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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1099  Sunday, 8 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Jean Peterson <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Nov 1998 12:37:18 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   More Shrew

[2]     From:   Cora Lee Wolfe <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Nov 1998 21:01:19 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[3]     From:   Cora Lee Wolfe <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Nov 1998 21:18:22 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Nov 1998 13:49:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[5]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Nov 1998 11:38:28 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[6]     From:   Elizabeth Kent Burdick <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Nov 1998 10:53:13 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1097 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[7]     From:   Frances K. Barasch <
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        Date:   Saturday, 7 Nov 1998 09:45:46 EST
        Subj:   shrew and commedia

[8]     From:   Judy Lewis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 8 Nov 1998 23:00:08 +1300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1060 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jean Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Nov 1998 12:37:18 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        More Shrew

>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.

These are the choices? Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of
Patsy and Edina of *Absolutely Fabulous.* (And before I get
recommendations to the nearest substance abuse clinic, that was a joke,
although I do enjoy their outrageousness, their determination to have
fun, and their taste for champagne and Stoly). I don't specify an
example because I don't think I've found one yet in literature-and
certainly not in the literature/drama of the 16th and 17th centuries,
when the choices offered in aesthetic representation WERE that stark:
alive and submissive or rebellious and dead, martyr or fiend, virgin or
whore.

(Maybe Coriolanus, who at least behaves "as if [he] were the author of
[him]self").

There are a number of inconsistencies in some of the defenses of
*Shrew*: the play is "farce", its characters "broadly drawn,"
"caricatures" to explain some features of the text, and they are deeply
psychological, complex creatures with the nuanced inner lives of a
Chekov character, whose "dreams," aspirations, and secret longings can
be inferred, to explain others.  And when readers attempt to historicize
the play, to put it in the context of its age and time, to illustrate
ways in which it participates in the amply documented patriarchalism of
its era, we are told that "the play wasn't written in 1998"!

Yes, this I already knew, and it's one of the reasons I can't
romanticize it.  Maybe it's the way Kate's submission speech echoes the
language in sermons, pamphlets and diatribes circulating through the
London of its day on the proper subjection of wives to their husband's
rule and governance, or maybe it's the kind of historical evidence
unearthed by scholars like Lynda Boose, who document the unsettling fact
that in the rural villages of England, real women with Kate's "fiery
temperament", who had earned the reputation of "shrew" or "scold" were
still liable to be dragged through the streets with their heads clamped
in irons, or the fact that by 1593-4, the burning and hanging of women
as witches-a practice that targeted women who stood out from the "norm"
in some way (generally for being poor, unmarried, or loud)--had not yet
reached the terrible peak it would achieve in early 17th century
England. Given the kind of (yes) brutality that women were subjected to
as a matter of course in Shakespeare's era, I suppose we could say that
the play is progressive FOR ITS TIME-she's starved, sleep deprived, and
disoriented into submission rather than beaten, and she's merely
"tamed", as opposed to burned, hanged or bridled.

Just to set the record straight, I don't hold any men presently living
responsible.

Jean Peterson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cora Lee Wolfe <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Nov 1998 21:01:19 -0700
Subject: 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

Hear! Hear! Carol Barton

"...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."

A teacher of some 35 years, I have been disappointed in the direction
the feminist movement has taken.  Women want it all, but they don't want
to pay the price.  We cannot have it both ways.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cora Lee Wolfe <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Nov 1998 21:18:22 -0700
Subject: 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1091  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

>I'd like to know what Mr. Perry makes of the beginning of
>Act IV, which begins with a cold, weary, and mud-spattered Grumio
>lamenting, "Was ever man so beaten?" and continues with an extended
>description of how he has had the crap beaten out of him by Petruchio
>all the way home from the wedding.

Yes, but isn't Grumio to a large extent toying with the other servants,
teasing them.  He's a little like the nurse when she comes back from her
rendezvous with Romeo.  "Oh, I'm so abused."  He's a comedian, an
entertainer, and he loves his role.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Nov 1998 13:49:27 -0500
Subject: 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

Carol Barton wrote:

> lest someone cry "brutality!"-the play and the play in the play and
> the play in that play
> is A FARCE, ladies and gentlemen

Thank you.  And I might add that the context of the play as an
entertainment played to Sly emphasizes this to any who might otherwise
have missed it.  Context might not be all, but it is a great deal.
"Smile when you call me that" and I might not kill you, but if you don't
smile, .....  A character in a TV show insults another: Add a laugh
track and its a sitcom; but provide a crescendo of electronic music and
the result is entirely different.

Carol also adds an invitation:

> 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?

No thanks.  But *if* I were inclined to take the Katherine-Petruchio
scenario seriously, I might question whether Kate's tantrums were
entirely unprovoked, and then ask if that matters.  Then I would argue
that Petruchio's conduct was not all-in-all abusive, and make a strong
point that it was reformative, not retributive.  But I am not inclined
to take it seriously, so I decline.

Larry Weiss

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Nov 1998 11:38:28 -0800
Subject: 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1097  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

> 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.

While diffident before the title of "sensitive 90s male", I would argue
that even retributive abuse isn't good.  Only self-defense justifies
violence (even in Hobbes, though he broadens the definition of
self-defense) and Petruchio could just avoid certain sections of
society.  This is John Stuart Mill's suggested response to those that we
find distasteful, but not directly threatening.  Hurling abuse at men is
bad, of course, like any sexism, but shouldn't be punishable by
systematic starvation and humiliation.  One might counter-argue that
Petruchio undergoes everything that Kate does, but he has the power.  In
Arthur Koestler's _Darkness at Noon_, the protagonist is always
interrogated by the same officer, who endured the same bright lights,
and stays up just as late.  It doesn't make the interrogation good or
even justifiable.

