
end, having learned what it takes (respect, appreciation, even
admiration) to tame a shrew.  That's the irony: Sly never sees past the
whips and chains (and I can't for the life of me understand why half of
the people on the List don't, either.)

John Perry (with marvelous contributions from Carol Barton)
jperry@norfolk,infi.net

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Nov 1998 02:11:40 -0000
Subject: 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

Jean Peterson says, _inter alia_:

>If we want to get intertextual, we could look at *A Comedy of Errors*, a
>play written within just a few years of *Shrew*, in which both
>masters-even the one who is generally perceived as the "nicer" of the
>two, Mr. Syracuse-hammer their servants, apparently as a matter of
>course; and *Two Gentlemen of Verona* in which Valentine is apparently
>in the habit of responding to minor irritations by beating up his
>servant Speed.

The three plays exhibit quite different relations to Shakespeare's later
work.  Shakespeare (rightly, in my opinion) finds _Two Gentlemen_ not
worth pursuing.  Various themes of _Comedy_ --  twins in _12th Night_,
the (apparently) magical universe and transformation of Bottom into an
ass in _MSND_, for example-appear in various later plays.  _The Taming
of the Shrew_, in contrast, bears several close links with _Much Ado
About Nothing_.  Both plays have a conventional submissive female figure
romantically linked with a conventional young male figure, and
juxtaposed against a much more dramatically interesting female figure
who bears some sort of relation to the Shrew stereotype, and who in turn
is romantically linked to a non-conventional male character.

The links are obvious, as are the differences-Shakespeare calls the
Shrew stereotype into question in a completely different way in _Taming_
than he does in _Much Ado_  --  but at the very least, he found the
theme interesting enough to return to later, in a way that he did not
with _Comedy_ and _Two Gentlemen_.  Also, there is a perfectly
politically-correct theme which can be extracted from both plays-avoid
ditsy blondes; conventional macho males are real dumbos.

>It would seem that the casual manner in which
>servant-beating is offered up as occasion for hilarity in these early
>plays indicates yet another marker of the differences between "early
>modern" comic formulas and contemporary liberal-humanist sensibilities.

As, no doubt, the example of servant-beating in _Waiting for Godot_
offends our sensibilities.  Or if perhaps Beckett is serious rather than
casual, we must revolt at the manner in which Basil Fawltey beats Manuel
in _Fawltey Towers_.  Perhaps the groundlings we will have always with
us, outraging the tender liberal-humanist sensibilities of both the
Elizabethan and the post-modern periods.

>I had once joked that persons who
>feel compelled to salvage this play as a great love story ...

Here I'd agree-the 'great love stories' (_Romeo and Juliet_, for
instance) end with marriage, and deal predominantly with adolescent
love.  _The Shrew_ is the first of Shakespeare's plays (_Othello_ and
_Antony and Cleopatra_ might be later examples) to explore, to a greater
or lesser degree and with a greater or lesser foregrounding, the nature
of the erotic relationship after the wooing is over.  Some might
consider this theme at least as important as that of a 'great love
story'.

>If Kate and Petruchio are your romantic
>ideal, you are welcome to them; I'd prefer a better paradigm.

The paradigm, to return to it, of _Romeo and Juliet_?  You don't specify
your example, but that's the play which immediately springs to my mind.
Frankly, better a live Katherine than a dead Juliet.  The grand
paradigms are stirring to watch, but much less satisfactory to inhabit.

-- Robin Hamilton
 

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