Last Updated on July 28, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1020
The Taming of the Shrew
The relationship between Katherina and Petruchio and the related themes of male domination and female submission have been a major focus of critical commentary on The Taming of the Shrew in the second half of the twentieth century. Commentators on the play discuss a variety of critical issues, including its genre, its emphasis on role-playing and on the interplay of illusion and reality, and its relationship to its Elizabethan social and political context. In all of these discussions, however, the play's treatment of the conventions of male and female behavior and of the interrelated issues of gender, sexuality, and power tend to figure prominently.
Until well into the nineteenth century, audiences and critics appear to have accepted the play's shrew-taming premise at face value. In fact, during this period the play was presented primarily in heavily adapted versions that frequently accentuated the element of violence in Petruchio's treatment of Katherina. The most successful of these, David Garrick's Catherine and Petruchio (1754), enjoyed immense popularity into the mid-1800s, when it began to be supplanted by revivals of the original play. By the end of the century, however, critics were beginning to show an element of discomfort with the relationship between Petruchio and Katherina. George Bernard Shaw, writing in 1897, described the last scene of the play as "altogether disgusting to modern sensibility," and found the concept of male domination implicit in the wager and in Katherina's final speech so offensive that no man "with any decency of feeling" could watch the scene "in the company of a woman without feeling extremely ashamed."
A desire to reconcile the playwright's reputation and the unacceptability of his play's central premise seems to underlie much of its subsequent criticism. In the 1950s, critics such as Nevill Coghill, Harold C. Goddard, and Margaret Webster argued that Shakespeare's rendition of the shrew-taming concept, and particularly Katherina's closing speech, should be read ironically. According to this view, Katherina's submission to Petruchio is not to be taken seriously; the audience is meant to perceive that she will dominate the marriage by allowing Petruchio an outward show of mastery. This analysis was countered by the views of critics such as George Ian Duthie (1951), who saw The Taming of the Shrew as confirming the Elizabethan view that a husband stands in relation to his wife as a king to his subjects. Several critics in the late 1950s and the 1960s emphasized the "gentleness" of Petruchio's behavior in comparison to the brutality displayed in earlier "shrew-taming" plays. Writing in 1958, Muriel Bradbrook claimed that Katherina was the first character in the tradition to be utterly transformed, rather than beaten or lectured into submission. In a highly influential reading that focused on the theme of illusion and reality, Cecil B. Seronsy (1963) suggested that Petruchio draws Katherina into enthusiastic acceptance of the role of obedient wife by "supposing" the existence in her of the qualities he desires and gradually assimilating her to the image he has willed.
Critics continue to differ in their opinions as to whether The Taming of the Shrew ultimately confirms, undermines, or merely renders more palatable the conventions of male dominance and female submission. In an article published in 1974, Margaret Loftus Ranald claimed that Shakespeare's use of imagery drawn from falconry portrays an "atypical" Elizabethan model of matrimony based on "mutuality, trust, and love." Five years later, Marianne L. Novy suggested that by presenting conventional gender roles as a game, Petruchio makes it possible for Katherina to participate with him in developing a mutually satisfying accommodation to the rules of the patriarchal order. David Farley-Hills (1981) saw Shakespeare as engaged in the play in a characteristic investigation of the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in human behavior. In his view, these contradictions are never resolved: "[I]nstead we have simply a poised presentation of the contradictions which leaves the comic tensions resolved in the purely comic relief of laughter." Richard A. Burt, however, argued in 1984 that despite its exploration of the contradictions inherent in social norms, the play ultimately reinforces the conventions of male domination and female submission by showing that female rebellion can be managed and contained through a strategy of coercion disguised as romantic love.
Several commentators, on the other hand, have suggested that through its prominent metadramatic elements the play ultimately subverts conventional social and gender roles. Karen Newman (1986) argued that by continually drawing parallels between the theatrical role-playing of the stage and the real-life role-playing of social superiors and inferiors and of dominant husbands and obedient wives, the play reveals that these real-life roles are not inherent in the nature of the individuals who play them, but rather are imposed by social and cultural constraints. In making a similar argument about the impact of the play, both Michael Shapiro and Juliet Dusinberre (1993) focused on the Elizabethan practice of using boy actors in female roles. By frequently calling attention to this practice, both critics argued, the play underlines the artificiality of conventionally "feminine" behavior. Some critics, however, continue to reject an ironic reading of Petruchio's subduing of Katherina. In a 1988 article, for instance, Peter Berek maintained that The Shrew is inherently sexist in its assumptions, although he also suggested that Shakespeare's choice of farce as a genre reflects the playwright's awareness of the tensions inherent in a patriarchal system and his attempt to dissipate some of those tensions on stage.
Finally, a number of critics, particularly since 1980, have investigated the relationship between the play and its Elizabethan social, economic, and cultural context. In a 1983 essay, Marion D. Perret analyzed the actions of Katherina and Petruchio in terms of Elizabethan "conduct books" that defined the proper relationship and the respective duties of husbands and wives. In 1985, Carol Heffernan examined the play's critique of middle-class values, particularly as they are reflected in attitudes towards courtship and marriage. Margaret Downs-Gamble (1993) looked at similarities between Petruchio's "wife-taming" techniques and the educational methods endorsed by Renaissance humanism, while Linda Boose (1994) saw in the play's ambivalent portrayal of social and sexual norms a reflection of the period's preoccupation with threats to conventional order and its anxieties about socioeconomic change and class conflict.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 23789
David Farley-Hills (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Paradoxes and Problems: Shakespeare's Sceptical Comedy in The Taming of the Shrew," in The Comic in Renaissance Comedy, Barnes and Noble Books, 1981, pp. 160-78.
[In the following excerpt, Farley-Hills traces various sources of ambiguity in the play's treatment of the themes of male domination and female submissiveness.]
The range of Shakespearian comedy is remarkable. At one extreme there is the serenity of The Tempest, where benevolent comedy reaches out towards the divine; at the other the searing, cynical comedy of Troilus and Cressida, with its jaundiced view of two major centres of spiritual value for the Elizabethans, love and heroism, an extreme of denigratory satire. Shakespearian comedy, indeed, could by itself have been used to illustrate all the kinds of [Renaissance comedy] for between these extremes lie gradations of benevolence and satire that would serve to show almost the full variety of the comic. Even within one single play Shakespeare can make use of an astonishing variety of comic attitudes, and this indeed is the problem, for it is not always easy to decide what is the overall comic stance. One reason why less gifted dramatists, such as [Thomas] Dekker and [Richard] Brome, can show clearer examples of particular types of the comic is that their understanding of the comic is much more limited and selective. If hope is a characteristic of Shakespearian comedy, so also is doubt arising from a profound sense of the contradictoriness of things: the contradictions inherent not only in man himself and in his ways of looking at the world, but also in the world outside him that he strives to master and that (as we see in the tragedies) often masters him. In each successive comedy the relationship between hope and doubt, between the assertion of the fundamental unity in al things and an awareness of irreconcilable contradiction is reassessed so that it is difficult to generalise about so complex and shifting a phenomenon as Shakespeare's comic stance. In each play new combinations are tested, new and daring juxtapositions of ideas attempted. The comic stance shifts not just from play to play but also within the plays, where satirical and benevolent comedy are used to test and qualify each other's assertions.
What strikes us most clearly about any Shakespearian play, comedy or not, is surely Shakespeare's awareness of alternative ways of looking at the same problems. Shakespeare's was a mind that instinctively seemed to grasp the inherent contradictions in our habits of thought and feeling, and part of his greatness is his ability to examine these contradictions without himself losing coherence of vision. Hence the pun, of which Shakespeare is so fond, is not a fatal Cleopatra, but a prism in which uniformity can be seen as an aspect of multiplicity. He takes the bogyman figure of the vicious Jew in the Merchant of Venice and creates so human a character that we are forced to see the Jew's point of view, not just as distant spectators, but also as sharers of his feelings. The result is a complex tension of attraction and repulsion that questions the Christian questioners (though perhaps not by intention) as profoundly as it does their anti-Christ. In Falstaff, the figure of misrule so challenges the overt statements of the need for political and moral order that to this day critics are divided about where, between an 'external' morality of duty and an 'internal' morality of honesty to one's feelings, the balance is to be struck in assessing the play. One could repeat instances play by play. Frequently our strongest impression at the end of a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays is that we are made to re-examine our certainties, are asked to resubmit ourselves to doubts that we thought we had resolved. Doubts not merely about the meaning of the plays themselves, but about our answers to the problems they raise. Is King Lear about a hostile universe and the inability of men to survive it in the long run, or is it a play suggesting a transcendental message of hope? When Gloucester's heart bursts smilingly, has he had a vision of a new reality or does his face record the inane grin of a man who finally loses his grip on reality—a question that is repeated even more terribly and enigmatically in Lear's last words. With such an instinctive sense of the problematic nature of life it is not surprising (however remarkable the plays) that Shakespeare should excel in comedy. Dr Johnson's view that the tragedies are often laboured would not today get much critical support, but his assertion [in 'Preface to Shakespeare', in Johnson on Shakespeare, edited by Walter Raleigh, 1908] that comedy was instinctual with Shakespeare is surely well founded:
his disposition, as Rhymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes, with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve.… In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comick; but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature.… His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.
This instinct expresses itself in a constant awareness of alternative possibilities, a constant juxtaposition of different images of the same events which presents the mind simultaneously with plausible alternative interpretations of the same phenomena:
When Daffodils begin to peere,
With heigh the Doxy over the dale,
Why then comes in the sweet o' the yeare,
For the red blood raigns in the winter's
The white sheete bleaching on the hedge,
With hey the sweet birds, O how they sing:
Doth set my pugging tooth an edge,
For a quart of Ale is a dish for a King.
Where else within eight lines could one find a lyric that expressed not only the joy in the coming of spring, the mythic conquest of life over death, but also the ambiguity of man's response to this joy and his equivocal relationship to nature (the doxy—the prostitute—as the human representative of the universal procreative image), the alienation of man from this natural world as he anticipates pain in the midst of joy (the pugging tooth)—a pain that renders him ridiculous, aberrant—and finally includes man's attempts at cheerful defiance of his alienation (the quart of ale). We do not even begin to take account in all this of the further complexities added by relating the song to its context within The Winter's Tale. In these late plays the comic has come to be the means for expressing a deep sense of the inevitable contradictoriness of human experience, but at the same time the comic is subsumed in the greater harmony that the musicality of the lyric itself conveys here, a musicality that reflects what Alfred Einstein has called (in discussing Mozart [in Mozart: His Character, His Work, 1971]) 'that second naïveté for which only a few masters in all the arts are predestined'. The earlier plays do not show this same sublime confidence in the use of the comic, but are used much more to explore its implications, its uses and variety.
Among these early comedies The Taming of the Shrew is particularly interesting in illustrating a sense of poised, enigmatic contradiction that refuses to come to either the celebratory conclusions of benevolent comedy or the denigratory conclusions of satire. There seems to have been a period in Shakespeare's career in the early 1590s when he was particularly fascinated, like many of his contemporaries, with what John Donne called at this same time 'paradoxes and problems'. The fun was to see various recurring human preoccupations in unexpected lights by offering unexpected viewpoints for their contemplation. Love's Labour's Lost at around this time presents us with a dazzling set of ambiguities on the theme of male and female relationships, and in a rather different way Romeo and Juliet exploits the paradoxes of 'brawling love' and 'loving hate', of 'heavie lightness, serious vanity' in a complex tragedy that explores the ambiguous relationships of love and violence. In this period too Shakespeare wrote that highly ambiguous poem on human sexuality, Venus and Adonis. Like these other works I have mentioned, The Taming of the Shrew finds its contradictions in that perennially fruitful subject, human sexual relationships, and like Love's Labour's Lost and Venus and Adonis in the contradictions and conflicts inherent in the opposition of the sexes. The central paradox of both plays is that while men and women are sexual antagonists they are at the same time indispensable allies; they seek both to conquer and to guard themselves from one another and yet are constantly seeking the paramount pleasures that they derive from each other. The initiating joke of Love's Labour's Lost is that the men are trying to protect themselves from what turns out to be their strongest wish, while in a nicely calculated complementarity the women seek out what ultimately they have to guard themselves from. The Taming of the Shrew is a delightful and subtle exploration of the old Chaucerian theme of which of the sexes should have the sovereignty, wherein male assumptions of superiority are subtly mocked while feminine methods of gaining the upper hand are put to the test. No ultimate conclusions are reached; instead we have simply a poised presentation of the contradictions which leaves the comic tensions resolved in the purely comic relief of laughter.…
In Love's Labour's Lost the Christian hopefulness of The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona becomes secularised and more tentative. The Taming of the Shrew either anticipates (if earlier) or develops this tendency further. Superficially, in its concentration on boisterous action in the main plot, in its strong element of farce, and in its subsidiary use of romantic themes, it bears a likeness to The Comedy of Errors. This may partly be accounted for by their both being, in all probability, plays intended for a popular audience. In both plays, too, Shakespeare uses a framing device to introduce his plot (though in The Shrew it is incomplete). There are also thematic connections: the debate on feminine obedience between Luciana and Adriana in Errors (II. i) anticipates the similar debate in The Shrew. Thematically, however, The Taming of the Shrew also reflects the same concerns as Love's Labour's Lost, and its treatment of them shows, by very different means, a comparable sophistication. The Shrew has sometimes been called a crude play, because of its boisterousness, but this is far from the case. As in Love's Labour's Lost, not only is love's war presented as an aspect of love's harmony, but love's harmony is also presented as an aspect of love's war. In The Shrew the harmony is, however, even more tentative, Shakespeare balancing the alternatives with a niceness that makes this the most schematic of all his comedies. Like Love's Labour's Lost, The Shrew has a strong element of the medieval debate, in which alternative viewpoints are allowed to remain in juxtaposition.
The Shrew is also even more determinedly secular, if less self-consciously so, than Love's Labour's Lost. Katherina's final appeal for feminine obedience is noticeably less explicitly Christian than its counterpart in the old play of The Taming of a Shrew from which Shakespeare's play probably derives. Kate's long final speech in A Shrew very explicitly relates the need for wifely obedience to biblical doctrine (xviii. 16-41):
Now list to me and marke what I shall say,
Th'eternall power that with his only breath,
Shall cause this end and this beginning frame,
Not in time, nor before time, but with time,
For all the course of yeares, of ages, moneths,
Of seasons temperate, of dayes and houres,
Are tund and stopt, by measure of his hand,
The first world was, a forme, without a forme,
A heape confusd a mixture al deformd),
A gulfe of gulfes, a body bodiles,
Where all the elements were orderles,
Before the great commander of the world,
The King of Kings the glorious God of
Who in six daies did frame his heavenly
And made all things to stand in perfit course.
Then to his image he did make a man,
Olde Adam and from his side asleepe,
A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make,
The woe of man so termd by Adam then,
Woman for that, by her came sinne to us,
And for her sin was Adam doomd to die,
As Sara to her husband, so should we,
Obey them, love them, keep and nourish them,
If they by any meanes doo want our helpes,
Laying our handes under their feet to tread,
If that by that we, might procure there
So keen is the author of A Shrew to obtain theological warrant for his concluding lesson that he quite overlooks the absurdity of making Kate the mouthpiece of his doctrine. (It is unlikely that the rather incoherent presentation of the doctrine is intended to reflect on Kate's theological inadequacies.) If, as [G.] Bullough suggests [in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 1957], A Shrew is Shakespeare's own early attempt to handle the story, then this overt theologising would be an extreme case of the tendency we find in both The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen. In any case, if we can assume that Shakespeare was basing The Shrew on the old play, it is particularly interesting to see what pains he has taken to demythologise Kate's speech in The Shrew. In place of the derivation of woman's subordination from a cosmic view of God's creation and specific references to the Garden of Eden myth and Abraham and Sarah, Shakespeare bases Kate's appeal to Bianca and the Widow to show obedience to their husbands on social obligation and the need of women for masculine protection. This contrasts not only with the parallel passage in A Shrew, but also with Shakespeare's own religious treatment of the theme in The Comedy of Errors (11. 289-99). In Elizabethan terms the treatment in The Shrew is rather unusual: woman's inferiority was usually argued on theological grounds, as in A Shrew and The Comedy of Errors, less frequently in pragmatic terms or on the mutual obligations of the sexes. They should respect their husbands, argues Kate, as people who work hard and dangerously for their wives' benefit (11. 2705-9):
One that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance. Commits his body
To painfull labour, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in stormes, the day in
Whil'st thou ly'st warme at home, secure and
Such sentiments seem to most of us so eminently more sensible than an appeal to Genesis that we overlook how unusually secular it is by Elizabethan standards, even without the assumption that here Shakespeare is deliberately altering an earlier speech that presents the orthodox theological arguments. Instead of seeking authority for wifely obedience in God's intentions, Kate goes on to draw the purely secular analogy of the husband as a sovereign and the wife as a subject: 'Such dutie as the subject owes the Prince, / Even such a woman oweth to her husband' (11. 2713-4). This of course is a perfectly orthodox analogy, but again the supression of the further analogy between obedience to the Prince and obedience to God is remarkable. It seems that Shakespeare himself is taking Tranio's advice to Biondello, 'Dallie not with the gods, but get thee gone' (1. 2251). That Shakespeare is deliberately rewriting the speech of A Shrew to give it a completely different and secular emphasis seems to be confirmed by what seems a direct borrowing from the old play at the end of Kate's speech, where she says 'And place your hands below your husbands foote' (1. 2736)—a line that almost certainly derives from the old play's 'laying our hands under theire feet to tread', with its characteristic (if in this instance, distant) Marlovian echo. Perhaps Shakespeare kept a reference to this unusual and surprising sentiment in order to allow the punning play on 'for it is no boot' in the previous line, which would provide an element of comic undercutting of Kate's speech that fits well into the interpretation of the play I shall be urging.
Why should Shakespeare have been at such pains to secularise his principal source? I believe the answer to this lies in the new attitude to comedy we see him evolving also in Love's Labour's Lost, an attitude that asserts the contradictoriness of things in this life, rather than the ultimate reconciliation of contradiction in divine benevolence that is asserted in The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen. The Taming of the Shrew consistently avoids significant Christian reference as much as The Comedy of Errors drags its Christianity into its pagan source material. Like Love's Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew is built up of a number of irreconcilable contrasts, some of which it shares with the former play. Like Love's Labour's Lost, the central opposition concerns itself with the conflicting interests and mutual hostility of men and women; the sexes are here too seen as distinctly opposite. There is a suggestion also of the contrast between rational academic tranquillity and passionate love-making in Lucentio's finding love where he is looking to study ' Vertue and that part of Philosophie / … that treats of happinesse' (11. 317-18), the theme with which Love's Labour's Lost opens. The Taming of the Shrew, however, concentrates more single-mindedly on the sex war, developing it over a wider range to depict it at a literal as well as a metaphorical level. The play is frequently interpreted as advocating male supremacy as a solution to the battle of the sexes; the title at least rather encourages that suggestion. Yet a closer look shows Shakespeare again at his comic task of developing contrast as paradox. Sexual conflict at the literal and metaphorical levels turns out to involve contrast as well as similarity. Petruchio defeats Kate, the shrew, by asserting his physical and psychological strength over her. She challenges him on the masculine ground of muscular force, wilful determination and overt violence, and loses. Shakespeare has indeed deliberately played up the violence of Kate's nature. At the beginning of the second act Kate hauls in her sister bound with a rope, strikes her and, when separated from her by their father, 'Flies after Bianca ', as the Folio stage direction indicates (1. 887). Shortly afterwards, Hortensio, who, disguised as a musician, has been trying to teach Kate to play the lute, enters 'with his head broke ' because Kate has smashed the instrument over him. There are some hints for such violence in the old play, but it is considerably more subdued. In scene vi, for example, we find Valeria actually giving Kate her music lesson. She is playing the lute when Valeria stops her for a false note; at this she loses her temper, threatens to break the lute over his head, but instead throws it on the grounds and stalks out. The emphasis on physical violence provides Shakespeare with an opportunity to develop his paradoxical contrast between the violence of the loser in love's war and the victory of the quiet, demure Bianca over her husband. It also serves to contrast with Petruchio's method of taming her 'with kindness': 'This is a way to kil a Wife with kindnesse, / And thus Ile curb her mad and headstrong humor' (11. 1842-3).
Admittedly there is something paradoxical too about Petruchio's 'kindness': it is a kindness that is so concerned that she has fine enough food that she is allowed none and so concerned that she'll have fine linen on her bed that she is allowed to get no sleep: 'I, and amid this hurlie I intend, / That all is done in reverend care of her …' (11. 1837-8). The paradox of hurting her with kindness, so that kindness is ultimately done by hurting, is itself an extension of the sexual role of the male, whose love-making is aggression and whose aggression is an act of love. Shakespeare, like other contemporary playwrights, frequently thinks of male sexuality in terms of weaponry and martial conflict, as [Eric] Partridge has amply illustrated [in Shakespeare's Bawdy, 1947]. This association of male sexuality and aggression is peculiarly strong in The Taming of the Shrew. Our introduction to Petruchio in Act I includes an admiring account by Grumio of his master's sexual aggression (11. 675-81):
Shee may perhaps call him halfe a score Knaves or so: Why that's nothing; and he begin once, hee'l raile in his rope trickes. Ile tell you what sir, and she stand him but a little, he will throw a figure in her face, and so disfigure hir with it, that she shal have no more eies to see withall then a cat.…
Petruchio's own encounters in wit combat with Kate also tend to emphasise, in the double entendre, the aggressive male role and the corresponding role of the female as victim (11. 1072-4):
Petruchio. Come, sit on me.
Katherina. Asses are made to beare, and so
Petruchio. Women are made to beare, and so
In this exchange the central issue of which of the sexes shall have the sovereignty is being aired and there is no doubt that Petruchio's pun makes his asertion more fundamental and convincing than Kate's. Kate's only reply is to turn from the general to the particular and accuse Petruchio of sexual inadequacy. The witty exchange of obscenities here has the paradoxical purpose we see in similar exchanges in Love's Labour's Lost: to show the contradictory elements of attraction and repulsion in the love game. Kate's willingness to even enter into hostilities with Petruchio is a willingness to accept the love dialogue and suggests a disposition towards ultimately reciprocity (submission, Petruchio would say, but Shakespeare is more chary). Shakespeare refines immeasurably on his source, where on the first occasion we see her Kate explicitly admits that she is going to consent to marry Ferando (the old play's Petruchio) (vi. 40 - 3). Shakespeare's method is to allow her subconscious attitudes to appear before she realises what it is she wants, and he does this through the exchanges of bawdy. Shakespeare is doing here what he does with greater refinement in the Beatrice - Benedick exchanges of Much Ado. As so often, the bawdy is a key element in understanding the plays and the prudery of generations of critical Grundys has prevented adequate readings.
One of the difficulties, of course, is that the bawdy is extremely difficult to follow for a modern reader, partly because it needed to be hidden to some extent from the Elizabethan censorship and therefore involves much obscure punning (and sometimes distortions of a pronunciation which is in itself not easy to recapture) and partly because modern editors have usually done their best to keep such passages obscure. Kate's exchange with Petruchio at this point in the play is no exception but enough of it is clear to catch its general trend and significance. Kate's succeeding quips are primarily a challenge to Petruchio to prove his sexual worthiness following her accusation that he is a worn-out stallion. His response is to show that sexually he has the more powerful weapon and can therefore afford to be generous. He will not take advantage although she is young and light: he calls her a turtle-dove in reply to her taunting him as a buzzard, a hawk considered inadequate for hunting. Hawking imagery is of great importance throughout the play and reveals very clearly the ambiguity surrounding the struggle for sexual supremacy. Christopher Sly—whose role in the play we must consider shortly—is invited, as part of the dream world in which he becomes a leisured gentleman, to go hawking with hawks that 'will soare above the morning Larke' (11. 195-6) and Petruchio at the end of the play shows his mastery by waging twenty times as much on his wife's obedience as he would on his hawk (1. 2616). Both Sly, in fantasy, and Petruchio, as part of Sly's fantasy, are acting the role here of dominant male. That Kate in fact is treated by Petruchio merely as a valuable hawk is made explicit twice. He specifically compares Kate's taming to the training of a hawk (11. 1824 - 30):
My Faulcon now is sharpe, and passing
And til she stoope, she must not be full
For then she never lookes upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my Haggard,
To make her come, and know her Keepers
That is, to watch her, as we watch these
That baite, and beate, and will not be
The implications of comparing a woman to a hawk are ambiguous: that she is naturally wild and predatory but that she can be mastered by handling. Women are presented in the play as birds of prey, the predators, but also as the prey. Kate's reply to Petruchio's description of himself as a buzzard catching a turtle-dove is to assert that she is as much a turtle-dove as a dove is likely to catch a buzzard. The implication here is that Kate is claiming to be the hawk. This is not only the comparison Petruchio makes himself later, as we saw, but it is also repeated by Hortensio's description of Bianca as a 'proud disdainful Haggard' (1. 1887), Hortensio has not been able to tame his hawk, and, indeed, it turns out that Bianca is the harder bird to tame. She sees herself, however, as a hunted bird, though a bird determined to elude the shooter (11. 2589-90). The hunting comparisons are carried on further in this scene with Lucentio as a greyhound and Petruchio being held at bay by his 'deer'. In these images women are given ambiguous roles as hunter and hunted, but in each case (unlike in Love's Labour's Lost) with the men as either human or animal predators. That this role may be part of male sexual fantasy is, however, one of the basic jokes of the play. Certainly Petruchio has no doubts about his own virility and his own related supremacy, either in this scene or elsewhere. If the waspish Katherine proposes to sting him (1. 1085) Petruchio is soon proposing to neutralise her by producing a sting more potent; his sting he says, is in his tail. The physical reality is that men sting literally, women only metaphorically. Katherine may be a dragon, but she has now met her St George (1. 1105).
The play explicitly presents the male point of view. The drunken Sly is to be given an erotic entertainment in which the ignominious defeat we see him suffer in the first scene, at the hands of the hostess of the inn, is to be redressed in the fantasy world of the play. Petruchio has no doubt that Kate can be shocked out of her usurpation of the male role of sexual aggressor, and he apparently succeeds, but Petruchio's victory is not the only thing the play has to say on the question of sexual sovereignty. Even the Petruchio plot has its quiet moments of questioning. As Petruchio brings his hungry and exhausted bride in to his house and hurls commands at the servants, the snatch of song he chooses to sing as he waits for supper to be brought is a lament for the bachelor life, 'Where is the life that late I led', a lost song whose subject we know from an 'answer' written to it in Robinson's Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584). Petruchio's victory is not to be all gain; there is a nice touch too when Petruchio in the same scene calls for his Spaniel, whose name it appears is that of that classic victim of woman's treachery, Troilus. These hints would be nothing were they not part of a much wider pattern of references that tend to undermine the overt masculine self-congratulation.
Classical reference is unusually intrusive in the Taming of the Shrew and frequently it throws doubt on the apparent values the play is asserting. Lucentio, burning, pining and perishing with love at the first sight of Bianca, sees himself in the role of Dido to his servant Tranio's Anna (1. 457). This odd inversion of sexual roles does in fact turn out finally to be realised when Bianca shows that she most probably will wear the marital trousers. Lucentio is to be immolated on the hymenal fire. Tranio replies to his master by quoting Terence, by way of Lily's Grammar, to the effect that he had better get out of his captivity with as little harm as he may. Tranio clearly does not see falling in love as any more a subject for male celebration than Berowne, before his final conversion. In the scene in which Lucentio, disguised as the Latin schoolmaster Cambio, is teaching Bianca Latin and making love to her on the side, he chooses for his text, again oddly, that letter of Ovid's Heroides in which Penelope laments that her husband has not yet returned, while she conjectures that he may have deserted her and curses a war that was started by an adulterous lover. It must be admitted that a possible reason for the choice of this Ovidian letter is that it is the first of the Heroides, but it is not impossible that Lucentio, who has seen himself as Dido, is now seeing himself as the imploring Penelope, though to follow through the analogy would hardly be complimentary to Bianca. The oblique reference in this letter to love as a disrupting force, even without the hint of the reversal of sexual roles, would have made it an attractive choice for Shakespeare's purpose. Certainly Tranio earlier (1. 816) can see Bianca as the cause of disruption when he compares her to Leda's daughter, not only evoking Helen's role, but in the reference to her as Leda's daughter reminding us of the violence in which she was engendered. Lucentio has already compared Bianca to that other victim of Jove's lust, Europa, though here he may see himself as the bull (11. 471-2). Certainly Lucentio sees himself as more than a courtly servant of love and certainly Bianca is not the cold mistress. Jupiter appears a third time in the play in the role of unnatural seducer in the pictures offered to Sly in the Induction. Continuing his preference for Ovid, we find Lucentio reading the Ars Amatoria during another 'lesson' with Bianca and being encouraged in the 'art he professes' by Bianca to become master of the art (11. 1855-8). One of the many reversals of the play is that the sexual harmony of Bianca and Lucentio leads to her victory, while Kate's disharmony leads to submission: a 'witty', Petrarchist conclusion.
Kate's classical roles are wished on her by Petruchio and are part of the irony he directs at her lack of femininity. The irony in comparing her to Diana (11. 1137-8) is to continue the charges of libidinousness as he wishes that she and Diana will change roles. Later Petruchio, again in irony, calls her a Lucrece for chastity. In both cases this is a double irony: he is wishing on her an alluringness she does not have, but the Lucrece comparison suggests the tragic results of love and reflects the kind of ambivalance to love we have seen in the other classical references.
These images and allusions often tend to undermine both the confident assertion of masculine superiority and the apparent ease of Petruchio's victory in the dominant taming theme. Structurally the play undermines the theme less ambiguously, though the effect of this is not to overcome the ambiguity of the play's stance. One of the structural devices is the familiar one in Elizabethan drama of adding a sub-plot that qualifies and throws light on the theme of the main plot. Shakespeare has used a translation of Ariosto's / Supposai for this purpose. The Taming of a Shrew has a single plot concerning three daughters, two of whom, Emelye and Phylena, cannot be married until a husband is found for the third, Kate. By using new material Shakespeare turns the Bianca plot into something much more distinct from the main action, thereby allowing a more distinct contrast to develop; at the same time, by increasing the romantic element, he has increased the contrast between the two sisters and their attitude to love and the opposite sex. In the old play of A Shrew, however, there is a wager scene between the newly married husbands and this Shakespeare has retained, even bringing in at the last minute a third lady—the widow—to reflect more closely the pattern of the earlier play. The result has been to make the reversal at the end, in which Bianca becomes an incipient shrew while Kate becomes the obedient wife, much more dramatic, if psychologically less realistic. Shakespeare, however, as in Love's Labour's Lost, is concerned more with themes than with characters and the reversal enables him to present his comic patterns more clearly. For Bianca's new militancy is to throw doubt on the general applicability of Petruchio's method of taming women. Kate becomes a special case which needed special treatment, while the women playing their own more subtle game—Bianca and the widow—show that female submission is not to be so easily won. Indeed, Shakespeare makes this point clearer by having Hortensio go to school of Petruchio to learn how to tame a wife, only to find that he can no more handle his new wife (the widow) than can Lucentio his. We are left at the end, then, with a series of unresolved alternatives: you can take Petruchio's experience as the definitive or you can take Lucentio's and Hortensio's.
The ambiguity is even more strongly asserted by another structural device taken over from the old Shrew play, the use of introductory scenes on a different plane of reality. In the old play these introductory scenes are followed by a concluding scene in which Sly reappears and wakes from the dream of the play. Shakespeare, to the surprise of most commentators, drops this final scene altogether. The Taming of the Shrew is introduced to us as a kind of waking dream, a world of wish-fulfilment in which Sly is to be indulged in sexual and social fantasies. The changes Shakespeare makes from the old play are highly instructive. In A Shrew Sly, in a state of intoxication that would hardly allow him to remember who the agent was, is beaten out of the inn doors by a male tapster. Shakespeare modifies this by changing the sex of the chucker-out and by making Sly less incapacitated by drink and more quarrelsome. We are immediately therefore introduced, at a very basic level, to the theme of man against woman, and it is in this light that the fantasies in which Sly is encouraged to indulge when he wakes from his drunken stupor are to be interpreted. The play of The Taming of the Shrew is to be part of Sly's vicarious revenge on the termagant hostess who has humiliated him in the opening scene. As in the old play, Sly is taken up by a gentleman out hunting and a trick is played on him. The gentleman tells his servants to persuade Sly he is a lord and to indulge Sly's whims. It is noticeable that while Shakespeare retains much of this from the old play he gives much greater emphasis to the idea of sexual indulgence and sexual fantasy. Sly is to be placed in a chamber hung round with 'wanton pictures', he is led to a 'lustful' bed, offered pictures of erotic subjects. These subjects, incidentally, Venus and Adonis, the rape of Io, anticipate the later references to classical erotic aberrations. When the page appears dressed up as Sly's lady, the effects of this stimulation become apparent as he entices 'her' to undress and, with a bawdy pun that sets the tone for the play he is to witness, says that he cannot wait the 'night or two' that the physicians have recommended: 'I, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long: But I would be loth to fall into my dreames againe: I will therefore tarie in despite of the flesh and the blood' (11. 279-81). Needless to say, this is not from Shakespeare's source material. It is important in that it presents the male dilemma which the play's ambiguities are to reveal at greater length: for Sly is in a complex dilemma. He cannot free his memory from the 'dream' of the militant hostess: women are a threat, they are dangerous, they are the enemy. Nor yet, obviously, can he manage without them; hence, whether he likes it or not, he has got to modify his behaviour to meet feminine requirements. Women are after all the 'ring' masters, to indulge in a Shakespearian pun. The play of Kate and Petruchio, therefore is something of a compensation for Sly for what he cannot achieve in real life. The artist of The Taming of the Shrew erects a fantasy world to satisfy cravings that reality will not indulge. As in Love's Labour's Lost, the comedy is seen as indulgence.
And yet again this is not Shakespeare's final word, for his ambiguities are also a statement about what life is really like. The failure to round off the play by bringing Sly back to wake from his 'dream' of sovereignty is a brilliant stroke that leaves the play's statement open-ended. Is the Petruchio story the dream or the reality? Has Sly woken to the real world in which termagant hostesses are merely bad dreams, or has he yet to awake? Shakespeare deliberately leaves us with the comic juxtaposition of alternatives—comic because it allows us to see the same events simultaneously from opposed, but equally plausible, points of view. As we weigh Petruchio's successful taming of the shrew with Lucentio's and Hortensio's different experiences with their women, we are left thematically with the unresolved question of whether male sovereignty is the unusual or a true reflection of the normal. We are left structurally with the uncertainty of whether we are still in Sly's dream world or whether Sly's induction was a device for mediating between the stage world and the reality that the world of Padua represents, and, finally, to accommodate these uncertainties, Shakespeare presents the concluding action in an ambivalent tone that balances celebration and rejection. Act IV ends in strong contention with the appearance of Lucentio's father Vincentio to seek his aberrant son only to find himself confronted with his double, the travelling pedant, who has agreed to impersonate Vincentio to deceive Baptista into allowing his daughter Bianca to marry Lucentio. As at the same time Tranio, Lucentio's servant, is impersonating his master, there is a farcical confusion in which disguise is used in the manner of denigratory comedy to conceal the worse as the better, counterpoised by Lucentio's disguise as worse than he is. The scene moves towards disaster as Vincentio is threatened with arrest for impersonating himself only to be saved by the appearance of Bianca and the real Lucentio to confess that they are married and ask for Vincentio's forgiveness and blessing. The scene ends equivocally with Baptista enraged that his daughter has married without his consent and with Vincentio trying to reassure him on the one hand (1. 2515) but threatening to have revenge for the indignity he has suffered on the other, and refusing to make explicit his forgiveness of his son's behaviour. All this however appears, at the beginning of Act V (I use the Folio act division) to have been the preparation for the final surge of rejoicing in the reconciliation of parents to children, masters to servants. Act V opens in the classic indication of rejoicing, the celebratory banquet, with Lucentio announcing that harmony has been achieved, misunderstanding overcome (11. 2538-40):
At last, though long, our jarring notes agree,
And time it is, when waging war is [done]
To smile at scapes and perils overblowne.
This sounds like the accredited celebratory ending, as Lucentio invites everyone to 'feast with the best and welcome to my house'. But the atmosphere of jovial celebration is quickly shattered when, in reply to Petruchio's polite 'Padua affords nothing but what is kind', Hortensio replies with the disillusioned comment 'For both our sakes I would that word were true.' Hortensio, of course, has discovered that his widow is tougher chewing than Petruchio's Kate and Petruchio's self-satisfied politeness is not going to be allowed to stand as general comment. The conversation rapidly degenerates from its joviality into a wit combat in which Petruchio finds himself ironically back at his starting point of having to assert male physical supremacy through sexual punning ('Conceives by one! how likes Hortensio that!'), while the widow with not fully conscious irony tells Kate that Petruchio is sympathetic to Hortensio only because he is married to a shrew: 'Your husband being troubled with a shrew, / Measures my husbands sorrow by his woe …' (11. 2568-9). The celebratory feast is beginning to turn sour, and the male-female conflict becomes further emphasised when Bianca enters the dispute to assert in sexual innuendo that men have their vulnerability (1. 2583) and that she is not going to be overawed by the sex (1. 2585). The dispute is turned by the men into a sex wager in which they lay bets on which of their wives is the most obedient. The wager itself, though it comes form the source material, is a nice expression of the play's ambivalence. In so far as the men are making the women go through their paces it confirms the recurring metaphors of men as 'tamers', as the dominant and superior beings (even if the possibility of the whole affair as fantasy is still present), but in that the women's performance will demonstrate the men's failure in two instances out of the three even the fantasy-reality is hardly reassuring. Kate's final appearance as the one obedient wife is comically unreal even though she presents the stock secular arguments of the day for male supremacy (11. 2713-8):
Such dutie as the subiect owes the Prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband:
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foule contending Rebell,
And gracelesse Traitor to her loving Lord?
Reassuring enough, if you can believe it; but, as Petruchio has been demonstrating his 'honest will' by making her take off her cap and 'throw it underfoot' (1. 2678), our sympathies are more likely to be with Bianca's comment 'Fie what a foolish dutie call you this?' (1. 2681). So far Bianca and the widow are winning on points, and the play is apparently heading for the rout of male chauvinism in satirical unbelief, but few people seem to think that this is how the play should end. Producers (a fair guide to average audience expectation) nearly always choose to take Kate's submissiveness seriously at the end and play down the disruptive undercurrents provided by Bianca and the widow. This may of course be because producers are usually men, for Kate's speech could (if required) be readily paro-died on stage, leaving the satiric note predominant. Yet an equivocal ending is clearly the right one. Kate is given the last word among the women and it is a substantial last word. The last few lines, moreover, reintroduce the rejoicing note with which the scene opened as Vincentio looks forward to becoming a grandfather and Petruchio seals his triumph over Kate not with a further show of strength, but with a kiss and the anticipation of their becoming one flesh in bed. The last few lines of the play are in fact a masterly balancing act between rejoicing and scorn, hope and doubt (11. 2738-50):
Petruchio. Why there's a wench: Come on,
and kisse mee Kate.
Lucentio. Well go thy waies old Lad for thou
Vicentio. Tis a good hearing, when children
Lucentio. But a harsh hearing, when women
Petruchio. Come Kate, wee'le to bed,
We three are married, but you two are sped.
'Twas I wonne the wager, though you hit
And being a winner, God give you good
Hortensio. Now goe thy wayes, thou hast
tam'd a curst Shrew.
Lucentio. Tis a wonder, by your leave, she
will be tam'd so.
Shakespeare's play ends on a note that exactly balances the viewpoints that have been juxtaposed throughout the play; there is no resolution of the comic tensions except in the laughter of acceptance. Tendencies towards satire and rejection are checked and countered by tendencies towards rejoicing, the play finding an equilibrium in its refusal to resolve the contradictions. Moreover, the determined secularism of the play we noted earlier confines the sense of contradiction to the world as it is reflected in the play. This is pure comedy used relatively, as if such dilemmas are a feature of earthly, but not necessarily cosmic, experience. It took the much deeper scepticism of our own day to evolve a balanced comedy that is itself a metaphor for a cosmic absurdity. For Shakespeare and his contemporaries such an extension, if thinkable, could only be thought of as tragic. It is thus in Lear that Shakespeare gets nearest to the vision of cosmic absurdity.
Richard A. Burt (essay date 1984)
SOURCE: "Charisma, Coercion, and Comic Form in The Taming of the Shrew," in Criticism, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, Fall, 1984, pp. 295-311.
[In the following essay, Burt focuses on The Taming of the Shrew to support his contention that Shakespeare 's comedies reinforce social norms, "not by putting an end to social conflicts, but by managing and controlling them. "]
Modern critics tend to view Shakespearean comedy either as a celebration of social harmony or as an ironic, quiet subversion of that harmony. Critical disagreement typically focuses on the resolutions of the comedies: critics who see a restored and renewed community point to the marriages, banquets, and festivity of the endings, while critics who view the resolutions as ironic commentary argue that the presence of the Shylock, Don John, Malvolio, or Jacques is often disruptive of social harmony; irony is measured by what certain critics take to be a gap between the social harmony presumed by the characters and Shakespeare's sense that this harmony is achieved provisionally and at great cost. Despite this disagreement, all of these critics share a central assumption about the social function of the comedies: the purpose of the comedies is to resolve social conflicts conclusively, though for ironic critics they may fail to do so. I want to suggest that the comedies have a different social function. Community is formed and affirmed not by putting an end to social conflicts, but by managing and controlling them so that social norms are continually reinforced. This function is disclosed by the form of Shakespeare's endings.
Although critics tend to believe that the comedies have formal unity, they have been troubled by Shakespeare's dramatic closure because it violates formal unity in the most spectacular manner: closure is generally extremely artificial and arbitrary, often straining the bounds of credibility. Northrop Frye argues, for example [in A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance, 1965], that "the drive towards a comic conclusion is so powerful that it breaks all the chains of probability in the plot, in habit and in the characters, even of expectation in the audience." Similarly, Louis Adrian Montrose argues [in Helios 7, 1980] that to view "the happy endings of Shakespeare's romantic comedies as symbolic assimilations of potential disorder by a normative system" is inadequate because "Shakespeare's romantic comedies conclude on the threshold of marriage and parenthood. They end without the consummations and procreation which guarantee the continuity of the socio-economic order; and without the comic society's assimilation of the incongruous perspectives opened up during the younger generation's marginal experiences in forest, darkness, dream, spell, disguise, and courtship game." The comedies do not fully incorporate "the challenges to the social order and orthodoxy" they present. René Girard [in Literature and Society, ed. Edward Said, 1979] argues explicitly that the endings are arbitrary. I will argue, however, that dramatic closure is in fact motivated by the social purpose of the comedies: the lack of formal unity and coherence critics have correctly perceived registers the ideological function of the comedies, namely, to coerce solutions to what are in fact unresolvable conflicts in the family and in the social structure of Renaissance England.