That said, I'm somewhat appalled at how this debate is circling around a
binary of whether the treatment of Kate is actually beneficial or just
fictive, on one side, and whether it's ethically appalling and
historically grounded, on the other.  For what it's worth, I think that
the metadrama of the play has a very different effect from foreclosing
ethical considerations in a "farce."  The reassurance of the Sly ending
seems to have been dropped, and may not even be authorial (Donald
Foster?)  _The Tamer Tamed_ may be seen as an effort to further contain
the play, adding a sequel, as it were, to save us from the disturbing
possibilities of the taming itself.  Throughout the play, levels of
fictionally become dangerously confused.  The "Taming" seems to break
away from needing the Sly frame by its ending.  Tranio and Lucentio
decide that the battle of Katherine and Bianca is "some show to welcome
us to town" (1.1.47)  This doesn't stop Lucentio from falling for
Bianca, though, like Sly fell for the pageboy, also a boy playing a
woman's part.  He's drawn in by desire:  "while idly I stood looking on,
/ I found the effect of love in idleness" (1.1.147-148).

Other plays lose some of their distance, the security we derive from our
metaphysical prejudice towards them, our desperate self-assurance that
it's all just make-believe.  Tranio's disguise very nearly gets him into
very deep trouble indeed, after the pedant and supposed Vincentio gets
carried away in his role.  The naming of the sun and moon has special
metatheatrical significance, because, for the audience, the sun and moon
are only names.  The stage mechanisms of the Globe theatre do not allow
for a reference beyond the words of the actors.

Perhaps, where Lucentio is drawn into his play by love, and Sly by some
reasonable facsimile thereof, we're drawn into this play by our ethical,
rather than amorous response.  We ought to react to the play; we ought
not to take the easy out of containing it with an extra-textual Sly
ending, or a postscript, or even the assurance that it is, after all,
just a play.  Nor should we simply condemn the play, which is another
way of containing it.  It is, after all, liminal to our world.  It
should place us in a position of discomfort, not of easily-assumed
superiority.

Cheers,
Sean.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elizabeth Kent Burdick <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Nov 1998 10:53:13 -1000
Subject: 9.1097 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1097 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?

I love this scenario!  But it does sound a lot like Hitchcock's
"Marnie."

Betty Burdick

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances K. Barasch <
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Date:           Saturday, 7 Nov 1998 09:45:46 EST
Subject:        shrew and commedia

Jean Peterson suggests I could add to the "Shrew"/violence discussion
via commedia dell'arte conventions.  For those interested, I reproduce
theatrical prints of (typical) master-servant/ servant-master violence
in "Picture Prints: Zany, Pantalone, and the Elizabethans," forthcoming
in "RuBriCa" (I'll supply specifics when it appears.)  I also include
some discussion of "Shrew" in another article "Shakespeare and Commedia
dell'Arte: An Intertextual Approach" (forthcoming in "Shakespeare
Yearbook", X.  As far as I'm concerned, Jean Peterson is right on the
mark.

       Frances K. Barasch

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judy Lewis <
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Date:           Sunday, 8 Nov 1998 23:00:08 +1300
Subject: 9.1060 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1060 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

In her wonderful novel Brother of the More Famous Jack, Barbara
Trapido's narrator writes:  It has always seemed to me about (The Taming
of the Shrew) that it is not the terrible, delightful Petruchio
(unscrupulous character that he is) who warps and crushes the girl, but
the dreadful combination of that goody-goody sister who warps her with
feminine wiles, and that hidebound, favouritising father, who tells her
to go ply her needless and grovel for a husband.  They are the ones who
knock her about.  After them, life with Petruchio is a day out from a
sadistic nunnery.  He and she are equal in high spirits.  And how does
he tame her?  He makes her kiss him in the street.  He makes her enact
the hilarious burlesque of embracing a strange old man and calling him a
sweet young virgin.  Tame girls don't kiss in public and embrace strange
men.  He gives her scope for a comic talent, he is no more a respecter
of orthodox behaviour than she is.  At the end of the play, she is not
tame, she is the wench with the wit to win her old man's bet for him.
They leave Padua a few hundred crowns richer, thanks to her.  I do not
wish to whitewash the issues.  The play is about wife-beating.  The
colour it comes in only half offends me.

On other issues, Dave Evett writes: France and Berowne and the others
are just getting comfy when those dratted women wheel into the drive.
etc Actually, Berowne (surely Benedick in embryo) is a reluctant
signatory to this absurd agreement - Shakespeare's heroes and heroines
are all lively, active, gregarious people.  I doubt if the monastic life
had the slightest appeal to him.

Bill Godshalk wrote: because Angelo is too prenzy for my tastes. What
does prenzy mean?

Somebody earlier wrote:  If this play (MND) is a comedy, then what is
your definition of comedy?

In Shakespeare - a "happy" ending.  What bothers me about MND is that
Oberon gets the little Indian boy and Titania, who is not in the wrong,
and has been very badly treated by Oberon and Puck, seems to lose out
completely.

Cheers,  Judy Lewis
 

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