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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1060  Thursday, 29 October 1998.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Oct 1998 12:25:47 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1042 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Oct 1998 14:35:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1042 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Oct 1998 12:25:47 EST
Subject: 9.1042 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1042 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

David Lyles writes, in part,

>I think it was the commentator in the Arden edition who
>pointed out that Petruchio asks Kate to tell the *other* women what
>*they* owed to *their* husbands.  Is this enough to hang a PC production
>on?
>
>How have others experienced the dynamic between those two in
>production?  Can it be consistently played so that it is not groaningly
>unbelievable to a contemporary audience?

And Stevie Simkin has said

>a)  today, either you play the Shrew as tragedy, or you play it
>ironically. There are no alternatives, it seems to me (a number of
>people who stayed behind for the after-show chat made the point about
>the play "not being PC").

I have missed the earlier parts of this thread, but it is to me not a
little like Casey Stengel's "deja vu all over again": we have been here
before, about six months ago, as I recall.  For what it's worth, since
no one seems to be taking Shakespeare's side in this PC argument, as I
have said before, I don't think there's anything to defend.  Despite all
the farcical power struggling between them (which emphasizes Pertuchio's
superior legal position, but *not* his intellectual superiority),
Petruchio tames his shrew with the real love and admiration that
underlie his "hypocritical" manifestations of adoration (with real
concern for her well-being, real respect for her intelligence, and real
love for her independence), and she repays that by recognizing that she
should "do him ease" publicly, or make him a laughing-stock, as Bianca's
husband becomes when she retorts "I'll come anon" in response to his
urgent summons.  The point is, I think, that fluffy little unassuming
and utterly accommodating "sweethearts" like Bianca bare their fangs
after they're securely married, and that a seeming shrew tamed by an
egalitarian kind of love can become what Bianca has only pretended to
be-because Kate *chooses to* be deferential to the man who wins her
heart, not because she thinks she *has to,* to conform to "the rules."
Think of that consummate feminist, the Wyf of Bathe, in this
context-tough as nails on the surface, but soft and feminine in the
outlook of her tale.  What Kate says in her final speech is a little
ironic, a little tongue in cheek, a little stagey (because she is making
a rhetorical point metaphorically when she says a woman should put her
hand under her husband's foot), but it is literal in the sense that she
truly believes she should act in the best interests of a husband who
acts in the best interests of his wife.  Part of that, given the
societal conventions of the day, means coming when beckoned, and doing
as bidden, when others are around, to show that she honors her spouse.
One gets the sense from the "very like the moon" exchange that this is
nothing like what occurs between them in private-nor would Petruchio be
happy with her, if it were.

And as I have said before, before anyone asks, my primary authority for
this is that I'm another Kate.  The man whom I will soon be pleased to
call my husband "governs" me-when he does-by his merit, and my
consent-and I am independently successful in my own right, in two
distinct areas of endeavor, so I don't "need him to support me."  Like
Kate, however, I recognize that there is nothing to gain, and everything
to lose, by humiliating him publicly as Bianca does her husband, for the
sake of proclaiming my feminist autonomy . . . and as he knows I would
not respond congenially to "make us some coffee, wench" in a business
environment, so he would never speak to me in such a tone in a private
one-but if he asked me politely and respectfully to make coffee for him
and his guests, I would do so without taking offense, in my capacity as
hostess.   Petruchio is participating in a "boy's club" game when he
summons Kate, and she knows it- why shouldn't she make him look like a
shrew-tamer, to his buddies, and thus enable him to win the bet?

I have seen Kate played with something just short of a quick sub rosa
wink at Petruchio as she obediently enters . . . my eyes might in a
similar situation signal my husband's "Watch this!"-and perhaps only he
would know I wasn't deadly in earnest.  That's another play within the
play within the play, as far as I'm concerned.

Best to all --

Carol Barton
Department of English
Averett College -- Northern Virginia Campus
Vienna, Virginia

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Oct 1998 14:35:17 -0500
Subject: 9.1042 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1042 Re: Shrews Behaving Badly

Like *Merchant of Venice*, *Shrew* snags on contemporary liberal
sensitivities when brought onto the contemporary Western stage. I don't
think it works to treat it as a historical artifact (Come see the quaint
early modern patriarchal attitudes, children; do they help you
understand why Daddy makes more money than I do even though I am a lot
smarter than he is?) or to treat it as mere crude farce (Come see the
nice cartoon, children; isn't it funny when that great big man ties that
little woman up and takes her food away?)  We want and need the drama to
speak to us where we are, and for all of us in 1998 that means
struggling with issues of gender, especially as they are inextricably
entangled with issues of money and power.

In my experience the play can be made palatable to liberal sensibilities
(I'll acknowledge in advance the contemptuous snorts of our materialist
colleagues on the list) by these means: (1) casting as Petruchio and
Katherine attractive actors between whom real sexual sparks can fly; (2)
making both of them overtly ill-behaved but inherently playful at the
beginning (for instance, by foregrounding Petruchio's unreasonable abuse
of Gremio), so that the learning process can be mutual; (3) playing the
Bianca plot fully and well, with emphasis on the deception,
self-deception, and general self-serving of all the participants in that
whole enterprise, so that Petruchio and Katherine are at least honest
with themselves, each other, and the audience; (4) assuming that a
harmonious marital relationship is inherently better than a quarrelsome
one, and worth the cost of some sacrifice of self-interest, so that if
Katherine does not eat or sleep or get clean clothes neither does
Petruchio; (5) having a Petruchio who can perform the more-in-sorrow
speeches with real conviction; (6) putting a lot of emphasis on the
scene with Vincentio, in which Katherine discovers that cooperating with
Petruchio in apparently bizarre games can be fun, and on other moments
in which we can see life as play, not war; (6) playing the final scene
as conspiratorial (the two of them make a lot of money out of their
insensitive friends and relations).  In the highly palatable production
at Great Lakes Theater Festival three or four years ago the kiss after
"Kiss me, Kate" really sizzled, the pair exchanged knowing looks before
the women went off after dinner, and at the end of the dreadful speech,
which ended with Kate kneeling and putting her hands under Petruchio's
foot, he raised her, knelt to her and put his hands beneath her foot,
and then handed her the money before another sizzling clinch.

For all that, some actors and some audiences will have to grit their
teeth at some points.

I think, by the way, that all these things are latent in the text.

Liberally,
David Evet
 

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