I want to advance my case by focusing on The Taming of the Shrew because critics have taken its formal problems to be entirely separate from the question of whether social unity is attained. The formal problem is twofold: not only does the Christopher Sly frame fail to return but the final scene itself is not required by the demands of the plot: a resolution has apparently already been achieved; both couples have married when it begins. It will be my contention, however, that the question of formal coherence is not in fact separate from the question of social harmony; indeed, the comic form of The Taming of the Shrew is shaped by its social function. Shakespeare's comedy does not resolve conflicts by putting an end to violence and aggression but controls conflicts through less obvious and more enduring forms of domination—discipline and coercion. Dramatic closure that is balanced, conclusive, and coherent does not occur precisely because social conflicts are never fully resolved: social harmony is possible only because Petruchio and Kate are differentiated competitively from the other couples through a wager. The fact that The Taming of the Shrew lacks formal coherence does not mean, however, that it should be dismissed as a crude, early comedy. I will argue, rather, that The Taming of the Shrew is paradigmatic of Shakespearean comedy: the fact that the social harmony achieved in the resolutions, inconclusive though it may be, is all that can be achieved, necessitates the sacrifice of complete dramatic closure.
The relation between the disappearance of the frame and the resolution of social conflicts within the narrative structure will become clear if we see that Petruchio's taming process is deeply in the service of patriarchy. There is currently a consensus among most critics that The Taming of the Shrew is a feminist critique of patriarchal views of women. In this account, Petruchio socializes Kate without depending on coercion or violence; instead Petruchio plays at patriarchy with Kate. If the threat of violence is present at all, it is only part of a temporary strategy Petruchio abandons as soon as Kate is tamed. What Petruchio wants, according to these critics, is not a traditional patriarchal relationship in which the husband rules the wife, but a loving relationship between equal and independent partners. Marianne Novy argues, for example [in English Literary Renaissance 9, 1979], that "… the game element … sets up a protected space where imagination permits the enjoyment of both energy and form, while the dangers of violence, tyranny, deadening submission, and resentment magically disappear." According to John Bean [in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, eds. Carol Neely et al., 1980] Kate is tamed "not by a Petruchio's whip, but when she discovers her own imagination, for when she learns to recognize the sun for the moon and the moon for the dazzling sun she is discovering the liberating power of laughter and play." Yet they have been unable to account for the problem of closure because they separate Petruchio's modern, progressive, playful games from the willfull, arbitrary and tyrannical domination they associate with patriarchy. In separating coercion from role-playing, these critics are committed to the assumption that Petruchio will stop playing once he tames Kate, and this assumption presents them with a problem: why does Petruchio continue to play after Kate is transformed on the road to Padua? Why does the comedy continue after Kate wins Petruchio's wager?
We can begin to answer these questions if we see that Petruchio's role-playing does not oppose patriarchy but relocates and reinforces it within a domestic relationship; the husband increases his authority over his wife by gaining her love. The aim of Petruchio's games, as with the Protestant domestic courtesy literature to which The Taming of the Shrew is so often favorably compared, is less to create a relationship between equals based on reciprocal duties and obligations than it is to maintain patriarchal domination by emphasizing the importance of married love. In The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England: 1500-1800 , Lawrence Stone observes that
the Protestant sanctification of marriage and the demand for married love itself facilitated the subordination of wives. Women were now expected to love and cherish their husbands after marriage and were taught that it was their sacred duty to do so. This love, in those cases where it in fact became internalized and real, made it easier for wives to accept that position of submission to the will of their husbands upon which the preachers were also insisting. By a paradoxical twist, one of the first results of the doctrine of holy matrimony was a strengthening of the authority of the husband over the wife and an increased readiness of the latter to submit herself to the dictates of the former. Sir Kenelm Digby complacently remarked in the late 1630's that one should be careful to choose an obedient wife, 'which none can promise to himself … whose will is not wholly in his power by love'.
Rather than creating a relationship between equals, according to Stone, the demand for married love tended to reinforce a patriarchal, hierarchical relationship.
I want to suggest that this demand for married love is embedded in a discursive practice composed not only of conduct manuals and Protestant sermons but also of plays performed for the middle-class Protestant, London householders who made up a large segment of Shakespeare's audience. The Taming of the Shrew, in particular, displays the capacity of role-playing to reinforce patriarchy by intensifying the emotional bond between husband and wife. Petruchio wins Kate's love because his playfulness gives him an authority of an untraditional, imaginative, and irrational type, a type [Max] Weber termed "charismatic" [in Max Weber: The Interpretation of Social Reality, ed. J. E. T. Eldridge, 1980]. According to Weber, charismatic authority is irrational, emotional, and agonistic. Charisma "may involve a subjective or internal reorientation born out of suffering, conflicts or enthusiasm." Charismatic authority creates or demands new obligations and it must continually be reaffirmed because it is maintained outside the realm of everyday routine, outside of institutions. "The only basis for legitimacy for it," Weber says, "is personal charisma, so long as it is proved; that is, as long as it receives recognition and is able to satisfy the followers of disciples. But this lasts only so long as the belief in its charismatic inspiration remains." Thus, charismatic authority is occasional; it has to be constantly renewed, or, in the idiom of Renaissance, continually rehearsed.
By considering Petruchio's authority as charismatic, we can grasp the essential unity of features in his character which have hitherto seemed disparate or even contradictory. Petruchio's irreverent, untraditional, "mad" behavior at his wedding, his sometimes subversive mockery of Baptista, his saturnalian trip with Kate to his home, his willfulness, his combination of force (or the threat of force) and imaginative play, his interests in contests, are all in the service of a new kind of patriarchal authority grounded not in an abstract and unchanging ideology of the wife's absolute and un-questioning obedience to her husband but on his ability to display that obedience. Petruchio's authority over Kate gains legitimacy as Kate willingly and even lovingly performs in front of an audience whatever Petruchio tells her to do or say. Thus, modern critics have been right to see that the primary aim of Petruchio's is not to curb Kate's "mad and headstrong humor" (IV.i.211) through brute force but to gain her love. What they tend to deny, however, is that love and power are deeply connected. Petruchio's charismatic authority ultimately disguises the fact that his taming process is a coercive, social practice designed to discipline, control, and subordinate Kate. To be sure, at certain moments in the play, Petruchio does not directly dominate Kate: on the road to Padua when she and Petruchio encounter Vincentio, and in her final speech, she improvises willingly. But Petruchio's control over Kate seems to have been eliminated only because they found a common if momentary target of aggression, in the shape of Vincentio. Tensions within the domestic relationship cannot be entirely sublimated because Petruchio always maintains his authority by directing Kate; her performance is always a command performance. Domestic unity and social order are of course provisionally achieved, but only because aggression has been displaced, or, to put it another way, scapegoated; that is, social unity depends on a scapegoat, a victim, who enables Petruchio and Kate to unite by directing collective aggression at him.
Once we see that Petruchio's games are a means of establishing his charismatic authority, we can also understand the formal problem of closure. A resolution to social and domestic conflicts can never be conclusive, and coercion never finally disappears, because Kate's display of her obedience is always occasional; it must be repeated because it is demonstrated by a performance. Without a victim to use as a scapegoat, Petruchio's behavior towards Kate always becomes more overtly coercive behavior. The frame cannot return, I will argue, because it would call attention to the artificiality of the play, thereby disrupting its social function, namely, to disguise the fact that Petruchio can never cease to be coercive.
Petruchio's coerciveness is masked through a scapegoat mechanism. Petruchio and Kate become emotionally closer whenever Petruchio enables Kate to redirect the aggression he directs at her at another victim. The connection between domestic union and scapegoating can be seen most clearly at the moment critics believe is completely free of aggression and coercion—Kate's conversion on the road to Padua. When Kate initially submits to Petruchio she has not been tamed, as critics quite rightly point out, because she does so somewhat grudgingly:
Then, God be blest, it is the blessed sun,
But sun it is not, when you say it is not,
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.
Although Hortensio thinks that Petruchio has finally tamed Kate, exclaiming "Petruchio, go thy ways, the field is won" (IV.v.23), it is only when Kate joins in Petruchio's playful transformations of reality that she is in fact tamed. When Kate jokingly refers to the sun as she asks Vincentio's pardon, we know she has joined in Petruchio's game:
Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled by the sun,
That every thing seemeth green;
Now I perceive thou art a reverent father.
Pardon, I pray thee, for my mistaking.
According to modern critics, Petruchio continues to be coercive, contradicting and berating Kate after she initially submits to him, not because he wants to dominate a submissive wife, as Hortensio seems to think, but because he wants to play with an independent and energetic woman who is an equal.
Yet coercive domination apparently gives way to playful liberation only because Petruchio and Kate are able to focus aggression on an outsider, Vincentio. Modern critics isolate Petruchio and Kate from the full dramatic context in which their union occurs. Kate's transformation, they assume, could occur at any given moment; it is essentially arbitrary. Kate is tamed when it finally dawns on her that Petruchio has been playing with her all along. Yet it is quite clear that her transformation is not, in fact, arbitrary; it depends on the presence of another human being, Vincentio. The sun and moon are not sufficient objects of play to unite Kate and Petruchio; that is, before Vincentio comes on stage, Petruchio and Kate are only superficially reconciled; Kate submits to Petruchio only because she does not want to return to his home. Yet once Vincentio enters, Petruchio and Kate unite. Why? Domestic union depends on channeling aggression away from Kate onto a third person outside the relationship. The union Petruchio and Kate achieve in this scene comes at Vincentio's expense: as a stranger, Vincentio is a common target of their play; he remains baffled and amazed while they pretend he is a budding virgin. Coercion temporarily disappears only because Kate manages to redirect aggression away from herself and at Vincentio.
Petruchio is more directly coercive at later moments in the play when a common target is unavailable. Critics are often disturbed when Petruchio threatens to return home after Kate initially refuses to kiss him:
Kate. Husband, let's follow to see the end of
this ado.Pet. First kiss me Kate, and we will.Kate. What in the midst of the street? …
Pet. Why then let's home again. Come, sirrah,
Kate. Nay, I will give thee a kiss; now pray
thee, love, stay.
Pet. Is not this well? Come, my sweet Kate:
Better once than never, for never too late.
Petruchio's threat may seem superfluous and even cruel. Robert Heilman argues, for example [in his introduction to the Signet edition, 1966], that
when Petruchio asks a kiss, we do have human beings with feelings, not robots; but the key line in the scene, which is sometimes missed, is Petruchio's "Why then let's home again. Come sirrah, let's away" (V.i. 146). Here Petruchio is again making the same threat that he made at IV.v.8-9, that is, not playing an imaginative game but hinting the symbolic whip, even though the end is a compliance she is inwardly glad to give.
Yet Petruchio compels a kiss from Kate because they do not have a common target. Coercion has not been necessary up to this point because Petruchio and Kate have detached themselves from the "ado" (V.i. 142) Lucentio's secret and unauthorized marriage to Bianca has created. Even though Petruchio and Kate do not actively mock Vincentio or the other characters, they can stand aside and watch the action as spectators together. When they are alone, however, Petruchio once again resorts to coercion, and threatens, as Heilman puts it, the symbolic whip.
The ideological relation between comic form and the coerciveness of Petruchio's role-playing now becomes apparent. The Shrew does not end on the road to Padua or when Lucentio and Bianca reveal that they have secretly married because a socially acceptable target of aggression has to be found to replace Vincentio: if social and domestic unity depends on a victim, a comic butt, not any victim will do. The aggression Petruchio and Kate direct at Vincentio is quietly subversive because he is a father; even though Petruchio and Kate hardly do more than play a practical joke on him, they nevertheless take their joking seriously: Kate twice asks to be pardoned by the "reverent father" (IV.v.49) she newly perceives and Petruchio seconds her request (IV.v.49-50). The felt need for pardon is a powerful index not only of the aggressiveness of their play but also of its subversiveness.
It is this subversiveness that the resolution of The Taming of the Shrew attempts to manage and control. Domestic union consistently comes at the expense of obedience to parents and to fathers in particular. Although the play begins with the assumption that the father has complete authority over his daughters—Baptista being able to prevent the marriage of his younger daughter until the elder is married—the play continually challenges that authority. Lucentio and Bianca marry without Baptista's consent, and Vincentio is nearly jailed because Tranio refuses to admit that he is acting the part of Lucentio. Moreover, Petruchio's excessive and aggressively unconventional behavior is directly linked to his father's death. In response to Hortensio's inquiry, Petruchio explains that he has been blown to Padua by
Such wind as scatters young men through the
To seek their fortunes farther than at home,
Where small experience grows. But in a few,
Signor Hortensio, thus it stands with me:
Antonio, my father, is deceas'd,
And I have thrust myself into this maze,
Happily to wive and thrive it as best I may.
Petruchio's sexual and imaginative impulses, linked by the word "thrust," his desire to "wive and thrive," are released only after his father has died. Petruchio's games and Lucentio's disguise affirm and reinforce the authority of the husband over the wife at the expense of the father's authority over his daughter.
The resolution of The Taming of the Shrew contains this subversiveness and reinforces domestic union by finding a socially acceptable target of aggression—women. Petruchio's wager, that is, licenses verbal and physical aggression against Bianca and the widow. Petruchio tells Kate that she may use force to make them come to their husbands if they are reluctant to do so:
Go fetch them hither. If they deny to come,
Swinge me them soundly forth unto their
Away, I say, and bring them hither straight.
More important, the wager licenses verbal aggression: Kate is able to chastise the women precisely because they have been disobedient, thereby taking an active role in Petruchio's games. Communal solidarity and domestic unity are not simply renewed and affirmed, then, but come at the expense of Bianca and the widow; women replace fathers as socially acceptable targets of collective aggression. The resolution cannot be achieved without victims. After Kate's final speech in defense of patriarchy, Bianca and the widow are silent. Men alone celebrate Kate's reformation.
The comic form of the Shrew is essentially ideological. Closure occurs when coercion has apparently been eliminated from Petruchio's role-playing by redirecting it unto other women. An obvious moment of closure would seem to occur when Kate wins Petruchio's wager for him by coming when he calls her. The fact that Petruchio continues to make demands on Kate disturbs critics because Lucentio and Hortensio have conceded that Petruchio has won, and Baptista has added twenty thousand crowns to Kate's dowry because he is so pleased. Yet Petruchio is not content:
Nay, I will win my wager better yet,
And show more sign of her obedience,
Her new-built virtue and obedience.
Why this need for such a public display of Kate's obedience? Why doesn't closure occur once Kate appears? Why doesn't it occur when Kate willingly throws under foot a highly significant material object, especially within Renaissance culture, her cap? Kate's willingness to do whatever Petruchio tells her to do would seem to demonstrate his mastery conclusively. The play does not end here because Petruchio still seems coercive. Until Kate is allowed to improvise her own speech in defense of patriarchy, Petruchio seems to be compelling her to prove her obedience. Every command he gives is aggressive, arbitrary, and willful, and the effect is to undermine the illusion that the play attempts to maintain, namely, that domestic union is independent of coercion. Petruchio does not invite Kate to come or to stomp on her cap, or suggest that she tell Bianca and the women their duty to their husbands: he commands her and she obeys.
The resolution effects a displacement of this aggression so that domestic union can be affirmed and intensified without apparent coercion. When Kate takes the initiative and chastises away from herself and onto others just as she did on the road to Padua. Yet Petruchio is nevertheless still Kate's master: he charges her to "tell these headstrong women / What duty they owe their lords and husbands"(V.ii.130-31) and he decides for her that she address the widow first. Kate's ability to improvise and extend her speech is only an illusion of freedom; Petruchio always controls and initiates the games. Petruchio's wager succeeds, then, in reinforcing his right supremacy and in reinforcing patriarchy generally; for in the final moments of the play, the victims of Kate's play are not fathers, but women.
Because domestic harmony is achieved by displacing aggression inside the relationship towards others outside it, complete and conclusive social harmony cannot be achieved. The resolution does not put an end to social tensions and conflicts between characters, but keeps certain conflicts open in order to close others down; that is, domestic union between Petruchio and Kate depends on their difference from the other couples, a difference to which Petruchio joyfully calls attention:
Come, Kate, we'll to bed.
We three are married, but you two are sped.
'Twas I won the wager, though you hit the
And being a winner, God give you good
Petruchio's games provide a measure of social harmony and domestic intimacy because they are inconclusive; coercion seems to disappear only when he and Kate have aggressively differentiated themselves from Paduan society. The resolution depends further on a distinction between private and public space; the public wager and feast give way to the privacy of the bedroom.
If Petruchio's relationship with Kate is so deeply patriarchal, why, we may wonder, is it so compelling? Why do so many critics believe, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that the love between Petruchio and Kate is entirely separate from coercion? The relationship seems attractive in part because it seems so natural, as if Kate were just waiting for someone like Petruchio to come along and tame her. Petruchio's coercion is in the service of natural bodily impulses, and he abandons it in the final moments of the play because it is no longer necessary. Instead, Petruchio embraces Kate after she finishes her speech: "Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate" (V.ii. 180). And Petruchio then invites Kate to bed.
The problem with the view that the play is a celebration of a natural relationship between a man and a woman, however, is that it implicitly makes one an apologist for patriarchy: what critics take to be natural turns out to be political. When Hortensio wonders what Kate's transformation bodes, Petruchio's reply links love and happiness to his mastery over Kate:
Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet
An aweful rule, and right supremacy;
And to be short, what not, that's sweet and
Peace, love, quiet, and happiness are inseparable from rule and supremacy. Without the disciplinary strategy Petruchio employs, domestic and social unity could not be achieved.
Love can never conclusively be separated from coercion because romantic love is not natural; it does not spring spontaneously from natural impulses but is rather the product of a disciplinary practice. If the love between Petruchio and Kate appears to be natural, it is because the play engineers that effect in order to legitimate Petruchio's power; that is, coercion is ultimately justified, even if it never entirely disappears, because it only affirms the natural order of things.
Yet The Taming of the Shrew pays a price to disguise Petruchio's coerciveness. Social and domestic harmony are achieved at the expense of formal coherence. Instead of complete and balanced dramatic closure, the Shrew ends without the frame returning. The disappearance of the frame has been interpreted in two contrary ways. In one interpretation, the frame's absence is taken to be a dramatic flaw. As Robert Heilman argues: "Surely most readers feel spontaneously that in the treatment of Sly something is left uncomfortably hanging.… " Other critics have argued less convincingly that the frame's disappearance doesn't matter because the play is unified as it is. In this account, the Shrew's structure reinforces a series of moral distinctions between various kinds of play, implicitly differentiating Petruchio's role-playing from the Lord's and from Lucentio's on moral grounds: Petruchio plays seriously to effect a permanent transformation in Kate, while the Lord plays gratutiously and Lucentio plays only in order to win Bianca.
Both of these interpretations share the same assumption about formal unity: the play should be unified. To see dramatic form as ideological, however, is to see that the disappearance of the frame is symptomatic of the play's social function: were the frame to return, it would jeopardize the social function of the comedy. The moral distinctions between Petruchio's role-playing and the Lord's practical joking implied by the structure are never conclusively established, if only because the structure is equivocal: it invites us to compare the Lord and Petruchio as much as it enables us to differentiate them. The frame disappears partly because this equivocation cannot be sustained in the play's closing moments: the frame would undermine the ideological function of the play; by suggesting that the play is only a dream, only a play-within-a-play, the frame would heighten our sense of the artificiality of Petruchio's behavior at the very moment the play is at pains to naturalize it, to make us feel that Kate is from a dream newly waken. Thus, the frame would alienate the audience from the world of the play instead of engaging them.
Given the social purpose of the Shrew, it makes perfect sense that the play ends without the frame. For the point of naturalizing Petruchio's relationship with Kate is to impose the resolution on the audience, to enchant us and make us feel that Petruchio is an ideal husband and Kate an ideal wife. Kate's final speech is directed not only at Bianca and the widow, but at the women in the audience as well. Shakespeare makes use of the interplay between two kinds of theatrical space, the platea and locus, in order to break down any distinction between the play world on stage and the world of the audience. In his study of Shakespeare's complex interplay between platea and locus [Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz, 1978], Robert Weimann argues that the platea is a neutral space which an actor uses to make a direct appeal to the audience while still remaining within the illusion of the play. Shakespeare makes use of the platea in Kate's speech, giving her defense of patriarchy a generality beyond its immediate dramatic occasion, in order to unite the world of the audience and the world of the play. Kate does not addresss only Bianca and the widow but women in general. She refers, for example, to "our bodies, soft, and weak, and smooth … our soft conditions, and our hearts" (V.ii.165,167). The generality and universality of Kate's speech are sustained by men who respond to Kate's speech in general terms. Vincentio remarks that "Tis a good hearing when children are toward" (V.ii.182), while Lucentio replies in uncomfortable counterpoint "But a harsh hearing when women are toward" (V.ii.183). In the final scene, laughter, pleasure, wonder, and the comic energies of the play all put us on the side of Petruchio and Kate, that is to say, on the side of patriarchal values.
It is tempting to see the Shrew's lack of formal coherence as a means of alienating us from patriarchy, secretly inviting us to criticize it. Instead of reinforcing patriarchy, The Taming of the Shrew would, in this view, ironically undermine the resolution it apparently supports, demystifying the scapegoat mechanism at the heart of the social order. The temptation is strong because it saves the text from an ideology we find disagreeable, to say the least. I have been concerned to show, however, that the formal problems of the play are produced precisely because the text is itself a form of ideological production. Shakespeare does not stage the subversion of patriarchy but stages a subversive threat to patriarchy—the unruly and insubordinate woman—in order to contain it. The lack of formal unity evidences a desire to manage potential sources of subversion rather than a desire to subvert the social order.
To say that Shakespeare's comic form is shaped by the coercive function of his comedies is not to say that they are flawed or unliterary; rather, it is to revise our sense of what is characteristically Shakespearean about them. Modern critics tend to view comedies which seem too obviously artificial and coercive either as failures or as problem plays. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a failure because its ending is arbitrarily forced on a plot over which Shakespeare seems to have lost control. Similarly, All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure are viewed as problem plays because the playwright (or a surrogate playwright such as Duke Vincentio) forces the comic resolution. Only in the so-called "mature" comedies are the resolutions fully harmonious, free of coercion or clumsiness. The Taming of the Shrew is often marked off from the mature comedies as an early farce, a failed romantic comedy, because men initiate and control the games; in the mature comedies, women and men are liberated from conventional constraints through role-playing and word-play.
The force of my reading of the Shrew is not simply to suggest that every Shakespearean comedy is a problem comedy; it is to understand that the resolutions are always problematic because every comedy is the site of conflicting interests and forces. If in the mature comedies, women and men seem more free, it is not because coercion is absent; rather, the cunning of the later comedies lies in the way they disguise their coerciveness by subjecting men and women to the same disciplinary strategies. The point will be clearer if we turn to Much Ado About Nothing, a play rightly considered to be a revision of The Taming of the Shrew. Like the Shrew, Much Ado celebrates the idea that love is natural; as Benedict puts it, "The world must be peopled" (II.iii.242). Yet the resolution of Much Ado is far from harmonious. The reunion between Claudio and Hero seems forced and unrealistic largely because it does not fully redeem Claudio from his earlier, inexcusable public humiliation of Hero. The need for coercion is more explicit in the central relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. The marriage ceremony is interrupted when Beatrice unveils herself because it is unclear if Beatrice and Benedick are actually in love. Their union is saved only by the intervention of Leonato and Claudio:
Bene. Do you not love me?Beat. Why, no; no more than reason.
Bene. Why, then your uncle and the prince
Have been deceiv'd; they swore you did.Beat. Do you not love me?Bene. Troth, no, no more than reason.
Beat. Why then my cousin Margaret and
Are much deceiv'd, for they did swear you
Bene. They swore you were almost sick for
Beat. They swore you were well-nigh dead for
Bene. 'Tis no such matter. Then you do not
love me?Beat. No, truly, but in friendly recompense.
Leon. Come, cousin, I am sure you love the
Clau. And I'll be sworn upon't that he loves
The resolution does not turn on the conclusive revelation of a deeply felt bond but instead radically calls into question the notion that Beatrice and Benedick have been hiding their true feelings for each other from themselves and from their friends and relatives. The sonnets Claudio and Leonato produce as evidence of love between Beatrice and Benedick are inconclusive, since the sonnets were written after the deceptions practiced on them by their friends began. The difference between Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew is not that Much Ado is less coercive, more enlightened in its representation of heterosexual union; rather, the difference is that Much Ado locates coercion in social and communal interests outside the lovers themselves. The mature comedies can apparently be differentiated from the problem comedies only because some comedies mask their coerciveness more effectively than others. Problem comedies such as Measure for Measure reveal more explicitly what is always the case in Shakespearean comedy: comic resolutions are the product of force.
Peter Berek (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: "Text, Gender, and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew," in "Bad" Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, edited by Maurice Charney, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988, pp. 91-104.
[In the following essay, Berek argues against an ironic reading of the play's enactment of female submission, but also suggests that Shakespeare's choice of farce as the genre of the play "reveals his fundamental uneasiness about such roles early in his theatrical career. "]
Whether or not The Taming of the Shrew is Shakespeare's worst play, it surely leads the canon in bad qualities. The Shrew has the badness of earliness—believing in artistic development, we use its faults as a foil for the accomplishments of later plays. It has a bad genre—though Frye and Barber have made comedy respectable, farce is an inferior mode. As its very title flamboyantly demonstrates, The Taming of the Shrew is morally bad: its patriarchal chauvinism is unalloyed with ambiguity, and its final (and most celebrated) speech unpleasantly proclaims some Renaissance commonplaces that make even our own century look good. The play even has a bad quarto.
Needless to say, critics of The Taming of the Shrew have not been content to let bad enough alone. No one seems to fuss much about the date, to be sure. (The New Arden editor says 1589; the Oxford editor, before 1592.) But Peter Saccio has recently argued, with considerable force, for the virtues of farce as a genre, [in Shakespeare Survey 37, 1984]. The Plain Man's Sexist Reading of the play, in which Katherine's shrewishness is offensive to reason and good taste and Petruchio's humiliation of her is an occasion for celebration, has been supplanted by a variety of interpretations that try to exonerate Shakespeare's characters, or Shakespeare himself, from at least the worst excesses of sexual chauvinism. There are two principal methodologies of exoneration. One is to read the play—or at least certain speeches—ironically, in the manner described by Richard Levin in New Readings vs. Old Plays. Thus, Katherine's final speech, ostensibly a submission to Petruchio and an affirmation of the Tightness of masculine dominance, is really a spoof of such arguments and meant to be perceived as such by the audience. Some critics even believe that Petruchio himself is in on the joke. And this involvement of Petruchio in the joke opens up another common strategy of exoneration. Petruchio, Marianne Novy argues [in Love's Argument, 1984], is not browbeating Katherine into submission, but teaching her how to liberate her playful spirit and join him in comic release from the duller side of Paduan society, as exemplified by Katherine's father and sister.
The stakes in these critical revisions are not trivial. No Good critic wants to ally himself or herself with a Bad remark like Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's [in the introduction to the Cambridge edition, 1928] "One cannot help thinking a little wistfully that the Petruchian discipline had something to say for itself." It is culturally awkward to advance an interpretation of a work by an admired writer that suggests that the writer condoned unpleasant beliefs about matters that are touchstones of virtue in one's own society. Because Shakespeare's plays are "canonical," we want to associate them with our most deeply held ideals. (We have few problems with Shakespeare's monarchist ideas only because there is no serious current debate in which those ideas matter, and we have precisely analogous problems with Shakespeare's portrayals of blacks and Jews.) But it is awkward for most persons trained as literary scholars and critics to propose a revisionist reading of The Shrew without arguing—or at least implying—that Shakespeare himself would have given the reading his sanction. Few Shakespeareans are sufficiently deconstructed to regard their own construction of a text as superseding the author's. Paradoxically, though we acknowledge that The Taming of the Shrew is Bad Shakespeare, we resist admitting that the play, or the playwright, is that bad. We want to rescue its characters, its author, and its audience from ignominy, as though we cannot bear to admit that we are continually interested in such a deplorable monument.
As much subject to these feelings about The Shrew as any other writer, by the end of this essay I too will be arguing that Shakespeare was less sexist than his contemporaries, though more sexist than I am, or you are. But I shall reach this Good conclusion by embracing the Bad—in particular, the badness of the bad quarto, The Taming of a Shrew, and the other badness of farce. I will suggest that the differences between The Taming of the Shrew and The Taming of a Shrew show that Shakespeare's ideas about the relationships of men and women were different from those of his imitators, and perhaps were misperceived by his contemporaries in ways that provide some comfort for those who (like Harold Goddard) [in The Meaning of Shakespeare, 1951] want to argue that Shakespeare wrote a play that could be taken one way by the multitude and another way by the more sophisticated. But I will also suggest that Shakespeare's choice of farce as a genre in which to dramatize the clash of gender roles reveals his fundamental uneasiness about such roles early in his theatrical career. Farce is a Good genre for exorcising Bad feelings. Shakespeare may have needed to write farce before he could write comedy.
The play we know as William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew was first printed in the 1623 Folio. But in 1594 a quarto appeared called The Taming of a Shrew. The quarto has essentially the same main plot and a similar subplot, but virtually all its language is different from the play we think of as Shakespeare's. Most of the characters in A Shrew have different names from those of The Shrew—Petruchio, for example, is called Ferando—and the setting is Athens instead of Italy. Katherine has two sisters instead of one. Like The Shrew, A Shrew begins with a prologue featuring the drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, but unlike the Folio text the 1594 quarto keeps Sly onstage throughout and gives him occasional scenes of commentary on the Katherine-Ferando action, as well as an epilogue that completes the framing structure of the play.
The plot similarities between A Shrew and The Shrew are so close as to make it certain there is some relationship between them, but the nature of that relationship has been much debated. Until the 1920s most scholars thought of A Shrew as an earlier version of Shakespeare's play. Some saw it as a play by an earlier playwright that was later adapted and improved by Shakespeare; others thought it was Shakespeare's own early version of The Shrew. Some suggested that both Shakespeare and the author or authors of A Shrew were following a lost common source. But the most recent consensus, endorsed by both the Oxford and New Arden editors, is that A Shrew is some sort of bad quarto of The Shrew. Instead of explaining its frequently Marlovian language by suggesting that Marlowe wrote the play, they point out that theatrical pirates in the early 1590s would likely have had their heads filled with half-recollected bits of Marlowe. Such bits might then appear when they tried to cobble together dramatic verse from memory. There may be some reason to believe that the play A Shrew tried to copy was later revised by Shakespeare—for example, to remove the Sly epilogue. But differences between the two plays reflect either pirates' misrecollections of Shakespeare or their—or his—deliberate revisions.
Why does all this good scholarship matter to students of bad Shakespeare? Because if correct, it gives us the potential for some insight into the author's own changing attitudes toward the subject matter of The Shrew. If A Shrew is a bad imitation of a play by Shakespeare that he later revised into the Folio text, then by looking at the differences between the quarto and Folio texts we may be able to see if Shakespeare went from bad to worse, or perhaps bad to better, as he revised his own play. And indeed, there seem to be some significant differences in implied attitudes toward gender between the two versions of the play. The Shrew suggests more sympathy for Katherine than is found in A Shrew, and thereby complicates audience responses to the nastier and more violent activities of shrew taming. For example, Sander (Grumio) and Kate enter at the start of scene 11 of A Shrew and Kate complains of hunger: "Sander I prethe help me to some meate,/I am so faint that I can scarsely stande" (lines 2-3). The scene then launches into the mean-spirited taunting of hungry Kate familiar from The Shrew, act 4, scene 3, and continues when Ferando (Petruchio) enters with some meat on a dagger. (This last bit of business, absent in the Folio text, looks like an imitation of a moment in Peele's Battle of Alcazar, though Brian Morris [in the New Arden edition, 1981] sees a parallel to / Tamburlaine, act 4, scene 4, line 40.)
In The Shrew, however, the teasing game begins with a speech that arouses in the audience some awareness of Katherine's wounded human dignity, not just her growling stomach:
The more my wrong, the more his spite
What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars that come unto my father's door
Upon entreaty have a present alms;
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity.
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am starved for meat, giddy for lack of
With oaths kept waking and with brawling
And that which spites me more than all these
He does it under name of perfect love,
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,
'Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
A Shrew and The Shrew differ in that the Folio play makes the shrew less a farcical figure of fun and causes the audience to be aware of the human pain of her situation. Even allowing for the brevity of the bad quarto and the consequent sketchiness of all its characterizations, I think it fair to say that the Folio text complicates and enriches our sense of Katherine's nature more than it does Ferando-Petruchio's.
But the two texts differ not just in characterization but in ideology. The differences become clearest and most interesting in Katherine's climactic speeches in act 5. In both plays, she submits to male domination, and in both plays she represents her submission by placing her hands beneath her husband's feet. But the arguments she advances for doing so are very different from one another. Since most of us will remember Kate's speech of submission in The Shrew, with its famous admission that "a woman moved is like a fountain troubled" (5.2.142) and apologies for the fact that "women are so simple" (5.2.161), let me begin with the less familiar passage from A Shrew and quote it in full:
Then you that live thus by your pompered
Now list to me and marke what I shall say,
Theternall power that with his only breath,
Shall cause this end and this beginning frame,
Not in time, nor before time, but with time,
For all the course of yeares, of ages, moneths,
Of seasons temperate, of dayes and houres,
Are tund and stopt, by measure of his hand,
The first world was, a forme, without a forme,
A heape confusd a mixture all deformd,
A gulfe of gulfes, a body bodiles,
Where all the elements were orderles,
Before the great commander of the world,
The King of Kings the glorious God of
Who in six daies did frame his heavenly
And made all things to stand in perfit course.
Then to his image did he make a man,
Olde Adam and from his side asleep,
A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make,
The woe of man so termd by Adam then,
Woman for that, by her came sinne to us,
And for her sin was Adam doomd to die,
As Sara to her husband, so should we,
Obey them, love them, keepe, and nourish
If they by any meanes doo want our helpes,
Laying our handes under theire feete to tread,
If that by that we, might procure there ease,
And for a president Ile first begin,
And lay my hand under my husband's feete,
She laies her hand under her husbands feete
Kate takes the longest possible view of the reasons for female subordination, starting from God's creation of the world. God gave order to the preexisting chaos—"a forme, without a forme"—in the six days of His creation. After creating man in His own image, He takes a rib from Adam, and by that action brings sin and death into the world. The case for subordinating woman is of cosmic generality and literally damning. Woman brought death into man's world and all his woe; the least she can do for her victim is obey, love, nourish, and procure his ease. The speech is extraordinarily impersonal. Its ideas—insofar as it has any—are a muddled redaction of Genesis and have little to do with Kate, even the weakly characterized Kate of A Shrew. (Brian Morris describes the speech as "patched out with allusions to Du Bartas.") With a few adjustments of pronouns it could just as well be spoken by a man as a woman. Clearly, it is a Bad speech in every sense of the word.
Katherine's corresponding speech in The Shrew looks much better, even if not positively Good. It grows out of the dramatic situation—her first remarks comment on the expressions of Bianca and the Widow whom she has just brought on stage:
Fie, fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
When she says, "A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, / Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty" (5.2.142-43), she is both noting their agitation and suggesting vanity as one reason for cultivating a sweeter disposition. The argument she then advances for hierarchy is quite down to earth, whether or not it is persuasive about Petruchio:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign: one that cares for
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land.
The issues are not theological but transactional: in return for a husband's hard work keeping his wife warm and secure, she owes her husband "love, fair looks, and true obedience" (5.2.153). Even when Kate makes larger analogies, they are specifically grounded in civil society: "Such duty as the subject owes the prince, / Even such, a woman oweth to her husband" (5.2.155-56). When Kate appeals to the orderliness of nature she does so by making an analogy between the softness of female bodies and the softness that should prevail in female minds:
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions, and our hearts,
Should well agree with our external parts?
Conventional as the ideas in the speech are—grounded in the marriage service, scripture, and the commonplaces of Elizabethan thought—it is nonetheless plausibly Katherine's, in a way the speech in A Shrew is not.
What can we make of the striking differences between these speeches—differences representative of those between A Shrew and The Shrew? If endorsing a social hierarchy in which men are superior to women is Bad, then both are Bad Shakespeare. But the sexism of The Shrew is less automatic, and thus perhaps less offensive, than that in the bad quarto. Whoever assembled A Shrew articulates an antifeminism that equates woman with sin. She is not merely a potential cause of trouble for man, but the cause of trouble. Though slack and careless, the speech nonetheless clearly casts woman in a role for which she can at best apologize. In The Shrew, however, Katherine endorses patriarchal hierarchy for reasons that are more social than theological. Her acceptance of patriarchy is as thoroughgoing in one play as in the other, but The Shrew offers her more pleasures to accompany or recompense her subordinate status. Woman can have beauty, if her fountain remains untroubled; woman can also partake of the satisfactions of peace and order, like the loyal subjects of a loving lord. It would distort the speech to say that it foretells the pleasures of mutuality in a loving sexual relationship. But it is at least possible to imagine the speaker of these words, or the husband for whom she speaks, as taking some interest in such mutuality.
So far the speeches seem to give us some insight into the different attitudes implied in the two texts toward the relationships between men and women. But do they tell us anything about the beliefs of Shakespeare or his contemporaries? H. J. Oliver, the Oxford editor, argues that the reconstructors of the bad quarto were working from a Shakespeare text different from, and earlier than, the one surviving in the Folio. If he is right, then A Shrew can be taken as a point away from which Shakespeare developed. If the theological anti-feminism of Katherine's last speech was indeed Shakespeare's, he later decided to reject it. Such a rejection does not necessarily prove that Shakespeare once believed what Katherine says to be true and later decided it was not—he was a playwright, not a systematic philosopher, and he might just have decided that the Folio version made better theater. But it is not unreasonable to speculate that the comparison of the two texts shows us Shakespeare changing his mind and making a change (by our standards) from Bad to Better, though not to Good.
But there is another possibility that seems to me equally interesting and a bit more certain. There may not have been an earlier version of The Shrew that is reflected in A Shrew. A Shrew can then tell us nothing about whether Shakespeare changed his mind and revised his own play, but may tell us a good deal about what some of his theatrical contemporaries thought his play was like. Let me explain why. All theories of bad quartos presume a profit motive. Perhaps a company of actors who had lost their script wanted to reconstruct that script so they could perform; perhaps actors with no right to a play decided to reconstruct a script so they could take a London success on provincial tour; perhaps an unscrupulous printer recruited people, actors or others, to try to write down a play they had seen so that he could print a book. In all cases, the activity only makes sense if we assume that those who were assembling a script were trying to reproduce a work that audiences admired, and were trying to preserve as they did so those qualities of the work that the audiences admired most. It would make no economic sense to pirate a failure, nor would it make sense deliberately to alter a success.
Now, it is obviously the case that whoever contrived The Taming of a Shrew altered many things from The Taming of the Shrew. But most of the alterations in the main plot are verbal rather than structural—the kinds of changes one would make if one could not remember the words of a speech, but remembered what had gone on in a scene. Though the redactor comes across as something of a bungler, he does not seem to be a deliberate reviser. And it seems to me improbable that anyone pirating The Shrew would deliberately revise something as fundamental to the play as its attitudes toward gender. Thus, whatever attitudes toward gender we can discover in A Shrew are likely to be those that Elizabethan theatergoers thought they had perceived in The Shrew. If my line of reasoning is correct, it seems to me to follow that playgoers in the early 1590s saw The Shrew (and A Shrew as well, if they distinguished between them) as a play whose ideas were what we would now call sexist. The Taming of a Shrew strongly suggests that what I have called the Plain Man's Sexist Reading of The Shrew echoes the way Shakespeare's play appeared to Elizabethan popular taste. If this is so, then it seems to me that ironic readings of the sexism in the play have to be regarded as ahistorical. Elizabethan audiences do not seem to have perceived Kate as kidding when she thanks her husband for his support.
But the contrast between The Shrew and A Shrew may suggest something else as well. The antifeminism of the bad quarto is more rigid and less humane than that in Shakespeare's text. Shakespeare's attitudes toward women and toward gender roles, however bad they may seem to us, may nonetheless have been better than those of his audience—and correspondingly hard for that audience to perceive clearly. To argue that Shakespeare had suppler attitudes toward gender than his contemporaries—that Bad Shakespeare looks less Bad when compared with his Elizabethan contemporaries—will hardly seem like shocking news. But I take the very conventionality of the position I argue as a point in its favor, as I would argue that the unconventionality of the ironic reading of The Shrew, in relationship to the play's long critical history, has to count against it.
But what of the other badness of The Taming of the Shrew, the bad genre of farce? Barbara Freedman, upon whose work [in Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Maurice Charney, 1980] I propose to build, begins her discussion of Shakespearean farce by citing the OED definition of the genre: "a dramatic work (usually short) which has for its sole object to excite laughter." The conventional assumption is that farce's bustling physical activity is matched by a corresponding lack of meaning. That which excites solely laughter need not excite scholarship or criticism. Thus, Shakespeare critics who write about The Shrew, like those who write about The Comedy of Errors or even The Merry Wives of Windsor, usually either accept a low valuation of the play or devote themselves to demonstrating that the play wants to do more than make us laugh. And if it does, then it must be more than a farce.
Freedman's achievement is to point out that virtually all farces that are long and complex enough to be perceived as full-length plays do many things to audiences besides make them laugh. Such plays are striking for the way they veil their own complexity: the genre of farce does not lack meaning; it denies meaning. The conventions of farce seem to be a way of treating matters that might well be seen as highly important, such as sex, money, and power, but doing so in a way that pretends they are not important. Freedman points out that the plays' insistence on their own lack of significance should not be taken at face value. "Rather, I shall argue that a strategic denial and displacement of meaning is intrinsic to the genre and essential to the humorous acceptance of normally unacceptable aggression which it allows." Eric Bentley, she says, reminds us [in The Life of the Drama, 1967] that in farce "we laugh at violence; the unacceptable becomes acceptable, even enjoyable."
But Freedman goes on to describe the way in which farce is functional: "The characteristic elements of farce interact in a functional manner to enable us to enjoy the unacceptable." The very absurdity of farce—its flat characterizations, its slapstick violence, which are (as Freedman says) evasions of the logic of cause and effect—function to let us take pleasure in aggressive feelings we would otherwise have to suppress.
Were we not able to disown intent for aggression through error or dissolve remorse for its consequences through denial, the characteristic humor that ensures farce's popularity could never be achieved. On the other hand, were some initial, meaningful aggression not present to be disowned or denied, farce would lack both pleasure and humor. Like dreams, farce couples a functional denial of significance with often disturbing and highly significant content.… A taboo is always broken and not broken.
Freedman's psychoanalytic theory of farce purports to remove the badness of the genre by making it meaningful. But the sorts of meaning she proposes inhere not so much in what characters and plot do as in what they avoid. Freedman shifts discussion of farce toward a discussion of the nature of the pleasure it gives audiences, and the genre becomes good because the audience enacts a complex psychological maneuver that the play itself evades.
