Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
The Image of Woman
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1667  Monday, 25 August 2003

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 22 Aug 2003 07:37:03 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

[2]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 22 Aug 2003 11:32:35 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

[3]     From:   Kathy Dent <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 22 Aug 2003 20:33:42 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

[4]     From:   Bruce Young <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 22 Aug 2003 12:49:05 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 22 Aug 2003 07:37:03 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.1659 The Image of Woman
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

I debated about responding to Sam Small's misogynistic and simplistic
(any woman who dislikes Katherine's final speech is not only a "female
equalist" but "strident" as well) post. I respect Hardy and his
reasonable requests for moderation too much to use this forum for the
flaming response I feel bubbling up in me. Instead, let me try to
respond to the Shakespearean issue.

Sam Small claims, "It may be proved that Shakespeare was not only nearer
the true heart of the real woman but centuries ahead of his time." This
because Katherine's speech is similar to ideas expressed in "The
Surrendered Wife." Small calls this book a representation of the, "very
modern undercurrent...that marriage might be less confrontational if the
wife deferred to the husband on many things." Amazing! Shakespeare
anticipated the anti-feminist movement! Shakespeare's universality and
transhistorical nature is saved once again!

No, I'm afraid not. First, "The Surrendered Wife" is not a very modern
anything. It is strictly based in pre-feminist ideas and rules,
including biblical ideas, which, I believe, have been around for a
while. It is not that Shakespeare mystically looked forward to it, but
that it looks back to times past, including Shakespeare's time.

Second, Katherine's speech is problematic precisely because it
represents a norm. Everyone in the play is appalled, frightened or
offended by Katherine's behavior, and everyone is relieved, amazed and
pleased when she is tamed. Today, the social norm is to see marriage as
a partnership (although Small's post suggests that it is either the man
at the head or a constant battle for sole control, another place he has
things wrong).

If a modern playwright tried to write a comedy about an out of control
woman who is "tamed" by a man who denies her food and sleep, and forces
her to agree with blatant lies, it would either be a very black comedy
or turn into a tragedy. As a society, we no longer see "man as
benevolent ruler of the marriage" as the norm, so a modern Katherine
would be a victim of a fringe thinker, rather than successfully
integrated into society. That's why so many productions make the final
speech ironic.

On the other hand, if a woman (and there are some) who reads "The
Surrendered Wife" and decides to treat her husband as Katherine's speech
outlines, that is her choice. She may be happier (I wouldn't). She may
have a better marriage (my husband would die of frustration if I refused
to make a decision). But it is still not Shakespearean. Katherine is
bullied into accepting this viewpoint. Legally, she has no other choice;
her money and body are no longer hers and if I were in her situation, I
bet I'd sell my dignity for some food after a few days.

I repeat. The only reason this speech and the play in general is comedy
is because the society it reflects saw the marriage the speech describes
as the norm. The fact that a minority of marriages today follow this
pattern and might be happy in no way suggests that Shakespeare was ahead
of his time or modern. It in no way suggests that the majority of people
would be happy to see the final speech and the play done straight. And
it in no way excuse Sam Small for using such a spurious link to take a
couple of swipes at women who have the audacity to believe that they
have any rights equal to those of men, especially in marriage (sorry
Hardy).

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 22 Aug 2003 11:32:35 -0400
Subject: 14.1659 The Image of Woman
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

Sam Smallmind opines: "It may be proved that Shakespeare was not only
nearer the true heart of the real woman but centuries ahead of his
time."

Thanks, Sam, for educating me.  I always thought I was a "real woman"
but clearly I am not, since I have never accepted that the way to a
happy marriage/romantic relationship was to subjugate myself to the man.

*Shakes her head bemusedly wondering what she is, since she's not a
"real woman" as she thought.*

Mari Bonomi

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathy Dent <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 22 Aug 2003 20:33:42 +0100
Subject: 14.1659 The Image of Woman
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

Sam Small <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 > writes,

>A good response about a tricky passage.

Dear Sam

Are you always as patronising as this?

And to women too?

Well, this isn't quite the forum for airing your views about 'real'
women (whoever they are) - and what we all need to be reading to save
our marriages (I'd been having sleepless nights about that one).

