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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: October ::
Problem Shrews
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0731  Tuesday, 30 October 2007

[1] 	From:	Larry Weiss <
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	Date:	Monday, 22 Oct 2007 11:53:35 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

[2] 	From:	Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen <
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	Date:	Monday, 22 Oct 2007 14:19:04 -0500
	Subj:	RE: SHK 18.0713 Problem Shrews

[3] 	From:	Donald Bloom <
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	Date:	Monday, 22 Oct 2007 14:47:08 -0500
	Subj:	RE: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

[4] 	From:	Harry Rusche <
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	Date:	Monday, 22 Oct 2007 17:09:31 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

[5] 	From:	David Frankel <
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	Date:	Monday, 22 Oct 2007 21:26:39 -0400
	Subj:	RE: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

[6] 	From:	Anna Kamaralli <
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	Date:	Friday, 26 Oct 2007 09:04:07 +0000 (GMT)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Larry Weiss <
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Date:		Monday, 22 Oct 2007 11:53:35 -0400
Subject: 18.0723 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

I take mild exception at Cary Dean Barney's comment that

 >All of these alternative "Shrews" seem to be ways of escaping
 >what is perceived to be Shakespeare's intent

Presumably this includes my view that the main action in the play is a 
Commedia dell' Arte farce and that by restoring the entire Sly framework 
we can see the grand metajoke. I cannot see how restoring the entire 
text of the play and performing it in the fashion that it clearly 
invites can be regarded as a flight from the author's expectations.

To be sure, it is legitimate to argue that Shakespeare did not write the 
later Sly scenes; but that it a textual issue, not a critical one. 
Assuming that WS wrote the later Sly scenes substantially as given in 
(Q), the "intent" seems fairly obvious, at least to me.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen <
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Date:		Monday, 22 Oct 2007 14:19:04 -0500
Subject: 18.0713 Problem Shrews
Comment:	RE: SHK 18.0713 Problem Shrews

My apologies in advance for a fairly long post.

When critics argue that the text of The Taming of the Shrew does, 
indeed, support a reading that portrays Petruchio as an abuser and Kate 
as a victim of an oppressive patriarchal system, they are correct. I 
would, however, like to point out an alternative to this; however, you 
will have to bear with me a bit, since it will at first sound as though 
I am being facetious.

Yes, Petruchio's script gives him the lines of an abuser, but so does 
Bugs Bunny's script give him the lines of a violent sociopath. The 
script for any Three Stooges movie also would read (sans stage 
directions and sound effects) as incredibly violent (talk about a 
dysfunctional family).

Here is what I tell my students about the play. There are two distinct, 
textually-supported ways to stage it. The first stages the play 
seriously, using a non-ironic reading that explores what could very well 
have happened to an intelligent, assertive woman raised in a patriarchal 
culture by a single father and a snot-of-a-little sister who knows how 
to play the game.

The second way to stage the play is as a comedy, following what I call 
the Bugs Bunny Rules of Comedy (a name that I think maybe I should 
copyright - with tongue firmly in cheek, of course). To do this, the 
play can only funny if

1. There is no serious threat that someone will really get permanently 
hurt, and so, he audience never has to feel nervous about anyone's 
safety. Elmer Fudd's gun blows up in his face repeatedly, yet he always 
walks away.

2. The character on the receiving end of the violence is the one who 
first started the fight. Wile E. Coyote, after all, is trying to kill 
the Road Runner, and so there is some poetic justice when he falls off 
the cliff and gets smashed under a boulder.

"The Shrew" can be staged this way. After all, we never actually see 
Petruchio hit Kate, so if the characters are well cast (he cannot seem 
physically threatening; she cannot be not small and physically weak), we 
never feel nervous that she really is going to be hurt. Add to this that 
Kate is the one who starts the fight. She is the first one to throw an 
insult; she is the first one to try and hit someone (Petruchio 
included). So, in one sense, she kind of has it coming to her.