I want to shift away from Freedman's emphasis on the audience pleasure in farce to some discussion of the satisfactions farce makes available to the maker of the joke—in this case, to Bad Shakespeare. In Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud explains that jokes give pleasure to both the joker and his listener because they create "an economy in expenditure upon inhibition or suppression." Freud distinguishes among play, jests, and jokes. Play, predominantly an activity of children, is "brought to an end by the strengthening of a factor that deserves to be described as the critical faculty or reasonableness." Developing powers of criticism lead to the expectation that language and behavior will be meaningful. Such an expectation cuts off the growing child from the pleasures that play offered, but these pleasures can return in the form of jests. In jests, "the meaningless combination of words or the absurd putting together of thoughts must nevertheless have a meaning." The surface appearance of meaning—as for example, in a pun—legitimizes a childlike pleasure in the play of sound for its own sake. The appearance of meaning in the case of the jest silences the critical faculties and makes pleasure possible. But in a joke, as opposed to a jest, meaning becomes a part of pleasure, not just a pretext for pleasure. "If what a jest says possesses substance and value, it turns into a joke." However, that which has substance and value in a joke—that which has meaning—may also be that which is ordinarily inhibited or suppressed. The form of the joke, which Freud characterizes as being identical to the form of the jest, "bribes our powers of criticism" and enables us to take pleasure in materials that those powers of criticism would ordinarily lead us to reject. In its fully developed "tendentious" form the joke offers new sources of pleasure both to the joker and to his audience by lifting inhibitions.
I want to propose an affinity between farce and jest, and a further affinity between joke and comedy. Farce is like a jest, as Freud defines the term, because the pleasures it provides are those of "repetition of what is similar, a rediscovery of what is familiar, similarity of sound, etc."—the pleasures Freud associates with childlike play, but here embodied in an action that, because it is both mimetic and verbal, implies sufficient meaning to appear legitimate to an adult mind. The simplest forms of farce activity do not so much deny significance, as Barbara Freedman would have it, as evade it: the taboos broken are those against the noise and violence of childhood rather than the more focused aggressions of maturity. But as farce takes on more sexually explicit materials, it becomes more like a tendentious joke. The pleasures it provides to both its maker and its audience are those of an economy in expenditure of psychic energy upon inhibition. It is at that stage that the parallel between farce and dreams becomes most compelling; at that stage we can speak (as Freedman does) of a taboo's being simultaneously broken and not broken. But thus far the pleasures are principally those of release.
Though the pleasures of release are real and powerful, and can indeed form the basis for raising the value we place on farce, they are not the same as the pleasures of later Shakespearean comedy. Peter Saccio's terms of praise for farce in his admirable "Shrewd and Kindly Farce" are instructive. Saccio points out that the father of Katherine and Bianca has created a "distressing stalemate" by his vow that his popular younger daughter may not wed until her unpopular sister finds a husband. "Within this situation," Saccio writes, "farce celebrates the virtues of energy, ingenuity and resilience, virtues that disrupt the static dilemma and work to resolve it." Saccio succeeds at his avowed task of finding positive rather than negative language to characterize what farce values. Petruchio and Katherine are indeed energetic, ingenious, and resilient; they are more than Bergsonian bouncing puppets, despite the mechanical quality of farcical play.
But the effect of their good qualities is to enable them—and us—to accept a distressing situation and work to resolve it essentially within its own terms. Freedman uses the idea of acceptance in her own description of farce when she speaks of "the humorous acceptance of normally unacceptable aggression which it allows." Farce legitimizes the release of aggressive feelings, including feelings that are the understandable result of "distressing" situations. But to the extent that patriarchy is the cause of the distress in The Shrew, resilient characters such as Katherine and Petruchio find ways of adapting while accepting all of patriarchy's premises. Such an achievement should be valued—indeed, such an achievement may be essential as a first step toward attaining that capacity to survive which is the first step in achieving a capacity to question, rethink, and revalue. The achievement, I take it, is Bad Shakespeare's as well as his characters'.
But the achievement of the middle comedies—the "festive comedies"—extends beyond energy, ingenuity, and resilience even as it includes those virtues. Developing Freud's ideas, C. L. Barber [in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, 1954] spoke of the movement of comedy as being "through release to clarification." By clarification, Barber means more than the release of energy suppressing a forbidden impulse. Energy is redirected, not just discharged, and that which was repressed into the unconscious is at least partially integrated into the waking, or nonjoking, life. To shift away from psycho-analytic terms, the later comedies give us heroines who are reflective. Saccio himself implicitly acknowledges the distinction when he writes, "The romantic humanization of Katherine is expressed, not in such reflective speeches as might be given to Viola, but through the resilience and energy of her co-operation with Petruchio's madcap words and actions." The clarification achieved in the middle comedies enables them to produce in their audiences an effect similar to that achieved by their heroines—an effect [George] Meredith, in his essay on the comic spirit, called "thoughtful laughter." The middle comedies have moved beyond jest and perhaps even beyond jokes, as Freud uses the term, and on into a realm where what farce and jokes both repress and release can be dealt with as matters for conscious thought.
Freud is surely right that the pleasures of a joke's audience are roughly similar to those of the maker of the joke. As a maker of farces, Shakespeare creates plays that deny meaning, as Freedman suggests, or perhaps better, deny responsibility for their potential meanings. In The Taming of the Shrew, much of the denied meaning pertains to the emotional complexity of gender relationships. And that, I suggest, is no accident. Patriarchal structures create distress for characters that may mirror a distress felt by the maker of those characters. The play is filled with aggression and hostility, some of which may be ascribed to its author. The "earliness" of the play produces a Badness that is not the Badness of ineptitude but of unassimilated conflict. Farce is indeed an economical strategy for acknowledging and accepting hostility. But all it does is accept—it does not transform. Although the differences between A Shrew and The Shrew suggest that Shakespeare's own attitudes toward gender may have been more supple and complex than those most prevalent in the early 1590s, nonetheless the farcical mode of The Shrew serves more to accept than to clarify a problem.
Happily, this particular manifestation of Shakespeare's predicament is short-lived. Bad Shakespeare gets very Good indeed, especially in comparison with his contemporaries, by 1598 or 1600. But at the start of his career, whatever dissatisfaction Shakespeare may have felt with patriarchal orthodoxy gets released in explosive insults and in bombastic professions of patriarchal ideology. That we can see in this early work the potential for later and better plays should not blind us to the fact that it is not one of those better plays. But the release of badness by Bad Shakespeare in his early farce may have been a valuable, even necessary, stage in moving toward his astonishing expansion of the possibilities of gender roles, even if within patriarchal bounds, at the end of the decade.
Margaret Loftus Ranald (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "The Performance of Feminism in The Taming of the Shrew, " in Theatre Research International, n.s. Vol. XIX, No. 3, Fall, 1994, pp. 214-25.
[In the following excerpt, Ranald provides a brief review of the play's performance history, focusing in particular in how the relationship between Katherine and Petruchio has been handled.]
Performance is ideology! This is particularly true of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, one of his two comedies concerning the behaviour of husband and wife after the marriage ceremony—the other being The Comedy of Errors. Here he makes use of what may well be the longest-running English female stock character, the recalcitrant wife, who goes back to Mrs Noah, the disobedient woman of the mediaeval religious cycle plays. But at the same time he adapts the technique of classical farce to observation of human behaviour, by taking an impossible premise (that a wife can be tamed) and extending it logically to the utmost limits of absurdity. He also combines the Mrs Noah figure with the Judy puppet and the clever woman of the Interludes who outwits her husband, but with one distinctive omission: the physical violence commonly assumed essential to shrew-taming. I believe that here Shakespeare has forged a new dramatic mode by humanizing the intellectuality of rhetorically based classical farce and psychologizing the knockabout physicality of its Plautine offshoot.
Most importantly, an examination of the text reveals that at no time does Petruchio raise his hand against Kate—though she most certainly attacks him and he offers violence to other characters. The battle is fought on a psycho-sexual level, and contrary to the belief of some other feminists, it is not merely a matter of male supremacist psychic murder but rather a combat of two fiercely independent, yet sexually attracted persons seeking a modus vivendi. Hence, the nineteenth-century tradition of Petruchio entering with his whip is not justified by the script.
That Kate remained substantially untamed was actually a contemporary tradition, enshrined in the 1611-12 The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, John Fletcher's parodic/sequel/tribute to the lasting popularity of Shakespeare's work. Incidentally, it offers the refrain 'And the woman shall wear the breeches ', whose humour was undoubtedly emphasized by the cross-dressed actors. But later adaptations accentuated violence, most notably that by David Garrick, Catherine and Petruchio, which drove Shakespeare from the stage from 1756 to 1886. Kate is not shown as a rejected daughter, too intelligent, witty, and nonconformist for her own good. Instead in IV,ii she expresses 'self-denigration and capitulation', demurs as unworthy of love when asked to castigate the recalcitrant wives, and humbly gives her lines on matrimonial duty to Petruchio. She is brought to heel by a dominant male and Bianca is the congenitally submissive feminine ideal. Garrick's adaptation poisoned the Shakespearian well and The Taming of the Shrew entered the twentieth century as a wife-beating romp.
In the United States The Taming of the Shrew arrived on Broadway by way of touring companies and actor managers. In 1887, in Augustin Daly's company, which also toured Europe, Ada Rehan was tamed by John Drew for 121 performances, to great acclaim in London, the Provinces, and at the Stratford-upon-Avon Memorial Theatre benefit in 1888. Though reviving Shakespeare's text, Daly was still under the influence of Garrick and omitted Kate's 'speech expressing hurt and dismay at her father's rejection of her', thus denying sympathy to the character. Ten years later (1897) Rehan repeated the role and in 1904-5 was still playing it in repertory. Surviving pictures depict a statuesque woman with features more attuned to tragedy than comedy in a production that seems to have been well-upholstered in quasi-Elizabethan costumes. An unidentified London reviewer praised her 'imperial presence, the impassioned face, the gray eyes flashing with pride or scorn or melting with tenderness, the true freedom of graceful demeanour, the supple beauty of movement, and the exquisite loveliness of voice which make up the investiture that the actress gave to the part'. One famous portrait of her in the role depicts an obstinate woman of grim determination with a 'grand air' and fine wardrobe—a 'splendid and overwhelming presence' with what the Times reviewer called 'true womanliness of character underlying an intractable exterior'.
The 1904-5 New York season was a banner year for Shakespeare, since his reputation as Broadway box-office poison had not yet been 'confirmed'. Nonetheless, commercial-theatre skittishness with reference to Shakespeare was beginning. In May The Taming of the Shrew achieved a mere four performances at the Broad-hurst Theatre and, in November 1905, the long-running collaboration between E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe (husband and wife after 1911) managed only eight well-dressed performances in repertory, though to crowded houses. Marlowe was said to be 'vehement and pungent' but the 1905 New York reviewers were so badly split that it is hard to know what to believe. Certainly Marlowe was sufficiently stung to write a newspaper protest, noting the important fact that they were playing the First Folio, not the Augustin Daly/ Garrick adaptation.
Photographs show Sothern as a mustachioed Petruchio with feathered hat in vaguely Renaissance style, while Julia Marlowe, complete with whip, seemed, like Ada Rehan, to depend on fine bones and elaborate costumes; her wardrobe for this production is reported to have cost $1,448.60. However, one original and effective piece of business clearly indicated that Marlowe's Katherine was not totally compliant, perhaps even planning to subdue Petruchio. In IV,iii when Petruchio, having apparently won the battle of the time of day, marched offstage, Kate impudently held up two fingers behind his back to signify her independence. The performances were apparently 'vigorous' and the Evening Telegram reviewer suggested that the taming was 'not so much by physical overbearance as by the arousing of her sense of humor and the ridiculous'. This was apparently the key to this collaboration which was repeated biennially until 1923.
In 1914 Margaret Anglin reviewed the play for a few grouchy performances, and in 1921 the play was done twice. The Taming of the Shrew did not usually achieve long runs—but then the long Broadway run is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Perhaps the play made the audience uncomfortable and possibly it needed a gimmick.
In 1927 one was found. The director, H. K. Ayliff (working courtesy of Sir Barry Jackson), put his principals, Mary Ellis and Basil Sydney, into modern dress at the Garrick Theatre, New York, for an unprecedented 175 performances. The setting was a country estate in England, where the honking horsepower of a 'flivver' replaced horses for the wedding journey, and contemporary references abounded. The wedding portrait … shows Katherine in a handkerchief-hem wedding gown and long veil standing in parodic photopose with her hand on the shoulder of her virile, sporting, bridegroom who is seated on an absurdly spindly French chair. His costume is totally incongruous, with football jersey and boot, blue-jean trouser leg and riding boot, topped off with morning coat, boutonnière, and bowler hat. Incongruity and contemporaneity proved to be the right mix for this couple. Percy Hammond (New York Herald-Tribune, 26 October 1927) praised Mary Ellis as 'a lovely termagant', reminding him, with nostalgia refracted through the prism of sentimental memory, of 'Miss Julia's Marlowe's Katherine in the days when she was conquered by the tender Sothern', a comment indicating a curious romanticism at the bottom of a contemporaneity that most critics found foolish and distasteful. The public, however, did not mind.
A second frequently-used gimmick (from the time of the Bensons, 1902-16, and repeated by Sothern and Marlowe after 1911) has been casting the principals with actors known to be married to each other, thereby mitigating the apparent cruelty of the play. This approach salvaged the 1935-6 season for Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, whose previous engagement in Noël Coward's Point Valaine (January 1935, fifty-six performances) had them scurrying for another vehicle. With The Taming of the Shrew, produced by the Theatre Guild and directed by Henry Wagstaff Dribble, they achieved 'a very palpable hit' which ran for 128 performances and eight more in its 1940 revival. The Lunt's reputation for high comedy and ensemble playing, together with their famously happy union and decision to make their careers as a team, lent titillation to this play of matrimonial strife. The programme and the reviews note that the text was 'arranged' by the principals, including parts of A Shrew and making the play into something 'most exceeding low' (Brooks Atkinson, New York Times, 1 October 1935). Christopher Sly dozed in a box throughout the performance and Sydney Greenstreet scored well as Baptista. Percy Hammond again used Julia Marlowe as a benchmark, noting that Fontanne combined her 'lovely fishwife' with Margaret Anglin's 1914 'sullen and rather ladylike grouch'. He also noted Fontanne's histrionic range from hellion through pathetic 'broken mare' to 'lady of poise and breeding' in the submission scene (New York Herald-Tribune, 1 October 1935). Though he thought farce was not Fontanne's true métier Burns Mantle noted that she was not tamed 'sweetly and softly, … but with a mental reservation that she still may have something to say about this business of being tamed' (New York News, 1 October 1935).
But, as numerous critics noted, not even a knee injury was able to dull her performance. Lunt as Petruchio was praised by Hammond as 'assured, authentic burlesque' and a whipcracking adventurer while Atkinson noted his 'incomparable bounce and good humor, beaming with mischief. Burns Mantle thought him 'a roistering delight' and the production 'an inspired romp', saying perceptively that, 'This Petruchio has his moments of being a little uncertain as to whether he will be able to master this clawing, spitting Katherine or not.' Certainly a production photograph shows a cheery, masterful Fontanne hugging a somewhat bemused Lunt who, complete with whip, is carrying her off piggyback style. The production was generally conceded to be dominated by Lynn Fontanne.
This real-life matrimonial approach was also employed in the two commercial films made of this play. In 1929 the then-married swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford 'America's [now slightly superannuated] sweetheart', offered a sixty-eight-minute condensed black-and-white film version of the play—with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor. The purpose of this film was to bolster the fading careers of these two longtime film favourites in this, their first talking film together. To be sure there had been whiffs of scandal in their past matrimonial histories, but at this point their romance was one made in Beverly Hills (Pick-fair, to be precise) and their reasonably adequate performances were evaluated through that transitional idyllic golden haze. The film was well designed in a Tuscan style, and authentically costumed (except for coiffures). Fairbanks as Petruchio carried the de rigueur whip, displaying a large expanse of well-stockinged athletic leg, and Pickford was superbly dressed in flattering gowns. The genteel performances, however, were the well-mannered result of type-casting and the star system, together with some of the exaggerations of the old silent days. The submission speech concluded with a wink. Nonetheless, the film retained sufficient archaeological interest for it to be reprocessed in wide screen format in 1976.
Part of the reason for this disinterment was probably the 1967, 122-minute colour Columbia film directed by Franco Zeffirelli with those terminally quarreling real-life lovers Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Petruchio and Kate, with heavily rewritten text. As with the 1929 film, the primary reason for the production was exploitation, this time of the tempestuous and often bibulous passions of Burton and Taylor. Audiences cared less about Petruchio and Kate than their real-life embodiments (perhaps like Woody Allen and Mia Farrow today in Husbands and Wives). But where Fairbanks and Pickford projected domesticity, on and offstage, Burton and Taylor flaunted their Anthony and Cleopatra-induced love affair and its quasi-'Egyptian' unpredictability.
Consequently, this production was a 'knock down, drag out' battle of the sexes, in which Taylor slapped Burton who returned the compliment by walloping Taylor on her not inconsiderable rump. After a rooftop battle they fell on to a woolsack in happy sexual reconciliation. Burton's hirsute, virile Petruchio tried to humiliate Kate in physical confrontation and Taylor responded in snarling kind, showing a great deal of cleavage into the bargain. She portrayed Kate as a liberated oversexed woman, independent, freeloving, contemptuous of conventions, with the truth of her overwhelming passion as self-expression and reason for existence. Nothing could have been further from the respectful, ornamental 1929 production of the beau sabreur Fairbanks and the quasi-virginal Pickford. Overall, the first portion of the Burton/Taylor film (with Taylor taking a whip to the acquiescent Bianca of Natasha Pyne) was more successful than the later undisciplined bravura horseplay of the principals—who seem to have reduced even Zeffirelli to directorial inertia as far as their scenes were concerned.
Sociologically the world had changed utterly between 1929 and 1967, and the drums of the women's liberation movement were sounding loudly, the first salvo in the conflict having been fired in 1963 by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique. There she announced to an astonished masculine world that intelligent, educated women were not content with the American familial dream of several children, a commuting husband, a house in the suburbs and everlasting domesticity. And in unexpected numbers, white, educated middle-class women responded. They wanted more social, economic and sexual freedom, and that was the sentiment to which the 1967 Taming of the Shrew appealed. Where Fairbanks/Pickford were discreet, and Ingrid Bergman had been blacklisted for her involvement with Roberto Rossellini, Taylor/Burton exploited and appealed to this new liberation movement. And from this time on it has been almost impossible to see The Taming of the Shrew as the wife-beating farce it was once considered. Consciousness has been raised, and the oppressive patriarchy of Baptista is no longer acceptable in its insistence on that immutable masculine superiority which passed a woman from the possessive dominance of a father into the hands of an equally sovereign and possessive husband.
Thus the shrewish anger of Kate is now reinterpreted as a comprehensible reaction against sexual and economic domination. She refuses to be passed like a commodity to the highest bidder and, shrewdly assessing Bianca's suitors, sees how far feminine conformity will get a woman. Therefore she actively rebels against a system in which the father plays 'a merchant's part' in 'selling' his younger daughter in 'a desperate mart', however unsuitable the new 'owner'. The Taming of the Shrew is now perceived as a rather subversive 'play about marriage in Elizabethan England'. As Germaine Greer put it [in The Female Eunuch, 1970] Kate 'opts out' of the traditional mode 'by becoming unmanageable', 'manipulating her father and her suitors in a perilous game which could end in her ruin', while Bianca plays the sneaky game of feminine deception. Kate's risky gamble succeeds thanks to Petruchio, who in effect becomes her true champion and saves her from a matrimonial fate that for her would indeed be worse than death.
The subtlety of Shakespeare's treatment is now more widely appreciated, and the clever nature of Kate's taming has been exhaustively treated, but Greer's 1970 comment still remains appropriate: 'He tames her as he might a hawk or a high-mettled horse, and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty.' Thus Petruchio manages to achieve for himself a spirited wife well worth the witty battle and, she finds a man who is husband, protector and, above all, a merry friend who understands and enjoys her unconventionality as they indicate by their very existence the folly of traditional matrimonial mores. 'We three are married, but you two are sped', says Petruchio (V,ii, 186). And I believe he is right.
To some extent this interpretation of the play was prefigured in the last days of 1948 in its adaptation into a highly successful American musical, Kiss Me, Kate (1077 performances). The eminently witty music was by Cole Porter and the book by Sam and Belle Spewack. The production boasted some voices of operatic calibre, actors of great personal attraction (Patricia Morison, Alfred Drake, Lisa Kirk) with excellent dancing and good low comedy by Jack Diamond and Eddie Sledge. The action was broad, the book lightweight, but the show succeeded, because theatricality was its watchword. The father-daughter conflict was omitted and the ludic element emphasized by placing the action within a touring company about to perform The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore, Maryland. Ironically, the motto of the State of Maryland is Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine, 'Deeds Are for Men, Words for Women', something I doubt that either Porter or the Spewacks knew. The central figures were now an arrogant actor and his temperamental ex-wife who had been engaged to play Kate, with Bianca an impudent ingénue.
Nonetheless, the original differentiation of character between the two young women persisted. Kate's great number is 7 Hate Men ' in which she pejoratively lists the kind of wooers customarily available to her, but Bianca's refrain indicates that she will take 'Any Tom, Dick or Harry / Any Harry, Dick or Tom ' with a repetition of the middle name that was distinctly risqué in 1948 (as reviewers indirectly noted). The music ran the gamut from the raunchiness of the filler 'Brush up Your Shakespeare ' and 'Too Darned Hot ' to the lyrical Wunderbar' and Was Thine That Special Face', with Kate's submission lyric, 7 Am Ashamed that Women Are So Simple ' lifted totally from the master. However, the most enduring legacy of this frequently revived musical has been the skillful use to which Shakespearian tags are put, so much so that almost every post-1948 American review of the play laments the absence of the Cole Porter music. Also, most Petruchios now burst into Porter's notes whenever they reach the lines 'I've Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua' and 'Where Is the Life That Late I Led'. Perhaps they stop there because quotations of more than one line require payment of copyright. This musical has forever inserted itself into the play.
Its influence was further strengthened in 1953 when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released its 111-minute colour film produced by George Sidney with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller (of the staccato and suggestive tap-dance). The piratically attractive baritone Howard Keel and the energetic Ann Miller were the real stars of the show, while Grayson was out of her depth. However, the film drew attention to the fact that Porter's music belongs in the theatre and requires theatre people to perform it. The fragility of the book also became evident, something that has repeatedly been noted in revivals.
Of course the play has always had a gut-level appeal, as the late Joseph Papp recognized in 1956 when he began his outdoor New York Summer Shakespeare Festival with the aim of introducing the playwright to the general populace. Directed by Stuart Vaughan with Colleen Dewhurst and Jack Cannon, The Taming of the Shrew opened in the East River Amphitheatre on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This was true Proletarian Shakespeare, offered free of charge in the open air with aggressive behaviour and an overabundance of mugging. Cast members also reflected the ethnic population of the rather rough area. In addition there was a different Spanish-language cast, something that rather concerns this particular feminist because it smacks of pandering to an ethnic macho stereotype. Nonetheless, this was a highly successful production in its later tours of El Barrio in a mobile unit.
This production also demonstrated Papp's continued commitment to interracial casting in Shakespearian performances. Of course this was not a new concept, since it had been tried as far back as Ira Aldridge (1807-67), while the versatile, charming, and intelligent Ruby Dee had performed Kate at the American Festival Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut (1965). However, no white producer had heretofore shown such responsibility to the implementation of such a pledge, as witnessed by the later casting of Jane White, Ellen Holly, and James Earl Jones in this play.
In 1978 Joseph Papp again presented a notable interracial Taming of the Shrew, this time under the direction of Wilford Leach in quasi-Edwardian costume with Raul Julià, his homegrown Puerto Rican star, as Petruchio, and the classically trained white actor Meryl Streep (already successful on both film and stage) as Katharina. This promised to be a sparkling performance contrasting the powerful sexuality of Julià with the suave intelligence of Streep. However, the director seemed slightly ill at ease with the sexual chemistry of Juliàs masculinity, toning down his performance into 'likeability', and misguiding Streep into occasionally shrill bitchiness. In short, what was conveyed was a rather macho Petruchio and a spitfire Kate. Further, since it was eminently clear from the first act that the two were irremediably in love, the action had really nowhere to go, except to show Kate as determined to submit only far enough to give and gain concessions to reach a centrist position. One memorable piece of concluding stage business had Streep defiantly exiting right despite Juliàs vehement gesturing to the left. Finally, with a Cosi fan tutte air, he shrugged and followed her.
Again, in 1990 Papp presented the Shrew in Central Park, this time directed by A. J. Antoon, who specializes in transplanting plays into other periods and cultures. Now, pace Germaine Greer, it was set in the Wild West, against a backdrop of galloping untamed mustangs, with Morgan Freeman playing Petruchio as a lasso-wielding Black wrangler to the much younger white cowgirl of the TV comedienne, Tracey Ullman. The concept was original, but the horse-taming aspect went by default, the Western twang became annoying, and the sexual conflict was not well resolved, largely because Ullman proved more comfortable with short TV skits than extended concept of character. The action of this noisy production was extremely broad, with Freeman's mirror-image tantrum unfitting for this essentially dignified actor, though physical violence was kept to a minimum. Certainly there was some 'Blaxploitation' in the casting since Freeman had just achieved an Academy Award nomination for his role in Driving Miss Daisy. But most importantly no one seemed to object to the taming of a white woman by a black man.
Today the basic problem of the play is the submission scene, which has become rather distasteful to many feminists. The traditional approach to have Kate conclude with a broad wink is rather unsubtle, but Bernard Shaw's embarrassment at this moment has not evaporated. In 1963 Stuart Vaughan tried to overcome the difficulty with an oddly subdued Petruchio (Robert Gerringer), a touching, even pathetic Kate (Nan Martin), and no Christopher Sly, but the fun of the play departed. In 1973 Tina Packard directed the play for the Performance Garage as irreverent slapstick, turning the action into an inconsistent acrobatic happening full of commedia dell'arte tumbling in which Kate was too sullen and Petruchio too loutish. The principal characters must indeed be attractive for this play to succeed.
In 1974 the Young Vic brought a mixed British-American company to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, directed by the iconoclastic Frank Dunlop who kept the 'rumbustious' Sly (played by the American actor Richard Gere), spicing up his role with numerous contemporary references and incongruous accent. Jim Dale's Petruchio was generous and sincere, while Jane Lapotaire proved a mistress of understatement. Here almost all the reviewers fastened on the submission scene, most of them concluding that Dunlop wished to convey the masculine oppression acceptable in Shakespeare's day. There were even hisses from the audience. Others thought it a post-women's-liberation approach, with Jack Kroll arguing that Kate did not abase herself: 'she is ritually entering into the erotic complicity that is the human race's way of winning transcendent pleasure and domestic peace' (Newsweek, 25 March 1974).
The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987, directed by Jonathan Miller, opted for sociological archaeology, facing up to the play's patriarchal hegemony as if it were a puritan marriage tract and staging it as an Italian domestic history rather than sexual warfare. This worked well also with Miller's own political views as he reached the conclusion that matrimonial and political stability were two sides of the same coin. The induction was omitted and there was very little horseplay. The Kate of Fiona Shaw was a rather gawky Irish girl, the victim of psycho-social oppression, so emotionally disturbed that she needed the stabilizing power and influence of the stocky-middle-aged Brian Cox as Petruchio. Then after her serious, dignified, submission they form an intelligent alliance to take on the world.
Emphasis on the hunting and hawking imagery has also been attempted as a means of making Kate's taming more palatable, and in 1978 the Off-Broadway Equity Library Theatre, New York, trumpeted its use of this approach. The action was set in New York in the era of bootleg gin. Eric Booth was the fortune hunter who liked sports, and Stephanie Cotsirilos was a spitfire who was supposed to be tamed like a falcon, or so said the director, John Henry Davis. However, this interpretation did not become clear in the performance.
The application of falconry to The Taming of the Shrew is now becoming more popular and it was well employed in the 1986 Teatr Clwyd production which played in repertory at the Royal Theatre, Haymarket in 1986. The principals were the risk-taking Vanessa Redgrave and the eminently handsome Timothy Dalton. Redgrave began the play as a Kat (the pronunciation used throughout the production) cross-dressed in breeches, braces, belt, dagger, but wearing a blonde wig similar to that of Bianca.
She was a provincial lad with a North Country accent, 'a reflective piratical image of swaggering tomboyishness, a female Petruchio, in fact' (Sheridan Morley, Punch, 25 June 1986). Then, when she put on a dress as Kate the case was altered as she moved toward humility in offering her hand beneath the foot. Dalton, however, seized her wrist and threw her hand back to her as he raised her for a kiss. He was an operatic sword-and-dagger man who obviously understood the rules of falcon-taming so that Kate's spirit was not broken. He controlled the play and educated the heroine so that in the radiance of her genuine loving submission thirty-two years of her own chronological age disappeared and she looked eighteen.
In fact her transformation from tomboy to beautiful young woman who has decided to play along with her lover made her the winner, according to Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail (11 June 1986). However, John Barber of the Daily Telegraph (12 June 1986) was 'deeply moved that the fair, lovely maid—or any such—should be so exploited by a male'. In an even more politically correct dissent, Benedict Nightingale of the New Statesman (20 June 1986) complained that Redgrave did not fully convey the transition between hoyden and humility, as she entered into 'the kind of marriage our age may reject but the Elizabethans thought natural and normal'.
This production's use of masculine dress instantly raises the whole question of transvestite actors on the Elizabethan stage. This can be one argument for accepting the violent horseplay of The Taming of the Shrew—since the original performance had men and boys beating each other in high-spirited combat there is nothing for feminists to worry about. But in fact the situation becomes more piquant because of this very situation. Obviously the play can never be for us what it was in its original social or theatrical milieu, but one does wonder how the play would go if played entirely by women.
In March 1985, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London, this was indeed tried, in a production directed by Ultz, the avant-garde male designer, with music by Martin Duncan. However, a curious thing happened. The male chauvinists, though played by women, were clearly superior to the female characters in propria persona, perhaps the result of leaden verse speaking. According to Ros Asquith (Observer, 17 March 1985) this was a failed attempt to satirize chauvinism and 'Susan Cox's whining, petulant Katherine and Shona Morris's timid Bianca are no match for Fiona Victory's jaunty Petruchio or Johanna Kirby's languorous Lucentio'.
The casting did make one rethink Shakespeare's chauvinism, particularly in the use of a scold's bridle, though according to Francis King (Sunday Telegraph, 17 March 1985) 'the women were as lively as if they were attending a séance'. Fiona Victory as Petruchio was in-deed plausible, and during the taming (s)he read a book on falconry. Suzie Mackenzie found the production humourless, 'a bitter satirical feminist tract about the depersonalization of women', directed with too much attention to a thesis (Time Out, 14 March 1985). Susan Cox's submission as Katharina was staged as an hysterical diatribe delivered directly to the audience—to the intense 'embarrassment' of the other players who bundled her up in a rug or blanket, reminiscent of folktale and that anonymous and brutal taming pamphlet A Mery Iest of a Shrewde and curste Wyfed lapped in a Morrelles skin (1580?), or perhaps of Cleopatra, as they hustled her offstage. The reviewers did not catch these references, but Michael Billington confessed to a 'realistic frisson' at that moment (Guardian, 12 March 1985). In addition, the dominant image of the play was that of an inflatable rubber sex doll passed from hand to hand with Hortensio's widow at one time seeming to be that very doll, while Lucentio licked at his picture of a nude Bianca. Thus women were perceived as exploitable playthings, and, as Carole Woddis remarked, 'I am still waiting for the real "women's version", directed by a woman' (City Limits, 15 March 1985), while Francis King of the Sunday Telegraph (17 March 1985) suggested that, 'A true women's version of The Taming of the Shrew would surely be to reverse the sexes and show how a woman can break the spirit of a man and subject him to her own will.
In the post-feminist era the jury is still out on The Taming of the Shrew. Male chauvinists will delight in its psychic (and even physical) pain, while feminists, like Shaw, remain uncomfortable at that spectacle. Historical recreation of a period may be an answer, but then the permanence of this comedy can be lost. For myself, I believe that Katharina's liberated spirit remains unbroken, but that she has learned the value of realpolitik not only in marriage, but also in the even wider world of sociopolitics.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 33287
Marianne L. Novy (essay date 1979)
SOURCE: "Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 264-80.
[In the following excerpt, Novy examines the relationship between game-playing and the reaffirmation of male authority in the play, suggesting that by combining these two elements, Kate and Petruchio are able to develop mutuality within the context of an outwardly traditional marriage.]
Some of Shakespeare's recent critics have seen Petruchio's behavior in The Taming of the Shrew as an attempt to teach Kate to play, to draw her into his games. Kate's final attitude, they suggest, is less a passive submission than a playful cooperation. Important as this reading is for its insight into the tone and theatrical effectiveness of The Taming of the Shrew, it should not dismiss for us the play's treatment of the social order and in particular of patriarchy—the authority of fathers over their families, husbands over wives, and men in general over women. Games, however absorbing and delightful, have some relation to the world outside them; children re-enact threatening experiences to gain a sense of greater control over them, and they try out roles that they may use in their adult life. Likewise, the games in The Taming of the Shrew, almost always initiated by Petruchio, may have some relation to the patriarchal traditions of the world of the Shrew and of its audience. Why this ambiguous coalescence between Petruchio the dominant husband and Petruchio the game-player, between a farce assuming patriarchy and a comedy about playing at patriarchy?
The themes of patriarchy and play both come to the fore in the Induction, in which the penniless tinker Christopher Sly is transformed by trickery into a lord and prepared to watch a comedy. This scene introduces a world in which all identify themselves by their place in a social and familial hierarchy; it prepares us for a theatrically self-conscious performance in which those "places" are dramatic roles. As the "real" lord entertains us by showing that Sly can take a completely different place in the social order, the play begins to raise the question of how much that social order is a human construction whose validity is more like that of a game than that of divine or natural law. In the first scene of the inner play, the easy role change between Lucentio and Tranio, a servant clever enough to hide his precise degree of initiative from his master, repeats that question. But the focus of the play is not on the apparent changes in social class permitted by changes of clothes; it is on Kate's movement away from her original rebellion. Unlike the other two changes, this one superficially endorses the social order, but here too details suggest analogies between the social order and a game.
Analogies between games and such apparently serious institutions as law and war received their first detailed discussion in Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens . One main characteristic he identified in play and in such institutions is the establishment of a separate sphere limited in time and space. Modern psychologists often describe the experience of play in terms of power: it involves the feeling of mastery, the sense of being a cause, the assimilation of reality to the ego. In a different context, these terms could apply to the official prerogatives of the head of the family in an hierarchical society; perhaps it is the power over a limited sphere (the play world or the household) that contributes most to this ambiguous coalescence between Petruchio's possible roles. The sociologists Peter L. Berger and Hansfried Kellner [in Diogenes 46, 1964] make a similar comparison explicit in their description of the modern nuclear family as a "macrosocially innocuous 'play area'": "It is here that the individual will seek power, intelligibility, and quite literally, a name—the apparent power to fashion a world, however Lilliputian, that will reflect his own being: a world that, seemingly having been shaped by himself and thus unlike those other worlds that insist on shaping him, is translucently intelligible to him (or so he thinks); a world in which, consequently, he is somebody—perhaps even, within its charmed circle, its lord and master."
The comparison between play and household power is particularly relevant to The Taming of the Shrew because Petruchio and the other characters play games—separable units of play—in a literal sense. Roger Caillois [in Man, Play, and Games, 1961] enumerates four basic types of games; two of his categories, agon (competition) and mimicry (pretense) are clearly present. In all of Petruchio's scenes with Kate until the last, ambiguous one, his words and actions involve some kind of pretense. For a period of time in each, Petruchio behaves according to "the fiction, the sentiment of 'as if" which in mimicry takes the place of rules. In his first meeting with Kate and their only scene alone together, he invents an imaginary Kate and an imaginary society that values her: "Hearing thy mildness praised in every town, / Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded" (II.I.191-92). He is using language with regard not to its truth value but to her response. This use of language is appropriate to a game; as Caillois suggests, "Games generally attain their goal only when they stimulate an echo of complicity." As game player and as wooer, Petruchio needs her response.
What Kate does is to initiate another kind of game—the only game in the play that she begins—a competition of puns. In language markedly earthier than Petruchio's overtures, Kate introduces animal imagery and first brings out the sexual meanings in his retorts, even while verbally rejecting him.
Kate. Asses are made to bear and so are you.Pet. Women are made to bear and so are you.
Kate. No such jade as you, if me you mean.
Petruchio joins in this game with gusto. He seems undeterred—even encouraged—when she calls him a fool, and indeed there is often a hint of invitation in the lines where she makes the charge.
Kate. If I be waspish, best beware my sting.Pet. My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Kate. Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
After a few more rounds, he changes back to the original game—although with the variation that now his praise of her social merit is contrasted with her reputation.
'Twas told me you were rough and coy and
And now I find report a very liar,
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing
But slow in speech, yet sweet as springtiem
Repeatedly Petruchio manipulates the language of social convention and roles for his own purpose—his relationship with Kate. The way he talks about society proves him independent of its actual judgments and ready to reverse its expectations drastically. The one word which describes both a social virtue and Kate's current behavior—gamesome—describes his attitude here as well. Caillois identifies in play a polarity between "frolicsome and impulsive exuberance" and "arbitrary, imperative, and purposely tedious conventions." We might see Kate's enjoyment of this battle as a kind of wild exuberance, but "gamesome" may also apply to the ability to perform in a highly conventional civilization that she will show later. Petruchio, by contrast, seems to be using the language of the higher pole in the spirit of the lower. "Go, fool" (II.i.251), replies Kate to his praise, and she again moves the conversation down to earth; but this time the wordplay very quickly comes out just where Petruchio wants it:
Pet. Am I not wise?Kate. Yes, keep you warm.
Pet. Marry, so I mean, sweet Katherine, in thy bed.
And when the others return, she is quiet as he gives the explanatory fiction that, like the end of the play, makes crucial the private mutuality between husband and wife: "If she and I be pleased, what's that to you? / 'Tis bargained twixt us twain, being alone, / That she shall still be curst in company" (II.i.296-98).
From now on, Petruchio's games will have the endorsement of the husband's rights over his wife. Yet, to the extent that Petruchio's power depends on a public belief in patriarchy for its legitimation, he behaves paradoxically when he violates the conventions of the social order. Earlier he created an imaginary ideal world; in the wedding scene his play has more of the turbulence characteristic of the game that Kate began earlier. He plays the role [that William Willeford, in The Fool and His Scepter, 1969, calls] the "symbolic fool, who seems to have originated somewhere outside society and its normal laws and duties." In a not un-familiar anomaly, the man in a position of relative social power laughs at the conventions of the society that gives him that power, while the woman subordinated by her society worries about its judgment of her.
As she repeats the charge of folly, her concern for public opinion becomes explicit in the face of his provocation.
I told you, I, he was a frantic fool,
Hiding his bitter jests in blunt behavior.…
Now must the world point at poor Katherine
And say, "Lo, there is mad Petruchio's wife,
If it would please him come and marry her."
Petruchio's sabotage of wedding ritual concludes when he takes Kate away from the banquet while playing the role of the defender who will, he says, "buckler thee against a million" (III.ii.239). He insists:
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.
This speech again shows the coalescence of the role of player and patriarch, for the terms in which he declares ownership—the objects into which he transforms her—are extravagant enough to be a parody of patriarchal attitudes. The climatic phrase—"my anything"—declares the infinite malleability of identity within his world. Whether this hyperbole is play or domestic tyranny, his pretense of defending Kate from the attacks of the wedding guests is a more obvious invention. Like his earlier invention of a private bargain between Kate and himself, it seems intended ultimately to create such a bargain.
The suggestions of companionship in the play motif receive a challenge from the animal imagery here and elsewhere. In the title, "taming" identifies the hierarchy of husband over wife in marriage with the hierarchy of humanity over animals. Furthermore, several curious passages associate marriage with beasts of burden—usually the grotesquely described worn-out horse. For enough money, according to Grumio, Petruchio would marry "an old trot with ne'er a tooth in her head, though she have as many diseases as two and fifty horses" (I.ii.78-80). Biondello enjoys enumerating the ailments of the horse Petruchio rides to his wedding, and Grumio makes a comic routine of the couple's falls from the horse on the trip back. These passages make comic emblems for an unattractive picture of marriage. The farcical tone, however, distances the threat. Since the passages are extravagant to the point of parody, the workhorse image becomes part of a larger game.
But other images of animals and many of the more explicit comparisons between animals and people are directly in the world of play—the aristocratic world of the hunt. In the Induction, the lord's pride and concern for his hunting dogs remind us that domesticated animals attain a different status in the social order; they can benefit from human care and contribute to human enjoyment. Their position changes from an abstract subordination to an active and mutual (if unequal) relation. Play and mutuality may be goals of taming. In Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, an anthropomorphic fox uses taming as a metaphor for the establishment of a relationship. Petruchio's falcon-taming involves more hierarchy and coercion, but it also involves a wish for play and mutuality. As the means of Petruchio's taming move from denials of food and sleep to denials of the trappings of fashion, the farce that depends on the audience's withholding sympathy (and can therefore verge on brutality) modulates to a higher level of comedy. In the most important scene for the play theme in the Shrew, the medium is the even more sophisticated one of language.
Both clothing and language are important concerns in the other plots as well, and there too they can be material for play, but the effect is more obvious and more superficial. The lord makes a game of costuming Christopher Sly for his rise in the social hierarchy: Tranio's masquerade as his master Lucentio provides obvious enjoyment for the servant. When his former master Vincentio appears in Padua, Tranio refuses to recognize him, saying, "Why sir, what 'cerns it you if I wear pearl and gold? I thank my good father, I am able to maintain it" (v.i.73-75). Petruchio, by contrast, is not interested in using clothes as signs of a playful or serious rise in the social hierarchy. Instead, his choice of clothes for the roles he plays dramatizes his independence of the status concerns usually coded by Elizabethan clothing. Instead of dressing up for his wedding, he wears the most grotesque old clothes he can find—in their lumpish disproportion, he may be literally dressing like a fool. He pretends to offer Kate new clothes, as he pretends to offer her the food and sleep that are also conventional symbols of regeneration used parodically in the Induction. His subsequent reversals have more function than frustrating her; like the fool's costume, they act out his scorn for convention and his preference for internal rather than external values.
To me she's married, not unto my clothes
Could I repair what she will wear in me
As I can change these poor accoutrements,
'Twere well for Kate and better for myself.
'Tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest
So honor peereth in the meanest habit.
