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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1117  Tuesday, 10 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Jean Peterson <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Nov 1998 13:23:49 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   shrewin' around

[2]     From:   Stevie Simkin <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Nov 1998 22:40:29 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1108  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[3]     From:   Neth Boneskewy <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Nov 1998 18:14:10 -0800
        Subj:   Shrew


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jean Peterson <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Nov 1998 13:23:49 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        shrewin' around

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

Barton: Responsible for what?  Not having been the Y chromosome on a
zygote 400 years ago, they could hardly be complicit, one way or the
other.

Peterson again:
I really must work on honing my sarcasm skills-maybe Terry Hawkes is
offering tutorials?; first I find (through private correspondence) that
folks were baffled by my I-thought-so-pointedly ironic Coriolanus
reference, when all I wanted to do was problematize the assumption that
women must, of course, find their Shakespearean role-models from among
the women characters (and pick from the pretty young ingenues at that),
but even more importantly to suggest that modeling your life after a
Shakespearean character was a pretty bad idea to begin with. So I cited
the Coriolanus line because it conceptualizes an ideal of
"self-authorship", self-invention, a concept that has been crucial to my
development as a thinking, rational, autonomous human being (and don't
write in to tell me how he fails at it; I've read the play and I know
how it ends).

And then, when I conclude with a statement, the evident irony of which
seemed to me oh-so-transparent, I find that to make my meaning clear I
ought to have prefaced it by "And lest I be accused again of
'male-bashing'..."

Sigh. It's true what the post-modernists have been saying all along:
language IS an unreliable conductor of meaning.

Oh well. As I said before, if Kate and Petruchio are your cup of tea,
you are welcome to them.  Barton wants to see the taming of Kate as
"*not* malicious.. as affectionate teasing, as role-playing in context
(said with an implicit wink...), and I want to reply with "Hogwash!",
and I am beginning to suspect that this argument could go around in
circles forever. I am still curious about why discussions of this play
tend to invoke such fiercely personal defenses-why  so many readers of
the play react to the suggestion that Kate and Petruchio might not be
the ideal of Love's Young Dream as if it's their own spouses, their own
choices that have come under scrutiny. We all now know a great deal
about Barton's relationship to the man she plans to marry, about the
kind of home she grew up in, and her dad's sense of humor.  I submit
that all this doesn't serve to illuminate the play one iota.  And if I
might also problematize the universalizing "we" of Barton's assertions:
e.g. "isn't that why we prize his work as some of the greatest
literature ever written in the history of humankind? because it holds a
mirror up to nature, and reveals to each beholder something about
himself (or herself)?"  Yes, many have, but some very interesting and
provocative scholarship has been challenging those traditional readings
for, oh, about the last 25 or so years.

Jean Peterson
Bucknell University

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Simkin <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Nov 1998 22:40:29 +0000
Subject: 9.1108  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1108  Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

I have followed the debate over the past couple of weeks with keen
interest.  I must admit that I didn't expect my reflections on that
recent English Touring Theatre production of *Shrew* to spark off such a
long thread, but there have been a lot of stimulating exchanges that
suggest this play remains fairly central to the debates about
Shakespeare's cultural authority.

I remain unconvinced by the arguments for a "progressive" Shakespeare,
myself, though I can see (and have seen) the text manipulated to work
that way. Carol Barton wrote

>  Kate is tamed only to the extent she
> elects to be, allows herself to be, out of love and respect for her
> husband . . . and Petruchio knows it.  (If she seriously wanted to
> oppose him, he'd have to kill her to "tame" her.)  As Mr. Weiss points
> out, "Petruchio's conduct was not all-in-all abusive . . . it was
> reformative, not retributive."

I don't see much mutual love and respect going on at any point in the
play.  One of the lines that jarred on me, seeing this production set in
1998, was Petruchio's dismissive exclamation as they laid bets on their
wives' displays of obedience:

Twenty crowns!
I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound,
But twenty times so much upon my wife  (5.2.71-3)

It doesn't surprise me to hear a man saying this about his wife in the
1590s, but four hundred years later it is offensive, and doesn't make
much of a case for Shakespeare the progressive (unless we say the line
is ironic, which of course we can try and do with anything in the play
that strikes us as unsavoury).

I also remain unconvinced by the notion of "reformative not
retributive".  What Petruchio does to Kate he is naturally going to
couch in terms of reforming rather than punishing.  And whether we have
a reformed or a broken Kate at the end of the play may well be answered
either way, depending on your perspective.

> And as Sean Lawrence observes, "he
> naming of the sun and moon has special metatheatrical significance,
> because, for the audience, the sun and moon are only names": so, I
> submit, are "shrew" and "goodwife," as applied to Katerina and her
> sister.

