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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
The Shrew and British Feminism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0208  Tuesday, 27 January 2004

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Jan 2004 10:10:33 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism

[2]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Jan 2004 12:30:02 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Jan 2004 13:09:06 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Jan 2004 10:10:33 -0600
Subject: 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism

John Webb writes:

"Is Taming of the Shrew really about "feminism", or is it about Platonic
philosophy?"

and then

"What is this play really about?"

This or any other work of art is "really about" what happens in your
mind when you encounter it. If you are interested in Platonic philosophy
you will tend to find Platonic philosophy in it; if in Freud's theories,
Oedipal relationships and castration complexes; if in Jung's, then
Individuation and the Great Mother; if in Marx's, then class struggle;
if in feminism, then sexual repression; if in Christian typology, then
anagogical allegory (or some damn thing).

It is a great illusion of literary analysis that we are writing about
the work more than about ourselves. This is so grotesquely apparent in
certain cranks, who feel obliged to cram every work into the box of
their own obsession, that we normal ones (well, more or less) feel a
spurious smugness. But the difference is only one of degree.

To me, *Shrew* is a knock-about comedy that deals with finding yourself
and finding love. The Sly business is a bit of cleverness that
Shakespeare got over. It doesn't interest me much, because I don't find
it saying much about identity and reality (as compared to, say, MSND,
12N, Hamlet, Macbeth, or, for that matter, the play of the Shrew).

But that's just me. Regulars on this list already know plenty about my
concerns, obsessions, viewpoints, and blank spots.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Jan 2004 12:30:02 -0500
Subject: 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism

John Webb wants to know the significance of taming a falcon in The
Taming of the Shrew.  He apparently desires an answer derived from myth.

But perhaps the answer is more closely related to the actual training of
a falcon for hunting.  Petruchio explains his procedure, adopted from
falconry, in 4.1, and then says: "He that knows better how to tame a
shrew,/Now let him speak. 'Tis charity to show" (4.1.198-9).  To whom
does he direct these lines? To the nameless lord who is using a quite
different way to tame his shrew? To Sly who is a shrew? Or to the
general audience comprised in part of women who may volunteer a hostile
response?  Or to males in the audience who may have their own ideas
("yes, dear") about how to "tame" their wives?

In any case, Petruchio apparently uses Katherine as a falcon in the last
scene when he sends her to bring Bianca and the Widow to their husbands.
  Am I being too fanciful when I see Katherine (perhaps she's Kate here)
as Petruchio's hawk who wins him the prize by her hunting abilities?
Betting on one's hawk was, of course, a common practice. Compare scene 3
of Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603).

Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Jan 2004 13:09:06 -0600
Subject: 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0195 The Shrew and British Feminism

 >Is Taming of the Shrew really about "feminism", or is it about Platonic
 >philosophy . . . What is this play really about?

Perhaps it is just about what it seems to be about, the taming of a
shrew, but a fantasy-women are typically not so devilishly hysterical
and men are not so wildly peremptory, but these qualities were
entertaining to WS's audience.  The Sly business suggests as much, in a
playful (no pun intended) manner.  (I wish Sly had been re-alcoholized
and then awakened to his former Sly self! That would be analogous to the
situation with recruits to the rebellious (terrorist) group operating in
northern Persia at the end of the 11th century, fighting to create a
particular version of a Moslem community.  Recruits  were given hashish
and, once asleep, brought to a garden fortress with women who tended to
them (whatever that meant) for a few days of glorious living, then given
more hashish and wakened outside the fortress to the grim reality of
Persian life, with promises to return forever if they would fight for
the cause.  Many became hashishim or assassins.)

Perhaps someone on the list can explain to me what the Sly business
might mean, other than to introduce a farce with another farce.  I don't
see how the play can be (a) about "feminism" (and anyway, why the
quotes-is the play not really about feminism but about some perversion
of it?), though I can see how feminists might not like it, or (b) about
Platonic philosophy, though I supposed one could turn a farce about a
dream that raises questions about what is real, into a platonic theme;
but where is the philosophy-what character displays appreciation of
underlying causes and principles of reality, or a critical examination
of fundamental beliefs and an analysis of the basic concepts employed in
the expression of such beliefs, all of which is the definition of
philosophy?

Incidentally, as I said, I can see how feminists would not like Shrew,
but perhaps I might suggest, given the "man's world" of Shakespeare's
time, that the shrew, rather than mere victim of peremptory domination,
in the end proves rather shrewd (pun intended).  So here's a view I
recently wrote (a snip from a larger argument) that I'll offer in the
spirit of testable (through argument) hypothesis rather than dogmatic
pronouncement:

Given her age and circumstances-given the destructive effect of "wild
cat" Katherina's, "curst" Katherina's," "irksome, brawling scold"
Katherina's fiery personality on her social prospects and
self-fulfillment-accepting a rich, high-quality, albeit dominating, male
trumps a rampant self-destructive ego that is sabotaging her and her
younger sister's prospects.  Hooking up with Petruchio is self-serving
pragmatism, or what we might call a really smart move. Proof enough is
the calm dignity and evident pleasure she has finally achieved.  One
could even argue that in having been tamed-in having "given up"-she now
has it all.  How shrew she was, how shrewd she is!

Please advise.

The editor of the Arden edition notes that from the 14th Century "shrew"
was a name for the Devil, and that the female sense came later. The

 >editor says "the long sense of Satanic must inform our understanding".

As I suggested above, Katherina is considered a devil (hyperbolically,
not actually), certainly by the frustrated suitors to Bianca, so "shrew"
seems an even more reasonable word to describe her.

David Cohen

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