Kate, by contrast, is still concerned about fashion; she protests, "This doth fit the time, / And gentlewomen wear such caps as these" (IV.iii.69-70). When she accuses him, "Belike you mean to make a puppet of me" (IV.iii.103), he pretends to think she is talking to the tailor; and this pseudo-misunderstanding raises the question of which rules are more restricting, Petruchio's or the anonymous judgments of fashion and other social conventions. Thus, although characters in all plots play games with clothing, Petruchio's games challenge rather than pay tribute to the social hierarchy.
Language, like clothing, is a medium for the games in both marriage plots. We have discussed its use in the pun battles and imaginative fictions of Kate's first scene with Petruchio; several later scenes explicitly turn on questions of translation, naming, and meaning. Disguised as a tutor, Lucentio uses the pretense of Latin translation to convey his identity and intentions to Bianca. She adapts to this mode of translation easily; equivocation comes naturally to her, and she uses the trick not only to disguise his intentions from the other suitors but also to keep Lucentio himself in doubt. Petruchio's games create a private language between him and Kate slowly but more effectively. Infuriated by his criticism of the new cap, she wants to use language to express her feelings regardless of his reactions:
Your betters have endured me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart, concealing it, will break,
And rather than it shall I will be free
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.
Petruchio's game of pretending to misunderstand her—he responds to her outburst with "Why, thou sayst true. It is a paltry cap" (IV.iii.81)—shows her that self-expression unacknowledged by a hearer is not enough.
Up to this point, the games Petruchio has begun have been played more on Katherine than with her. Typically, they have been pretenses that the emotional situation she experiences is far different than she feels it is. On their way back to her father's house, he finally begins a language game that turns on redefining the external world, and perhaps this different focus for redefinition makes it possible for her to join in and begin creating a new world and a new society between the two of them. He claims that the moon is shining, not the sun, and refuses to continue the trip unless she agrees; she consents to his bargain.
Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon or sun or what you please.
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
She replaces a language determined by the external world as she sees it alone with another determined by her relationship with Petruchio: "What you will have it named, even that it is, / And so it shall be so for Katherine" (IV.v.21-22). Here, with comic literalness, the play dramatizes the point Berger and Kellner make that "the reconstruction of the world in marriage occurs principally in the course of conversation.… The implicit problem of this conversation is how to match two individual definitions of reality."
Their use of language and their relationship are now becoming the kind of game that Petruchio has intended: "Thus the bowl should run / And not unluckily against the bias" (IV.v.24-25). In spite of the ambiguity of this image, now Kate seems more like a partner in the game rather than an object used in it. She participates with wit and detachment, agreeing that "the moon changes even as your mind" (IV.v.20).
In the background is the traditional association of the moon with the transforming imagination, and perhaps also a self-conscious parody of stage conventions of description. Since, as the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream knew, it was impossible literally to bring in moonshine, the Elizabethan audience depended on the dialogue for indications of whether a scene was set in day or night. They must have frequently watched a nighttime scene in literal sunlight and used their imagination. By accepting similar conventions, Kate is following Petruchio in defining their relationship as an enclosed sphere where imagination can recreate the universe. At first it seems that it will be only Petruchio's imagination, but the entry of a stranger—Vincentio—heightens the possibilities of the game.
Vincentio, as an old man, represents the class at the top of the social order within a patriarchal society, but when he is with Katherine and Petruchio his identity is temporarily within their power. Petruchio gives Kate her cue by transforming him into a sonneteer's dream of a lady: "Such war of white and red within her cheeks! / What stars do spangle heaven with such beauty / As those two eyes become that heavenly face?" (IV.v.30-32). While her acceptance of Petruchio's renaming began as accommodation, here Kate shows her own creative imagination at work. She further confuses the patriarch by emphasizing the youth of the "lovely maid" and "her" role in the familial order which Kate's imagination is temporarily subverting: "Happy the parents of so fair a child! / Happier the man whom favorable stars / Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow!" (IV.v.39-41). It is as if, in the new world of the game, ordinary social identities and inequalities are arbitrary and un-important because other identities can so easily be assigned—anything can be its opposite. Categories of day and night, young and old, male and female, lose their strict boundaries. It is interesting that Petruchio, who so often refers to his father, in this scene alone swears by himself as "my mother's son" (IV.v.6).
When Petruchio returns them to the ordinary world, where Vincentio is "a man, old, wrinkled, faded, withered" (IV.v.43)—epithets perhaps in their own way a subversion of patriarchy on the youth-oriented comic stage—Kate triumphantly apologizes, with another inside joke: "Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes / That have been so bedazzled with the sun / That everything I look on seemeth green" (IV.v.45-47). Petruchio is leading the dialogue, but Kate clearly plays an active role in what he calls "our first merriment" (IV.v.76). Faced with irrational demands, she has experienced the benefits of seeing them as part of a game and playing along. It will soon become apparent that her education in folly has taught her how to live with relative comfort in a patriarchal culture, and this coincidence implies a certain detachment about that culture's assumptions.
As part of the structural emphasis on patriarchy, The Taming of the Shrew concludes with three scenes in which characters ask pardon of father or husband. We have discussed the ambiguity of the tribute in the first; in the second, Lucentio's apology at the same time announces his marriage to Bianca and his own true identity and saves his father from jail. By the end of the scene, the two fathers, Vincentio and Baptista, are still grumbling at the deception and insubordination, but young love has found its way. In his bliss Lucentio hardly notices the discontent of his father and fatherin-law after his ritual apology, and Katherine and Petruchio turn it into entertainment. Petruchio wins Kate over to a further independence of social convention by drawing a kiss from her on the street. Thus the tribute to patriarchy is ambiguous here too, and these precedents hint at a continued ambiguity in the end.
Fathers are clearly important in the Shrew. The word "father" appears fifty-four times—more often than in any other Shakespearean play except King Lear and Henry VI, Part III. Lucentio, Tranio, and Petruchio all introduce themselves as suitors with reference to their fathers and identify themselves by patronymic at other times in the play. But Tranio and Lucentio are eager to introduce a counterfeit Vincentio as the father who will legitimate the wedding, and throughout the play the younger characters' words about tradition, loyalty, and hierarchy in general, as well as patriarchy, are frequently in pursuit of their own ends. This is a familiar ploy in comic societies; Ann Whitefield's use of it in Shaw's Man and Superman receives a more explicit gloss. In the opening speech after the Induction, Lucentio proclaims his gratitude to his father and his intent to study virtue and moral philosophy; his servant Tranio, who can bandy classical allusions with the best, advises him to follow his own pleasure and "study what you most affect" (I.i.40). In their next conversation the two are already plotting how to win Bianca.
Following his advice to his master, Tranio too can use the rhetoric of loyalty to his own advantage. He provides the hint for Lucentio's idea of disguising himself as a schoolteacher and Tranio as Lucentio, and then accepts the role with great protestations of dutifulness: "I am content to be Lucentio / Because so well I love Lucentio" (I.i.216-17). Lucentio's peculiar mode of Latin translation exemplifies not only a purposeful use of tradition but also the predominance of patriarchal images on the microscopic level: the Ovidian passage ends "Priami regia celsa senis. " When Lucentio translates the last two words "that we might beguile the old pantaloon" (III.i.36), senis, at least, is being translated literally. Bianca too can use the language of tradition for her own advantage to play up to Baptista and discomfit Katherine. Although we have seen her ability to do what she likes with Latin, she refuses Hortensio's analogous attempt to woo her by writing new words for the musical scale. Her reason? "Old fashions please me best" (III.i.78).
Thus profession of traditional values in the Shrew repeatedly turns out to be pretext, and it is against this background that we must see the last scene. At the wedding banquet, sexual wordplay like that in Katherine's first scene with Petruchio spices the dialogue, but each set of puns concludes with a reaffirmation of sexual and social roles. Meanwhile the imagery again turns to sport, much of it sport in which animals and human beings collaborate. Petruchio and Hortensio cheer on the duel of insults between their wives, crying "To her, Kate!" and "To her, widow!" (V.ii.33-34). Bianca resentfully asks Petruchio, "Am I your bird? I mean to shift my bush" (V.ii.46), and leaves the room. Tranio, after comparing himself to a "greyhound, / Which runs himself and catches his master" (V.ii.52-53), leads the others in returning to the attack on Petruchio for reversed hierarchy in his marriage: "'Tis thought your deer does hold you at a bay" (V.ii.56). After his delight in playing a role at the top, Tranio has returned to his original adjustment to a lower place; he pleases his master by using words of hierarchy against others.
The wedding guests speak of their insults as jests and appropriately it is through a game that Katherine and Petruchio finally justify their marriage. Proposing a wager for the most obedient wife, Petruchio speaks like the sportsman proud of the creature he has trained, even as he protests her superiority: "Twenty crowns! / I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound, / But twenty times so much upon my wife" (V.ii.71-73). When the other wives refuse to come when called, they are refusing to play; Bianca sends word "That she is busy" (V.ii.81), and the widow says Hortensio has "some goodly jest in hand" (V.ii.91). Katherine, as we know, has now learned to play her husband's games, and after appearing at his command she brings in the recalcitrant wives. At his word—"Off with that bauble!" (V.ii.122)—her cap becomes a fool's toy. The other women are still scornful of folly, and their anticomic language undercuts their position on the comic stage.
Widow. Lord, let me never have a cause to
Till I be brought to such a silly pass.
Bianca. Fie, what a foolish—duty call you
Lucentio. I would your duty were as foolish
The wisdom of your duty, fair Bianca,
Hath cost me five hundred crowns since
Bianca. The more fool you for laying on my duty.
Bianca's scorn for folly has modulated into a scorn for duty, although she has earlier spoken of duty to appear self-righteous before her sister—"So well I know my duty to my elders" (II.i.7). As in her Latin translation, she uses the word to mean whatever she wants, but not something her husband can rely on.
When Petruchio gives Kate her cue for her final speech, the Widow is still objecting from a spoilsport position: "Come, come, you're mocking" (V.ii.132). Kate, however, talks on—and on. It is, of course, the longest speech in the play, and should hold the onstage audience rapt. There is no need to hear Kate speaking ironically to consider the speech more as a performance than as an expression of sincere belief; against the background of many other incidents in the play, it should be clear that sincerity is seldom so much in question as social ability in the tribute to traditional values. With the flexibility of the comic hero, Kate has found a new and more tenable social role, and plays it with energy and aplomb. Instead of her earlier colloquial and often bitter language, she now speaks eloquently in a higher style and dwells on the language of patriarchy: the husband is "thy lord, thy king, thy governor" (V.ii.138).
She has found a way of using language which reconciles her to her society. Following a long tradition of conventional wisdom about marriage, she sees woman's place in the home and man's in the outer world. Elizabeth Janeway has shown [in Man's World, Woman's Place 1971] that this tradition serves a mythological function much more than it accurately defines social history; and it is surely not for its factual value that Kate gives her audience—onstage and off—this idealized picture of marriage. Rather, the speech serves as a reassurance to them that Kate will speak to them in their traditional language—not a language subject to scientific verification but one which serves as a common code reinforcing its society's beliefs about its members' spheres. Within her society's worldview, however, she elaborates on that language, giving, and thus assuming a need for, an explanation of her society's expectations of women. Her definition of marriage thus introduces other elements than hierarchy: the husband is
one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience.
She speaks of marriage as an affectionate contract—a relationship in which both partners have a role to play. Assuming men's greater physical strength (and no other inherent superiority), she contrasts the roles in an hierarchical way, but the roles also relate husbands and wives to each other in mutual need and interdependence.
Meanwhile, Kate preaches some of the virtues traditionally praised and fostered in women—peace, service, love, obedience, flexibility, and sense of one's own limitations—and reconciles them with self-assertion; she holds the center stage while preaching humility. Thus her speech, like the quite different apologies she and Lucentio make to Vincentio, has a tone of triumph. Her energetic resilience helps distance the threatening elements of compulsion in Petruchio's past behavior. When she concludes by offering to place her hand below her husband's foot in an hierarchical gesture of submission, his answer sounds less like an acceptance of tribute than praise for a successful performance in a game: "Why, there's a wench! Come on and kiss me, Kate" (V.ii.180). Indeed, the series of games and game images that has led up to this speech makes it possible to see her improvisation very much as a game. How different is an ingenious creation of a culturally sanctioned role from an elaborate masquerade? Since socialization is a process of learning roles, a sharp distinction between play and social reality seems difficult to maintain even offstage, and here we are dealing with the conclusion of a game within a play within a game within a play. If hierarchical societies perpetuate their structures by the roles each new generation learns to play, Kate's performance is a dramatically heightened version of the kind of compromise that keeps such a society going and can at best afford its members a sense of enjoyment and creativity within strict limits.
Kate's new command of socially approved language corresponds to a new command of social convention; she is no longer ashamed to kiss her husband in public, and can still draw Vincentio's patriarchal approval: "'Tis a good hearing when children are toward" (V.ii.182). With social praise surrounding wife and husband for the order in their marriage, Petruchio is free to leave the banquet saying frankly, "Come, Kate, we'll to bed" (V.ii.184).
Before he leaves, however, he sets up another hierarchy different from the marital hierarchy which has been the foundation of Kate's language: "We three are married, but you two are sped. / 'Twas I won the wager, though you hit the white, / And being a winner, God give you good night" (V.ii.185-87). In most other Shakespearean comedies the final scenes are filled with reconciliations; here distinctions prevail, and these distinctions heighten the sense of privacy, of a separate, limited world, about the marriage of Kate and Petruchio. When Kate reprimands the other wives, she confirms her uniqueness as the only Shakespearean comic heroine without a female friend at any point in the play. For all the patriarchal approval, the character distribution gives her and Petruchio exclusive dependence on each other; it presents their marriage as a private world, a joke that the rest of the characters miss, a game that excludes all but the two of them.
Interestingly, architectural evidence suggests an increased sense of privacy about marriage in Shakespeare's time. From 1570 on, many English people re-built their houses to produce more rooms—most notably, a private bedroom for the married couple. Perhaps the spread of the ideal of privacy was related to changing beliefs about the relations between husband and wife among Shakespeare's contemporaries. Shakespeare shared his audience with Protestant preachers who were glorifying marriage much more than had their pre-Reformation predecessors. With their praise of marriage as spiritual companionship and their emphasis on the spiritualization of the household went an increased respect for the responsibility and personal virtues to be shown by women in marriage. According to Lawrence Stone [in The Crisis of the Aristocracy 1558-1641, 1965] the puritan emphasis on the spiritual equality of women was probably also influencing the aristocracy; he points to the increased freedom that wills at this time gave daughters to refuse unwanted marriage partners, and he suggests that the larger number of separations and notorious quarrels among the peers between 1595 and 1620 might indicate that women were struggling for a better position in their marriages. Since divorce was illegal, and the power of traditional patriarchal ideology persisted, quarrels and separations would naturally result sooner than transformed marriage patterns. As William and Mallevine Haller point out [in Huntington Library Quarterly 5, 1941-42] patriarchal ideology also remains in the puritan preachers side by side with their new emphasis on companionship. The popular preacher Henry Smith fills his Preparative to Marriage, published in 1591, with images suggestive of marriage as equal partnership. Husband and wife are like a pair of oars, a pair of gloves, and even David and Jonathan. He further notes, "Therefore one saith, that marriage doth signify merriage, because a plaifellow is come to make our age merrie, as Isaack and Rebeccah sported together." Yet a few pages later, he declares that "the ornament of a woman is silence; and therefore the Law was given to the man rather than to the woman, to shewe that he shoulde be the teacher, and shee the hearer."
Modern sociologists can, as we have seen, describe marriage as a play sphere with "mutuality of adjustment" and discuss the advantages for the husband of the role of lord and master without mentioning the disadvantages for his wife; similarly, The Taming of the Shrew combines patterns of patriarchy and companionship that members of its society may also have been combining. What is the role of play in this combination? Or, to rephrase an earlier question, what is the relationship between patriarchy per se and patriarchy as played by Petruchio?
To answer this question, we should first note that patriarchy itself rests on an ambiguity of values. The ideology of female subordination assumes the general superiority of men in physical strength; yet patriarchy also involves the subordination of the young to the old, and here physical strength yields to order, tradition, and experience. In dramatizing the relation of man to woman, the Shrew may assume patriarchy, but in dramatizing the relation of youth to age, it gives lip service to patriarchy and victory to youth—to Petruchio, who cuffs the priest at his wedding. But Petruchio's challenge to this aspect of patriarchy is not simply brute force: it is the energy of his words and imagination—his play—that verbally transforms old Vincentio into a young woman and back again with the utmost show of respect. Thus Petruchio's games combine the attractions of the rhetoric of order and the energy of disorder, while removing the dangers of both poles. Analogously, the game element in Katherine's characterization both removes the threat from her earlier aggression and adds vitality to her final defense of order.
In summary, the ambiguous combination of patriarchy and play in The Taming of the Shrew helps it appeal to spectators who are divided among and within them-selves in their attitudes toward marriage. In a time of social transition when Renaissance England felt conflict not only between contrasting images of marriage but also between nostalgia for an older order and a new awareness of individuality, inner passions and outer chaos, the game element in the Shrew sets up a protected space where imagination permits the enjoyment of both energy and form, while the dangers of violence, tyranny, deadening submission, and resentment magically disappear. The game context permits Petruchio and Katherine to modulate from antagonists to co-creators of a new world to master and subject, and encourages the spectators to see as most important whichever pair of roles they choose and consider the others as "only a game."
Yet it may be significant that the mutuality between the main characters in Shakespeare's later romantic comedies never differentiates their roles to insist on the man as leader of the game. Indeed, in Love's Labour's Lost, perhaps written soon after Taming of the Shrew, Rosaline, the Princess, and the other ladies of France chastise Berowne, the King of Navarre, and their fellows for their assumption that as men they control the games; Berowne is to be purged by the frustrating task of jesting a year in a hospital. Perhaps Shakespeare sensed the costs of the differentiation of roles valued by a patriarchal society as he experimented with comedies in which the female characters took more initiative in games and in love.
Marion D. Perret (essay date 1983)
SOURCE: "Petruchio: The Model Wife," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 1983, pp. 223-35.
[In the following essay, Perret refers to early modern "conduct books" to demonstrate that in his efforts to "tame" Kate, Petruchio temporarily takes on responsibilities that were considered "woman's work. "]
The focus of recent critics of The Taming of the Shrew on Kate's role-playing is too limiting. On the one hand, the theatrical vocabulary encourages them to speak of Kate's transformation as though it were nothing more than an act; on the other, the narrow focus keeps them from recognizing the structural subtlety of the latter half of the play, the importance of Kate's seemingly redundant second capitulation, and the comic point of her famous lecture (V.ii.136-78), which is possible precisely because she takes the lecture's content seriously. We discover the complexity of this play when we shift our attention, correctively, from the playing of the shrew to the playing of the tamer and to the role he asks her to undertake. We find that Petruchio shows his imagination not only in the way he uses the time-tested persuasions of stick and carrot, but also in a daring new technique that would have been apparent to an audience familiar with the Elizabethan distribution of household duties: the shrew tamer attempts to school the shrew who assumes his privileges by assuming her responsibilities, teaching her through his own example just how a wife should behave. From the moment Petruchio brings Kate home to the moment she capitulates, almost every action he takes is, according to the conduct books, woman's work.
The relationship and duties of husband and wife are copiously discussed in Elizabethan sermons and books on domestic conduct. The playwright need not have had one of these works beside him as he wrote: the standards set forth in them were widely enough known that he could assume, for instance, that playgoers would understand why Desdemona should come and go at her husband's command even after he has unjustly struck her—the onstage audience shows shock at Othello's action, but no surprise at Desdemona's obedience. Whether the guidelines for behavior expounded in sermons and conduct books were actually followed in the home is irrelevant to whether Shakespeare could assume that theatergoers would recognize Petruchio's shifting of domestic responsibilities: the audience's awareness of conventional standards, not the audience's adherence to them, is what enables Shakespeare to play with the reversal of roles.
The basic assumption of any shrew play is that the man should rule both his wife and his home. The fact that much of the comedy springs from the shrew's mistreatment of her mate encourages us to forget that the wife is indeed supposed to govern the home, though as second in command to her husband. The prevailing view was that "the office of the husbande is, to bee Lorde of all, of the wife, to giue account of all.… The office of the husbande is, to maintayne well hys liuelyhoode, and the office of the woman is, to gouerne well the houshold."
But though managing the house was considered primarily the wife's business, because a few matters were deemed more properly the husband's concern, authors of domestic conduct books carefully specify the duties belonging to each. "There are certayne thynges in the house that onely do pertaine to the authoritie of the husbande, wherewith it were a reprofe for the wife without the consent of her husbande to medie withal: as to receyue straungers, or to marry her doughter. There are other thinges in the which the husband geueth ouer his ryght vnto the woman, as to rule & gouerne her maydens, to see to those thinges yt belong vnto ye kitchen & to ye most part of ye houshold stuffe." For a man to deal with most details of running a house seemed to the sixteenth century unnatural, if not quite unthinkable; after all, "Who wold take vpon him the office and charges of a house? or the office of a cooke? … What a torment were it for a man to do those thinges? A man wold rather leaue all & dwel in a desert, then to dwel in such misery and bondage." Xenophon hints darkly that more than scorn awaits the man who meddles in huswifery: "Parauenture god … wyll punishe hym … bycause he taketh vpon hym that that belongeth to the wyfe." The Elizabethans considered the man who unnecessarily takes up woman's work to be acting most unreasonably: "Those men are to be laughed at, who hauing … a sufficient Wife to doe all the worke within dores, which belongs to a Woman to doe, yet the Husband will set Hens abrood, season the Pot, & dresse the Meat, or any the like worke, which belongeth not to the Man: such husbands many times offend their Wiues greatly, and they wrong themselues." Indeed, Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew observes that it "will make a man mad, to make a woman of him" (IV.v.35). But though his method may seem mad, Petruchio knows what he is doing when he takes up woman's work.
Petruchio's first words upon crossing his threshold—"Where be these knaves?" (IV.i.123)—reflect his position as the ultimate authority in his house, in accord with the accepted Elizabethan belief that the husband "without any exception, is master ouer all the house, and hath as touching his familie, more authoritie then a king in his kingdome." Kate, however, almost immediately forgets that though "the wife is ruler of all other things," she is "yet ynder her husband," for to correct the male servants is the master's prerogative: the domestic conduct books all agree that a wife should "neither rebuke and correcte the men, but leaue that for her housbād to do." In excusing the man who drops the water—"Patience, I pray you; 'twas a fault unwilling" (IV.i.159)—Kate rebukes her master as well as the servants. Petruchio reacts to her violation of domestic order with an indirect reproof: "Will you give thanks, sweet Kate; or else shall I?" (IV.i.162). Since in an Elizabethan household it is the husband who is to offer "before meales, and after meales, prayers and thankes," in asking whether she will say grace Petruchio ironically asks Kate if she will presume further upon her husband's authority.
Their relationship, like their meal, remains graceless, for when Kate declares that the supposed fault with the meat lies in the supposer rather than the meat, Petruchio asserts that they must not eat "burnt food,"
For it engenders choler, planteth anger;
And better 'twere that both of us did fast,
Since, of ourselves, ourselves are choleric,
Than feed it with such over-roasted flesh.
The role of dietician and physician that Petruchio adopts properly belongs to the wife, who, [Edmunde] Tilney advises [in A briefe and pleasant discourse of duties in Manage, called the Flower of Friendshippe, 1568], should have the qualities of a cook, a physician, and a surgeon; [Johannes Ludovicus] Vives, in fact, specifies [in A Very frvtefvl and pleasant boke callyd the instrvction of a Christen woman, trans. Richard Hyrde, 1541] that the wife should know "what maner dyet is good or bad, what meates are holsome to take, what to eschewe, and howe longe, and of what fassion." In his carefully calculated denial of food Petruchio encroaches upon his wife's authority, for it is her responsibility to "giue the portion of food vnto her family, or cause it to be giuen in due season." In controlling their diet Petruchio does Kate's duty as a good wife should, "under name of perfect love" (IV.iii.12).
Perfect love—or at least spiritual rather than physical union—was doubtless one of the topics of Petruchio's "sermon on continency." The origin of this "curtain lecture" (the husband) is as surprising as its timing (the wedding night): bedtime lectures were so commonly given by wives that women were sometimes referred to as "night-Crowes." Indeed, bed was thought the one appropriate place for a woman to reprove her husband. Domestic conduct books, which insist that a wife be censured only in private, never even consider that the husband might reprove his wife in bed. Petruchio's "curtain lecture" is thus thoroughly unconventional.
By the end of IV.iii Petruchio has taken on several tasks usually performed by the wife. His masculinity, however, is never called into question, partly because it has been firmly established before this scene, partly because of the falcon image of his soliloquy.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty;
And till she stoop she must not be full-
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper's
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall
That the trainers of hawks were men, not women, encourages us to view as man's work the woman's work Petruchio refers to here.
Though Petruchio's soliloquy about his method of shrew-taming explains his negative approach through denying food and sleep rather than his positive approach through giving an example of good housekeeping, Petruchio both shows and tells Kate what a wife should do. After their sleepless night of fasting, Petruchio, who has apparently risen to prepare Kate's food, brightly urges her to "pluck up" her spirits, reminding her that a wife's mood should match her husband's and that a lack of consideration for others will bring a lack of consideration from others.
Pluck up thy spirits; look cheerfully upon me.
Here, love; thou see'st how diligent I am
To dress thy meat myself and bring it thee;
I am sure, sweet Kate, this kindness merits
What, not a word? …
The poorest service is repaid with thanks;
And so shall mine, before you touch the meat.
In dressing Kate's meat Petruchio diligently and cheerfully performs the task that reflects a wife's intermediate position as servant to her husband and as mistress of his household, for in the kitchen the wife "in a maner doeth reygne all alone, but yet in such wise & maner, that she put to her hande to dresse her husbādes meate, and not to comaunde it to be drest being absent." Though it is normally the wife's responsibility to be the example for the servants, Petruchio offers his wife an example upon which to model her own behavior.
Dressing Kate's meat is the last example of Petruchio's serving as a model for Kate to imitate. In the only other instance of his doing woman's work, he serves as a bad example: through an exchange with the tailor in which he plays the wife's role as well as his own, Petruchio shows Kate what not to do when dealing with those above and beneath her. The Elizabethan wife was supposed to choose clothes that her husband would approve, but Petruchio (in the role of the wife) has ordered through Grumio clothes that he now (in the role of the husband) does not approve.
Tai. You bid me make it orderly and well,
According to the fashion and the time.
Pet. Marry, and did; but if you be remember'd,
I did not bid you mar it to the time.I'll none of it: hence! make your best of it.
Kath. I never saw a better-fashion'd gown,
More quaint, more pleasing, nor more commendable.
Petruchio here puts Kate in his position—a position she has previously usurped—in order that she may taste the frustration of having what is both pleasing and proper unreasonably denied, seemingly out of sheer contrariness. Though it galls Kate, this treatment is potentially more instructive than the earlier examples of "kill[ing] her in her own humour" (IV.i.183), in that it gives her the opportunity not only to understand how her husband feels when she contradicts his wishes, but also to realize that good domestic order requires a concern for others, because the wife's insistence on having her own way affects more than whoever is involved in giving her what she wants: her not being a source of general order makes her a source of general disorder in which the haberdasher and the tailor are discomfited. Petruchio's refusal to consider Kate's conflicting opinion and his shifting of responsibility for instructions wrongly given, wrongly interpreted, or wrongly followed are designed to remind Kate that her behavior effectively denies both the vow of obedience she made at marriage and the wife's duty of seeing that household matters are handled correctly. Kate, however, seems unable to recognize her ultimate responsibility for the comic confusion that results when Grumio imitates (as a servant and a wife should) the "humour" of his master, who imitates (as a husband should not) the "humour" of his wife by going back on his word and blaming another for the failure of their agreement.
Although in his "taming school" (IV.ii.54) he tries to teach by example, Petruchio finds Kate so self-centered that she can learn only from her own doing, not his, just as she can sense only her own frustration, not his. As a pupil, in fact, Kate seems to be regressing rather than progressing: in IV.i we find that she tries to keep Petruchio from unfairly beating Grumio and we hear her excuse a servant's "fault unwilling," but in IV.iii she speaks for herself rather than for another and does not seem to care whether Petruchio, the haberdasher, or the tailor is right or wronged; her sole concern is whether she will get what she wants. Petruchio, appropriately enough, has not been able to bring domestic order by acting as a model wife, for that is the woman's job. He thus resumes his proper role as ultimate authority in the home, flatly insisting on the absolute obedience owed the head of the family. He now treats Kate less like a partner, who can learn from the precept and example of one who has tried her tasks, than like a puppet, who must respond to commands even if they are unreasonable (IV.iii. 194-97). Only through the experience of obeying, which Petruchio forces upon her, does Kate discover that what her husband wants is not servile acquiescence, which would confine her, but co-operation, which will free them both.
The exchange of male and female duties and roles we see on the wedding night and the following morning is carefully prepared for immediately after the wedding. At marriage the Elizabethan woman moved from obedience to her father to obedience to her husband, but the newly married Kate initiates the reversal of domestic roles by asserting her dominance over both father and husband: "Father, be quiet: he [Petruchio] shall stay my leisure" (III.ii.219). Kate shows herself dis-obedient in deed as well as word, for though inviting guests is the man's prerogative, her first act as a bride is to invite guests to join her at supper in her father's house, contrary to her husband's wishes. In effect, this is a declaration of superiority to her husband, who takes it as such.
Petruchio reacts forcefully to this challenging of his authority by puting Kate firmly in her place, which may be over others but is still under him.
They shall go forward, Kate, at thy command.
Obey the bride, you that attend on her.
Saving her face by shifting the sense of "attend" from "accompany" to "wait upon," Petruchio concurs that Kate's servants owe her obedience and reinforces her order by his. Nevertheless, he makes clear that he is master of this mistress.
I will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods, my chattels; she is my
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing.
Such legalism is scarely romantic, but Petruchio at once pretends to defend his bride against attack. Since protecting his wife is a man's duty, this exaggeratedly masculine role, uncalled for by the immediate situation, acts as a public declaration that Petruchio will do his duty as a husband.
Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch
I'll buckler thee against a million.
This imaginative pose is a brilliant stroke: it forces Kate into the traditional feminine role and at the same time responds to her "Now, if you love me, stay" (III.ii.206) by suggesting that Petruchio denies her request precisely because he does love her.
The shrew tamer's behavior in III.ii gives us a fore-taste of most of the methods he will use in Acts IV and V. When Petruchio busses his bride with "such a clamorous smack / That at the parting all the church did echo" (III.ii.180-81), he proclaims Kate's desirability as publicly as when he demands that she kiss him "in the midst of the street" (V.i.149). He shows the shrew her violent and willful unreasonableness by striking the priest. Anticipating his falconer's method of discipline by deprivation, he keeps Kate from what he will deny her until she is tamed—food, sleep, and a visit to her father's house—by summarily carrying her off supperless, although the first few weeks of marriage were usually spent with the girl's family. The only one of Petruchio's later methods not shown at their wedding is his providing a positive role model for Kate. This Petruchio cannot do here, for in public he must demonstrate his control over his wife. He wisely shifts domestic roles only when he and Kate are where his contradictory reaction to her negative behavior can become part of a consistent program in which not only his words but also his actions provide a positive pattern for his wife to imitate.
On the way to his house Petruchio responds to Kate's challenging of a masculine prerogative differently, though no less imaginatively, than he did at their wedding. Kate's objection to her husband's disciplining of a manservant paradoxically reflects a new, albeit temporary, humility—"she prayed, that never prayed before" (IV.i.82)—and a new concern for those beneath her—"she waded through the dirt to pluck [Petruchio] off [Grumio]" (IV.i.79-80). This shift in attitude beneath a surface of continued contrariness seems to suggest to Petruchio that a role model might help Kate learn a better way to express her solicitude, because he literally adopts the woman's position, riding behind his wife despite the fact that when an Elizabethan man and woman shared a horse, the woman, not the man, rode pillion. After Kate presumes to usurp his authority outdoors, Petruchio takes over hers indoors, demonstrating various feminine duties until it becomes apparent to him that Kate cannot understand what he is doing.
Though Petruchio's method proves ineffective, it has a peculiar fitness: the domestic conduct books caution the husband to "take heed, that he himselfe bee not tainted with the same vice, which hee reproueth in his wife, least shee stop his mouth, with the reproach of the same fault: but rather by giuing her example by the contrary vertue: let her be induced and led to follow him." What Petruchio tries for a time is an inversion of the Renaissance adage that a good wife becomes a looking glass for her husband, reflecting his every mood. When Kate fails to realize that her husband acts as a model for her good conduct as well as a mirror for her bad behavior, Petruchio resumes his rightful domestic role, flatly demanding that his wife assume hers and that she demonstrate her compliance by patterning her humor upon his. In testing Kate's compliance in IV.v, Petruchio appropriately requires her to act as if a man were a woman; this forces Kate to realize how unrealistic has been her assumption that one sex can arbitrarily take on the other's role.
Awareness of the reversal of male and female domestic roles in Act IV increases our understanding, hence our enjoyment, of Kate's behavior in Act V. In V.i, in an exchange that critics have found difficult to justify, Petruchio demands a second proof of his wife's obedience. For the last time Kate crosses his will—for the first time correctly, since she is now thinking of what behavior is proper for her, and according to conventional morality Petruchio is wrong in demanding a kiss immodestly "in the midst of the street." Behavior acceptable in private is not necessarily proper in public.
As [William] Gouge puts it [in Of Domesticali Duties, 1622], "Much greater liberty is granted to man and wife when they are alone, then in company." [In his The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and vnconstant Women: or, the vanitie of them; chuse you whether, 1622, Joseph] Swetnam, for example, admonishes the husband that "thou must neither chide nor play with thy wife before company; those that play and dally with them before company, they doe thereby set other Mens teeth on edge and make their Wiues the lesse shamefast." In short, the married Elizabethan man must take care not to show himself, in [Johannes] Vives' phrase, "rather to be a louer then a husbande."
Why should Petruchio now open himself to the charge of uxoriousness and poor household government? The answer seems to be that this shrew tamer wants his wife to grasp the spirit as well as the letter of domestic law. Petruchio's demand for an unconventional acknowledgment of the husband's traditional dominance shows Kate that obedience to him will not enslave her to dull conventionality. Putting his pride as a man into her hands, Petruchio asks his wife to show publicly her right relationship, loving obedience, by obediently showing love. In giving Kate the opportunity to refuse him before others, Petruchio offers her momentary mastery over him; here, as in the final scene, Kate by not taking it shows her mastery over her former self and her understanding of their right relationship.
When Kate in III.ii publicly asks her husband to give way to her, he refuses, disguising her disobedience with the romantic pose of rescuing her from attack; when Petruchio in V.i publicly asks his wife to give way to him, disguising her obedience as an act of love, she acquiesces. Kate's emotional growth can be seen in the difference between her "Now, if you love me, stay" of III.ii.206 and her "Now pray thee, love, stay" of V.i.153. Her intellectual growth can be seen in how she understands Petruchio's two threats to take her home if she does not obey him. In IV.v Petruchio's threat of turning back is to Kate only another denial of what she wants; in V.i, where the contest has become one of principles rather than wills, Petruchio's threat is to Kate a reminder that in good household government obedience takes precedence over decorum. That Kate gives evidence of her capitulation in V.i as well as in IV.v shows the shrew tamer's imagination rather than the dramatist's lack of it.
The change in Kate can be seen most clearly in V.ii, where she and Petruchio appear as champions of conventional domestic order yet transcend the limitations of traditional male and female propriety. At the wedding banquet Kate, in one last reversal of roles, defends her husband's honor, though usually it is the husband who protects the wife's. She does this, however, wisely, defending Petruchio as he defended her, by putting the woman in the traditionally proper feminine role: Kate proves Petruchio a shrew tamer by proving herself no shrew. Without contesting his authority over her, Kate "bucklers" Petruchio from the charge of the other wedding guests as wittily as she played with the sun and moon when she first capitulated. The exaggeration in her lecture to the other wives suggests, not the hypocrisy she explicitly condemns in insisting that women's "hearts / Should well agree with their external parts" (V.ii. 167-68), but the exaggeration of Petruchio's imagined defense of her at their wedding. Where in III.ii the shrew tamer to enforce her obedience ostentatiously demonstrates the husband's duty, in V.ii the tamed shrew to offer her obedience ostentatiously demonstrates the wife's duty—and in doing so protects not only Petruchio from the accusation that he is ruled by his wife, but also the other husbands from attack by their wives. Kate shows herself as good at Petruchio's game as he; she has become sure enough of her domestic role to demonstrate, as he did, the opposite sex's duty "under name of perfect love." Their techniques are now complementary, as their spirits are matched.
Kate's elaborate lecture on the basis of good domestic government wins Petruchio's enthusiastic "Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate" (V.ii. 180)—a breaking of decorum that is an outwardly improper sign of delight in their relationship's inward propriety. The situation recalls that of the previous scene, where Petruchio also demands a kiss that defies convention. But in V.i he asks Kate for a sign of her love as a sign of her obedience; in V.ii he rewards a display of her obedience with a display of his love. The "madly mated" pair unconventionally express and are ruled by the spirit, if not always the letter, of domestic law. They have discovered that "when the husband hath obtained that his wife doth trulie and hartily loue him, there shall then need neither precepts, nor lawes: for loue shall teach her moe things, and more effectually, then all the precepts of all the Philosophers."
Knowledge of the domestic duties assigned the Elizabethan man and woman helps us see a new subtlety to this comedy. Where shrew plays invite us not to respect a woman who, figuratively, "wears the pants," this play invites us to respect a man who, figuratively, "wears the skirts" for a while to teach his wife a lesson. That Petruchio attempts to tame his shrew through this unconventional method does not make him shamefully womanish; as the homily on matrimony regularly reminded Elizabethan churchgoers, who knew that dissemble can have the sense of simulate, "a man may be a man … although hee should dissemble some things in his wives manners. And this is the part of a Christian man, which both pleaseth God, and serueth also in good vse to the comfort of their mariage state."
Petruchio is not the first male in The Taming of the Shrew to take on a woman's role: in the Induction the page Bartholomew presents himself as a wife to induce Sly to accept his new identity and the social behavior it requires. Yet where Bartholomew wants Sly to respond to his womanly ways rather than to imitate them, Petruchio wants Kate to respond to the man he is but to imitate his ways of imitating a woman. When Kate finally understands what her husband wants of her, she naturally excels Petruchio in the role of model wife.
Karen Newman (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, " in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter, 1986, pp. 86-100.
[In the following essay, Newman argues that by emphasizing its own theatricality, The Taming of the Shrew subverts Elizabethan social and gender roles by revealing them to be "culturally constructed."]
WETHERDEN, Suffolk. Plough Monday, 1604. A drunken tanner, Nicholas Rosyer, staggers home from the ale-house. On arriving at his door, he is greeted by his wife with "dronken dogg, pisspott and other unseemly names." When Rosyer tried to come to bed to her, she "still raged against him and badd him out dronken dogg dronken pisspott." She struck him several times, clawed his face and arms, spit at him and beat him out of bed. Rosyer retreated, returned to the alehouse, and drank until he could hardly stand up. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Quarry and others met and "agreed amongest themselfs that the said Thomas Quarry who dwelt at the next howse … should … ryde abowt the towne upon a cowlestaff whereby not onley the woman which had offended might be shunned for her misdemeanors towards her husband but other women also by her shame might be admonished to offence in like sort." Domestic violence, far from being contained in the family, spills out into the neighborhood, and the response of the community is an "old country ceremony used in merriment upon such accidents."
Quarry, wearing a kirtle or gown and apron, "was carryed to diverse places and as he rode did admonishe all wiefs to take heede how they did beate their husbands." The Rosyers' neighbors re-enacted their troubled gender relations: the beating was repeated with Quarry in woman's clothes playing Rosyer's wife, the neighbors standing in for the "abused" husband, and a rough music procession to the house of the transgressors. The result of this "merriment" suggests its darker purpose and the anxiety about gender relations it displays: the offending couple left the village in shame. The skimmington, as it was sometimes called, served its purpose by its ritual scapegoating of the tanner, and more particularly, his wife. Rosyer vented his anger by bringing charges against his neighbors in which he complained not only of scandal and disgrace to himself, "his wief and kyndred," but also of seditious "tumult and discention in the said towne."
The entire incident figures the social anxiety about gender and power which characterizes Elizabethan culture. Like Simon Forman's dream of wish-fulfillment with Queen Elizabeth [cited by Louis Montrose in Representations 1, 1983], this incident, in Louis Montrose's words, "epitomizes the indissoluably political and sexual character of the cultural forms in which [such] tensions might be represented and addressed." The community's ritual action against the couple who transgress prevailing codes of gender behavior seeks to re-establish those conventional modes of behavior—it seeks to sanction patriarchal order. But at the same time, this "old country ceremony" subverts, by its representation, its masquerade of the very events it criticizes by forcing the offending couple to recognize their transgression through its dramatic enactment. The skimmington seeks "in merriment" to reassert traditional gender behaviors which are naturalized in Elizabethan culture as divinely ordained; but it also deconstructs that "naturalization" by its foregrounding of what is a humanly constructed cultural product—the displacement of gender roles in a dramatic representation.
I. Family Politics
The events of Plough Monday 1604 have an uncanny relation to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew which might well be read as a theatrical realization of such a community fantasy, the shaming and subjection of a shrewish wife. The so-called induction opens with the hostess railing at the drunken tinker Sly, and their interchange figures him as the inebriated tanner from Wetherden. Sly is presented with two "dreams," the dream he is a lord, a fantasy which enacts traditional Elizabethan hierarchical and gender relations, and the "dream" of Petruchio taming Kate. The first fantasy is a series of artificially constructed power relationships figured first in class relations, then in terms of gender. The lord exhorts his servingmen to offer Sly "low submissive reverence" and traditional lordly prerogatives and pursuits—music, painting, handwashing, rich apparel, hunting, and finally a theatrical entertainment. In the longer, more detailed speech which follows at Ind., 1.100 ff., he exhorts his page to "bear himself with honourable action / Such as he hath observ'd in noble ladies / Unto their lords." Significantly, Sly is only convinced of his lordly identity when he is told of his "wife." His realization of this newly discovered self involves calling for the lady, demanding from her submission to his authority, and finally seeking to exert his new power through his husbandly sexual prerogative: "Madam, undress you and come now to bed" (Ind., 2.118). By enacting Sly's identity as a lord through his wife's social and sexual, if deferred, submission, the Induction suggests ironically how in this androcentric culture men depended on women to authorize their sexual and social masculine identities. The Lord's fantasy takes the drunken Sly who brawls with the hostess, and by means of a "play" brings him into line with traditional conceptions of gender relations. But in the Induction, these relationships of power and gender, which in Elizabethan treatises, sermons and homilies, and behavioral handbooks and the like were figured as natural and divinely ordained, are subverted by the metatheatrical foregrounding of such roles and relations as culturally constructed.