I'm sorry, I thought you were asking a serious (if rather naive)
question when you wheeled out that old chestnut about the Shrew.
Evidently I was mistaken.

Kathy Dent

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 22 Aug 2003 12:49:05 -0600
Subject: 14.1659 The Image of Woman
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1659 The Image of Woman

Anticipating the storm of criticism and dismay that will probably greet
Sam Small's recent post (with its suggestion that marriages might be
based on something other than "absolute equality" and especially that
women might be the ones to "surrender"), I'd like to offer some
arguments in favor of, not exactly a middle ground, but a more complex
view of the issues:

(1) "Surrendering" is obviously a dangerous gesture, especially if
recommended to only one side in a relationship.  Yet I don't think
one-sided surrendering is what Shakespeare's plays generally recommend,
nor was it the prevailing view in Shakespeare's time, despite our modern
stereotypes about the period.  (Small refers to New Testament teaching,
but it too is complex: Paul, for instance, just after saying, "let the
wives be [subject] to their own husbands in every thing," goes on to
say, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church,
and gave himself for it" [Ephesians 5:24-25].  I would argue [see more
on this below] that the passage is recommending mutual submission.)

(2) "Equality" is also a problematic concept, especially when it is I
who am demanding my equality with everyone else.  In practice the
self-focused quest for equality most often means competition, rivalry,
and the scramble to be "more equal than anyone else."  I've been
persuaded (by Levinas and by scripture) that my desire for equality is
not the proper foundation for ethical relationships: it blinds me to my
need for radical transformation, and it deafens me to the call to
service and responsibility that comes from the other person.

"Equality" is nevertheless a high and proper objective if it is
understood in terms of my responsibility to others: if I seek equal
treatment for others (for all others, since I am responsible to all) and
even for myself so that I can be empowered to serve.

Preceding by a couple of centuries the American Declaration of
Independence and the French Revolution, Shakespeare's contemporaries had
quite a different attitude toward hierarchy and equality than we do.
Yet they used the word "equality," and even used it in connection with
marriage.  (See below for some examples.)

(3) And so my third point: that gender relationships and marriage in
Shakespeare's time were much more complex and varied--and were
understood in much more complex and varied ways--than we usually imagine
them to be.  It would take at least 10 or 20 pages to give a fair
summary of attitudes in the period, and since our posts on SHAKSPER
don't approach that length, we will inevitably offer each other--and
argue over--radically incomplete and oversimplified images of the things
we claim to be talking about.

I've tried my hand at a summary of what I think attitudes were, and it
turned out to be six pages long (single-spaced)--much too short to be
fair, but too long for SHAKSPER.

So here's a much shorter version:

Alongside conceptions of hierarchy and difference in the period in
question ("Shakespeare's time," "Renaissance" or "early modern" England)
were conceptions of mutuality and even equality.  In family life in
particular, mutuality was at least as important a conception as
hierarchy.  The purposes of marriage were understood in terms of shared
responsibilities and privileges, one of the most important being that of
"mutual society, help, and comfort" ("The Form of Solemnization of
Matrimony").  This phrase from the prayer book was echoed by many in the
period who wrote of the "mutuall ayde and support," "mutuall comfort,"
"mutuall societie, . . . with the comfort and helpe one of another," and
"mutuall love" that should be found in marriage (I'm quoting phrases
from about five sources, which I'll omit listing here).  Submission and
service were not exclusively the duties of women and children, but were
expected of all family members, including husbands and fathers.  This
expectation is found in many documents from the period, but its presence
is especially strong in the Shakespearean text: for instance, in the
pledges of mutual service regularly made by his young lovers and in the
repeated inversion of the parent-child bond, when parents learn from and
are in various ways redeemed by their children.  (For lovers' mutual
submission, see, e.g., _Tempest_ 3.1.64-65, 86-90; _Love's Labour's
Lost_ 5.2.383; _Much Ado_ 2.1.308-09, _Measure for Measure_ 5.1.536-37;
for parent-child reversals, see _Lear_ and the romances, etc.)