The most masterful version of the play I have seen was staged by the 
American Conservatory Theater of San Francisco in 1976 (now available on 
DVD). ACT staged the play as a commedia dell'arte production that 
heavily emphasized physical comedy. There is also a clear attraction 
between Kate and Petruchio from the start-when Kate sees Petruchio for 
the first time, she walks slowly all the way around him and (from 
behind) gives him a very long once over before showing the audience her 
obvious appreciation for Marc Singer's well-built physique. It is very 
funny. Yet the comedy is not the production's only asset. In and around 
the slapstick, we watch the pair's obvious and instantaneous chemical 
attraction to one another grow into mutual respect and devotion, and we 
get to watch Kate get her long-awaited, and very public, revenge on her 
snotty little sister during the final scene.

So, yes, I would argue that the play can be staged as a comedy; even 
better, it can be staged as a comedy that still says something 
sophisticated about the nature of romantic and familial relationships.

Lysbeth

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Donald Bloom <
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Date:		Monday, 22 Oct 2007 14:47:08 -0500
Subject: 18.0723 Problem Shrews
Comment:	RE: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

Shrew is a problem only if you (a) demand coherence in a work of art, 
but (b) refuse to accept the coherence that's there. This sort of 
refusal is quite common, actually, whenever urgent political, religious 
and moral questions are involved. And that seems to be the case with 
this play

This first sticking point is, of course, Katerina. If you play her as an 
obnoxious bitch who is violent, abusive, and completely unreasonable 
then the taming she receives makes perfect sense. It is funny, just what 
she deserves, and of great benefit to her, for she ends up loved and 
happy. If you wish her to be the pathetic victim of domestic abuse, you 
have a beginning (where she is violent, brutal and irrational) and an 
ending (where she is loved, loving and contented) that make no sense. 
This can be handled by letting it go and putting on a play that makes no 
sense, or making a hash of the beginning and the ending in order to fit 
the idea of abuse and brainwashing.

The second, also of course, is Petruchio. If you play him as a sadistic 
thug then his triumph at the end is little short of nauseating. But if 
you play him as a breezy, cheery sort, brimming over with 
self-confidence and the enjoyment of life (not to mention as being a 
battle-tested soldier who cannot be frightened by a noisy female), then 
it all works well. And it coheres readily with the portrayal of Kate as 
an obnoxious bitch.

The real problem with Petruchio is his love for money. Shakespeare was 
joking about a phenomenon that we no longer joke about, the rather 
cynical attitude toward marriage and its possibilities in regard to 
financial self-improvement that was common at the time. I don't think 
it's impossible to bring the audience in on this joke. But if you deal 
with it as if Petruchio were a 21st century fortune-hunter then you once 
again spoil the fun.

I have seen excellent - indeed, side-splitting - productions that 
followed the course recommended above. The audience may not end up being 
much edified about 21st gender theory, but they do have a good time.

Cheers,
don

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Harry Rusche <
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Date:		Monday, 22 Oct 2007 17:09:31 -0400
Subject: 18.0723 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

My colleague Sheila Cavanagh saw "Taming" in D.C. this weekend, and she 
says Petruchio shows up for the wedding in the identical strapless gown 
that Kate is wearing. Now that is funny!

Harry Rusche

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Frankel <
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Date:		Monday, 22 Oct 2007 21:26:39 -0400
Subject: 18.0723 Problem Shrews
Comment:	RE: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

TheatreUSF will be producing Taming of the Shrew in February, directed 
by guest artist Tim Luscombe. In this production Petruchio will be 
played by a female, in part because she was the strongest (i.e., best) 
actor to audition. I'm not part of the production team, but I understand 
the decision has been made to keep the character male -- the degree of 
disguise is still under discussion, I believe. I'll be happy to report 
back about the production when I see it.

cdf

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Anna Kamaralli <
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Date:		Friday, 26 Oct 2007 09:04:07 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 18.0723 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0723 Problem Shrews

Solutions to staging The Shrew today are not always as simple as they 
seem, and we have to think through the full extent of the message being 
communicated. For instance, your daughter's idea about suggesting 
Stockholm syndrome does prevent the play from being a comedy, as well as 
implying that the only option for an unruly woman in this world is to be 
broken by it, which is a shame when there is so much good funny stuff in 
the play. On the other hand, the trouble with trying to convince 
ourselves that the last scene actually shows Kate and Petruchio in an 
alliance against the others (in some sort of mutually-driven scam) is 
that the image they present of themselves challenges only what the 
others thought of them as individuals, but does not challenge at all 
their idea of what a relationship should look like, so they clearly have 
not risen above the society from which they come, or got beyond 
concerning themselves with what people think of them.