The analogy between the events at Wetherden and Shakespeare's play suggests a tempting homology between history and cultural artifacts. It figures patriarchy as a master narrative, the key to understanding certain historic events and dramatic plots. But as Louis Althusser's critique of historicism [Réponse à John Lewis, 1973] epigrammatically has it, "history is a process without a telos or a subject." This Althusserian dictum repudiates such master narratives, but as Frederic Jameson points out [in The Political Unconscious, 1981], "What Althusser's own insistence on history as an absent cause makes clear, but what is missing from the formula as it is canonically worded, is that he does not at all draw the fashionable conclusion that because history is a text, the 'referent' does not exist … history is not a narrative, master or otherwise, but that, as an absent cause, it is inaccessible to us except in textual form, and that our approach to it and to the Real itself necessarily passes through its prior textualization, its narrativization in the political unconscious." If we return to Nicholas Rosyer's complaint against his neighbors and consider its textualization, how it is made accessible to us through narrative, we can make several observations. We notice immediately that Rosyer's wife, the subject of the complaint, lacks the status of a subject. She is unnamed and referred to only as the "wief." Rosyer's testimony, in fact, begins with a defense not of his wife, but of his patrimony, an account of his background and history in the village in terms of male lineage. His wife has no voice; she never speaks in the complaint at all. Her husband brings charges against his neighbors presumably to clear his name and to affirm his identity as patriarch which the incident itself, from his wife's "abuse" to the transvestite skimmington, endangers.
From the account of this case, we also get a powerful sense of life in early modern England, the close proximity of neighbors and the way in which intimate sexual relations present a scene before an audience. Quarry and the neighbors recount Rosyer's attempted assertion of his sexual "prerogatives" over his wife, and her vehement refusal: "she struck him several times, clawed his face and arms, spit at him and beat him out of bed." There is evidently no place in the late Elizabethan "sex/gender system" for Rosyer's wife to complain of her husband's mistreatment, drunkenness and abuse, or even give voice to her point of view, her side of the story. The binary opposition between male and female in the Wetherden case and its figuration of patriarchy in early modern England generates the possible contradictions logically available to both terms: Rosyer speaks, his wife is silent; Rosyer is recognized as a subject before the law, his wife is solely its object; Rosyer's family must be defended against the insults of his neighbors, his wife has no family, but has become merely a part of his. In turning to The Taming of the Shrew, our task is to articulate the particular sexual/political fantasy or, in Jameson's Althusserian formulation, the "libidinal apparatus" that the play projects as an imaginary resolution of contradictions which are never resolved in the Wetherden case, but which the formal structures of dramatic plot and character in Shakespeare's play present as seemingly reconciled.
II. A Shrew's History
Many readers of Shakespeare's Shrew have noted that both in the induction and the play language is an index of identity. Sly is convinced of his lordly identity by language, by the lord's obsequious words and recital of his false history. Significantly, when he believes himself a lord, his language changes and he begins to speak the blank verse of his retainers. But in the opening scene of the play proper, Shakespeare emphasizes not just the relationship between language and identity, but between women and language, and between control over language and patriarchal power. Kate's linguistic protest is against the role in patriarchal culture to which women are assigned, that of wife and object of exchange in the circulation of male desire. Her very first words make this point aggressively: she asks of her father "I pray you, sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me amongst these mates?" Punning on the meaning of stale as laughing stock and prostitute, on "stalemate," and on mate as husband, Kate refuses her erotic destiny by exercising her linguistic willfulness. Her shrewishness, always associated with women's revolt in words, testifies to her exclusion from social and political power. Bianca, by contrast, is throughout the play associated with silence (1.1.70-71).
Kate's prayer to her father is motivated by Gremio's threat "To cart her rather. She's too rough for me" (1.1.55). Although this line is usually glossed as "drive around in an open cart (a punishment for prostitutes)," the case of Nicholas Rosyer and his unnamed wife provides a more complex commentary. During the period from 1560 until the English Civil War, in which many historians have recognized a "crisis of order," the fear that women were rebelling against their traditional subservient role in patriarchal culture was wide-spread. Popular works such as The Two Angry Women of Abington (1598), Middleton's The Roaring Girl (1611), Hic Mulier, or The Man-Woman (1620), and Joseph Swetnam's Arraignment of lewd, idle, froward and inconstant women, which went through ten editions between 1616 and 1634, all testify to a preoccupation with rebellious women.
What literary historians have recognized in late Elizabethan and Jacobean writers as a preoccupation with female rebellion and independence, social historians have also observed in historical records. The period was fraught with anxiety about rebellious women. David Underdown observes [in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, 1985] that "Women scolding and brawling with their neighbours, single women refusing to enter service, wives dominating or even beating their husbands: all seem to surface more frequently than in the periods immediately before or afterwards. It will not go unnoticed that this is also the period during which witchcraft accusations reach their peak." Underdown's account points out a preoccupation with women's rebellion through language. Although men were occasionally charged with scolding, it was predominantly a female offence usually associated with class as well as gender issues and revolt: "women who were poor, social outcasts, widows or otherwise lacking in the protection of a family … were the most common offenders." Underdown points out that in the few examples after the restoration, social disapproval shifts to "mismatched couples, sexual offenders, and eventually … husbands who beat their wives." Punishment for such offences and related ones involving "domineering" wives who "beat" or "abused" their husbands often involved public shaming or charivari of the sort employed at Wetherden. The accused woman or her surrogate was put in a scold's collar or ridden in a cart accompanied by a rough musical procession of villagers banging pots and pans.
Louis Montrose attributes the incidence of troubled gender relations to female rule since "all forms of public and domestic authority in Elizabethan England were vested in men: in fathers, husbands, masters, teachers, magistrates, lords. It was inevitable that the rule of a woman would generate peculiar tensions within such a 'patriarchal' society." Instead of assigning the causes of such rebellion to the "pervasive cultural presence" of the Queen, historians point to the social and economic factors which contributed to these troubled gender relations. Underdown observes a breakdown of community in fast-growing urban centers and scattered pasture/dairy parishes where effective means of social control such as compact nucleated village centers, resident squires, and strong manorial institutions were weak or non-existent. He observes the higher incidence of troubled gender relations in such communities as opposed to the arable parishes which "tended to retain strong habits of neighborhood and cooperation." Both Montrose's reading of the Elizabethan sex-gender system in terms of "female rule" and Underdown's explanation for this proliferation of accusations of witchcraft, shrewishness and husband domination are less important here than the clear connection between women's independent appropriation of discourse and a conceived threat to patriarchal authority contained through public shaming or spectacle—the ducking stool, usually called the cucking stool, or carting.
From the outset of Shakespeare's play, Katherine's threat to male authority is posed through language; it is perceived as such by others and is linked to a claim larger than shrewishness—witchcraft—through the constant allusions to Katherine's kinship with the devil. Control of women and particularly of Kate's revolt is from the outset attempted by inscribing women in a scopic economy. Woman is represented as spectacle (Kate) or object to be desired and admired, a vision of beauty (Bianca). She is the site of visual pleasure, whether on the public stage, the village green, or the fantasy "cart" with which Hortensio threatens Kate. The threat of being made a spectacle, here by carting, or later in the wedding scene by Petruchio's "mad-brain rudesby," is an important aspect of shrew-taming. Given the evidence of social history and of the play itself, discourse is power, both in Elizabethan and Jacobean England and in the fictional space of the Shrew.
The Shrew both demonstrated and produced the social facts of the patriarchal ideology which characterized Elizabethan England, but representation gives us a perspective on that patriarchal system which subverts its status as natural. The theatrically constructed frame in which Sly exercises patriarchal power and the dream in which Kate is tamed undermine the seemingly eternal nature of those structures by calling attention to the constructed character of the representation rather than veiling it through mimesis. The foregrounded female protagonist of the action and her powerful annexation of the traditionally male domain of discourse distances us from that system by exposing and displaying its contradictions. Representation undermines the ideology about women which the play presents and produces, both in the Induction and in the Kate/Petruchio plot: Sly disappears as lord, but Kate keeps talking.
III. The Price of Silence
At 2.1, in the spat between Bianca and Kate, the relationship between silence and women's place in the marriage market is made clear. Kate questions Bianca about her suitors, inquiring as to her preferences. Some critics have read her questions and her abuse of Bianca (in less than thirty lines, Kate binds her sister's hands behind her back, strikes her and chases after her calling for revenge) as revealing her secret desire for marriage and for the praise and recognition afforded her sister. Kate's behavior may invite such an interpretation, but another view persistently presents itself as well. In her questions and badgering, Kate makes clear the relationship between Bianca's sweet sobriety and her success with men. Kate's abuse may begin as a jest, but her feelings are aroused to a different and more serious pitch when her father enters, taking as usual Bianca's part against her sister. Baptista emphasizes both Bianca's silence, "When did she cross thee with a bitter word?" and Katherine's link with the devil, "thou hilding of a devilish spirit" (2.1.28, 26). We should bear in mind here Underdown's observation that shrewishness is a class as well as gender issue—that women "lacking in the protection of a family … were the most common offenders." Kate is motherless, and to some degree fatherless as well, for Baptista consistently rejects her and favors her obedient sister. Kate's threat which follows, "Her silence flouts me, and I'll be reveng'd" (2.1.29) is truer than we have heretofore recognized, for it is that silence which has insured Bianca's place in the male economy of desire and exchange to which Kate pointedly refers in her last lines:
What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I
She is your treasure, she must have a
I must dance barefoot on her wedding day,
And, for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Here we recognize the relationship between father and husband, in which woman is the mediating third term, a treasure the exchange of which assures patriarchal hegemony. Throughout the play Bianca is a treasure, a jewel, an object of desire and possession. Although much has been made of the animal analogies between Kate and beasts, the metaphorical death of the courtly imagery associated with Bianca has been ignored as too conventional, if not natural, to warrant comment. What seems at issue here is not so much Kate's lack of a husband, or indeed her desire for a marriage partner, but rather her distaste at those folk customs which make her otherness, her place outside that patriarchal system, a public fact, a spectacle for all to see and mock.
In the battle of words between Kate and Petruchio at 2.1.182ff., it is Kate who gets the best of her suitor. She takes the lead through puns which allow her to criticize Petruchio and the patriarchal system of wooing and marriage. Her sexual puns make explicit to the audience not so much her secret preoccupation with sex and marriage, but what is implicit in Petruchio's wooing—that marriage is a sexual exchange in which women are exploited for their use-value as producers. Significantly, Petruchio's language is linguistically similar to Kate's in its puns and wordplay. He also presents her, as many commentators have noted, with an imagined vision which makes her conform to the very order against which she rebels—he makes her a Bianca with words, shaping an identity for her which confirms the social expectations of the sex/gender system which informs the play. Their wooing can be interestingly compared with the next scene, also a wooing, between Bianca and her two suitors. Far from the imaginative use of language and linguistic play we find in Kate, Bianca repeats verbatim the Latin words Lucentio "construes" to reveal his identity and his love. Her revelation of her feelings through a repetition of the Latin lines he quotes from Ovid are as close as possible to the silence we have come to expect from her.
In the altercation over staying for the wedding feast after their marriage, Kate again claims the importance of language and her use of it to women's place and independence in the world. But here it is Petruchio who controls language, who has the final word, for he creates through words a situation to justify his actions—he claims to be rescuing Kate from thieves. More precisely, he claims she asks for that rescue. Kate's annexation of language does not work unless her audience, and particularly her husband, accepts what she says as independent rebellion. By deliberately misunderstanding and reinterpreting her words to suit his own ends, Petruchio effectively refuses her the freedom of speech identified in the play with women's independence. Such is his strategy throughout this central portion of the action, in their arrival at his house and in the interchange with the tailor. Kate is figuratively killed with kin-dness, by her husband's rule over her not so much in material terms—the withholding of food, clothing and sleep—but the withholding of linguistic understanding. As the receiver of her messages, he simply refuses their meaning; since he also has material power to enforce his interpretations, it is his power over language that wins.
In the exchange between Petruchio and Kate with the tailor, Kate makes her strongest bid yet for linguistic freedom:
Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak,
And speak I will. I am no child, no babe.
Your betters have endur'd me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart concealing it will break,
And rather than it shall, I will be free
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.
When we next encounter Kate, however, on the journey to Padua, she finally admits to Petruchio: "What you will have it nam'd, even that it is, / And so it shall be so for Katherine" (4.5.21-22). On this journey Kate calls the sun the moon, an old man a bud-ding virgin, and makes the world conform to the topsy-turvy of Petruchio's patriarchal whimsy. But we should look carefully at this scene before acquiescing in too easy a view of Kate's submission. Certainly she gives in to Petruchio's demands literally; but her playfulness and irony here are indisputable. As she says at 4.5.44-48:
Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with the sun
That everything I look on seemeth green.
Now I perceive thou art a reverend father.
Pardon, I pray thee, for my mad mistaking.
Given Kate's talent for puns, we must understand her line, "bedazzled with the sun," as a pun on son and play with Petruchio's line earlier in the scene "Now by my mother's son, and that's myself, / It shall be moon, or star, or what I list" (4.5.6-7). "Petruchio's bedazzlement" is exactly that, and Kate here makes clear the playfulness of their linguistic games.
In his paper "Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bi-Sexuality" (1908), Sigmund Freud observes that neurotic symptoms, particularly the hysterical symptom, have their origins in the daydreams of adolescence. "In girls and women," Freud claims, "they are invariably of an erotic nature, in men they may be either erotic or ambitious." A feminist characterological re-reading of Freud might suggest that Kate's ambitious fantasies, which her culture allows her to express only in erotic directions, motivate her shrewishness. Such behavior, which in a man would not be problematic, her family and peers interpret as "hysterical" and/or diabolic. Her "masculine" behavior saves her, at least for a time, from her feminine erotic destiny.
Freud goes on to claim that hysterical symptoms are always bi-sexual, "the expression of both a masculine and a feminine unconscious sexual phantasy." The example he gives is a patient who "pressed her dress to her body with one hand (as the woman) while trying to tear it off with the other (as the man)." To continue our "analysis" in the scene we are considering, we might claim that Kate's female masquerade obscures her continuing ambitious fantasies, now only manifest in her puns and ironic wordplay which suggest the distance between her character and the role she plays. Even though she gives up her shrewishness and acquiesces to Petruchio's whims, she persists in her characteristic "masculine" linguistic exuberance while masquerading as an obedient wife.
Instead of using Freud to analyze Kate's character, a critical move of debatable interpretive power, we might consider the Freudian text instead as a reading of ideo-logical or cultural patterns. The process Freud describes is suggestive for analyzing the workings not of character, but of Shakespeare's text itself. No speech in the play has been more variously interpreted than Kate's final speech of women's submission. In a recent essay on the Shrew [in The Woman's Part, eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Green, and Carol Thomas Neely, 1980], John Bean has conveniently assigned to the two prevailing views the terms "revisionist" for those who would take Kate's speech as ironic and her subservience as pretense, a way of living peaceably in patriarchal culture but with an unregenerate spirit, and the "anti-revisionists" who argue that farce is the play's governing genre and that Kate's response to Petruchio's taming is that of an animal responding to "the devices of a skilled trainer." Bean himself argues convincingly for a compromise position which admits the "background of depersonalizing farce unassimilated from the play's fabliau sources," but suggests that Kate's taming needs to be seen in terms of romantic comedy, as a spontaneous change of heart such as those of the later romantic comedies "where characters lose themselves in chaos and emerge, as if from a dream, liberated into the bonds of love." Bean rightly points out the liberal elements of the final speech in which marriage is seen as a partnership as well as a hierarchy, citing the humanist writers on marriage and juxtaposing Kate's speech with the corresponding, and remarkably more mysogynist, lines in The Taming of a Shrew and other taming tales.
Keeping in mind Bean's arguments for the content of the speech and its place in the intersection of farce and romantic love plot, I would like to turn instead to its significance as representation. What we find is Katherine as a strong, energetic female protagonist represented before us addressing not the onstage male audience, only too aware of its articulation of patriarchal power, but Bianca and the Widow, associated with silence throughout the play and finally arriving by means, as Petruchio calls it, of Kate's "womanly persuasion" (5.2.120).
Unlike any other of Shakespeare's comedies, we have here represented not simply marriage, with the final curtain a veiled mystification of the sexual and social results of that ritual, but a view, however brief and condensed, of that marriage over time. And what we see is not a quiet and submissive Kate, but the same energetic and linguistically powerful Kate with which the play began. We know, then, in a way we never know about the other comedies, except perhaps The Merchant of Venice, and there our knowledge is complicated by Portia's male disguise, that Kate has continued to speak. She has not, of course, continued to speak her earlier language of revolt and anger. Instead she has adopted another strategy, a strategy which the French psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray calls mimeticism. Irigaray argues [in Ce sexe qui n 'en est pas un, 1977] that women are cut off from language by the patriarchal order in which they live, by their entry into the Symbolic which the Father represents in a Freudian/ Lacanian model. Women's only possible relation to the dominant discourse is mimetic:
To play with mimesis is … for a woman to try to recover the place of her exploitation by language, without allowing herself to be simply reduced to it. It is to resubmit herself… to ideas—notably about her—elaborated in and through a masculine logic, but to "bring out" by an effect of playful repetition what was to remain hidden: the recovery of a possible operation of the feminine in language. It is also to unveil the fact that if women mime so well they are not simply reabsorbed in this function. They also remain elsewhere.
Whereas Irigaray goes on to locate this "elsewhere" in sexual pleasure (jouissance), Nancy Miller has elaborated on this notion of "mimeticism" [in The Representation of Women, English Institute Essays, 1983], describing it as a "form of emphasis: an italicized version of what passes for the neutral … Spoken or written, italics are a modality of intensity and stress; a way of marking what has already been said, of making a common text one's own."
Joel Fineman has recently observed [in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, eds. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, 1985] the difficulty in distinguishing between man's and woman's speech in the Shrew by demonstrating how the rhetorical strategies Kate deploys are like Petruchio's. But Kate's self-consciousness about the power of discourse, her punning and irony, and her techniques of linguistic masquerade, are strategies of italics, mimetic strategies, in Irigaray's sense of mimeticism. Instead of figuring a gender-marked woman's speech, they deform language by sub-verting it, that is, by turning it inside out so that metaphors, puns and other forms of wordplay manifest their veiled equivalences: the meaning of woman as treasure, of wooing as a civilized and acceptable disguise for sexual exploitation, of the objectification and exchange of women. Kate's having the last word contradicts the very sentiments she speaks; rather than resolve the play's action, her monologue simply displays the fundamental contradiction presented by a female dramatic protagonist, between woman as a sexually desirable, silent object and women of words, women with power over language who disrupt, or at least italicize, women's place and part in culture.
To dramatize action involving linguistically powerful women characters militates against patriarchal structures and evaluations of women in which their silence is most highly prized—which is why so many of Shakespeare's heroines, in order to maintain their status as desirable, must don male attire in order to speak: Rosalind, Portia, even the passive Viola. The conflict between the explicitly repressive content of Kate's speech and the implicit message of independence communicated by representing a powerful female protagonist speaking the play's longest speech at a moment of emphatic suspense is not unlike Freud's female patient who "pressed her dress to her body with one hand (as the woman) while trying to tear it off with the other (as the man)." We might even say that this conflict shares the bi-sexuality Freud claims for the hysterical symptom, that the text itself is sexually ambivalent, a view in keeping with the opposed readings of the play in which it is either conservative farce or subversive irony. Such a representation of gender, what I will call the "female dramatizable," is always at once patriarchally suspect and sexually ambivalent, clinging to Elizabethan patriarchal ideology and at the same time tearing it away by foregrounding or italicizing its constructed character.
IV. Missing Frames and Female Spectacles
Kate's final speech is [what Jameson terms] "an imaginary or formal solution to unresolvable social contradictions," but that appearance of resolution is an "ideological mirage." On the level of plot, as many readers have noted, if one shrew is tamed two more reveal themselves. Bianca and the widow refuse to do their husbands' bidding, thereby undoing the sense of closure Kate's "acquiescence" produces. By articulating the contradiction manifested in the scene's formal organization and its social "content"—between the "head-strong women," now Bianca and the widow who refuse their duty, and Kate and her praise of women's submission—the seeming resolution of the play's ending is exploded and its heterogeneity rather than its unity is foregrounded. But can transgression of the law of women's silence be subversive? It has become a theoretical commonplace to argue that transgression pre-supposes norms or taboos. Therefore, the "female dramatizable" is perhaps no more than a release mechanism, a means of managing troubled gender relations. By transgressing the law of women's silence, but far from subverting it, the Shrew reconfirms the law, if we remember that Kate, Bianca and the widow remain the object of the audience's gaze, specularimages, represented female bodies on display, as on the cucking stool or in the cart, the traditional punishments for prostitutes and scolds. Representation contains female rebellion. And because the play has no final framing scene, no return to Sly, it could be argued that its artifice is relaxed, that the final scene is experienced naturalistically. The missing frame allows the audience to forget that Petruchio's taming of Kate is presented as a fiction.
Yet even with its missing frame and containment of woman through spectacle, the Shrew finally deconstructs its own mimetic effect if we remember the bisexual aspect of the representation of women on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. Kate would have been played by a boy whose transvestism, like Thomas Quarry's in the Wetherden skimmington, emblematically embodied the sexual contradictions manifest both in the play and Elizabethan culture. The very indeterminateness of the actor's sexuality, of the woman/man's body, the supplementarity of its titillating homoerotic play (Sly's desire for the page boy disguised as a woman, Petruchio's "Come Kate, we'll to bed"), foregrounds its artifice and therefore subverts the play's patriarchal master narrative by exposing it as neither natural nor divinely ordanied, but culturally constructed.
William Empson on Elizabethan views of women:
The Elizabethan attitude to women, though complicated by the Chain of Being, and contrariwise the worship of Elizabeth, comes more naturally to us than the Victorian. Indeed, our period is perhaps the first to feel at home with Shakespeare's women since his own (since all the critics in between are liable to be found simpering uneasily about the topic); and the reason for it is not the Suffragette Movement but simply the two World Wars. The ladies had to be let out of the drawing-room because there was so much they were needed to do.… From 1660 to 1914, the ladies could be sheltered, and the gentlemen locked them up as a matter of pride. Thackeray is intelligent enough to realize that there is something queer about the tight-laced primness of the drawing-room, and keeps saying fretfully, "How disgustingly silly and feeble women are; I know we have got to manage to love them for it somehow, but how sick it does make us feel." Now Spenser, especially in Book Five of the Faerie Queene, has much more theoretical belief that women ought to be under the control of men, but regards their strength as obvious; in fact, he talks about them very much as if they were horses. If one has this clearly in mind, one of the main unpleasantnesses of The Taming of the Shrew is removed; the lady is bullied not because she is weak but because she is strong.
William Empson, in The Times Literary Supplement, 24 July 1992.
Juliet Dusinberre (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: "The Taming of the Shrew: Women, Acting, and Power," in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 67-84.
[In the following essay, Dusinberre examines ways in which the play calls attention to the Elizabethan practice of using boy actors in female roles and examines the effect of this metadramatic element on the play's portrayal of gender relations.]
The opening of The Taming of the Shrew is strikingly different from that of the related play The Taming of a Shrew in offering the audience in the first ten lines a battle between the sexes. The Beggar, who calls himself Christopher Sly, threatens to "pheeze" the Hostess who throws him out of her inn, not just for drunkenness, but for not paying for broken glasses. Threatening Sly with the stocks, the Hostess exits, determining to send for the constable. In A Shrew, the innkeeper is a Tapster, and Slie's offence simply inebriation. Shakespeare's Sly defies the Hostess in a strange little speech: "Ile not budge an inch boy. Let him come, and kindly." He has in the course of eleven lines quoted Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and challenged her abuse of him as a rogue: "Y'are a baggage, the Slies are no rogues. Look in the Chronicles, we came in with Richard Conqueror: therefore paucas pallabris, let the world slide: Sessa" (First Folio). He sounds momentarily like John Durbeyfield in Hardy's Tess, claiming an ancient and declining stock. The little interchange offers a vignette in which a man and woman engage in a power struggle: she, only a woman, but with a trade and a function which give her access to authority over him: he a beggar with illusions of grandeur, ancestral memories of great men, culture, a power he no longer possesses. But why does he call her "boy"?
I want to argue that he calls her boy because she is a boy. The Hostess must, in Shakespeare's theatre, have been played by a boy actor. But if Sly addresses her as a boy, then a new dimension is added to the interchange. In his drunkenness he seems momentarily to refuse to enter the play: to be, not a drunken beggar, but a drunken actor, who forgets that his dialogue is with a Hostess, and thinks that the boy actor is getting above himself. In other words, the theatrical illusion seems to be tested before it is even under way. Is Sly a beggar, or is he an actor who must play a beggar?
In The Taming of the Shrew, more than in any other play, Shakespeare uses the relationships between actors as a commentary on the social relationships represented in the self-contained world of the play, the drama of The Shrew which is performed before the Beggar (persuaded to believe that he is a lord) at the request of the "real" Lord of the Induction who enters from hunting to refresh himself at the inn and is visited by a company of players. The audience in the theatre is required to react to two competing dramas: a stage representation of a traditional courtship and taming drama; and a more covert drama which constantly interrupts and comments on the taming drama, one generated by the actual structures of relationship present in the company which performs the piece. Sly's use of the term "boy" to the boy actor is only one of many oddities which suggest to the audience the presence in the play itself of actors, not just impersonators of characters. I want to demonstrate how this works in a number of interchanges in the play, and to reinterpret Kate's role in the light of its original theatrical provenance: that Kate would have been played, like the Hostess, Bianca, the Widow, and the young Biondello, by a boy. How would this material condition of Shakespeare's theatre have modified audience perception of the power structures represented in the fiction of The Taming of the Shrew?
If Kate is played by a boy in the position of apprentice, then the dynamic between Kate and other players on stage, and between Kate and women in the audience, is altered from what it is in the modern theatre. The boys stood in the position of apprentice towards the adult sharers in the company. It was not a guild apprenticeship, but more of a personal arrangement, such as that between Pepys and his boy Tom Edwards in the 1660s, a child whom he employed as his attendant from the Chapel Royal: well-educated and a good singer (V , 228, 234 n.l, 255). The boys in Shakespeare's company would each have had a particular master; Burbage was master to Nicholas Tooley, and Augustine Phillips—another boy in the company—spoke in his will of Tooley as his "fellow" in the company. The master-pupil relationship between the apprentices and the adult actors and sharers in the company is a highly significant one in the dynamics of the company and can be seen to be in operation in The Shrew. The Lord sends instructions to his page on how to play the lady, as any master might have instructed his apprentice on how to play Kate. Furthermore, the apprentice's role in the company creates for him a special relationship with the women in the theatre audience. He must, when the play is done, return to a position of dependency. But great ladies enjoyed a position of social superiority to that of apprentices. The apprentice has within the world of the play access not only to that momentary social superiority but also access to the stage power of the female heroine. Women in the theatre audience may return to the subservient lives of women in Elizabethan social structures, but they too have been allowed within the theatre the fantasy of different kinds of power which link them in sympathy with the boy himself as he represents women on stage. Sly, as an actor refusing to play his part—there was, after all, an actor in Shakespeare's company called William Sly—defies his inferior in the company, the boy playing the Hostess. But the play gives the Hostess authority over him: she demands that he pay for the broken glasses and sends for the constable.
The Taming of the Shrew creates for the audience images of power in the male world in the roles of Petruchio, Baptista, Lucentio, but it also undermines them with a different kind of power, generated by the counterpointing of the actor with the role he plays. This special energy enters the play through the ambiguous medium of Sly, but is sustained throughout the drama by the covert juxtaposing in Kate's role of the heroine and the boy apprentice who must act her. Similarly, the actor who plays Tranio with histrionic virtuosity oscillates between the subservience of his social role and the dominance of his acting role as Lucentio.
Curiously, various snippets of information back up a theory that the Induction of The Shrew deliberately places before the theatre audience not a fiction, but a group of players whom they may identify as actors, rather than as characters, as a modern audience might identify repertory players or particular actors and actresses in a number of different roles. Two actors who appear in the Induction set this line of enquiry in motion. The Taming of the Shrew contains a number of prefixes in the text which refer directly to the names of actors: possibly Sly himself, and certainly Sincklo: named as the Second Player in the Induction. This seems to be more than accident as the play constantly obliges the audience to remember that behind the character in the play is an actor who has his own reality and his own relation to the other figures on the stage, a relation forged in the acting company, not in the Italian society world in which he plays a part.
Shakespeare's Sly may in fact have been played by William Sly, a member of both the Pembroke's men in the early 1590's and subsequently of Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's men, later the King's men. His name is on the list of Shakespeare's company at the beginning of the 1623 Folio. In 1604, William Sly appears in the new induction which the playwright John Marston wrote for The Malcontent. He is named in the Dramatis Personae under a special heading: "Actors of the King's Men, at the Globe Theatre, who appear in the Induction: WILLIAM SLY, JOHN SINKLO, RICHARD BURBAGE, HENRY CONDELL, JOHN LOWIN." In this Induction, Sly pretends to be a member of the audience with social pretensions who has come to sit on the stage as if he were a gallant. The Tire-man, realising that he is not a gentleman, tries to shoo him off: "Sir, the gentlemen will be angry if you sit there." Sly calls for the other actors, saying that he has seen the play often and "can give them intelligence for their action." When the actor John Sinklo enters, he greets Sly familiarly: "Save you, coz." They gossip, and call for the players, Burbage, Condell and Lowin. At a certain point, Sly seems to be rambling and one of the actors begs him to leave the stage, this time successfully. The part is a curiosity in its transparent disguising of two actors for audience members, while on the page they remain simply actors.
Odder still, Sinklo appears in The Shrew, just seventy lines after Sly has fallen into a drunken sleep. The Players enter and the Lord turns to the second player, named in the Folio prefix, probably on Shakespeare's own authority, Sincklo. Sincklo was distinguished in Shakespeare's company by his appearance: he was extremely thin and cadaverous-looking, and he played parts which suited this physiognomy. He is named in 2 Henry IV as the Beadle who arrests Mistress Quickly and Doll. He played the forester in 3 Henry VI who arrests the King. He probably played the emaciated Apothecary who supplies Romeo with poison, and Robert Faulconbridge in King John, mocked by the Bastard for his lack of sex appeal. The Lord remembers him in a particular part:
This fellow I remember
Since once he played a farmer's eldest son—
'Twas where you wooed the gentlewoman so
I have forgot your name, but sure that part
Was aptly fitted and naturally performed.
This passage is always taken straight: Shakespeare made a friendly gesture towards an actor for a good performance. But its jests seem to me to huddle in upon each other. The Lord cannot remember his name, although Shakespeare names him in his text: he is John Sincklo. You were a wonderful lover, remarks the Lord to someone who looks like a jailer or a supplier of poison. It is a theatre company's joke, but it becomes much funnier if the audience has seen the actor in other parts and can share the joke. They would have been able to share the joke if they had just seen 2 Henry IV; The Shrew was certainly performed in these years.
But one must perhaps also ask whether Shakespeare's play was written sometime in 1595-7, not in the earlier period. Sincklo's presence in the Induction to The Shrew, together with the possible references to his other roles, particularly in 2 Henry IV, might imply a later date for Shakespeare's play than is usually suggested. The Shrew would then enter the constellation of plays in which Shakespeare probably used Sincklo: Romeo and Juliet, and King John. The interchanges between Sly and the Hostess at the beginning of The Shrew are rich partly because they recall the interchanges in the two parts of Henry IV between Mistress Quickly and Falstaff.
Sincklo's name for the Second Player immediately raises the question of doubling. The Elizabethan custom of theatrical doubling would have made it possible for The Shrew to be acted with only thirteen players (nine adults and four boys), excluding hired men. It has been suggested that the absence of a return to the Sly plot at the end, and of the interventions in the play made by Slie in A Shrew, result from a theatrical exigency when the Players were touring at the time of theatre closures because of the plague. With his talent for making a virtue out of necessity, Shakespeare seems often to have constructed his plays with doubling written into their artistic conception. Hippolyta may have been doubled with Titania, and often is so on the modern stage. In Pericles, it is almost certain that the incestuous Princess at the beginning doubles with Marina, the virtuous and chaste Princess at the end. Many correspondences in structure and language make doubling part of the play's emotional impact. If Shakespeare used an economical touring cast of only thirteen actors, all the players who appear in the Induction to The Shrew must originally have played parts in the drama presented to Sly. Did Shakespeare, as was his custom, consider the artistic implications of doubling in relation to the fiction he was creating in the main body of the play, and if so, how did that theatrical necessity affect the construction of the action? Sincklo as Second Player must have acted a part in the main action of The Shrew. But which part?
The question can be answered by returning to the peculiar partnership between Sly and Sincklo, in theatrical terms, in both the Induction to The Shrew, and later in Marston's The Malcontent. The doubling process seems in The Shrew to create a special line of communication with the audience particularly evident in the scene in which Lucentio's father Vincentio is brought face to face with the Pedant who pretends to be the father. The scene acquires a special point if Sly doubles with Vincentio. Artistically, Sly makes an ideal Vincentio. The Beggar took little convincing (although much more than in the quarto play) that he was a lord; he is doubled with a wealthy man incapable of entering a world of illusion, whether created by drink or disguise, a man of solid single identity, the antithesis of an actor. Vincentio is a "sober ancient gentleman" who is presented with a tale about his own identity: that he is an imposter.
This is not Vincentio's first encounter with a challenge to his own self-perception. Kate has greeted him on the road to her father's house:
Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and
Whither away, or where is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child!
Happier the man whom favourable stars
Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow. (4.5.37)
Vincentio is gentleman enough to take it all in good part as a merry joke between gentlefolk. But the habits of sobriety which determine his good-humoured acceptance of a joke at his expense threaten to turn the second comic denial of his identity into a scene more tragic than comic. Turning on Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, he cries: "O, he hath murdered his master! Lay hold on him, I charge you in the Duke's name. O my son, my son!" (5.1.67-9). In The Taming of the Shrew, where everyone tries his or her hand at playing a part, Vincentio's rugged adherence to a God-given role is both a weakness and a strength. It underlines Vincentio's social reality as a man of wealth and position but heralds in the play itself the end of the play-acting, by defining the limits of theatricality for both actors and audience. Vincentio's distress provides a necessary agent between the brilliant camivalesque of the sun and moon scene on which he enters, and the sobering domestic closures of the obedience speech. Sly may not re-enter Shakespeare's scene, but the world in which he is a beggar is reasserted in Vincentio, the rich man who refuses even for one moment to play another part.
At the height of Vincentio's alarm about his son, in the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew, Slie intervenes: "I say wele have no sending to prison" (80). In Shakespeare's play, the intervention is made by Gremio, the unsuccessful suitor to Bianca, billed in the stage direction as a "pantaloon" (the shrunken old man from the Italian commedia del' arte): "Take heed, Signor Baptista, lest you be cony-catched in this business. I dare swear this is the right Vincentio" (5.1.76). Gremio has a curious part in The Shrew not paralleled by anything in the quarto. He is old and rich and unsuccessful. His suit is the source of an interchange between Katherina and Bianca in II.i. Kate tries to find out which of the suitors Bianca affects. Bianca denies Hortensio, and the following exchange ensues:
Katherina. O then, belike, you fancy riches more:
You will have Gremio to keep you fair.
Bianca. Is it for him you do envy me so?
Nay then, you jest. (2.1.16-19)
You must be joking, remarks Bianca, in the confident tone of a woman who can choose, which infuriates her suitorless sister more than anything. Gremio at the end does not get a wife either to obey him or not. But he has one important moment in the play. He protests against sending Vincentio to prison and declares that he is sure this is the right Vincentio.
That Slie intervenes in A Shrew but Gremio intervenes in Shakespeare's version is odd. Shakespeare's Hostess threatened Sly with the constable; in his drunken apprehension of the play this episode could plausibly have reminded him that he might go to prison for not paying for the broken glasses. A possible ending for the play would indeed be the return of the Hostess with the officer, perhaps played by John Sincklo, who played the Beadle who arrested Mistress Quickly in 2 Henry IV, an inversion of roles which would have its own theatrical irony for audiences who had seen both plays. But the Slie who intervenes and prevents Vincentio's arrest is the other Slie, the one in A Shrew where there is no Hostess, and no threat of prison (although, confusingly, there may have been the same John Sincklo acting in the play). Why did Shakespeare give the intervention to Gremio when it would have been much more appropriate in the drama he had himself written, to give it—as in the anonymous text—to Sly?
The easy answer is of course that Sly was needed for the part of Vincentio. But another answer based on theatrical realities suggests itself. Gremio, old shrunken and unsuccessful suitor to Bianca, must have been doubled with the Second Player of the Induction, the man called Sincklo, whom the Lord praised for acting the lover so well. Skinny, cadaverous, with a stage history of arresting people, Sincklo, having failed yet again to be a good ladies' man, steps forward to protest against sending people to prison. It is a joke based on the acting company and aimed at a repertory audience. Beneath the role of Gremio is the reality of Sincklo, the actor who looked like a jailor. Beneath Vincentio, a man who resists the denial of his identity, is Sly, willing to apprehend being a Lord. Almost, the two parts coalesce: Sly as Vincentio is momentarily in danger of going to prison after all, and possibly Vincentio's acting should register, however fleetingly, his own double role as rich man and Beggar, until he is returned to singular identity by Sincklo, protesting that in this play he is not a jailor but a man who plays the (albeit unsuccessful) lover. The Taming of the Shrew never completely conceals the presence of the actor behind the mask, showing the audience two competing power structures, one social, the other theatrical.
One of the peculiarities of the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew is that instead of Slie's rising in status under the influence of the trick, he stays the same, and the Lord descends to his level, the level of good fellows. Slie in this play only recognises his new state through his clothes: "Jesus, what fine appareil I have got" (46). He is easily persuaded, where Shakespeare's beggar resists: he would much rather drink beer than sherry; he doesn't want to wear a doublet, and he accuses his attendants, as Vincentio accuses the Pedant and his accolade, of trying to make him mad. He is ultimately convinced not by clothes but by poetry, and responds—as Sebastian responds to the equally unexpected raptures of Olivia in Twelfth Night—by adopting the poetic idiom:
Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?
He is still asking for beer, but he tries to translate it into an aristocratic idiom: "And once again a pot o'th' smallest ale' (Induction 2.62-71). Shakespeare's Sly unwillingly becomes an actor in an aristocratic show. The Slie of A Shrew remains himself, but brings the actors into his orbit. The Lord remains with him all the time, and has become "Sim," a good fellow. But oddly, this name also seems, like Sincklo's name, to link the Lord with a particular player, because at the very beginning of the play-within-a-play the direction reads: "Enter Simon, Alphonsus, and his three daughters" (48). Simon, the Lord who gulls Slie, is already on stage, however. Possibly the actor who played Alphonsus was one Simon Jewell, a player in the Queen's or Pembroke's Men, who died of the plague in August 1592. But it is also possible that, as in the 1960 John Barton production, an actor playing in the play stepped out of it to address Sly, when he intervened, about the prison, and also during the negotiating with Alfonso. Simon, the Lord, never seems, even when he comes from hunting, remotely like a lord. He is much more like an actor, one of the boys.
In Shakespeare's play, the Lord is emphatically never one of the boys: he is an instructor of boys, both those he would call boy because they are his social inferiors, Sly, the player who must not spoil the show by laughing—and those who really are boys—Bartholomew the page who must play Sly's lady; he calls to one of his men:
Sirrah, go you to Barthol'mew my page
And see him dressed in all suits like a lady
That done, conduct him to the drunkard's
And call him "madam", do him obeisance.
Tell him from me—as he will win my love—
He bear himself with honourable action
Such as he hath observed in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished.
He not only advises on the idiom, how the boy is to behave and speak, but on practical matters, how he is to produce tears:
And if the boy have not a woman's gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,
An onion will do well for such a shift,
Which in a napkin being close conveyed
Shall in despite enforce a watery eye.
He is confident that all will be satisfactorily performed:
I know the boy will well usurp the grace,
Voice, gait and action of a gentlewoman.
In the next scene he instructs Sly: to be a lord requires a mind stocked with poetry and luxury, hawking and hunting, the arts and music, and the ideal. Sly is beguiled by the language of birth, the imaginative world which opens before him: "I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things" (Induction 2.66). When the Lady enters, she plays her part to perfection:
My husband and my lord, my lord and
I am your wife in all obedience.
Does she, one might ask, overplay it a little? Sly announces that he seems to have slept fifteen years, and the Lady responds:
Ay, and the time seems thirty unto me,
Being all this time abandoned from your bed.
The effect is instantaneous:
Sly: 'Tis much. Servants, leave me and her
Madam, undress you and come now to bed.
(Induction 2. 102-12).
If this is a page acting, one suspects that he willfully overplayed his part to make the onlookers laugh. The moment has the zest of purest amateurism: a naughty boy let loose in a woman's clothes, pushing his luck as far as it will go.
Ben Jonson's play Cynthia's Revels, which was acted by a children's company at court, opens with an Induction in which three children in the company quarrel about who is to speak the prologue:
2 Child. … I thinke I have most right to it:
I am sure I studied it first.
3 Child. That's all one, if the Author thinke
I can speake it better.1 Child. I pleade possession of the cloake.
This child appeals, brandishing his costume, to the audience: "Gentles, your suffrages I pray you." A voice [within] calls out angrily: "Why, Children, are you not asham'd? Come in there" (IV.35). Admittedly this is a company of children (of the Chapel Royal); but the apprentices could be as young as ten and most people would feel it is not only children who are capable of such speeches. Bottom is more genial, but he still wants the best part: indeed he wants every part.
The sense of the power invested in the actual part which is played is not confined to the apprentice boy actor in The Taming of the Shrew. A parallel can be drawn with the role of Tranio, servant to Lucentio, who gets to play the master. One presumes that the less proficient actor was given what seems on the face of it to be a side-lined part, until one realises that he is in fact required to take over from Lucentio, who thus becomes an onlooker, and a subordinate: the schoolmaster of Bianca, not the acknowledged wealthy lover. Presumably the more skilled actor actually took the part of Tranio. But the servant, Tranio, is almost too convincing in his role of master, Lucentio. It seems to me false to play Tranio as a man who transports into the role of master the commonness of a servant. He plays Lucentio, as the Page is to play Sly's lady, as one who knows how, if necessary, to imitate a good actor and thus become one; this is an Elizabethan view of education even if not ours. The reason for Tranio's success in the part of Lucentio is his command of a noble language, the language of Petrarch in Petrarch's city, Padua. When Lucentio devises the disguise, Tranio accepts in these terms:
In a brief, sir, sith it your pleasure is,
And I am tied to be obedient—I am content to be Lucentio. (1.1.202-7)
The servant must obey the master, but the actor is jumping for joy that he is to play the bigger part, the part of the master, not the servant. His first speech is to his rival suitors to Bianca, defending his right to enter the competition:
And were his daughter fairer than she is,
She may more suitors have, and me for one.