It's worth bearing in mind that the sun and moon were often used to
signify the ideal relationship between husband and wife: "When a wife
governs the household, 'she does so with the consent and reference of
her husband's will, taking all her light (as the Moon is said from the
Sun, so she) from her husband, for government and authority, as his
Lieutenant under him...'" etc.  I quote here from Frances E. Dolan's
excellent introduction to the St. Martin's Press edition of *Shrew* (the
best edition I have come across).  Dolan is herself quoting a text
dating from 1608 called "Counsel to the Husband".  This provides another
angle of entry into the debate over this scene, perhaps.  I also wonder
(Dolan credits this point to Lynda Boose) why Shakespeare should make a
reference to a wedding ritual that had been prohibited 40 years before -
the placing of Kate's hand beneath Petruchio's foot.  This could be
nostalgia or irony.  The text, as always, remains open to
interpretation.  And I still maintain what is important is not what
Shakespeare meant by it then (impossible to know) but what we choose to
mean by it now.

Stevie Simkin

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Neth Boneskewy <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Nov 1998 18:14:10 -0800
Subject:        Shrew

Betty Burdick wrote :<<I love this scenario!  But it does sound a lot
like Hitchcock's "Marnie.">>

I be damned.  I would never have thought of "Marnie".  I was thinking of
something with aspects of "The Snake Pit" or "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's
Nest", and the story of the Kennedy daughter who was lobotomized, but
with the cobwebbed spookiness of a Hammer Studios film.

Cora Wolfe wrote: <<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.>>

This is neither damnable nor gender-specific.  It is a propensity of
human nature to acquire what is desired at a bargain price, or to get it
for free.  It is the art of the deal, and the talent for shrewd dealing
is much admired throughout most (all?) of this world's societies.  If
men think they can cheat the piper, and be celebrated for it, women will
think so too.  After all, they are only human; they are neither
Venusians nor Martians, never mind what Dr. Gray says.

<<We cannot have it both ways.>>

The automatic rejoinder to this is "Why not?"  "We cannot have it both
ways" is not a sacred commandment or a law of physics, and even if it
was, sacred commandments and laws of physics were only made to be
amended or superseded.  Since I was a child I have never seen the point
in having your cake if you cant eat it too.

Sean Lawrence wrote:<<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.>>

Bravo!

I try to never assume my superiority easily.  I make sure I work damn
hard at it.  And pardon this ephemeral and hardly superior reference,
but Kate and Petruchio, as a loving couple, remind me of a romance
novel.  Yep, one of the ways I misspent my girlhood was in reading
romance novels.  That's not too surprising, it's a popular and
characteristic pastime for modern females, when they are not indulging
in various kinds of "male-bashing", or being "PCd to death".   In the
overwhelming majority of these books, the basic requirement of the hero
is that he is supremely masterful, and possesses a devastating sexual
attractiveness.  Arrogance and reprehensible behavior (to the point of
cruelty) are the keynotes in his pursuit of his true love.  (Naturally,
the entire raison d'etre of these fictions is the pursuit of true love,
especially the true, caring, self-sacrificing, devoted, passionate
kind.)  The hero need only say "I love you", and legitimatize his love
with a proposal of marriage to redeem himself and achieve the status of
a deity in his true love's eyes.  And while the hero is reinventing
himself as the heir to Petruchio's empire, the heroine is no shrew.  She
may be spunky, but her model is Cinderella.  Her parallel to Katherine
is that she is also the story of a malcontented female in an abject
situation rescued by a masterful male, to whom she is forever grateful.
Occasionally there are scrappy tokens of "political correctness"
inserted into these novels, like litter in a landscape.

Considering the pervasiveness of this ideal of true love, I'm sure that
there is a large present-day audience that can accept with enthusiasm
Kate and Petruchio as romantic role-models.  If the audience is in the
mood to be dewy-eyed and tender, they can swallow the play whole and
garner for themselves a warm, fuzzy expanse of feeling.  If they want to
be romantic and politically correct (not too difficult to achieve in our
patriarchal society) they can swallow it as something purely fictitious
and a little quaint.  For those people in the audience who are
skeptical, or pragmatic, or who own judicious hearts rather than
impetuous ones, it becomes a cool, astringent story about the lies of
love, and the coercions, debasements and practicalities of marriage.
For those who have bruised or weary hearts, it's the same old horror
story.  Or, as John Perry called it, a stupid farce.  All in all, a full
evening of entertainment for everyone.

Liminal to our world?  Oh, yeah, indeed.

Ta.

Neth
 

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