What the plays celebrate, at core, is not submission to hierarchical
structures.  For one thing, the plays often dramatize the humbling and
reformation of the very characters who supposedly hold superior
positions in the field of power relations, characters who often must
renounce self-serving power in order to enter into authentic
relationship.  What the plays dramatize and celebrate, above all, is a
different kind of submission--the willing offer of oneself to others,
especially in the intimate relationships of family.  The plays' happiest
moments represent this offer as a mutual one, with husband and wife or
parent and child both submitting themselves to each other, not in order
to oppress or be oppressed, but as an expression of generosity and
gratitude and of a desire to serve and bless.

But was not the husband in theory the "head" of the wife and of the
family?  Yes.  Yet in the standard view, the husband's headship was
qualified by various limits and conditions and entailed both authority
and responsibility.  The passage in _The Taming of the Shrew_ in which
Kate outlines the roles of husband and wife--one of the few times
Shakespeare has a character state the hierarchical view in detail--
exhorts women to "serve, love, and obey" but also stresses the husband's
obligation to serve and sacrifice: a husband is "one that cares for
thee" and, for the good of his wife, "commits his body / To painful
labor" (5.2.164, 147-49).  The allusion here to mutual service echoes
the biblical passage counseling wives to "submit" themselves to their
husbands "as to the Lord" and counseling husbands: "love your wives,
even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." The
passage begins in fact by counseling mutual submission: "Submitting
yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (Ephesians 5:22-25, 21).
Kate's speech also hints at the limits of husbandly authority: a wife is
only required to obey a husband's "honest will" (5.2.158).

I don't reject the various attempts to make Katherine's speech palatable
to modern audiences or even to understand it as possibly, in terms of
the text itself, more complex than it may at first appear.  But what I
would reject is a flattened reading that sees Kate weakly or fearfully
submitting to an arbitrary or absolute figure of power.  Such a reading
distorts the lines themselves and is not supported by other
Shakespearean plays or by evidence from the period.  It is rare for a
Shakespearean character to preach a simple hierarchical view of marriage
(though I can think of at least one example: Luciana in _Comedy of
Errors_ 2.1) and even these must be taken in dramatic context.  Among
Shakespeare's contemporaries, some (in both theory and likely in
practice) emphasized hierarchy, but others emphasized mutuality and even
a degree of equality.  Though marriage in a sense involved a giving up
of liberty, this offering (according to Daniel Rogers) "must be mutuall
and reciprocal."  Rachel Speght calls husband and wife "yoake-fellowes"
and argues that "neither the wife may say to her husband, nor the
husband unto his wife, I have no need of thee, no more then the members
of the body may so say each to other, betweene whom there is such a
sympathie, that if one member suffer, all suffer with it."  Another
writer maintains that, if husband and wife perform their respective
duties "mutually towards one another, how easie will the burthen of your
familie and callings be unto you? the equal draught, maketh the burthen
light."  This writer insists that a wife's "dutie (or obedience)" does
not imply "servil subjection" but should be "seasoned with a kind of
equalitie" (Ste. B).  Even some writers who emphasized hierarchical
difference acknowledged that this difference was structural and
abstract, while the concrete relations of husband and wife should be
marked by "an equalitie sociable."  (I've omitted most references to
sources to save space.)

How might all of this be useful in dealing with the last scene of
_Taming of the Shrew_?  I think it offers additional ways of
understanding Kate's possible attitudes in the scene and of imagining
how the other characters (and early audiences) might view what she says
and does.  (Is it significant that, in response to Kate's offer to put
"[her] hands below [her] husband's foot," Petruchio instead of accepting
the offer says, "kiss me, Kate" and "Come, Kate, we'll to bed"?)  If
what I've said is fair, it also helps to clarify that much of what
Petruchio has done and said through the course of the play has to be
seen (even in "early modern" terms) as extreme, perhaps appropriate, as
some have already pointed out, to a farce, or a "farce within a
framework."

And yes, I think there is evidence in the play that the tamer is to some
degree tamed.  The sense of a satisfying ending comes partly from that
(as well as from seeing Kate finally happy) and also from seeing
Petruchio view Kate with admiration, deference, and affection.

Hoping to survive the war of words,
Bruce Young

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.