Fair Leda's daughter had a thousand wooers;
Then well one more may fair Bianca have.
And so she shall: Lucentio shall make one,
Though Paris came in hope to speed alone.
Gremio is as startled as we are: "What, this gentleman will out-talk us all!" Lucentio, newly demoted, is sour: "Sir, give him head. I know he'll prove a jade" (1.2.235-42). Access to the language of class which Tranio as actor can command as easily as he can play his previous role of obedient servant, gives him stage power.
By the end of the play, Tranio has also acquired some social power within its structures. When he sits at the wedding feast and sees the brides already squalling, he is locked into a fellowship with Petruchio, Baptista, Lucentio and Hortensio which seems to offer no cognizance of his renewed status as servant. It is as if, from playing the master, he has acquired the manners of a master and now sits in easy fellowship with the real masters. But equally one could say that fellowship is resolved into actors playing a new kind of role, that of audience. As they share the comradeship of actors watching their fellows play a scene, social distinctions in the world of the play are momentarily forgotten in the theatrical climax. Actors, amateur and professional, will recognise the special comradeship between performers in a particular production and how relationships off-stage intertwine with relationships on stage. This is the stuff of The Taming of the Shrew, and more so than in the anonymous A Shrew, which is a play dominated by class conflict: them and us, or the workers and the toffs, as Holderness puts it in his edition of the play (18-19). In Shakespeare's play, class is a necessary element of the drama. But its centre of vitality is acting and theatre: the relation of the players beneath the masks to the parts they play, and the special power generated from a sense of interweaving relationships within the theatrical world which comment on the relationships impersonated in the social world of the play.
The Shrew may have been written with particular actors in mind for other parts besides those of Sincklo and Sly. This early comedy, oddly enough, though apparently dating from the early 1590s, reminds one of Hamlet. The arrival of the company of professional players, their sophistication: no one is going to laugh at the antics of the mad lord watching the play; the respect with which the hunting Lord of the Induction treats them and above all, that Lord himself, all invoke the world of Hamlet. The Lord, like Hamlet, fancies himself as a playwright and has already constructed his own little drama of deceiving Sly before the Players arrive, which then becomes more complex when he has more actors, and more professional actors ready to hand. Hamlet instructs the Player to insert a speech of his own writing into The Murder of Gonzago and holds forth about acting. The Lord in The Shrew, spurred on by the arrival of the Players, still plans his own amateur show in which his page will play the lady. His speech of instruction is not, to my mind, an instruction on marriage but an instruction on how to act an obedient well-born lady, and the incentive given is that the page will win the Lord's love, or one could say, that the apprentice will win the master's love. Hamlet was played by Burbage. Did that remarkable actor, who joined the newly-formed Chamberlain's men at the same time as Shakespeare in 1594-5, perhaps also play Petruchio? Did Shakespeare rewrite the early play in order that it would provide a fit vehicle for this actor? If so, the memorial construction theory must go out of the window, and so must the attendant—and far from convincing—very early date for The Shrew. Be that as it may, the possibility that Petruchio and the Lord were played by Burbage seems worth entertaining from the evidence of the play itself.
Burbage was no doubt a fascinating actor to be apprenticed to, and probably very demanding. Shakespeare seems to have written scenes for Burbage which allowed both actor and dramatist to incorporate into the play the rehearsing of how it should be acted. An elegiac tribute to Burbage in Thomas May's The Heir, written in 1620, the year after his death, recalls that when he acted:
… Ladies in the boxes
Kept time with sighs, and tears to his sad
As he had truely been the man he seem'd.
Hamlet's advice to the players to hold the mirror up to nature is tailor-made for such an actor. It is not only the Lord's interest in acting in The Taming of the Shrew which seems to link him with the roles which Shakespeare created for Burbage in the mid-1590s. Another inhabitant of Shakespeare's stage in the mid-1590s is conjured up by Petruchio's dedication to the wooing of Kate:
Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?
Have I not in a pitched battle heard
Loud 'larums, neighing steeds and trumpets'
And do you tell me of a woman's tongue,
That gives not half so great a blow to hear
As will a chestnut in a farmer's fire?
Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs! (1.2.193-204)
Petruchio here sounds like Hotspur in I Henry IV, whose troubled dreams of battle alarm another Kate. Both men, Petruchio and Hotspur, share a rhetoric of sport: Hotspur is as much a huntsman on the battlefield as the hawking Petruchio is a warrior in wooing. But they share their love with someone else: the Lord in the Induction, who enters praising his hounds as enthusiastically as Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I want to suggest that the Lord in the Induction was played by the same actor as Petruchio and that that actor was Richard Burbage, who joined the Chamberlain's men in 1595, along with Shakespeare himself. Burbage's theatrical career begins, in our records, with a sensational stage brawl not too dissimilar to the first scene between Petruchio and Kate. Hotspur himself, of course, is in Shakespeare's play boisterously matched with Kate (in defiance of history).
Many of Kate's lines carry a Dionysiac charge for most women, of things thought but never said, as when she bursts out to Petruchio, over the business of the cap:
Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak,
And speak I will. I am no child, no babe.
Your betters have endured me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.
Oddly, these lines have found their way into the first Quarto of Hamlet (1603), which precedes the more usually authenticated 1604 Quarto 2. Hamlet says of the Players, about to enter:
The clowne shall make them laugh
That are tickled in the lungs, or the blanke
verse shall halt for't,
And the Lady shall have leave to speake her
minde freely. (my italics)
In both the 1604 text and the Folio, the link with The Shrew passage has been obscured by a slight re-wording: "The Clown shall make those laugh whose lungs are tickled o'th' sear, and the Lady shall say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt for't" (Complete Works 2.2.324-6). The implications are obvious. The line stuck in the theatre audience's mind, and perhaps was the key moment of Burbage's stage performance with his apprentice. Natalie Zemon Davis [in The Reversible World, ed. Barbara A. Babcock, 1978] has written of the unruly woman on top in European culture: Kate is anarchic. She seems to obey not only no social conventions but no theatrical ones either, speaking when she is supposed to be silent, according to everyone else's rules. This includes the ending of the play too, where she is supposed finally, after a play of speaking her mind, not to speak her obedience. Her final rejection of the heroine's giving way gracefully is marked by her wonderful long outburst. If it is about obedience, its provenance is marked by an apprentice's joyful sense not of the social, but of the theatrical arena, in which, like Tranio, he is a free citizen chosen on merit. The play creates within the comic context a charge of anarchic delight comparable in intensity and verve to the tragic energy of Hamlet himself. It is as though the reality of the boy beneath the role speaks to the reality of the women in the audience, allowing them stage power even as he proclaims social submission.
The incentive offered to the apprentice who plays Kate is not just the winning of his master's love—and the satisfaction of an actor like Burbage must have been worth winning—but his own pride of place in the play. Stage power appears here, even if the price of it is a speech on social submission. Furthermore, behind the text of Kate's obedience speech is the powerful evocation of manhood: dangerous, challenging, adventurous, painful. As the apprentice enters the woman's discourse, the dramatist has seen to it that he conjures up a vision of his own entry into the position of master: the one who takes the risks. But this is also mirrored in his stage situation, because the play stands or falls on the apprentice's performance in the last scene, just as Petruchio's wager stands or falls, and as the husbands gather round to witness their wives' performance, so the masters gather round to see whose apprentice will play the big part: the one with the cloak, the one who studied it first, or the one that the author thought would speak it best. One of the reasons why The Shrew, with its apparently time-bound folk-origin conservative dogmas about women, has not simply died a quiet death like all the other Elizabethan plays in the taming genre, is that it releases into the auditorium an energy created through a dialectic of opposed wills, command versus obedience, and power versus powerlessness, which is polarised in the utterance of the boy actor playing the woman.
In The Taming of the Shrew, the apprentice has virtually the last word. As the stage heroine mouths obedience, the apprentice eyes his female audience, both the querulous wives on the stage and the women in the audience. Did the women in the audience register the exhilaration of the apprentice actor seizing his chance to be master, to realise stage power even if the price of it was a recognition of the submission to which he and they would have to return once the play was over? The triumph of The Shrew is the triumph of art over life, of making a beggar believe that he is part of the play, or of making a drunken actor enter an illusory world and use its language. Men and women in the theatre audience in Shakespeare's play become the watcher, Sly, and take his place as witnesses of the play, but also become seduced, as the Beggar is, into entering the play world, believing it to be real, as the ladies believed Burbage's acting to be real. In this play, Shakespeare has allowed the apprentice to upstage the master, perhaps originally Burbage himself. No one bothers much about Petruchio's reality because they are so busy talking about Kate's. Her speech steals the show. Beneath an ostensible message of humility it generates the suppressed exhilaration of its stage power: the seizing of mastery by the apprentice even as he proclaims a master's doctrine of subjection.
What did Shakespeare's contemporaries make of it? I maintain that they were not all out ducking their wives in the pond. Sir John Harington, who owned a copy of The Taming of a Shrew (given that Shakespeare's contemporaries made no distinction between their title, which Shrew?) wrote in 1596 in The Metamorphosis of Ajax: "For the shrewd wife, reade the booke of taming of a shrew, which hath made a number of us so perfect, that now every one can rule a shrew in our countrey, save he that hath her. But indeed there are but two good rules. One is, let them never have their willes; the other differs but a letter, let them ever have their willes, the first is the wiser, but the second is more in request, and therefore I make choice of it" (153-5). A year later, in 1597, Harington wrote his wife a poem on their fourteenth wedding anniversary, entitled "To his wife after they had been married 14 yeares":
Two prentiships with thee I now have been
Mad times, sad times, glad times, our life hath
Souls we have wrought four payr, since our
Of which two souls, sweet souls were to to
My workmanship so well doth please thee still
thou wouldst not graunt me freedom by thy
And Ile confess such usage I have found
Mine hart yet nere desir'd to bee unbound.
But though my self am thus thy Prentice
My dearest Mall, yet thereof bee not proud,
Nor claym no rewl thereby, there's no such
For Plowden who was father of the laws,
which yet are read and ruld by his indytings,
doth name himself apprentice in his Writings.
And I, if you should challenge undew place,
could learn of him to alter so the case.
I playn would prove I still kept dew priority,
and that good wives are still in their minority,
But far from thee my Deare bee such
I doubt more thou dost blame my dull
That though I travaile true in my vocation,
I grow yet worse and worse at th'occupation.
In this remarkable poem the husband is the apprentice to his wife and has served two seven-year terms, which have given him such content that he prefers bondage to freedom. In Harington's Epigrams, printed after his death, the compositor has either made an error, or failed to understand the significance of the fourteen years: that the apprentice's bonds were up. In this poem Harington, who always claimed that his poems were not fiction, but truth, warns his wife that if she should prove proud, he could prove in law that the situation might be reversed, and she would find that she was the one who was still in her minority, in the apprentice position. However, he is not afraid that that boldness will be taken by her, but rather that he will fail her in his vocation.
The sexual intimacy of this poem within a domestic context makes it most extraordinary, yet the sustained image of the apprentice suggests that it was not only in the theatre that apprentices and women shared a common minority status, but also that the equality which the apprentice boy might gain as heroine, might have its counterpart in the true interchange between apprentice and master which is created in the delight of Petruchio at the end of the play in the boy's performance. Harington, who was fond enough of Shakespeare's plays to possess fifteen of them in quarto, and three duplicates, may have felt that for his own wife and for himself, the witty jesting godson of the queen, the play had much to say. But that that message is a humiliating one for women, however much it may be so in a theatre where women actresses play Kate, seems to me in Shakespeare's theatre to be belied by the realities of the theatrical world in which the boy actor earns his momentary supremacy by means of a brilliant performance of a speech proclaiming subjection. If the boy actor winked at Petruchio, he might also have winked at the women watching him in the theatre. Did the women in the audience hear words which send them back to domestic drudgery, or did they share the heady sensation of mastery which the boy actor infuses into one of the longest and most exciting parts he has ever played, in which, in the end, he silences with his eloquence the greatest actor in Shakespeare's company, and surpasses even that actor's wildest expectations of good performance? The boy actor invites women in the audience to participate not in what he says, but in the theatrical power which orchestrates the act of speaking.
Michael Shapiro (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: "Framing the Taming: Metatheatrical Awareness of Female Impersonation in The Taming of the Shrew," in The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 23, 1993, pp. 143-66.
[In the following essay, Shapiro looks at how the Elizabethan use of boy actors in female roles might have affected audience perception of the play's female characters.]
Kate's speech of submission at the end of The Taming of the Shrew raises problems for producers and critics who want to dissociate Shakespeare from normative Elizabethan views about the subordination of married women to their husbands. Some modern directors have devised stage business for subverting Kate's declaration of submissiveness, occasionally using it to grant her subtle or not-so-subtle powers of manipulation and control. Although much of the critical debate over the play has centred on whether the ending subverts or reinforces patriarchal attitudes, Linda Woodbridge concludes a brief survey of feminist efforts to recuperate the play and its ending [Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620, 1984] with the sceptical observation that 'I see little evidence that he was ahead of his time in his attitudes toward women'. Other critics whose work is no less historically based than Woodbridge's find reason to argue that the play is more problematic than conventional. As Michael Hattaway asserts [in The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, eds. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway, 1990], 'there can be no authoritative reading.'
Some directors and critics have tried to solve the problem by enclosing the submission of Kate in some kind of frame, thereby hoping to find an ironic perspective which undercuts the wife-taming, or at least qualifies it. In the Folio text, the Induction provides such a perspective, but unfortunately it disappears after the first act. Some directors, following Pope, adopt the ending from The Taming of A Shrew, the so-called 'bad' quarto published in 1594. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor have recently buttressed the authority of this ending by suggesting [in Shakespeare: Text, Language, Criticism, eds. Bernhard Fabian and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador, 1987] that it may reflect 'Shakespeare's final text [ … ] more fully than the Folio does' or else may be a 'paraphrase or imitation' of an earlier Shakespearian text behind the Folio version.
New historicist criticism provides another kind of frame, the social context. [In ELR 16, 1986] Karen Newman cites an actual case of a skimmington, a traditional practice in which villagers directed mockery and 'rough music' at couples suspected of deviance from accepted patriarchal norms of family organization. On such occasions, young men impersonated wives believed guilty of adultery, scolding, and disobeying or beating their husbands, thereby presenting caricatured antitypes of the ideal obedient wife. Perhaps London theatregoers recalled such ritualized female impersonations of unruly women when attending plays in which young male actors represented similar types of women. Newman suggests that idealized female stereotypes, such as the submissive Kate, might have been deconstructed by audiences' awareness of crossgender casting. But as her reading of the play relies on framing-by-contextualization, she does not pursue the idea.
I propose to argue that the text itself, as originally performed by an all-male cast, generated deconstructive power of its own by creating a methatheatrical frame. Beginning with the Induction, the play flaunted its theatricality, principally by underscoring the use of male actors in female roles, and Shakespeare sustained that effect even after the Induction framework itself disappeared from view. As the female roles taken by these male performers were either idealized married gentlewomen or their unruly antitypes, they appeared not only as theatrical constructions but also as female stereotypes as outlined in conduct books and marriage manuals. Before exploring the play's exposure of its female characters as being both theatrically and culturally constructed, we need to consider the practice and probable effects of crossgender casting more broadly and in some detail.
Although casting of male actors in female roles was the accepted practice on the English stage, there is no way to prove if or when or to what extent spectators were aware of the performers representing female characters. Such awareness of the crossgender casting would have come not from the actors' deficiency, for the evidence indicates that the young male actors who specialized in female roles were quite capable of representing women, or of rendering the theatrical codes used to represent women. Although Colley Cibber was later to disparage the 'Boys, or young Men of the most effeminate Aspect' who played female parts as 'ungain Hoydens', most pre-Restoration accounts suggest that these 'boy-actresses', as Granville-Barker termed them, were highly skilled. There was ample time and opportunity to develop whatever talent they had, for they were apprenticed from the age of ten or slightly older for seven or more years to individual members of adult companies, who were responsible for their training and maintenance. Because puberty came several years later than it does now, they could play women well into adolescence, but probably with a seemingly precocious intellectual and emotional maturity proportionate with their chronological ages. Extant casting lists for seven plays acted by the King's Men between 1611 and 1632 indicate that young performers like Richard Robinson, Robert Pallant, and Richard Sharpe changed from female to male roles at about the time their apprenticeships ended. Ezekiel Fenn was evidently nineteen when he played his first adult male role.
It is not exactly clear just when female roles became the exclusive speciality of apprentices and younger actors. Doubling schemes printed on title pages indicate such specialization when all female roles are assigned to one or two actors. Further evidence of such specialization is suggested by a short exchange in Sir Thomas More between the title character and the leader of an itinerant troupe consisting of 'ffoure men and a boy':
MOORE But one boy? then I see, ther's but fewe women in the play.
PLAYER Three my Lord: dame Science, Lady vanitie, and wisedome she her selfe.
MOORE And one boy play them all? bir Lady, hees loden.
More assumes correctly that all three female roles will be played by the same boy, whose doubling in these parts adds theatrical point to Witt's mistaking of Lady Vanity for Lady Wisedome.
By the 1590s, when the more successful troupes found more permanent venues in London, apprenticeships for younger actors might have become readily available, more stable, and perhaps more attractive, with a concomitant rise in the quality of female impersonation. There seems no reason to doubt that boys or youths who assumed female roles for Shakespeare's troupe created compelling illusions of femininity. According to one spectator, Henry Jackson, who saw Othello at Oxford in 1610, 'Desdemona [and not the boy playing the role] moved the spectators with her expression' [my emphasis]. Other witnesses reflect spectators' ability to maintain a sense of the male actor playing the female role without any loss of aesthetic pleasure.
Lady Mary Wroth uses the female impersonator, or 'play-boy', as a metaphor for technical virtuosity. Defending the practice of female impersonation against puritan charges that it violated biblical injunctions against transvestism and so blurred gender boundaries, Thomas Heywood claimed that spectators recognized male actors and understood they were watching a temporary theatrical illusion:
To see our youths attired in the habit of women, who knowes not what their intents be? who cannot distinguish them by their names, assuredly, knowing they are but to represent such a lady, at such a time apoynted?
Although Heywood assumes a high level of metatheatrical awareness of female impersonators, a dual consciousness of male actor and female character might also have been activated by moments of self-referentiality. The best known, of course, is Cleopatra's fear that a young male actor will 'boy' her greatness, but one should also consider references to such strong gender markers as primary or secondary sex characteristics, as when Cleopatra describes herself as suckling an asp. Crossgender disguise is another such gender marker, for as the female character assumed a fictive male identity, the male performer resumed his authentic male identity. But it also seems likely that female characters played by male actors were readily 'deconstructed' when seen next to other female characters portrayed in contrasting styles or representing other stereotypes. The dissonance produced by such contrasts alerted the audience to a fact, which, as Samuel Johnson says, spectators 'always know': that it was watching theatrical constructions of femininity created by male actors. Such awareness of theatrical artifice would inevitably lead to an awareness that these male performers were offering versions of femininity, versions which might reflect, refract, or refute images of women most readily available to the culture.
Another way pointing up the phenomenon of female impersonation was for a male character deliberately to burlesque or caricature a female character, as in Jack Juggler (c. 1555), where Jenkin Careaway describes a fellow servant by the name of Alison Trip-and-go:
She simperith, she prankith and getteth
As a pecocke that hath spred and sheweth hir
S[h]e mynceth, she bridelethe, she swimmith
to and fro
S[h]e tredith not one here a wrye, she
tryppeth like a do
A brod in the stret going or cumming
She quaverith and warbelith like one in a
Everie joint in her bodie and everie part
Oh it is a joylie wenche to myns and devyd a
T. W. Craik [in The Tudor Interlude, 1958] comments on the contrasting styles:
As Alison makes an appearance in the play, there must have been visible points of difference between the acting of the boy playing her and that of the boy playing Jenkin and (in that character) burlesquing her. The former would mimic a woman's walk with little or no extravagance; the latter would lard his mimicry with every imaginable affectation.
The situation is even richer than Craik suggests. Alison makes one very brief appearance and has a single speech (11. 749-58), which is shorter than Jenkin's description/parody of her. Jenkin's burlesque of Alison is in fact preceded by a similar description/parody of Dame Coy, the other female character in the play. Although the title-page lists Dame Coy as a gentle-woman, Jenkin describes her as 'a verie cursed shrew [ … ] / And a verye divell' (11. 211-12), who spares neither servants nor her husband corporal punishment and the rough side of her tongue.
What was the precise effect of Jenkin's burlesques? Did they make the female characters, when they appeared, seem more or less natural? Was Jenkin mocking women or was he rather mocking men's stereo-typed ideas about women? Or both? On the one hand, the actors playing Alison and Dame Coy clearly offered a more 'natural' version of femininity than Jenkin did in his burlesques. On the other hand, his more obviously constructed travesties drove home the fact that both performances were theatrical constructions, especially when the audience was reminded of what it 'always knew', that both Dame Coy and Alison were played by male actors. As women, they corresponded to the familiar social constructs of the young flirt and the old shrew, but as female impersonations they seemed to correspond to two opposing theatrical constructions: one illusionistic and the other self-consciously parodic.
Jenkin's burlesques of female characters anticipate the moments in later plays by Shakespeare and others when male characters impersonate women within the world of the play. One such moment occurs in The Merry Wives of Windsor when Falstaff appears disguised as the Witch of Brentford alongside Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. The effect produced depended on a clear contrast between Falstaff's farcical, awkward, deliberately unconvincing (to the audience) representation of a grotesque female figure and the apprentices' more realistic portrayal of female characters, as was their speciality. In other words, the play contrasts an adult male actor playing a man pretending to be a 'woman' with young male actors playing female characters.
Usually the contrast between 'women' and female characters is more subtle. In the 'boy bride' plays listed by Victor Freeburg [in Disguise Plots in Elizabe-than Drama, 1915], young male characters are disguised as young 'women' in order to deceive other male characters, as in The Merry Wives where Slender and Caius each finds his intended bride to be 'a great lubberly boy'. Such plays presented two levels of female impersonation: actors playing female characters (women), and actors playing boys playing 'women'. Unless a surprise effect was intended, as in Epicoene, one assumes a stylistic differentiation between the two levels—companies presented 'real' women more realistically than 'boy brides', or else relied on the audience's knowledge of context to create a sense of the difference. Whereas Chapman, Jonson, and Marston usually make the 'boy bride' part of a con game or practical joke, Shakespeare often heightens the metatheatricality of such moments, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where an amateur actor, Francis Flute the bellows-mender, is cast as Thisbe in the first mechanicals' scene, and is shown briefly rehearsing the role before finally performing it in the last act.
The casting scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream is in general a mine of reflexive effects, but in particular it uses Flute to promote metatheatrical awareness of female impersonation. Flute hopes to play a 'wand'ring knight' (1.2.45), the romantic male lead of the play, and is thus unhappy at being assigned a female role: 'Nay, faith; let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming' (1.2.47-48). Although the mechanicals are referred to as men, the name Flute suggests a high voice, while both the touchy masculine pride and the allusions to the incipient beard suggest a boy of roughly the same age as those performing the four female roles in Shakespeare's play. As fifth female impersonator, Flute may not have been as good at it as the other four boys. More likely he was even better, possibly an experienced young actor now old enough to abandon female roles, perhaps like Dick Robinson in Jonson's The Devil is an Ass. Some Elizabethan spectators would have recognized Flute/Thisbe as a distorted reflection of what was happening within the larger play, where boy actors pretended to be Hippolyta, Hermia, Helena, and Titania.
A similar situation occurs in Hamlet, where the female impersonator, like Flute, is first singled out for special attention and then seen performing in an inserted playlet before 'real' women. In his greeting to the players, Hamlet warmly welcomes them all (the stage direction in the second Quarto mentions 'The Players', while the Folio specifies 'four or five Players ', although only three actors are required to play the scenes we see of 'The Murder of Gonzago'.) In greeting the Players, Hamlet takes particular notice of two—a man with a beard and a female impersonator—and notes their gender-marking attributes:
You are welcome, masters, welcome all. I am glad to see thee well. Welcome, good friends. O, old friend! why, thy face is valenc'd since I saw thee last; com'st thou to beard me in Denmark? What, my young lady and mistress! by' lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, be not crack'd within the ring. Masters, you are all welcome. (H.2.421-29)
The adult male actor has grown a beard since Hamlet last saw him, while the boy has grown taller, by an amount Hamlet compares to an 'additional base [attached] to a lady's shoe to increase height'. Like Flute, whose name may refer to a voice undergoing adoles-cent change, the boy's voice too may be 'crack'd within the ring', a phrase suggesting both the defectiveness of a damaged coin and the loss of (female) virginity, a playful confusion of real and feigned gender identities.
As in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where 'Pyramus and Thisbe' is performed before three ladies of the court, 'The Murder of Gonzago' is played to an audience which includes Gertrude and Ophelia. It is played twice, once as a dumb-show and once with dialogue. The dumb-show is obviously stylized and the spoken version, like the inserted playlet in A Midsummer Night's Dream, is stylized in terms of diction and metre and therefore asks to be presented in a different style as well in order to differentiate this fictive world from the world inhabited by the onstage spectators. Watching and listening to the Player Queen through Hamlet's eyes and ears, the playhouse audience sees the boy they had met previously now playing a noble lady devoted to her husband but wooed and finally won by his murderer. Played in a more formal style, she had seemed an icon of female constancy and so contrasted with the more naturalistically enacted roles of Gertrude and Ophelia, both of whose loyalties Hamlet has come to doubt, but in the end proved as weak and inconstant as they now seem to him, verifying his belief that 'frailty thy name is woman', in art no less than in life.
In The Taming of the Shrew, the two scenes of the Induction provide several opportunities for reflexive contrasts in levels and styles of female impersonation. The first Induction scene opens with the Hostess claiming that Sly owes her money 'for the glasses you have burst' (i. 7-8) and threatening to 'fetch the thirdborough' (i. 12), or constable. The Hostess is probably ejecting Sly from her premises by force, for in the following scene one of the Lord's servants tells him that in his recent state of 'distraction' he would speak 'idle words' such as claiming 'ye were beaten out of door' and would then 'rail upon the hostess of the house' (ii. 85-86). In short, the opening lines of the Folio text present a dominating, aggressively violent lower-class woman, played as always by a boy.
Moreover, the presence of the young male actor was not merely a latent metatheatrical fact, but became explicit when Sly's defiant response to the Hostess's threat to call the police includes the line, 'I'll not budge an inch, boy' (i. 14; my emphasis). Like most other editors, Ann Thompson [in the Cambridge edition, 1984] glosses the word as 'a contemptuous form of address to a servant or inferior'. But the next sentence undermines this suggestion: 'This is the only example in Shakespeare of it being applied to a woman, so perhaps it is another drunken error.' But surely not Shakespeare's. Assuming the word is not an error by a scribe or compositor, Sly hurls 'boy' at the Hostess in order to insult her. In performance, this word may have indicated Sly's drunkenness, confusion, or anger, or simply been given to him to use as a meaningless intensifier, but it may also, like Cleopatra's 'boy my greatness', have reminded some if not all spectators of what they 'always knew'—that the female character was in fact played by a boy. This exposure of artifice in the play's opening lines reveals the Hostess to be a theatrical construct, just as the scuffle with Sly labels the character as a stereotypical social construct—the familiar scold of Tudor misogynist lore, literature, and legal records.
An even more explicit allusion to the theatrical representation of women by male performers occurs a few lines later, shortly after the players arrive. A stage direction, 'Enter PLAYERS' (i. 78), preceding the Lord's invitation to 'bid them come near', indicates that at least two of them appear onstage, and indeed two of them have speeches. The Lord recalls having seen the company before and recognizes the First Player, 'Since once he play'd a farmer's eldest son' (i. 84). Addressing the actor directly, he remembers the play: ''Twas where you woo'd the gentlewoman so well' (i. 85), thereby accentuating the general practice of crossgender casting if not the presence of the same female impersonator who had played the role of the gentle-woman. As soon as the Players leave, the Lord orders a servant to recruit 'Barthol'mew my page, / And see him dress'd in all suits like a lady' (i. 105-06).
The exchange between Lord and Players is handled differently in the Quarto, where a stage direction clears up some of the uncertainties of the Folio: 'Enter two of the players with packs at their backs, and a boy. ' They are clearly just in off the road, not yet in costume. The Lord does not recognize any of the Players nor does he refer to any previous roles. He asks the 'play-boy', to use Lady Mary Wroth's term, rather than his own servant to take the part of Sly's wife:
And sirha go you make you ready straight,
And dresse yourselfe like some lovelie ladie,
And when I call see that you come to me,
For I will say to him thou art his wife,
Dallie with him and hug him in thine armes,
And if he desire to goe to bed with thee,
Then faine some scuse and say thou wilt
Be gone I say, and see thou doost it well.
The boy departs, promising to 'dandell him well enough / And make him thinke I love him mightilie" (i. 79-80). As promised, the female impersonator returns as Sly's 'wife', thereby reminding the audience that all female characters were played by male actors.
In the Folio, the Lord's instructions are far more detailed. On one level, they need to be spelled out because the performer he recruits to play Sly's wife is a household servant and not the experienced professional female impersonator of the Quarto. The Folio Lord is also a connoisseur of acting, and although he may have forgotten the name of the actor who played the farmer's eldest son, he is 'sure that part / Was aptly fitted and naturally perform'd' (i. 86-87). Instead of simply ordering the boy to 'do [ … ] it well', the Folio Lord specifies the features involved in this construction of femininity, as well as suggesting some of the tactics to be employed to create the kind of naturalistic illusion he admired in the play he saw, and seems to relish in paintings as well.
Whereas the Quarto Lord simply envisions a 'lovelie ladie', the Folio Lord's instructions sketch a model of upperclass femininity, but its constructedness is readily apparent. As a model presented by an aristocratic male character for his youthful male servant to adopt in representing a 'woman', it not only alludes reflexively to the standard theatrical practice of crossgender casting but also conforms to the well-defined social role of a married gentlewoman:
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bears himself with honorable action,
Such as he hath observ'd in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished;
Such duty to the drunkard let him do,
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say, "What is't your honor will
Wherein your lady, and your humble wife,
May show her duty and make known her
The Lord's idealized image of a married gentlewoman is derived from English and continental conduct books of the period, although Shakespeare emphasizes external features which can be readily represented both by the boy actor and the page. Conduct books regularly enjoin wives to silence, reverence, and obedience, and the ideal wife as constructed by the Lord is soft-spoken, deferential, and not only obedient to her husband's will but tenderly solicitous of his well-being. Whereas the Quarto Lord advises the boy player to establish his role as wife chiefly if not solely through strong sexual advances to Sly, the Folio Lord urges his page to enact the role of noble lady by expressing concern for his welfare and thereby classifying potentially erotic gestures as wifely solicitude and celebration of his recovery:
And then with kind embracements, tempting
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed
To see her noble lord restor'd to health.
The dallying and dandling of the Quarto 'wife' is discouraged by some conduct books on the grounds that married women should remain modest in connubial sexual behaviour, while even those tracts (mainly Puritan) which encourage sexual relations within marriage counsel moderation. While William Perkins in Christian Economy (1609) looks with favour on the 'due benevolence' of the marriage bed, he warns that 'even in wedlock excess in lusts is no better than plain adultery before God'.
In the Folio, Shakespeare points up the artifice involved in the construction of a married gentlewoman by having the Lord instruct his page how to make himself cry real tears by means of a theatrical trick, women evidently having the ability to induce tears at will, if not by nature then by subtler artifices of their own:
And if the boy have not a woman's gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,
An onion will do well for such a shift,
Which in a napkin (being close convey'd)
Shall in despite enforce a watery eye.
The Lord sends one of his servants off, perhaps remaining alone on stage and so giving additional emphasis to his final eight lines, which might be considered a soliloquy directed at the playhouse audience.
He begins this segment of the speech by reasserting his confidence in Barthol'mew's ability to imitate a real lady:
I know the boy will well usurp the grace,
Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman.
In specifying such features as deportment, vocal quality, movement, and gesture, the Lord is again outlining a social construction of a married gentlewoman such as the conduct books of the period describe. Wives should maintain a discreet but not total silence. Richard Braithwaite's advice in The English Gentlewoman (1631) is typical: 'Bashfull silence is an ornament to their Sexe. [ … ] It suites not with her honour, for a young woman to be prolocutor. But especially, when either men are in presence, or ancient Matrons, to whom shee owes a civili reverence, it will become her to tip her tongue with silence.'
Whereas most conduct books concentrate on inward or moral aspects of married life, Braithwaite devotes some attention to such external considerations as carriage, for, as he puts it, 'It is no hard thing to gather the disposition of our heart, by the dimension of our gate'. He thus recommends that 'your Carriage [… ] should neither be too precise, nor too loose', and later de-scribes inappropriate kinds of 'gates' in scornful detail: 'What a circular gesture wee shall observe some use in their pace, as if they were troubled with the vertigo! Others make a tinkling with their feet, and make discovery of their light thoughts, by their wanton gate. Others with a jetting and strutting pace, publish their hauty and selfe-conceited minde.' Model women of 'preceding times' 'had not the art of imitating such huffing and mounting gates, as our light-spirited Dames now use'.
'Grace' is a more elusive term than 'voice', 'gait', and 'action', but can be glossed by the conduct books as modesty of demeanour, which Ruth Kelso defines [in Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance, 1956] as 'a kind of timidity, that is, a shrinking from drawing attention to oneself, a desire to be inconspicuous, a fear of adverse comment, or to give it positive force and a more praiseworthy connotation, moderation'. He wants his page to represent this version of an idealized married gentlewoman with what he considers verisimilitude ('aptly fitted and naturally performed') rather than exaggerated theatricality. His own presence will prevent excessive mirth from deflecting the page's performance towards broad caricature.
In the second Induction scene a Lady enters, whom the audience has been prepared to recognize as Barthol'mew 'dressed in all suits like a lady'. However accurate his imitation of a great lady, spectators would have known that this 'boy bride', like female characters, was being played by a boy or young man. Although there may have been moments when the Page revealed himself non-verbally to the Lord or to other servants and hence to the audience without Sly's noticing it, the text stipulates no such 'breaking' of character, which suggests that the boy remained in his female role throughout the scene, solicitous about Sly's welfare and treating him with appropriate, perhaps ironically exaggerated, deference and humility: 'My husband and my lord, my lord and husband, / I am your wife in all obedience' (ii. 105-07). In declaring her obedience to her husband's authority, Sly's 'lady' echoes the central duty of a wife according to manuals of the period. 'An Homily of the State of Matrimony' (1563), quoting I Peter 3.1, defines that duty quite simply: 'Ye wives, be ye in subjection to obey your own husband. ' Carrying out his master's instructions, Barthol'mew thus provided a doubly theatrical construction of the social construction of a married gentle-woman, the role Kate will adopt by the end of the play.
A crisis in this doubly constructed performance occurs when Sly commands his wife to 'undress you, and come now to bed' (ii. 117). Up to that point, the text gives him little opportunity to kiss and embrance Sly. The tinker's sexual appetite has already been whetted, by descriptions first of erotic mythological pictures and then of his wife, 'a lady far more beautiful / Than any woman in this waning age [ … ] the fairest creature in the world', even now her 'lovely face' although marred by tears, 'inferior to none' (ii. 62-67). His wife enters, full of tender solicitude and obedience, as the Lord has directed Barthol'mew. Once Sly accepts her as his 'wife' and is reminded how to address her, his sexual interest is renewed when she laments that she has been 'abandoned from your bed', a lament possibly reinforced by kisses and embraces albeit in the manner of 'noble ladies' rather than the more forward manner of the Quarto 'wife'.
In Shakespeare's day, the enactment of some sexual intimacy in the world of the play and the possibility of still more to come may have raised some mild anxieties about the prospect of homoerotic contact between two male characters and two male actors. If so, then the audience was probably relieved when the page extricated himself from the problem of inventing the excuse, 'in character', that Sly's doctors have ordered 'her' temporarily to 'absent me from your bed', lest sexual activity cause a recurrence of 'your former malady'. But the page concludes with a possible sexual innuendo—'I hope this reason stands for my excuse' (i: 122-24)—which Sly seizes upon to acknowledge the difficulty of sexual abstinence once he has been aroused: 'Ay, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long. But I would be loath to fall into my dreams again. I will therefore tarry in despite of the flesh and the blood' (ii. 125-28).
The Quarto abbreviates and modifies the equivalent passage. It omits the pictures, shortens the description of the wife, leaves out the farcical by-play of Sly's not recognizing her as his wife and not knowing what to call her, and allows her only a single speech, less noteworthy for its tenderness and deference than for its frank erotic appeal:
Oh that my lovelie Lord would once
To looke on me, and leave these frantike fits,
Or were I now but halfe so eloquent,
To paint in words what ile perforine in deeds,
I know your honour then would pittie me.
The anticipated 'dandling' may have come toward the end or after this speech, the tone of which suggests not the decorous sexual behaviour of the conduct books but coarse sexual farce such as occurs in Italian popular comedy. More of a seductress than is Barthol'mew's noble lady, the Quarto 'prettie wench' (ii. 37), as Sly first called her, comes on so strongly that Sly seems to recoil, postponing sexual intimacy by enacting his alehouse version of courtly largesse:
Harke you mistresse, wil you eat a peece of
Come sit downe on my knee, Sim drinke to
For she and I will go to bed anon.
His drinking buddy 'Sim', i.e., the Lord, announces the readiness of the Players, perhaps, to extricate the boy from an awkward situation. The Quarto 'play-boy' had failed to heed the Lord's advice to devise an excuse, unlike Barthol'mew, and now seizes the opportunity to 'go bid them begin their plaie' (ii. 54). Sly orders his 'wife' to 'come againe' (ii. 55), but there is no indication that 'she' returns, although the boy may have reappeared in a female role in the play the company is offering for Sly's entertainment.
In the Folio, by contrast, Barthol'mew/Lady evidently remains at Sly's side after the messenger enters to announce the Players and they watch the first part of the play together. Where they watch from is not certain. They, and possibly some servants, may be 'aloft', as the initial stage direction of the second Induction scene stipulates, or if they are on the main playing level, as the Quarto suggests, perhaps they withdraw to one side or the rear of the main playing area. In either case, Barthol'mew/Lady, this acknowledged female impersonator, known to the audience and all characters but Sly, remains visible to the audience at least through their one and only subsequent bit of dialogue at the end of Act I Scene 1.
Sly and his 'wife' are onstage and visible when Baptista and his two daughters enter at 1.1.47. The implied contrast between Barthol'mew/Lady on the one hand and Kate and Bianca on the other raised the same questions as did the contrast between Flute and the other female characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream. A male character in the world of the play pretending to be a woman was exactly what several female impersonators were doing in the world of the playhouse. The deconstructive effect was even stronger in The Taming of the Shrew because Kate and Bianca may have already been seen as, or were understood to be, members of the troupe of players whom the Lord welcomed, onstage, in Induction 1, whereas Hypolita, Hermia, Helena, and Titania appeared only as women with no explicit allusion to male actors playing the roles in the world of the play.
As characters in a play performed before Sly and his 'wife', Kate and Bianca, like Thisbe, might have been played in a style that contrasted with Barthol'mew's Lady. They, after all, are supposedly being played by professional female impersonators, not by reluctant amateurs like Flute or eager but inexperienced amateurs like the Lord's page. In Hamlet, the inserted playlet of 'The Murder of Gonzago' is written in rhymed couplets and archaic diction, enforcing a stylistic differentiation between the onstage players and the onstage spectators. The Player Queen, who was seen as a boy in Act II Scene 2, contrasts with Gertrude and Ophelia, who were played by professional female impersonators in the world of the playhouse. If Hamlet is a guide, then Kate and Bianca, as characters in a play-within-a-play would have been played, at least initially, in a more stylized, artificial and theatrically self-conscious mode than the Lady. That possibility may seem unlikely to us, given our knowledge of the centrality of Kate and Bianca, but spectators seeing the play for the first time would not yet possess that knowledge.
Lucentio's opening speech of Act I Scene 1 suggests such stylization. It is a stiff, formulaic piece of exposition ostensibly informing his servant, who surely already knows, that they are now in Padua, that it is a famous university town, and that he has come there to study. Petruchio's opening speech of Act II Scene 2 is a condensed version of the same formula. The entrance of the Minola family, along with Gremio and Hortensio, is presented as a kind of inserted playlet, 'some show to welcome us to town' (I.1.47), as Tranio puts it. He and Lucentio, who are themselves characters within a play performed before the mock-Lord and his Lady of the Induction, 'stand by' like spectators to watch the scene. To the naïve spectator, Baptista and his daughters are stock commedia figures, deriving from material domesticated decades before Gascoigne, to whose work, The Supposes (1566, published 1579), adapted from Ariosto's I Suppositi (1509), Shakespeare's play twice alludes. Nested within two other concentric planes of reality, the world of the playhouse and the world of the Induction, Kate and Bianca might well have been played at the outset in a style consistent with the conventionality of the Italianate material. If so the male actor would have been required to offer a more self-consciously artificial representation of femininity than Barthol'mew's had provided in impersonating a married English gentlewoman along the naturalistic lines suggested by his Lord.
This initial pattern of stylistic differentiation, however, begins to change in the Folio version at some point after Sly and his 'wife' disappear following the end of Act I Scene 1. The change accelerates as Shakespeare adds disguises and intertwines or crosses different strands of the plot, and as Petruchio's wooing of Kate moves away from Italianate neo-classical comedy and evolves into a more vigorous and original adaptation of native oral tales of 'wife-taming'. The Quarto, by contrast, sustains the Induction frame throughout and indeed ends the play with Sly's reflections on the 'dream' he has just had. But if the curtailment of the frame in the Folio text is deliberate and not the result, say, of faulty printer's copy, then the intended effect may well have been an intricate kind of eversion, whereby the play literally turns itself inside out, as the inner play comes gradually to eclipse the Induction framework, as figure and ground, frame and vision, switch places.
The disappearance of the Induction characters may have stylistically enhanced this process of eversion, for once Sly's 'Lady', initially played by the Page in a relatively naturalistic mode disappeared from view, that style became available, so to speak, for the young male actor playing Kate, as did the image of the married gentle-woman, an explicitly theatrical reconstruction of the idealized wife of conduct books and marriage manuals.
Even before Kate's complex transformation into this idealized wife, Shakespeare found other ways to remind the audience of a slight variation on this doubly constructed image of a married young gentlewoman. The first wooing strategy he devises for Petruchio is to sketch this idealized lady in language. Although Petruchio has been told and clearly believes that Kate is 'an irksome, brawling scold' (I.2.187), he tells Baptista that he has heard of 'her beauty and her wit, / her affability and bashful modesty, Her wondrous qualities and mild behavior' (II. 1.48-50) and tries to impose this image on Kate by a kind of verbal magic. First he tests this strategy in soliloquy, using stock similes for female attractiveness:
Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale;
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash'd with dew.