Petruchio's last action, bar his exit, is to make sure he publicly 
humiliates (in the most literal sense, requiring her to make explicit 
the extremes of her humility) his wife. This may be the act of a man who 
considers her better than the other women, but not one who considers her 
too good to abase herself in front of the other men. And Carol's 
solution poses the problem that, if the subject under discussion is how 
best to stage the play today, do you really want to have it implied that 
if Kate acts as Petruchio's equal in public it would humiliate him? 
Worse still, trying to make it a happy ending by presenting Kate as 
wretched and unhappy at the beginning and transformed into radiant 
satisfaction by the end just reinforces the notion that there is 
something wrong with women who do not conform to directives to be 
submissive, and that abuse is 'for their own good'. What he does to her 
is abuse, legal and socially sanctioned, and we
  shouldn't trivialize it or give it our approval by showing how much 
'better' she is for it.

And yet we can't let the play go, because it tantalizes us with two 
scenes (Petruchio's first meeting with Kate in II.1 and their exchanges 
in IV.3) which are fun and joyous. We want these to be the model for the 
whole play, but they are not. No one is harmed by calling the sun the 
moon when no one for a minute really believes that it is. This is a 
fundamentally different thing from saying that a woman should place her 
hand below her husband's foot in a room full of people who are eager to 
accept that as the truth.

But I believe there is a way out: I have a pet theory, derived from 
Michael Friedman's The World Must Be Peopled: Shakespeare and the Comedy 
of Forgiveness. Friedman proposes a model of a comedic sub-genre that 
applies in a remarkable number of Shakespeare's plays (Two Gentlemen, 
Much Ado, Measure, All's Well and to some degree Cymbeline and Winter's 
Tale). Each of the plays that Friedman classifies as a Comedy of 
Forgiveness shows a man who mistreats the woman who loves him rewarded 
with a happy ending, despite a sense that he does inadequate penance, in 
proportion to the abuse. He notes a literary and performance history of 
dissatisfaction with this, of regarding it as a flaw in the plays, and 
of attempting to 'narrow the gap between what the Comic Hero deserves 
and what he gets by using elements of performance either to reduce the 
Comic Hero's blameworthiness or to increase the sincerity of his 
repentance and the severity of his punishment'.

One of the things that distinguishes such plays from more 
straightforward Romantic Comedies is an emphasis on the incorporating of 
rebellious elements into socially and legally sanctioned unions that 
will go on to perpetuate the legitimate family, and confirm the bonds 
between potential patriarchs. Instead of the Senex providing the 
obstacle to the mutually desiring hero and heroine, the hero and heroine 
themselves create frustrations that must be subsumed into a union that 
controls female unruliness and male lust and/or anxiety about female 
sexuality.

Although Friedman uses the Shrew to illustrate certain points and even 
includes a chapter called "The Taming of the Shrews" in which he 
discusses the curbing of the shrew figures in these plays, like Beatrice 
and Isabella, he stops short of including Shrew in his list of Comedies 
of Forgiveness. I think if the pattern is that a man sins unforgivably 
against a woman, but is forgiven anyway, due to a combination of her 
love for him and society's need to reincorporate them both into its 
social structures, then The Taming of the Shrew, by this measure, is a 
Comedy of Forgiveness. When looking at the action of the play from this 
point of view, we are not being asked to approve of Petruchio's 
treatment of Katherina, quite the contrary, but we are being shown that 
abominable behaviour can be forgiven for the sake of love and a strong 
community. Kate's last speech is the required gesture of forgiveness to 
the Forgiven Comic Hero, and if we aren't left feeling somewhat queasy 
when we watch this in performance then, as with those versions of Much 
Ado About Nothing that seek to exonerate Claudio, the production has 
made things too easy for us.

Regards,
Anna

P.S. When Katherina says she will 'try' whether Petruchio is a 
gentleman, in II.1, it is usually played that she slaps his face. It 
seems to me that what she should do here is goose him (passing thought).

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