Abandoning the similes, he determines to create the model wife he seeks by simply superimposing his own version of reality on Kate's actual behaviour, substituting more direct language for the stock images:
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word,
Then I'll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
After an initial wit-combat with Kate, he tries out his plan:
I find you passing gentle:
'Twas told me you were rough and coy and
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk;
But thou with mildness entertain'st thy
With gentle conference, soft, and affable.
One sign of the strain involved in this verbal magic is the simile of the hazel-twig, which leads him to describe her complexion as 'as brown in hue / As hazel-nuts' (II. 1.254-55), which in fact may not be such a compliment, as fashionable Englishwomen covered their faces to preserve an aristocratic pallor. But Petruchio recovers adroitly, if somewhat menacingly, in finding her 'sweeter than the kernels', suggesting that her hard exterior can be cracked to expose the tender meat within.
The implied threat of violence is partly carried out once the play moves to Petruchio's house. Whereas many wife-taming tales involve direct physical assault of various kinds against the shrew, others displace the violence by having the husband kill or maim an animal by way of warning his wife. Petruchio's cuffing or kicking of his household servants in Act IV Scene 1 (added by eighteenth-century editors) is the theatricalized comedic form of such aggression. But he quickly moves to another phase, borrowed not from oral tales but from techniques used in taming falcons and other hunting birds, the withholding of food and sleep. What links both phases, intimidation by violence and subjugation by deprivation, is the exaggerated solicitude Petruchio claims to be showing toward Kate and the exquisite politeness of his manners. At the verbal level, he is treating her as if she were an ideal gentle-woman, while at the physical level he is trying to terrify her with displays of violence and break her spirit by weakening her body.
Petruchio's tactics up to this point are unsuccessful, as they must be if the play is not to end prematurely. His next phase seems to involve a return to his initial gambit, superimposing the image of gentlewoman upon his ungentle wife, only now done with clothing rather than with words. Although Petruchio several times disparages garments as inconsequential compared with the mind or soul, he tells Kate just after permitting her to eat and wishing 'Much good do it unto thy gentle heart!' (IV.3.51) that they will return to Padua dressed as befitting their rank—
And revel it as bravely as the best,
With silken coats and caps, and golden rings,
With ruffs and cuffs, and fardingales, and
With scarfs and fans, and double change of
With amber bracelets, beads, and all this
As the use of loose syntax, bouncy rhythms and rhymed couplets implies, the offer is a ruse, for he will pretend to dislike the cap and the gown that the Haberdasher and Tailor have made for her on the grounds that they are excessively ornate. When Kate protests that 'gentlewomen wear such caps as these' he retorts that 'when you are gentle, you shall have one too / And not till then' (IV.3.70-72). As for the gown, in many productions Petruchio all but destroys it as he comments on its various features before ordering Grumio to take it 'up', i.e., away. From the sartorial details—a loose-bodied gown cut with perforations to reveal another layer of material, demi-cannon or trunk sleeves and a small compassed cape—it seems to be what the Tailor describes as made 'according to the fashion and the time' (IV.3.95). The image of the gentlewoman is presented this time as clothing, possibly draped over a tailor's dummy, but again Petruchio dismisses garments as merely external, 'For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich' (IV.3.172), and he withholds them from Kate on the grounds that she cannot lay claim to attire appropriate to her social station until she is gentle in both senses of the word, that is, in behaviour as well as in rank.
In the scene on the way back to Padua, Kate appears to conform to Petruchio's desires, but it is not clear whether her obedience in the 'sun-moon' sparring, and in calling Vincentio a young woman represent an inner change on her part, a tactical submission, or a willingness to join her husband in madcap pranks intended to twit their stolidly bourgeois society. The idealized image of the gentlewoman appears again, not as clothing but rather as a purely verbal construction, as part of the joke on Vincentio. Petruchio conjures 'her' into existence by invoking 'her' social rank and standard physical attributes, this time with a Petrarchan coloration:
Good morrow, gentle mistress, where away?
Tell me, sweet Kate, and tell me truly too,
Hast thou beheld a fresher gentlewoman?
Such war of white and red within her cheeks!
What stars do spangle heaven with such
As those two eyes become that heavenly face?
Fair lovely maid, once more good day to thee.
Sweet Kate, embrace her for her beauty's
(IV.5.27; my emphases)
Perhaps determined not merely to obey her husband by following his lead in teasing Vincentio, Kate outdoes him by accentuating the 'gentlewoman's' sexual status as a pubescent girl and prospective wife:
Young budding virgin, fair, and fresh, and
Whither away, or where is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child!
Happier the man whom favorable stars
Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow!
When Petruchio relabels Vincentio as 'a man' and then begins a new round of teasing by adding increasingly derogatory adjectives ('old, wrinkled, faded, withered'), Kate again trumps her husband's lead with overstated and hence possibly ironic apologies:
Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with the sun,
That everything I look on seemeth green;
Now I perceive thou art a reverent father.
Pardon, I pray thee, for my mad mistaking.
The modest tone of a model gentlewoman is subtly mocked, not only by the exaggerated deference toward Vincentio but by the allusion to Petruchio's previous arbitrariness over the 'sun'.
The image of the young gentlewoman, which they had both created out of words and images, much to Hortensio's alarm and Vincentio's consternation, they now dissolve. Whereas the image created by clothing was destroyed by Petruchio's tyrannical edict and perhaps even by his violent rending of the gown, the purely verbal image in this scene with Vincentio is created at Petruchio's initiative in the spirit of play, play shared with his wife at the expense of someone else.
Although the text does not specify the motive for Kate's apparent change in this scene or anywhere else, leaving the matter open for performance choice and critical speculation, it does contrast her with several antitypes of the ideal married gentlewomen. One such antitype is her own earlier behaviour as a shrew. Another is her sister, who first appeared as a stereotypically dutiful daughter, later became the object of Lucentio's romantic clichés, and finally emerges as a disobedient wife. The last antitype of upperclass femininity is yet another type of unruly woman, the Widow, that is, a woman who has lived independent of male authority and is therefore a threat or a source of anxiety, as reflected by some (male) authors of conduct books.
In the Quarto, there is no Widow; instead Kate has a second sister who merely replicates Bianca. In the Folio version of the play, the introduction of Hortensio's 'wealthy widow', completes the triadic classification of women, in terms of their relationships to men, as maids, wives, and widows. In the Folio text, the introduction of this particular Widow adds a striking deviation from the ideal of the married gentlewoman to the ending of the play. We first hear of her in Act IV Scene 2, when Hortensio claims that he will marry her 'ere three days pass' (IV.2.38) and that she has loved him as long as he has been wooing Bianca. Tranio speaks of Hortensio's decision immediately after he leaves the stage almost as if this match will provide another 'show' to stand aside and watch: 'I'faith, he'll have a lusty widow now / That shall be woo'd and wedded in a day' (IV.2.50-51) and jokes with Bianca and Lucentio about whether Hortensio can apply to his bride the lessons he has learned at Petruchio's 'taming-school' (IV.2.54). Shakespeare makes Hortensio himself repeat this idea three scenes later, when, inspired by Petruchio's success, Hortensio closes the scene with a rhymed couplet:
Have to my widow! and if she be froward,
Then hast thou taught Hortensio to be
But given the difference between Hortensio and Petruchio, the clear implication is that the Widow, now that she has a new husband whose authority she can defy, will become the type of unruly wife commonly labelled as a scold.
Just as the spectators first heard of Barthol'mew and the role he was to play before he entered as Sly's wife, so they hear of the Widow well before her first appearance onstage. Shakespeare implants the idea that she is both froward and lusty, conventional attributes of literary and theatrical widows, and that Hortensio, who is no Petruchio, will fail in his attempt to tame her. Not until the final scene does the audience actually get to see her, at which point she is Hortensio's wife. No sooner do Baptista's guests sit down at the banquet 'to chat as well as eat' (V.2.11), than Hortensio complains of his Widow, and Petruchio teases them both, her acerbic retorts lead to a flyting with Kate, and she inspires Bianca to ill-tempered bawdy repartee. From one point of view, the Widow underscores the play's orthodoxy: Kate's shrewishness has been displaced on to this late-arriving figure, a reminder of what Petruchio's wife had once been before becoming (or adopting the role of) a model married gentlewoman. From another point of view, however, the Widow is clearly an antitype of that model, and the two female characters are obviously constructed at both theatrical and social levels. In contrast to Kate's enactment of a gentlewoman—polite, decorous, obedient to Petruchio—the Widow, joined by Bianca, scorns her husband's wishes and mocks Kate's demonstration of wifely obedience.
That demonstration is the play's final embodiment of the model of the married gentlewoman, a model earlier created by the Lord and his page, Barthol'mew, and now re-created by Petruchio and the boy actor playing Kate. Although a wager on the shrew's obedience is included in many of the oral tales cited by Brunvand, Shakespeare dilates and amplifies the motif. Kate comes at Petruchio's bidding, inquires 'What is your will, sir, that you send for me?' (V.2.100), and silently agrees to return to the parlour to 'fetch' the other wives. Although Petruchio has won the wager, he now proposes to win it
And show more sign of her obedience,
Her new built virtue and obedience.
To test her, he orders her to throw her cap 'underfoot', perhaps the very cap he had earlier denied her, and then bids her chastise the other wives:
Katherine, I charge thee tell these headstrong
What duty they do owe their lords and
Petruchio's language not only invokes the duty of obedience as emphasized in homilies, the marriage service, and the conduct books, but also echoes Sly's 'wife' in her deferential declaration to her husband: 'My husband and my lord, my lord and husband, / I am your wife in all obedience' (ii.105-07).
The climax of Kate's demonstration of obedience is the lecture to the other women, which ends with her own symbolic gesture of submission, placing her hands beneath Petruchio's feet, a gesture which can be staged as anything between humiliating self-abnegation and ironic verbal formula. Whether one takes Kate's lecture as genuine, feigned, or playful, it is the longest speech of the play and requires the performer to display a poise and self-confidence which can seem to belong to the character as well. Whatever intention that performer provides, the attitudes expressed in the speech are conventionally patriarchal. Although the speech makes no reference to God, the Bible, or the sacredness of holy matrimony, it asserts that women 'are bound to serve, love, and obey' (1. 164), and thus echoes the minister's question to the bride, found in the Book of Common Prayer, 'Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness and in health?' Whereas the Quarto explicitly invokes the creation myth and the sin of Eve to justify the subordination of women, the Folio relies on the analogy of the prince and the subject, and limited obedience to the 'husband's honest will' (V.2.158). Such limitation of a wife's obedience, perhaps more theoretical than actual, was based on the doctrine of Christian conscience and evidently originated with Erasmus in his Institutio matrimonii christiani (1526): 'If he orders you to do something that is contrary to faith or good manners, gently refuse to obey him; but if he persists in wishing to be obeyed, remember that it is better to obey God than men.' In place of the Quarto's scripturally sanctioned denigration of woman, compressed into the familiar pun of 'woe of man' (xviii.34), the Folio places conditions on wives' obdedience and bases it not on their inherent inferiority but on their sense of obligation and gratitude, and on their desire for domestic harmony, central tenets of many marriage manuals of the period.
There are also possible ironies in the speech, as many directors and critics have noted: its praise of husbands who risk their lives to care for their wives points up the fact that most of the men in the play are landowning gentry or urban upper bourgeoisie, the declaration of women's weaker physical traits is made by a female impersonator, and the final gesture of submission, the hand beneath the foot, is absurdly hyperbolic. In original performance, given spectators' metatheatrical awareness of female impersonation, a straightforward delivery of the speech would have produced still deeper irony: Kate's transformation into the ideal of wifely obedience is labelled as the fulfilment of a male fantasy, constructed at many levels—by the male performer, by Kate, by Petruchio, by Barthol'mew, by the Lord, and hence by the patriarchal norms of both 'Padua' and early modern England.
This deconstruction of Kate as an icon of wifely obedience would have been enhanced by any doubling of male performers in the play's female roles. Some kind of doubling involving the Widow seems quite likely inasmuch as she does not appear until the play is more than half over, while boy actors appearing in the Induction had been available since the Induction framework disappeared, presumably by design, in the first act. If noticed, as I assume it would have been, such doubling would have emphasized the theatrical and social constructedness of the female rules by heightening the audience's metatheatrical awareness of crossgender casting and reminding them of the female roles these same performers had played in the Induction.
All of the doubling possibilities are rich in implications. (1) If the actor playing Barthol' mew/Lady doubled as the Widow, then that original model married gentlewoman now metatheatrically returned, but its constructedness was underscored by the fact that the same performer played both that model and its unruly antitype. This effect would have been heightened if the Hostess and Bianca were doubled by a third boy. (2) If the Hostess and the Widow were doubled, then the unruly antitype of the Induction returned greatly amplified by the repetition. But this male nightmare of rebellious womanhood was metatheatrically deconstructed into a male construct and hence weakened or contained, and also contrasted with its opposite male construct, Kate's embodiment of the role of idealized married gentlewoman. (3) The Widow was 'tripled' by the boy who played both the Hostess and Barthol'mew, which is possible as the former disappears early in the first scene of the Induction and the latter does not appear until well into the second scene. That possibility suggests that a skilled female impersonator, such as the boy who played the shrewish and the obedient Kate, could represent both idealized and unruly stereotypes, and had done so in the Induction.
However much such doubling scenes would have enhanced a metatheatrical frame, such an effect was based on the audience's awareness of male performers per se, whether or not they reappeared in successive roles. What is repeated at the end of the play is the reinstatement of the ideal married gentlewoman, the deliberate parallel between the reformed Kate, as played by a boy actor, and Sly's lady, as represented by Barthol'mew under his master's direction. Such a reprise of the Induction would have compensated for what many critics of the Folio version have lamented: its failure to complete the framework of the Induction by supplying a dramatic epilogue involving Sly. The Quarto ending does indeed bring Sly back to conclude the frame and does so with acute irony, for he leaves the stage for his final exit as Petruchio's self-proclaimed disciple:
I know now how to tame a shrew,
I dreamt upon it all this night till now,
And thou hast wakt me out of the best dreame
That ever I had in my life, but Ile to my
Wife presently and tame her too
And if she anger me.
Sly's swagger, followed by the Tapster's eagerness to accompany him home and 'heare the rest that thou has dreamt to night' (11.21-22), turns the drunken tinker into a theatrical spectacle to be witnessed offstage or at some future presentation. Sly's swagger also labels him as a hen-pecked husband in desperate need of a role-model like Petruchio, and makes a similar jibe at male spectators who responded enthusiastically to this wishful fantasy of wife-taming.
The Folio ending is far more subtle. There is no explicit framing of the Petruchio-Kate plot to undercut it with irony. Instead, the text, as originally played with male actors in female roles, provides a metatheatrical frame, a perspective for reading Kate's evident submission as the final incarnation of an elaborately but transparently constructed ideal of upper-class femininity: that is to say, a doubly theatrical replication of a socially generated role. Instead of using Sly to subvert Petruchio as an icon of patriarchal authority, as the Quarto ending does, the Folio playfully contrasts opposing stereotypes of the gentlewoman and the scold and juxtaposes the ideal fantasy with the dreaded nightmare, exploiting the audience's realization that these familiar cultural constructs or roles were theatrical illusions created by male performers.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16058
Margaret Loftus Ranald (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "The Manning of the Haggard: or The Taming of the Shrew," in Essays in Literature, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall, 1974, pp. 149-65.
[In the following essay, Ranald traces Shakespeare's use of imagery drawn from falconry in The Taming of the Shrew to argue that the relationship between Katherine and Petruchio provides a picture of marriage as a "compact between … two mutually inter-dependent personalities working together as they hunt through life. "]
The Taming of the Shrew is, in George Hibbard's phrase [in Tennessee Studies in Language and Literature 2, 1946], "a play about marriage in Elizabethan England," and also unique in the Shakespearean comic canon in dealing with the behavior of husband and wife after the marriage ceremony. At the same time it also offers a distinctly subversive approach to an antifeminist genre, that of the wifebeating farce. In this play Shakespeare has skilfully remolded his material to portray an atypical Elizabethan attitude towards marriage through the development of a matrimonial relationship in which mutuality, trust, and love are guiding forces.
Shakespeare's method at this early stage of his career makes use of the familiar device of contrast. He takes the three most frequent matrimonial situations of Elizabethan England, and indeed any time and place: a marriage arranged by parents for economic gain, marriage to a widow for her money, and a marriage of compatibility and equality. This last, the marriage of Kate and Petruchio, at first seems to be one based on economics, but by the end of the play it is shown to be the model for the others, and indeed the only one that is for more than "two months victuall'd." The play then is Shakespeare's comment on that traditionally male-oriented view of marriage which requires the molding of a wife, by force if necessary, into total submission to her husband. In The Taming of the Shrew, however, the action shows the failure of what would then have been considered "proper" marriages and the boisterous success of the relationship of equality between the sexes personified by Kate and Petruchio.
The imagery and method of the taming need exploration as contributing to the development of this theme, and they represent an amalgam of two approaches, those of falconry and the conduct books of Elizabethan England. Petruchio follows the principles and uses the imagery of hawk-taming while following the letter of the conservative English conduct books, but subverting their repressive intent. The principles of the conduct books and the legal position of women in Elizabethan England are developed along with the principles of training and skill by which one subdues a hunting bird, and the result is a completely different view of the "oeconomie" of matrimony.
To begin with, one must realize the legal position of a wife in sixteenth-century England. She had no property rights of her own, except those granted to her "atte churche dore," and could inherit only the jointure that her husband granted her, together with the dowry she had brought with her. Her own property passed completely into the hands of her husband for his sole use, a situation that prevailed until the 1890's with the passage of the Married Women's Property Acts. This situation was rather ludicrous because as a widow, a woman had control of her property and the disposition of both her lands and her hand in marriage; however, on her remarriage those powers of transacting business reverted irrevocably to her husband. Since the wife's legal personality was entirely submerged in that of her husband, married women were legally little more than household chattels. Petruchio's speech at his own wedding breakfast is no exaggeration:
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing.
So complete was this power that it could even extend to physical chastisement, though this practice was not generally recommended. As late as 1609 a work appeared at Oxford by William Heale entitled An Apologie for Women, or An Opposition to Mr. Dr. G[ager] His Assertion. Who Held in the Act at Oxforde. Anno 1608. That It Was Lawfull for Husbands to Beate Their Wiues. And yet England was celebrated in Europe as "the hell of horses and the paradise of married women"
As usual, the sexual insatiability of women was implicitly maintained, and a young maiden was carefully constrained in the matter of choosing a husband, lest her physical desire run before prudent provision for her economic security. If under the age of twentyone, she required her parents' consent; and in practice this requirement could be extended well beyond that age. Nonetheless, child marriages were quite common for economic and dynastic reasons. As Sir John Neale says [in The Elizabethan House of Commons, 1950],
Marriage was not normally a question of romance, dependent on acquaintance and so tending to inter-marriage within the county, the social unit. There was romance, of course, but not to the extent that the lyrical poetry of the age might suggest. Marriage was a matter for negotiation between parents. It was often very mercenary. An heir or heiress or a wealthy widow was a bargain piece in a national rather than a local market. Cornwall married into Norfolk, Warwickshire into Somerset.
Juan Luis Vives, the Spanish humanist often held to be the great supporter of feminine education, also points out a girl's place [in The Instruction of a Christen Woman, 1541]:
… it becometh nat a mayde to talke, where her father and mother be in communication about her marriage: but to leaue all that care and charge holly vnto them; which loue her as well as her self doth. And lette her thynke that her father and mother wyll prouyde no less diligently for her, than she wolde for her selfe: but moche better, by the reason they haue more experyence and wysedome. More ouer it is nat comely for a mayde to desyre mariage, and moch lesse to shewe her selfe to longe therfore.
After marriage, the wife was recommended to follow the precepts of the Book of Proverbs 33:13-27:
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant's ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.… She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.… Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Such total commitment to household tasks would obviously leave her no time for lechery.
Naturally, the problem with these conduct-book ideals was that the Elizabethan woman often failed or refused to fit the mold of perfection they set forth. As Ruth Kelso points out [in Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance, 1956] "the moral ideal for the lady is essentially Christian … that for the gentleman is essentially pagan. For him the ideal is self-expansion and realization.… [For the woman] the suppression and negation of self is urged." The ideal woman should be totally dedicated to her station as wife. Housewifery should be her main task, and care for the moral rectitude of herself, her children, and her servants her constant concern. She should be the mirror of her husband in word, deed, and disposition, with longsuffering patience her watchword. She should be a Eulalia, not a Xantippe. Her reading should not include vernacular books dealing with war and love, and certainly not romances or anything inciting to her "natural" lust.
The facts, however, were different. Some women did rebel against the strictures of the arranged match, eloping and marrying for love. Others, like the earlier Margaret Roper and the daughters of Anthony Coke, were accomplished scholars, while Margaret Gigs, cousin to Margaret Roper, was a physician. Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth were learned, and indeed shared the same tutor, Roger Ascham. Queen Elizabeth herself was the modern model of the heroic Deborah, raised up by God to save her people. Even women of the mercantile class operated without much more than lip service to conduct-book strictures. Widows could and did remarry, and others took over their husbands' businesses—witness the printers Widow Orwin and Widow Toy. Widows automatically became members in full standing of their deceased husbands' guilds so they could carry on the business. As a result many women participated in aspects of the English cloth trade, and one such guild, the London Silk-women's Guild, was entirely feminine. Women engaged in business and real estate transactions. Mistress Fayrey, the widow of one of the Merchants of the Staple of Calais, was noted for driving a hard bargain, while another woman, Jane Rawe, ran a private exchange business out of Hazebrouck and travelled frequently from London to Antwerp and Calais on the business of her house. In effect, then, women had managed to gain some measure of independence, despite conduct books and churchmen, but they were usually members of the nobility or the mercantile and crafts classes who could find time to build handsome castles, like Bess of Hardwick, or run their own businesses. But they were usually widows, because then they were in control of their money and property, since they possessed independent legal personality.
There was even the beginning of a new development in marriage, partly as a result of the influence of such books as Castiglione's The Courtier, translated by Sir Thomas Hoby in 1562. Perhaps marriage could be contracted for companionship rather than the usual reasons of procreation and remedy for concupiscence, both of which reasons were listed interchangeably by Roman Catholic and Protestant conduct books. But even among the so-called "enlightened" Protestant writers, companionship generally ran a poor third, and it was used to justify allowing older couples to marry when their procreative days were past. However, on the other side, the chaste marriage of Mary and Joseph was extolled by those writers who believed virginity the primary state in life.
Shakespeare, however, sees women as independent entities. They are not mere chattels, but individual human beings with wit, intelligence, and psychological needs. He exploits the never-ending war between the sexes, but without bitterness. He humanizes it to make it a clash of equal personalities, raising it to a level of intellectual subtlety. Thus Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew is not the wife-beating Mr. Noah of the mystery plays. Shakespeare demythologizes what M. C. Bradbrook identifies [in Shakespeare Jahrbuch 94, 1958] as "the oldest and indeed the only native comic rôle for women," so that Katharina is closer to what has sometimes been called the "new woman" of the Renaissance, a woman of wit, independence, business acumen, and humor.
Petruchio seems to want this "new" kind of wife rather than the conventional Elizabethan servitor. Certainly his wife will have a position of legal inferiority, but he seems to perceive marriage as something of a partnership. He may b e primus inter pares, but his wife must not be simpering, coy, and humble. He wants a woman of wit and spirit and sees beneath Kate's apparent shrewishness to the warm, highspirited woman who has consciously or unconsciously adopted shrewish behavior out of sheer frustration—a reaction against the strictures laid on her by a repressive society and a father guilty of favoritism.
Petruchio rejoices in Kate's faults. She will be a haggard worth the taming, a good hawk for his hand:
I am as peremptory as she proud-minded;
And where two raging fires meet together
They do consume the thing that feeds their
Though little fire grows great with little wind,
Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all;
So I to her, and so she yields to me,
For I am rough and woo not like a babe.
And further, he is a fit husband for her:
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.
Thus at the very beginning of the play, Petruchio sees the essential similarity between the two of them. He willingly undertakes the task of taming in full knowledge of its challenging difficulty, as a falconer brings a difficult hawk to submission. Consequently the imagery of much of the play indicates a perception of the matrimonial state as similar to the compact between falcon and keeper. The falcon must be taught obedience to her master, but at the same time her wild and soaring nature must be preserved. This is a cardinal principle of hawk-taming. The bird must retain her hunting instinct; otherwise she is useless. But she must be taught to exercise her wild nature on command, to hunt under the government of her keeper/master. Accordingly, the hawking passage of IV.i.193 ff. is extremely important, as also is the image of Bianca as a "proud, disdainful haggard" (IV.ii.39). Hortensio cannot remain with a woman who will be "ranging" abroad to cast "wand'ring eyes on every stale" (III.i.90), or lure of dead prey. This comment also gives a clue to the revelation of the shrewish Bianca beneath the appearance of conformity. But Petruchio operates differently from the moneyminded Hortensio and the swooning-romantic Lucentio. He has the patience to tame his wild bird without breaking her spirit, perceiving the advantages that will accrue to him in training a good hunting hawk. While Hortensio will seek easier game and marry a wealthy widow, only to find himself discomfited, and Lucentio will find himself married to a shrew, Petruchio will preserve Kate's witty and independent nature so that in partnership they may hunt down pretension and falsehood in others.
Thus the hawking imagery carries more weight than the mere suggestion that wives and falcons are more tractable when half starved. Its real value lies in emphasizing the fact that the taming of a wild, mature falcon aims at achieving mutual respect between bird and keeper. As a result of this battle of wills, the bird learns her function and purpose, and the keeper learns that he must continually work to preserve the bird's obedience. Kate and Petruchio develop similar attitudes toward each other, and implicit in this image is that of marriage as a partnership, neither party in full control of the other, yet each owing something to the other: respect and consideration on the part of the man, and obedience and respect on the part of the woman. As the falconer never asks the impossible of his bird, as he cherishes, feeds, and keeps it, not attempting irrevocably to alter its nature, so too should a husband behave toward his wife, taking care never to lose her friendship. And, to carry the analogy with falconry further, the keeper must expect his bird to be moody and unpredictable, and he must never relax his vigilance, for he can never be sure that he is in complete control of his hawk. Finally, the compact between master and falcon is basically a voluntary commitment. When it soars, waiting for its prey, the bird is capable of flying away free, and only the kindness of the keeper and the consequent gratitude or indebtedness of the bird can keep it under control. So too with Kate and Petruchio.
This falcon metaphor is a most fitting one for Kate. She is a haggard, "an excellent good bird … the most excellent … of all other Falcons … endowed with beautie and excellencie." She is a wild adult bird in full plumage, a long-winged hawk already accustomed to field hunting, soaring high and swooping down after her chosen quarry. She knows how to prey on lesser creatures such as Bianca. But with such temperamental birds, as indeed with all falcons, "Art must supply the restraints of kind, by cunning." The tamer must "vse her gently, and be patient with hir at the first," so that the falcon will discover that gentleness and obedience on her side will beget kind treatment from her keeper.
Petruchio instinctively knows how to "man" his haggard as he combines conduct-book rules with those of hawk-taming. His approach is that of a true falconer: "when by cunning and subteltie you haue beguiled and taken [your falcons]; and how by skill and art euer after to order and gouerne [them] changing (by your wit and watchful diligence) their naturali timeritie and wildnes into loue and gentlenes." He first hears of Kate as an ideal match for any sensible young man: she is wealthy, young, beautiful, and well-bred, though "intolerable curst" (I.ii.89). But to the man who has stated his desire to marry for wealth, money is all important (1. 93). As M. C. Bradbrook notes, "Money is always to the fore in tales about shrews," and hence this attribute of Petruchio may be taken as a stereo-type. Kate and Petruchio, however, are variations on the stock situations and stock characters, and here the "suppose" theme comes into play. As Petruchio appears to be the conventional shrew-tamer, so Kate, an intelligent, mettlesome young woman, victimized by her social role and Baptista's favoritism for Bianca, appears to be the conventional shrew to be tamed by beating. As C. C. Seronsy says [in Shakespeare Quarterly 14, 1963]:
… in the shrew plot the supposition represents a deeper more conscious attempt to make real and establish beyond cavil what everyone else fails to see. The distinction is one between outer circumstance and inner conviction, a kind of triumph of mind or personality over a world of stubborn "fact" not quite so real as had been supposed.
Thus Petruchio teaches Kate a new role by means of subtlety, opposing rage with rage, and wooing by opposition, all the while assuming in the young woman qualities which she does indeed possess: "patience, good sense, a capacity for humor, and finally obedience, all of which she comes gradually to manifest in a spirit chastened but not subdued."
Petruchio follows the mannerly Elizabethan approach to marriage by asking the lady's father for permission to woo his daughter. But he is also a very shrewd young man who sizes up Baptista astutely. In his most businesslike manner he gives Baptista a resumé of his financial situation—his father is dead and he himself is sole heir. Then without hedging he asks,
Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love,
What dowry shall I have with her to wife?
Baptista names his figure: twenty thousand crowns in cash and half his lands after his decease. It is a good offer, and despite Baptista's obvious desire to be rid of Kate, Petruchio does not haggle for a larger sum. Instead he offers his part of the bargain, the jointure:
And, for that dowry, I'll assure her of
Her widowhood, be it that she survive me,
In all my lands and leases whatsoever.
Let specialties be therefore drawn between us,
That covenants may be kept on either hand.
All this is eminently businesslike, not merely materialistic, and it follows the traditional approach to marriage in Elizabethan England among both the mercantile and upper classes. The Elizabethan father might not always have worried about the compatibility of the pair, but he did want to be sure that his daughter would be left well provided for as a widow. Perhaps she might be able to use her jointure to remarry and improve her social position.
Thus the financial arrangements for Kate's marriage are concluded with Baptista relieved to get his older daughter off his hands on any terms. The younger one is a more tempting match as far as he is concerned, and hence he has bargained with her hand in order to gain assistance from Bianca's suitors to marry off the undesirable girl who is his older daughter. Then he will, in effect, sell Bianca's marriage to the highest bidder, regardless of his suitability as a husband. Baptista does, however, take one wise precaution in warning Petruchio indirectly of Kate's temper (II.i.62-63, 140), a sensible move, since the impediment of "certain conditions unknown" could allow Petruchio to break the contract before marriage.
Petruchio now brings to bear on Kate all his cunning, subtlety, skill, and art. At first he has seemed merely an ambitious fortune hunter come "to wive it wealthily in Padua" (I.ii.75), but his combative instinct is aroused by what he hears about "Kate the curst":
Now, by the world, it is a lusty wench!
I love her ten times more than e'er I did.
O, how I long to have some chat with her.
His self confidence is also such that he has no fear of verbal battles (I.ii.199-211). As soon as he meets Kate he treats her with affability and consideration, disarming her by addressing to her those words of praise and love that men have usually employed to her sister. Hence he lauds her mildness and silence (II.i.192-93), and the more she rages the more he compliments her:
… I find you passing gentle.
'Twas told me you were rough and coy and
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look
Nor bite the lip as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk,
But thou with mildness entertain'st thy
With gentle conference, soft and affable.
Here is the portrait of the ideal lady of the conduct books, in words that seem more applicable to Bianca than to Kate. However, this approach is in truth that of a good falconer, for "kinde dealing with her, does draw her loue to you." Further, this scene is tied together by explicit and implicit images of hawking. Kate is metaphorically a kite, a falcon not normally used for hunting because of its poverty of nature and habit of feeding on small reptiles, insects, sickly prey, or offal. In fact this is the only kind of prey Kate has known up to this time—Bianca and a rather poor lot of wooers. Kate picks up the reference when she calls Petruchio a buzzard (1. 208), a hawk even less valued than a kite and never used in hawking because it is "deficient in speed and in pluck." Then she compounds the insult by suggesting that Petruchio is too "craven" (1. 228) or cowardly to be a fit mate for her.
Kate retaliates superbly in this scene, but it is not the first time she has used hawking terms, for she has earlier asked if her father intends to make her a "stale," a lure made of dead prey, among these mates or wooers, with additional witty punning elements indicating laughing-stock and harlot (I.i.57-58). In this comment she has also summed up her position vis à vis Bianca: she is the despised lure and Bianca the desired game of the wooers. Petruchio then carries his hunting imagery further by including Diana, the chaste goddess (II.i.260-63), and announcing his taming policy, with more puns on kites, cates, and cats (11. 278-80). In taking on the office of falconer he is "persuading … [his falcon] to live quietly among men," and learn a new role in concert with her keeper.
So far Petruchio has proved himself a good tamer. He has begun the process with kindness; the more Kate has railed, the more he has complimented her, applying to her all the virtues of an ideal lady. His subtlety, however, is further demonstrated because he has apparently seen that Kate is not merely shrewish for its own sake, and indeed as Hibbard suggests "What we have here is a woman whose dignity as a woman has been outraged, and who in retaliation has allowed the assertion of her pride to get out of hand in a violently unfeminine manner." In fact her shrewishness seems more like a "common human response to the situation" she finds herself in. Her father considers her an encumbrance who must be married off whether she will or not (I.i.48-54) so that he can bargain with Bianca's hand (II.i.327-400). Bianca, the weepy, dishonest, and mealy-mouthed, is her father's favorite (II.i.31-36), while Kate, the girl with legitimate pride, receives little more than abuse (1. 26). Kate's difficulty lies in her astute intelligence and impatience with stupidity which make her despise the meek conformity of Bianca and rebel against the limitations that Elizabethan society placed upon women:
I see a woman may be made a fool,
If she had not a spirit to resist.
A glance at Bianca's wooers should suffice to show their manifest unsuitability and Kate's good taste. Gremio is an old man, virtually decrepit, and obviously incapable of satisfying the sexual needs of a young woman. Hortensio is strictly out for money, and like many Elizabethan young men, he opts for a rich widow who will bring her fortune with her for his use, only to find a stock situation fraught with disaster—the young man married to a rich wife. Even Lucentio, the most eligible of the three, is a swooning romantic who has to be pushed into the practical step of clan-destine marriage. Kate, then, is forced by such circumstances to the self-defensive stand of shrewishness to discourage such suitors.
Why, then, does she accept Petruchio? The answer is to be found in the wooing scene of II.i where Petruchio demonstrates a wit equal to her own. Her violence and intelligence do not frighten him away but rather inspire him to new heights of witty and mildly obscene badinage. For perhaps the first time, each engages in a combat of wit with a member of the opposite sex who possesses equal intelligence, flexibility of repartee, and vigor. Kate for the first time has had a prospective husband praise her for her virtues, and her suitor is a handsome man with economic as well as physical advantages.
The boisterous wooing ends with Petruchio's unsupported assertion that "we have 'greed so well together / That upon Sunday is the wedding day" (11. 299-300). Kate is swept off her feet. Baptista joyfully accepts Petruchio's words as truth, despite Kate's pro forma protests, and with evident relief he unites the two in a public spousal ceremony, joining their hands in token of "free and unforced consent" before Bianca's salivating lovers, who willingly act as witnesses. The bargain is then sealed with the spousal kiss: "And kiss me, Kate, 'we will be married o' Sunday'" (1. 216). Kate and Petruchio are now, by virtue of this espousal in words of the future tense, man and wife in name, but not yet in bed. A church ceremony is still canonically required, but they are almost indissolubly knit together.
An understanding of this situation is essential in order to understand the horror of Petruchio's late arrival at the wedding. Shakespeare shows a Kate very much afraid of being deserted at church by her madcap lover, and indeed, her current experience with men would lead her to expect that Petruchio has merely been making fun of her. But even worse, if Petruchio were not to arrive, she might have to remain unmarried. Her espousals have been performed publicly, and she is indeed "mad Petruchio's wife, / If it would please him come and marry her!" (III.ii.19-20) Further, his failure to appear to claim his bride, though grounds for dissolution of contract, could also irrevocably ruin her reputation and make her unmarriageable. She could be thought "damaged goods"—Petruchio must have known something detrimental about her morals if he refused her—and hence she would be unfit for marriage else-where. Kate could thus be condemned to a life of frustrated spinsterhood. Here one must again emphasize that Petruchio is a very attractive and handsome man of wit and spirit. He represents escape from an intolerable home situation and also offers a sexual suitability which makes him much more desirable than the whole pack of Bianca's wooers. No wonder then that when he does arrive she goes with him to church no matter what he is wearing. Indeed she really has no option.
This is another step in the taming process in that Petruchio makes Kate grateful to him for having come at all. However, he also shows an honest and sincere view of the married state, and even some self-knowledge in hinting that appearance can belie reality:
To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
Could I repair what she will wear in me,
As I can change these poor accoutrements,
'Twere well for Kate and better for myself.
Then, from the reported wedding scene one may see that Petruchio has continued the taming process by showing himself as violent and unpredictable as the shrew he has married. He turns the whole marriage ceremony topsy turvy, horrifying the starchy wedding guests and terrifying Kate. She, however, is so glad he has come that she does and says nothing.
After the wedding Petruchio, the falconer, asserts his authority over Kate, the falcon he has captured. She must go with her husband wherever her keeper wishes, since she now belongs to him. As early as this moment (III.ii) Petruchio indicates the nature of his taming process: he will deny Kate's wishes while claiming what is in fact the truth—that his motivation is his great love and care for her well-being. Thus she cannot bring any of her customary weapons to bear. When begged to stay for the wedding feast Petruchio pretends fear of armed attack; he draws his sword and swears to defend himself and his wife against all comers. Kate, of course, can say and do nothing. Her attempt at pleading has failed, and defiance has led to a recital of her legal position as a wife (11. 230-34). She must go with him and submit her will to his.
The post-marital taming now begins in earnest with its combination of the principles of falconry and the recommendations of conduct books on the rights and duties of the married. Petruchio shows himself well equipped to employ both these modes of instruction, and ironically the result is a wife of spirit, wit, and comic intelligence who will lead him a merry chase, offering the charms of intellectual equality tempered with love and outward submission. This is a compact between falcon and keeper, two mutually interdependent personalities working together as they hunt through life.
Petruchio follows up his initial advantage at the wedding feast during the return to his house. On the way he beats his servants for their incompetence, and for the alleged reason that they have discommoded his wife. Thus he forces Kate to intercede for someone other than herself. But he has also performed his first duty as a husband by looking after his wife's comfort. Of course he has at the same time managed to frighten Kate by acting in a manner as unbridled as her own, thus showing her the mirror of her own conduct. But although Petruchio may beat his servants, he never raises his hand to his wife, however much she provokes him. Here he follows a double precept. The first is from the conduct books, advising a husband not to "offer her any injury, either in deed or word, but [to] honor and make much of her. For the Husband that honoureth his wife honoureth himselfe." Second, he is attempting to gain the frienship and affection of his wild haggard by caring for her comfort, speaking gently and lovingly to her, but still showing his authority.
Next, Petruchio calls for food, and though he and Kate are both hungry, he rejects it because it is too well done, maintaining, in accordance with good Renaissance medicine, that over-roasted meat would add to the choleric condition of them both. Here he is performing another husbandly duty in caring for his wife's bodily welfare, but at the same time he is taking one of the first steps in bringing his falcon to "reclayme":
Yf ye wyll reclayme your hawke ye must depart one meele in thre meeles vnto the tyme that she woll come to reclayme. And when she woll com to reclayme: encreece her meele euery daye better and better. And or she come to the reclame make her that she soore not. For though she be wel reclamed it maye happe that she woll soore soo hyghe in to the ayre that ye shall neyther se nor fynde her.
Then Petruchio takes Kate to bed where, as his servant tells us, he begins the wedding night by "making a sermon of continency to her" (IV.i.185-86). Here he may be considered as officially delivering his wife a monitory address: that is, he is performing the important husbandly duty of caring for her moral wellbeing, for woman is "the weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7). In addition, he has decided that he will not permit her to sleep, and now he specifically allies his plan of campaign to the taming of a hawk:
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty;
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg'd,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper's
That is to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat today, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall
As with the meat, some undeserved fault
I'll find about the making of the bed;
And here I'll fling the pillow, there the
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets.
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her;
And in conclusion she shall watch all night;
And if she chance to nod I'll rail and brawl
And with the clamour keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; 'tis charity to show.
Petruchio's words require careful examination. He gives here a very precise account of the method of taming a falcon, bringing her to reclaim, or calling her back to her keeper after she has soared. In refusing meat to his haggard Petruchio is attempting to enforce obedience by showing her that she will be fed only at the good disposition of her keeper, and as a reward for her own kindness and good behavior. She will be "full-gorg'd" only when she has learned what she should do—look upon her lure and return to her husband's fist, or to her perch. This is good falconry, as is the denial of sleep. This method of gaining obedience, though cruel, is one that lays equal demands on both bird and keeper. As long as the bird is "watched," an average of three nights, so long does the keeper have to go without sleep, suffering the same hardships as his falcon, until she stops her bating, or flying off the perch, and beating her wings in an endeavor to escape her leg restraints, or jesses. The keeper must, throughout this time, also bring the bird to love and trust him by speaking soothingly to her, making her understand what she must do, not through fear, but through friendship and mutual endurance. Petruchio must first break his haggard of her kitish tricks of flying disobediently at inferior game and refusing the lure. Thus he starts his reign by trying to "curb her mad and headstrong humour." The word "curb" is the operative one here. Petruchio is too good a falconer to break his haggard's spirit; he will teach her to control her wildness so that she will attack prey, but will be discriminating and not merely soar after any game she sees. He will civilize his falcon and make her able to live comfortably among men; but her hunting instinct must be preserved. In other words, Kate must be taught to control her pointless rages and direct her anger and aggression against legitimate quarry.
In pursuit of these ends Petruchio uses both kindness and authority. In his rages he mirrors Kate's behavior, ironically inverting the precepts of conduct books, but through his actions he prevents his wife from complaining, since her welfare is ostensibly his main consideration. Thus Kate sees her irrational anger directed toward others and kindness shown to herself, a situation that reinforces Petruchio's authority through her fear that such rage might be directed against her, should she fail to fulfil her husband's wishes. At the same time, too, Kate is brought to see the futile folly of continual anger, for no amount of fury will make Petruchio change his mind, once he has decided that a course of action is for her own good. To her chagrin Kate gets the point:
And that which spites me more than all these
He does it under name of perfect love,
As who should say if I should sleep or eat,
'Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
But then Petruchio offers food to his half-starved wife, food which, like a good falconer, he has prepared himself. He alone knows with the utmost precision the requirements of his captive falcon. And again the bird must reciprocate. Kate must "offer thanks" by means of her good behavior; otherwise she will not be fed.
So far Petruchio has used the precepts of falconry, but he has also fulfilled three of the duties expected of an Elizabethan husband: he has instructed his wife for her own moral good; he has nourished her with carefully selected food, and presumably he has lain with her. Now he comes to perform another husbandly duty: he must clothe her suitably, and for that purpose he brings a tailor to the house (IV.iii.59- 170). Then he harasses both tailor and haberdasher because their wares are unsuitable. They have even brought a loose-bodied gown—fit only for a loose woman, and conventionally the gown of an Elizabethan harlot. Kate, still the head-strong haggard, protests against her keeper's actions, but instead of new clothes she receives another homily, this time on the honesty of mean apparel (11. 171-84). As Petruchio had said before the wedding, inward worth is of more importance than outward show (III.ii.119-22); he has already proved this, too, by seeing beneath Kate's shrewish exterior and recognizing her possibilities.
After having gained some show of obedience from Kate, Petruchio, while on the road to Padua, experiments in flying his haggard a short distance after game (IV.v.). He demands Kate's agreement with outrageous statements concerning the time of day, and again that the moon rather than the sun is shining. This time Kate does not "bate and beat" but performs as her keeper demands—with some verbal exasperation at her inability to resist, but knowing that the only way to get what she wants, a trip to Padua, is to agree with her husband/keeper. Petruchio "flies" her again at Vincentio, and this time she indeed proves herself a fine game bird when she carries the joke even further than her keeper expects (IV.ii.27-49). Her grotesquely fulsome compliments to the "young, budding virgin" are a brilliantly created piece of farce, extending the impossible premise to supremely logical conclusions. Then, when Petruchio tests her again by asking her to admit her error, she notifies him that she is "tamed" by cooperating with him in his trick. Her error has arisen because of her "mistaking eyes, / That have been so bedazzled with the sun" (IV.v.45-46). All she need do is indicate by a question in her voice her mischievous doubt as to which, sun or moon, is shining. Now Kate has outsmarted Petruchio, but her method shows her advancement in civilized subtlety by her use of the private joke they share.
Kate has now shown herself a worthy haggard, a good hunting companion for Petruchio. She can engage in witty badinage without compromising her inner independence of spirit and initiative. If Petruchio makes fun of her she will enjoy the joke and reply in kind; thus she serves notice that he must keep his wits about him if he is to continue to control his haggard. She can now cooperate with her husband, and hence the taming process is almost completed. The bird has flown after game and has returned to her keeper's fist as commanded. But Kate's farcical initiative indicates that, though curbed, her witty and comic spirit has not been broken. She has discovered the art of playing, and has learned that [in the words of Charles Brooks in Shakespeare Quarterly 11, 1960], "if she bends a little she and her husband can also entertain themselves gloriously at the expense of others."
Petruchio will now reward his haggard with a kiss, but here the modest matron demurs. She must be coaxed, and at the same time she is gaining her indirect revenge. Since Petruchio wishes her to play the part of the perfect conduct-book wife in public, she will play it to the letter and avoid open displays of affection. As [Stefano] Guazzo points out [in The Civile Conversation, 1581]: "I cannot like of those which will be stil dalying with their wives before others: for they doe therby set other mens teeth on edge and make their wives less shamefast and modest." So again Petruchio has to work hard to bring his haggard to perform his will, but this time she offers him a term of endearment to signify a love-truce: "now pray thee, love, stay" (V.i.152-53).
Finally, in the banquet-wager, Kate is given her real test in flying at a quarry. Even here Petruchio has followed a good falconer's rule, for he has not flown his hawk far on the first occasion, on the road to Padua. Now Kate has a chance at better game, Bianca and the Widow. That Katharina is still a hunting falcon of great spirit is obvious from the beginning of V.ii, where she objects to the Widow's "very mean meaning." At this point Kate's feathers are so ruffled that she is in a hunting mood, in good flying condition. With the departure of all the women, Petruchio wagers with the other husbands, noting (ironically, perhaps) that he will lay odds twenty times greater on his wife than on his hawk or hound.
Kate, moreover, is out for vengeance, and she receives a very sweet reward from her husband for her part in the wager when she is told to herd the recalcitrant wives back to the banqueting hall. She has detested Bianca's slyly obedient approach in the past, and now she will bring upon her and the Widow the same kind of opprobrium formerly visited upon her because of her own alleged shrewish behavior. The keeper and his bird are thus working together in their hunt after pretension, and Petruchio, the good falconer, allows Kate another reward when he permits her in effect to feed upon her quarry by giving the two women a homily on wifely behavior. Such a reward will keep the affection of the falcon so that she can be permitted longer flights at liberty.
Kate's set speech on wifely duties (V.ii. 136-79) has frequently been misunderstood and often misplayed. Sometimes it is performed too obsequiously, and sometimes too ironically, with a too-broad wink at the end, but more frequently it has been completely misread. What it celebrates is a mutual agreement, a bargain in terms of separation of powers. The husband is legally the head of the wife as her lord, keeper, king, and governor, but he also has duties. He must provide for his family, and as prince in his own household, he should rule its members with justice and loving kindness rather than cruelty and injustice. In return, the wife too has duties, basically those of "love, fair looks, and true obedience" (1. 153). She owes her husband the same "duty as the subject owes the prince" (1. 155). She must submit to his "honest will" (1. 158), and not rebel against his reasonable demands. This situation seems to indicate a mutuality of aims and a tolerance of personal differences.
The key words of the speech are "true obedience" and "honest will." Neither of these concepts of behavior indicates force or tyranny, but rather mutual respect, trust, tolerance, and understanding. Women's physical weakness should indicate to them the nature of the weapons they should use. For herself, Kate no longer acts with the violence born of frustration. She can govern her passions and will use softness, humor, subtlety—perhaps exploiting her physical weakness in order to act in loving partnership with her husband. Now that she has found a loving mate, she no longer needs to act the part of a shrew. In public she will be the epitome of obedience, the embodiment of the model wife, according to the moralistic principles of conduct books. She has now shown love, honor, and reverence; she has obeyed Petruchio's commands (reserving to herself the right to think some of them ridiculous); she has been silent unless spoken to; and now in offering to place her hands below her husband's foot, she makes a statement and a gesture of ultimate humility. But the key words here are "if he please" (1. 178). Kate knows her man, and Petruchio knows better than to accept. He has no need to exact total submission from such a girl as Kate. He is too secure in his own personal identity. Instead he refuses the proffered hand beneath his foot and sweeps her to her feet with a merrily possessive, "Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate" (1. 180). As on the road to Padua, the falcon is rewarded for hunting down her prey, and both bird and keeper rejoice in the success of their mutual joke at the expense of the rest of the company. The wager has been won, Petruchio has received another dowry, and the two hunters can laugh together. Kate and Petruchio instinctively understand each other; one madcap sense of humor has found its like, and each has come to respect the other's verve, vigor, and human personality. Each can now play the game of human relationships to the everlasting joy and amusement of the other. Whatever else one may say of this marriage, it will surely never be dull.
As a result of Petruchio's regime Kate is tamed, but only insofar as developing an appreciation of the realpolitik of matrimonial relationships under the tutelage of her keeper, who has been careful "not to reduce unduly the courage, activity, and other qualities necessary in a good hunting falcon." She is now the wife of a man who respects and rejoices in her integrity of spirit and independence. She and her husband are allies against the rest of the world in hunting down "supposes" or pretension. She pays lip service to the conduct-book wifely precepts, but her frame of reference is different. As her husband's ally and partner she does not need to be completely silent and submissive; her spirit is as volatile as ever, but she has learned to temper it publicly for policy and love. Kate and Petruchio have shown by their actions the superiority of their alliance in mutuality over the other marriages conceived according to rule. Thus they make fun of romantic idealism, fortune hunting, and the strictures of a repressive society. Further, through the careful equation of the taming of a wife with the "reclaiming" of a haggard, Shakespeare has conveyed the ideal matrimonial situation. Both keeper and falcon, husband and wife, have their own areas of superiority, but when both work together at a given hunting task they are incomparable. Each needs the other, and each recognizes the necessity of love and obedience on the part of the one, and consideration and trust on the part of the other. Each has duties and both have rights. The keeper has the right to "true obedience," but a good falconer will never require unreasonable performance from his haggard. Similarly, the falcon has the right to expect consideration, respect, and reward for good hunting and good deportment.
Thus Shakespeare has shown a surprisingly modern attitude toward marriage and a new approach to the taming of a wife, not by physical force, but by subtlety, art, reason, and love. The advice, then, is that of the homilies in its most ideal sense: "honest natures will sooner be retained to doe their duety, rather by gentle wordes, then by stripes." Woman is not merely the weaker vessel, to be borne with. She has her own role to play, and that is what Kate learns. The hunting falcon must do without total liberty and work in concert with her keeper, who draws her to him with love, trust, and rewards, not with blows. In a similar way Kate and Petruchio achieve an ideal partnership, and by allying it to the imagery of falconry, Shakespeare has conveyed the subtlety and delicacy of this matrimonial relationship. Kate's soaring spirit is not destroyed by her husband, and Petruchio is no bitter fortune-hunting tyrant. These two allies have reached a civilized and rational appreciation of their respective roles, and thus happiness in the mutuality of their partnership must surely follow.
Joan Hartwig (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "Horses and Women in The Taming of the Shrew" in The Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4, Autumn, 1982, pp. 285-94.
[In the following essay, Hartwig traces analogies between horses and women in The Taming of the Shrew and relates them to similar analogies in other Renaissance texts.]
An Elizabethan gentleman was acutely aware of the quality of his servants, his horses, and his wife, as Falstaff's response to his page's news that Bardolph has gone into Smithfield to buy him a horse parodies:
I bought him [Bardolph] in Paul's and he'll buy me a horse in Smithfield. An I could get me but a wife in the stews, I were manned, horsed, and wived.
(2 Hen IV: I.ii.49-51)
Smithfield, the site of Bartholomew Fair, had been a mart for horse trading as long as memory holds, and the horse coursers there were renowned for trickery. Thus, Falstaff's evaluation of buying a servant at Paul's, a horse at Smithfield, and a wife from a brothel implies that none of these would be good bargains.
The association of women and horses is of long standing, both in terms of the practical marketplace and in symbolic analogies. King Henry V in his brief courtship of Princess Katherine of France laments the fact that wiving and riding a horse are not equally easy efforts.
If I could win a lady at leapfrog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armor on my back, under the correction of bragging be it spoken, I should quickly leap into a wife. (Hen V: V.ii.136-39)
The audience no doubt remembers Vernon's description of Prince Hal's extraordinary leap into the saddle, fully armored, before the battle at Shrewsbury "as if an angel dropped down from the clouds / To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus / And witch the world with noble horsemanship" (1 Hen IV: IV.i.108-10). The Bawd in Pericles, cautioning Lysimachus about Marina's hesitance to comply, explains: "My lord, she's not paced yet; you must take some pains to work her to your manage" (Pericles: IV.vi.57-58). Hermione, somewhat unfortunately as it turns out, recognizes the analogy in her playful appreciation of Leontes' praise: "You may ride's / With one soft kiss a thousand furlongs ere / With spur we heat an acre" (The Winter's Tale: I.ii.94-96). Hotspur to his wife's question, "Do you not love me?", responds, "Come, wilt thou see me ride? / And when I am a-horseback, I will swear / I love thee infinitely" (1 Hen IV: II.iii.106-108). These are only a few of many associations between horses and women that appear throughout the Shakespeare canon, and all of them voice commonplace assumptions about the nature of that analogy.
In a 1534 treatise on husbandry, attributed to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, after discussing the benefits of keeping horses, cows, and sheep together in one pasture in order to get the most even grazing, the author begins a list of the properties "that a good horse hath." Of the fifty-four properties listed, two are like a man: "to have a proude harte" and "to be bolde and hardy." Then follow properties that resemble a badger, a lion, an ox, a hare, a fox, an ass, and finally the ten "properties of a woman":
The fyrst is, to be mery of chere; the seconde, to be well paced; the thyrde, to haue a brode foreheed; the fourth, to haue brode buttockes; the fyfthe, to be harde of warde; the syxte, to be easye to lepe vppon; the .vii. to be good at a longe iourneye; the .viii. to be well sturryne vnder a man; the .ix. to be alwaye besye with the mouthe; the tenth, euer to be chowynge on the brydell.
Fitzherbert is quite serious about his list of properties, but it is amusing to note that the ten properties like a woman exceeds all other categories in length, and that the list begins briefly, but honorifically, with how a good horse is like a man and ends more prolixly and bawdily with how that same horse is like a woman.
That a good horse is well esteemed, as is a valued wife, may be inferred from Master Ford's expression of jealous mistrust: "I will rather trust … a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself" (The Merry Wives of Windsor: II.ii.272-75). When Hortensio and Gremio agree to find a husband for Kate in The Taming of the Shrew so that they may both pursue Bianca, Gremio voices his willingness to pay for such a man in this measure:
I am agreed, and would I have given him the best horse in Padua to begin his wooing that would thoroughly woo her, wed her, and bed her, and rid the house of her. (I.i.139-42)
All these remarks share an assumption that a woman and a horse are commodities to be bought and sold. Petruchio's initial offer to marry Kate could not be more explicit in treating her as an object of sale:
As wealth is burden of my wooing dance—
Be she as foul as was Florentius' love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates' Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not, or not removes, at least,
Affections' edge in me, were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas.
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua—
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.
Grumio's following remark—"Why, give him gold enough and marry him to a puppet or an aglet-baby or an old trot with ne'er a tooth in her head, though she have as many diseases as two and fifty horses"—specifically links the sale of Kate with the purchase of horses. And Kate's father, following the conclusion of Petruchio's arrangement for the impending wedding and his departure to Venice "to buy apparel 'gainst the wedding-day," says: "Faith, gentlemen, now I play a merchant's part / And venture madly on a desperate mart" (II.i.328-29). Tranio's and Gremio's bidding for Bianca in such a mass of detailed wealth—"Tyrian tapestry … ivory coffers … six score fat oxen … houses … two thousand ducats by the year … argosies" (II.i.348-82)—sounds very much like the bidding at a horse auction.
Even in Petruchio's hasty wooing of Kate they jest about their relationship in terms of the copulation of horses. When Petruchio asks her to sit on him, she replies, "Asses are made to bear, and so are you." Petruchio returns, "Women are made to bear, and so are you," to which Kate responds, "No such jade as you, if me you mean" (II.i.200-203). Hardly the enthusiasm of Cleopatra's imagination when she pictures Antony on horseback and wishes herself the horse—"O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony!" (Antony and Cleopatra: I.v.21), but the association between women and horses is Kate's immediate thought as well. Petruchio concludes their wooing scene that employs other animal and insect analogies (the turtle-dove, the buzzard, the wasp, the cock, the crab) with remarks about her "princely gait" and with the assertion that "I am he am born to tame you, Kate, / And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates" (II.i.261, 278-80). To the buyer of horses, the gait of the horse as well as his general conformation is of utmost importance. The wildness of Kate is associated more specifically with the horse than with the other animals mentioned. Petruchio later has a long passage that evokes an analogy with taming a hawk (IV.i.177-83), but even this passage ends with reference to controlling a horse—"And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor." Therefore, his method of taming his shrew quite appropriately corresponds with the taming of horses in the Renaissance.
Training the horse to obey his rider's signals is known as the "manage." Although today the terms of manage are usually gentle, using the hands on the reins, pressure from the legs, and placement of body weight as aids to signal the horse of its rider's wishes and reserving the spurs, whip, and voice commands for unusual circumstances, in Shakespeare's day harsher methods were employed, as Gardiner's remarks to the Lord Chancellor make clear:
For those that tame wild horses
Pace 'em not in their hands to make 'em
But stop their mouths with stubborn bits and
Till they obey the manage.
(Hen VIII: V.iii.21-24)
Shakespeare does not always suggest approval of such measures, but in The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio's harsh treatment of Kate is not out of line, if we view his taming of her as analogous to the taming of a horse, bringing both into the control of the rider.
The manage includes many movements besides the normal gaits, halts, and turns, and there were different ideas of the sequence in which these movements should be taught to the horse. Of general acceptance, however, was the idea that a horse must first be "paced" and then taught to "stop." In other words, the horse must learn to travel smoothly at the desired gait and at the rider's signal and then to stop in a disciplined way. Gervase Markham [in Cavelarice or the English Horseman, 1607] describes the "stop" as "a suddaine and firme setting downe of all his forelegges together without any further motion." Similarly, D. H. Madden [in The Diary of Master William Silence, 1907] describes the "stop" as essential to another stage of teaching the manage, the "career," a fast run of eighty or one hundred yards: "the essential characteristic of the career, wherein it differed from the ordinary gallop, was its abrupt ending, technically known as 'the stop,' by which the horse was suddenly and firmly thrown upon his haunches."
Petruchio's treatment of Kate in his house and on the road back to Padua resembles the kind of exactitude and repetition of exercises that a rider requires when training his horse in the manage, including the precise stop as Petruchio requires Kate to assess the sun as moon and Vincentio as a young maiden.
Grumio's description to Curtis of the journey from Padua to Verona is not only an illustration of Petruchio's being "more shrew than she"; it is a picture of inept horsemanship and manage.
Thou shouldst have heard how her horse fell, and she under her horse; thou shouldst have heard in how miry a place; how she was bemoiled, how he left her with the horse upon her, … how I cried, how the horses ran away, how her bridle was burst.
This passage recalls Biondello's earlier description of the horse upon which Petruchio arrives for the wedding, as unsound and diseased (III.iii.47-60). Both of these passages present horses and riders in discord with each other, and thus counter the more usual image where a horse and rider in concord exemplify the harmony of man and nature.
A further aspect of the literal association between horses and women has to do with the condition that Kate herself embodies—that of the shrew or scold. Petruchio has not heard of Kate's reputation, but Hortensio assures him that she is "renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue" (I.ii.98), and the audience has enough evidence early in the play to see how she came by her reputation. In two essays in The Reliquary (1860 and 1873), Llewellynn Jewitt describes the bridles that were common in the cure of scolds, variously called the "brank," the "Scold's Bridle," or the "Gossips' Bridle":
The Brank consisted of a kind of crown, or framework, or iron, which was locked upon the head; and it was armed in front with a gag, a plate, or a sharp-cutting knife or point, which was placed in the poor woman's mouth, so as to prevent her moving her tongue—or it was so placed that if she did move it, or attempt to speak, it was cut in the most frightful manner. With this cage upon her head, and with the gag firmly pressed and locked against her tongue, the miserable creature whose sole offending perhaps was that she had raised her voice in defence of her social rights, against a brutal and besotted husband, or had spoken honest truth of some one high in office in her town, was … led by a chain, by the hand of the bellman,… through all the principal streets of the town, for an hour or two, and then brought back bleeding, faint, ill, and degraded. Let them fancy all this, and then say whether it is not indeed a happy thing that our lot is cast in better days than those in which such disgusting public punishments could be asked for by husbands, or neighbours; inflicted by the authorities and tolerated by the people themselves.
Mrs. Eliza Gutch [Country Folk-lore] records more recently (1893) the practice of "wife-selling" which requires the wife to be led into the marketplace "with a halter round her neck." These literal representations of the associations assumed by English folk between women and horses from ages past make Petruchio's harsh treatment of Kate seem mild by contrast.
The "taming-school" of which Petruchio is the master and Hortensio the somewhat awed witness does effect the desired transformation in Kate by teaching her the discipline of "curbing" her will to her master's signals. His control, as she asserts in her final speech, must depend upon "honest will" rather than upon whimsy or tyranny, as some of Petruchio's stratagems may seem at the time he produces them. But seen from the metaphorical analogue of taming the wild horse to graceful "manage," his insistence on her submission seems quite reasonable.
In contrast, the apparent humanistic training of Bianca by her disguised suitors in music, Greek and Latin, and in poetry does not humanize Bianca in the least. She becomes, when released to be herself, the stubborn and willful wife; whereas Kate's apparently brutal treatment releases her into a gracefully obedient and respectful wife. Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves in order to tutor Bianca, and Petruchio disguises himself in order to instruct Kate. But whereas the former disguises, which present the young admirers as different people, are donned to insinuate them into where they are forbidden, Petruchio dons his disguise—changes in manner and clothing which do not change his identity—in order to lead Kate out of her father's and of her own self-inflicted prison. Lucentio and Hortensio change their outward identity to manipulate within the status quo, but Petruchio changes himself psychologically into manic tyrant in order to change the situation, the institution of marriage, and the bride into realities that do not depend upon social prescription. He hints at his more human form of realism when others protest that his "unreverent robes" ill befit the occasion of a wedding. Petruchio challenges the entire social structure when he asserts, "To me she's married, not unto my clothes" (III.ii.113).
The final contest of wills between Petruchio and Kate defines the matter more explicitly. Kate wishes to follow the quarreling relatives "to see the end of this ado," but Petruchio demands a kiss. She says, "What, in the midst of the street?" And he, "What, art thou ashamed of me?" Kate's careful response is "No sir, God forbid, but ashamed to kiss." Yet when Petruchio threatens a return to Verona, she concedes to the man rather than to fear of social judgment.
The symbolic associations of the horse and rider figure are several throughout history, but the horse as appetite and passion and the rider as mind, reason holding the body under control, is an analogy pervasive from early times. Beryl Rowland, in a study of the horse and rider figure in Chaucer's works [in The University of Toronto Quarterly 35, 1966], observes that "under the influence of the Christian Church the significance of the figure appears to harden: the horse is equated with the body or with Woman, the evil repository of sex; the rider is the soul or Man." Rowland continues:
The less alarming analogy whereby the woman is the horse to be bridled and controlled by man is so commonplace as to become proverbial.… So fundamental is the analogy in our thinking that token symbols such as the bridle, harness, collar or saddle-girth are often substituted, and the symbolism persists even today in the marriage ceremony in which the ring is the halter used by the groom to harness his bride.
When the rider is able to keep his mount under his control, both the horse and rider are figures of nobility. The complementary relationship that accrues honor to both is what Petruchio and Kate have achieved at the end of the play. Even the wager that the three newly-wed husbands make on their wives resembles wagers commonly made on the performances of horses by their proud owners. That Kate wins the wager for Petruchio is no surprise, since she has learned the "manage" well. Her recognition that acceptance of her husband as her "lord" and her "sovereign" allows her to realize herself fully may seem too "conformable" for modern sensibilities. Yet the final lines of her speech recall the metaphor that has been operative throughout the play. The hand placed below the foot to "do him ease" suggests the image of a rider ready to mount his horse, using the hand instead of stirrup to ease him into the saddle. We might be reminded of the Dauphin's praise of his palfrey:
The dull elements of earth and water never appear in him, but only in patient stillness while his rider mounts him.… 'tis a subject for a sovereign to reason on, and for a sovereign's sovereign to ride on; and for the world, familiar to us and unknown, to lay apart their particular functions and wonder at him. (Hen V: III.vii.20-37)
So Kate, as she accepts Petruchio for her sovereign, transforms from unhappy shrew into graceful woman, creating "wonder" in her world.
Margaret Downs-Gamble (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: "The Taming-School: The Taming of the Shrew as Lesson in Renaissance Humanism," in Privileging Gender in Early Modern England, edited by Jean R. Brink, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, Vol. XXIII, 1993, pp. 65-78.
[In the following essay, Downs-Gamble makes use of parallels between Petruchio's "taming" methods and the educational methods promoted by Renaissance humanists to analyze the meaning of Kate's submission.]
Ay, mistress, and Petruchio is the master,
That teacheth tricks eleven and twenty long,
To Tame a shrew and charm her chattering
knowledge of the oppressor
this is the oppressor's language
Yet I need it to talk to you
Adrienne Rich, "The Burning of Paper
Instead of Children"
A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The Taming of a Shrew (1594), like the more familiar Shakespearean The Taming of the Shrew (1623), relates a battle between the sexes. In both plays, a father burdened with unmarried daughters will not allow the numerous suitors to woo the younger and milder daughter until the older and forward Katherine (Kate/Katherina) has been suitably wed. The suitors to the younger are relieved to find Ferando/Petruchio capable of taming the shrewish Kate, who eventually displays her submission in an argument for "natural" order which demands a woman's hand be placed beneath her husband's foot.
More striking than the plays' similarities, however, are their disparities, most apparent at those points when their plots correspond. Reading The Shrew alongside A Shrew reveals the extent to which the "taming" techniques in Shakespeare's play parallel the educational programs advocated by Renaissance humanists. Ferando's coercion of his willful wife Kate in A Shrew contrasts sharply with Petruchio's "education" of Kate in The Shrew. While both husbands tame their wives, Petruchio, rhetor and orator in The Shrew, "educates" Katherine, simultaneously refiguring unruly woman, humanist pupil, and uncontrolled language. The other suitors in The Shrew disguise themselves as masters of various liberal arts to gain proximity to Bianca but, proving their ineptitude as humanist scholars, determine their subsequent failure as lords, while Petruchio, orator-extraordinaire, teaches Kate, in a series of violent lessons, the value of a humanist education. Desiring control over her own words, Kate rails against Petruchio's education: "I will be free, / Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words." (IV.iii.77-80) To be "free … in words," quite distinct from free as words, was, in a very real sense, the promise of Renaissance humanism. But because a substantive philosophical transformation supposedly accompanies rhetorical mastery, Katherine is trapped within a gendered paradox. Kate can only be free "in words" if she is educated, but to be educated is to be tamed.
Cicero's focus on the transformation of the pupil into vir eloquentissimus, literally "most eloquent man" but normally translated as "orator," shaped the educational schemes of Rudolph Agricola and Desiderius Erasmus, who subsequently influenced the pedagogy and ideology of English educators such as Roger Ascham and Thomas Elyot. Eloquence, oratorical skill, was regarded as the single most important attribute for a civil servant: "Alas you will be ungentle gentlemen, if you be no scholars: you will do your prince but simple service, you will stand your country but in slender stead, you will bring yourselves but small preferment, if you be no scholars."
Though Thomas Elyot, in The Govenour (1531), emphasizes the importance of educating the boy for his place in public life, Roger Ascham, in The Schoolmaster (1570), includes women among his pupils. Since Ascham uses the noble figures of Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I as examples of female students, he may not have meant to include generic Woman. However, the classical model that descended through Erasmus to English educators implicitly connected eloquence and moral superiority. As moral inferiors, women were targeted by numerous pedagogists for refiguration under humanism.
But the union of eloquence, specifically public eloquence, with Pauline Christianity complicated the position of female pupils at yet another ideological level.
Though women were not entirely excluded from humanist education, at least the rationale of Erasmus in promoting study for women focuses on the power of education to control "the whole soul," to impress rules, and to dispatch idleness:
The distaff and spindle are in truth the tools of all women and suitable for avoiding idleness.… Even people of wealth and birth train their daughters to weave tapestries or silken cloths.… It would be better if they taught them to study, for study busies the whole soul.… It is not only a weapon against idleness but also a means of impressing the best precepts upon a girl's mind and of leading her to virtue.
Eramus wants to turn women from textile to textual study, from the spinning of wool to the spinning of words—a metaphorical conflation to deflect "idleness." But the control of the female "soul", and the "impression" of "virtue" upon the traditionally uncontrollable female are themselves metaphors for the capacities of rhetorical training; the master orator controlled and impressed passionate language with "virtue." The conflation of Woman and language embedded in the masculine rhetorical tradition of Renaissance humanism imposed upon female scholars a nonnegotiable position as subject, object, and medium of study.
The literary model, The Taming of the Shrew, is a Renaissance artifact that promotes humanism as a device for taming the woman-language dyad; but as un-controlled language and passionate woman, Kate exposes the paradox of vir eloquentissimus. As humanist pupil, Katherine's inability to re-gender herself, how-ever she may refigure herself, determines her eventual submission to masculine authority, Petruchio, the orator-philosopher. No such rhetorical justification for female suppression exists in the earlier play, but its absence in A Shrew elucidates its presence in The Shrew.
In the opening scene, we listen as Lucentio explains to his servant Tranio the reason for their journey to Padua. He has come to the "nursery of arts." (I.i.2)
Here let us breathe, and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies
And therefore, Tranio, for the time I study,
Virtue and that part of philosophy
Will I apply that treats of happiness
By virtue specially to be achiev'd.
According to the humanist tradition, an arduous training in grammar was followed by instruction in formal rhetoric. As Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton have pointed out [in From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe, 1986], "in theory this was a rounded education in philosophy as well as expression." Lucentio has completed his grammatical instruction, and even the initial instruction in rhetoric, but he clearly seeks the training classically supplied by the rhetor.
Tranio's answer to Lucentio firmly unites the methodology of humanism with the appearance of his master, while urging him toward lighter entertainment:
Mi perdonato, gentle master mine;
I am, in all affected as yourself,
Glad that you thus continue your resolve
To suck the sweets of sweet philosophy.
Only, good master, while we do admire
This virtue and this moral discipline,
Lets be no Stoics nor no stocks, I pray,
Or so devote to Aristotle's checks
As Ovid be an outcast quite abjur'd.
Balk logic with acquaintance that you have,
And practice rhetoric in your common talk,
Music and poesy use to quicken you,
The mathematics, and the metaphysics,
Fall to them as you find your stomach serves
No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en.
In brief, sir study what you most affect.
(I.i.25-40, emphasis added)
Though the Riverside editors gloss "study what you most affect" as meaning study that is "most pleasing" (114, n. 40), I would argue that what Lucentio most "affects" is his study, the outward manifestation of a humanist male. Lucentio is a living example of the success of his education, but that education is incomplete. This becomes increasingly important as the play progresses. Lucentio's education, because of its incompleteness, denies him moral wisdom and causes lapses in his judgment. Lucentio's, and surprisingly also Tranio's, goodly speech is only the external appearance of a lord, not as is the case with Petruchio, the state itself.
Lucentio's failure to instruct his own pupil, Bianca, is the final indication that Lucentio is still a student rather than a master of moral philosophy. Bianca's failure to attend to her husband when he calls her at the end of the play displays her own incorrect understanding of her place, but also emphasizes his inadequate preparation to instruct her in her duties. Both Gremio—"she's too rough for me" (I.i.55)—and Hortensio—"No mates for you / Unless you were of gentler, milder mould" (I.i.59-60)—acknowledge themselves inadequate to the task of instructing Katherine. But Lucentio, the product of humanism, should recognize that Kate is in fact the superior pupil. His failure to do so reflects, in part, his incomplete education, also amply displayed as he shifts so quickly from philosopher to lover at the sight of Bianca. Tranio questions the too rapid transition: "I pray, sir, tell me, is it possible / That love should of a sudden take such hold?" (I.i.146-47) In case the audience misses the reason for Lucentio's sudden change, Shakespeare notes it twice: "while idly I stood looking on / I found the effect of love in idleness." (I.i.150-51, emphasis mine) Ascham, Elyot, and as noted above, Erasmus, consider idleness a danger to the state. In idleness Lucentio is drawn from philosophy to carnal desire, from, it might appear, matters of state to the domestic sphere. Idleness also manifests itself in lapses in judgment. Lucentio makes the mistake, again warned of by both Ascham and Elyot in reference to the Italianate scholars who go abroad accompanied only by their servants, of asking his man Tranio for advice: "Counsel me, Tranio, for I know thou canst / Assist me, Tranio, for I know thou wilt." (I.i. 157-58) In Italy, in the company of an inferior person, Lucentio is doomed to marry the shrew instead of the sheep, having mistaken sheep for shrew.
The corresponding scene in A Shrew runs quite differently. While conversing with Polidor, Aurelius (Lucentio) sees three daughters walking with their father; the master/servant exchange is replaced by an exchange between "two yoong Gentlemen." (6) The individual object of desire (Bianca) is replaced by Aurelius' collective "delight in these faire dames," and only made specific by Polidor's information that the oldest daughter (Kate) is a shrew, and the youngest, Emelia (a third sister, corresponding to the widow in The Shrew), has promised herself to Polidor. (7) By default, rather than by allure, Aurelius chooses to woo Philema (var. Phylema). The women are passively chosen rather than actively seductive in A Shrew; though the men are the source of activity in both plays, here the women are not responsible for male action, nor are they blamed for distracting men from the more important matters of their education and service to the state.
In The Shrew, Lucentio's and Tranio's "inventions meet and jump in one." (I.i.190) Lucentio "will be school-master / And undertake the teaching of the maid." (I.i.192-93) For Lucentio to refigure himself as "schoolmaster," Tranio must play Lucentio, and he disguises himself as a lord. This is but one of an evolving series of pretenses in which outward appearance is transformed. The Renaissance conflict between "being and seeming" is central to the pedagogical writings of Ascham and Elyot, as it is to the practical expression of this conflict within The Shrew. Even education and eloquence, especially when turned away from their rightful duty to the state and used instead to gain the object of carnal desire, are not in themselves assurance that a scholar has achieved a position of moral superiority.
While Lucentio operates in concert with his inferiors, Petruchio and Grumio are polarized characters. There is no mistaking master and servant in this instance. Both verbal and intellectual disparities highlight their first appearance on the stage. Petruchio's rhetorical abilities are clear even before Grumio praises his master for his "rope-tricks":
She may perhaps call him half a score knaves or so. Why, that's nothing; and he begin once, he'll rail in his rope-tricks. I'll tell you what, sir, and she stand him but a little, he will throw a figure in her face, and so disfigure her with it, that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat. You know him not, sir.
(I.ii.110-16, emphasis added)
Petruchio's rhetorical skill, at least from the viewpoint of a servant, is something very like magic, with the power to "dis-figure" language. Though surely Petruchio's skill will confound and transform "Katherine the curst" from shrewish woman to sheepish wife, from witty, aggressive pupil to scholar, when he "disfigure[s]" the "face" of language with a rhetorical "figure," Katherine is the feminized language whose features will be disfigured.
Hortensio, who might be listening and learning about Petruchio's powers, is instead concerned with his own disguise as "a schoolmaster / Well seen in music, to instruct Bianca." (I.ii.133-134) Among an ever-escalating number of suitors disguised as instructors and servants disguised as lords, Petruchio stands alone as the only adept philosopher. When the schoolmasters are presented to Baptista for his daughters, Petruchio alone, and without need of disguise, successfully manipulates circumstances to his will. Accused of being "blunt" and "[dis]-orderly" (II.i.45), Petruchio nevertheless proceeds to gift Baptista with the disguised Hortensio, to praise his host's daughter, Katherine, and to identify his geographical and familial associations before anyone has the opportunity to intervene. In this scene, only one suitor has the skill to actually instruct. Once alone, Petruchio considers Katherine's potential responses to prepare himself for his pupil, understanding that the student will determine his approach to her instruction:
Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings sweetly as a nightengale;
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew;
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word,
Then I'll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence
As master rhetor, Petruchio considers the various approaches and figures which he might employ to persuade the pupil, silence the woman, and control female language. Petruchio's "plain" speech controls chaotic feminine language, and Katherine's railing, by transforming her words into the sweet song of Philomela. He will ignore her own expression, reconstructing it as traditional female topos, "morning roses newly washed with dew." But most pointedly here, he will translate female silence into "piercing eloquence"—his own. There is, significantly, no corresponding scene for this one in A Shrew, no overt plotting to manipulate pupil, woman, and words.
But Petruchio, the master, also teaches us as he teaches Kate the internal construction of what it is to be a lord, by teaching "eloquence" through an understanding that he must first commend her eloquence. Petruchio, or rather Shakespeare, has learned from pedagogists like Thomas Elyot—"I wode nat haue them inforced by violence to lerne … [but] to be swetely allured therto with praises and suche praty gyftes as children delite in"—and Roger Ascham—"there is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a will to learning as praise." Both Ascham and Elyot use Quintilian's instructions to the potential tutor, Ascham paraphrasing Quintilian: "[Bad Schoolmasters], when they meet with a hard-witted scholar, they rather break him than bow him, rather mar him than mend him." Kate, though refigured by her instruction, is not broken.
The subsequent, introductory battle between Katherine and Petruchio/Ferando differs considerably from one version to another. In A Shrew Ferando tells her in the space of the sixteen-line scene little more than "I know thou lou'st me well." Kate's questions, "Was euer seene so grosse an asse as this?" and "Why father what do you meane to do with me / To give me thus vnto this brainsick man," though humorous, do not rely on the pretended misunderstandings and punning found in The Shrew.
Though told that she was "rough," Petruchio finds Kate "pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous / But slow in speech," and then asks, "Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?" (II.i.243, 245-6, 252) In the middle of his false critique of her eloquence, this is no shift in subject, but a continuation of it: "O let me see thee walk. Thou dost not halt." (II.i.256) Slower in speech than he, perhaps, Kate's "gait" is yet declared "princely" (II.i.259):
Did ever Dian so become a grove
As Kate this chamber with her princely gait?
O, be thou Dian, and let her be Kate,
And then let Kate be chaste, and Dian
Katherine's chastity is a matter of some concern to Petruchio. Her verbal skill implies wantonness. Petruchio's pun on Katherine's being both chaste and chased demands at once her closure to the world and her openness to him. The end of this first exchange includes an important moment of revelation for the student, both Kate and the audience:
Kate: Where did you study all this goodly speech?
Pet: It is extempore, from my mother-wit.
Petruchio's mastery of "extempore," and the Renaissance assumption that extempore was possible if "mother-wit" had been adequately ingrained through imitatio, displays itself in the course of The Shrew. But imitatio was not the goal, only a means toward achieving the goal of a humanist education.
As Petruchio teaches Katherine moral philosophy and eloquence, he denies her food, drink, and sleep, specifically identified by Elyot as potential excesses that hinder scholarship. Though pretending to offer Katherine elegant apparel, Petruchio never intends that she shall "deck [her] body with … ruffling treasure." (IV.iii.60) When he denies her the external trappings of new clothes, both her feminine and verbal ornaments, Petruchio's lesson is philosophical:
Well, come, my Kate, we will unto your
Even in these honest mean habiliaments;
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich;
And as the sun breaks through the darkest
So honor peereth in the meanest habit.
This lesson in substance versus appearance, combined with his test of her skill at imitatio, forces Katherine to rely upon a masculine understanding of her place as woman and language, as well as upon Petruchio's tutelage.
The corresponding scene in A Shrew offers no similar instruction, being little more, as Kate seems to understand, than the means "to make a foole of [her]" (34):
Come Kate we now will go see thy fathers
Euen in these honest meane abilliments,
Our purses shall be rich our garments plaine,
To shrowd our bodies from the winter rage,
And thats inough, what should we care for
Though at times startlingly similar, these corresponding moments in The Shrew and A Shrew serve very different purposes. Clothes that "shrowd … bodies from the winter rage" are a form of protection; but "honor peereth" as the sun appears through an opening in the clouds, when the protective covering of ornamentation is removed.
At a time when property could increasingly be used to inscribe an individual with a more glorious past, elevating the individual thereby, pedagogues like Thomas Elyot and Roger Ascham urged the fathers of the aristocracy to educate their children, most often sons but also their daughters, to an understanding of their positions in the state, most specifically in service to their prince. This understanding, it was believed, could only be gained through the stripping away of excess and the application of discipline. Petruchio combines the various lessons of moral philosophy, as do Elyot and Ascham, for his advancing scholar. Katherine increasingly understands her attachment to and dependence upon Petruchio, which simultaneously gives her a position in the masculine, humanist tradition. This masculinized locus allows Katherine to extend mere imitatio to include declamatio.
Kate certainly learns by direct imitation, changing not merely her words, but the sense of things, to conform to the wishes of Petruchio; however, Petruchio's control of his pupil/wife's words simultaneously elevates the power of feminine language to name masculine objects:
Pet.… Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines
the moon.Kath. The moon! the sun—it is not moonlight now.Pet. I say it is the moon that shines so bright.Kath. I know it is the sun that shines so bright.
Pet. Now by my mother's son, and that's myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father's house.…
Kath. … And be it moon, or sun, or what you
And if you please to call it rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.Pet. I say it is the moon.Kath. I know it is the moon.Pet. Nay then you lie; it is the blessed sun.
Kath. Then God be blest, it … the blessed sun, But sun
it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be for Katherine.
This interchange must not be mistaken for instruction in pracecepta only. While arguing his superior method of double translation from Latin model to English and back to Latin, Ascham explains, citing Caesar and Cicero that, for training the young scholar, praecepta are not condemned: "[W]e gladly teach rules, and teach them more plainly, sensibly and orderly than they be commonly taught in common schools." While the lessons taught in Petruchio's school are hardly "orderly," Katherine excels Petruchio in eloquence as she follows his lead in distinguishing "moon, or sun, or what you please." As pupil, she does not stop with mastery of rules, or even imitation—impossible in Petruchio's shifting lesson—but transmutes the models of sun and moon to moon and Petruchio's lunatic mind. By aligning Petruchio's mind with the changeable moon, Kate stops the rhetorical double translation.
At this moment in The Shrew, the conflation of action and essence—Katherine's act of naming serving to determine the object named—most clearly presents Kate as simultaneously pupil and language. As pupil, she must follow Petruchio's lead. As language, Katherine has the capacity to determine the object that she names. But she must understand, not merely imitate, her instructor. Petruchio "says" that sun is moon; Kate in superior understanding "knows" it to be otherwise. Petruchio appears to believe that if Kate will imitate him in calling the sun "moon," it will "be" the object named. In frustration, Kate "vows" that it "be so." Trying her, Petruchio then "says" moon, but Kate "knows" moon. Her imperfect translation from declaration to knowledge causes Petruchio to correct her: "you lie; it is the blessed sun." Petruchio recognizes that Kate has misunderstood his lesson.
The verb usage in this scene equates name and essence. Petruchio does not demand belief that the sun is the moon; he desires Kate's verbal imitation. But Kate must understand what she is imitating, and when Kate makes the correction to "it," indicating "the blessed sun / But sun it is not, when you say it is not. / What you will have it nam 'd, even that it is," seems not merely acquiescence on the part of the pupil. Kate does not repeat her mistake to declare again that "it [is] the blessed sun," except via the Riverside editors [who supply "is" at this point in the text]. What has long been considered an omission in the text is instead, I believe, a very carefully structured choice that displays Katherine's mastery of the lesson, declaring it only "not" the sun when Petruchio says it is not. The name determines essence, and though the instructor may have triumphed over the pupil here, language seems to have won the day. Kate, as pupil/ imitator, succumbs to Petruchio's instruction by accepting his verbal model. As language, Kate's naming supplies essential understanding in the masculine game. Kate's action, her naming, is the hermeneutic translation of the thing. Not so the corresponding scene in A Shrew.
Whereas imitatio appears to extend into declamatio in The Shrew, Ferando in A Shrew does not seek "free composition," but only rote memorization from Kate. For Kate to become a humanist scholar, she must transform the models of her instructor, not merely imitate them. Though the rules are not always clear, either to Katherina or the reader-audience, as we are being instructed in imitatio, the lesson of declamatio is in fact learned.
Katherine's final speech in both versions is addressed to the wives who did not come when called by their husbands; but in The Shrew, it is also her first lesson to wayward female pupils, Bianca and the widow, and the display of her rhetorical skill. Katherine's instruction simultaneously displays her mastery of feminine language (as orator), her position as female in the Renaissance hierarchy (as wife/subject), and her subjugation of all feminized things to masculine mastery (as "masculine" humanist scholar). It is impossible not to recall Samuel Johnson's "Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." The only model she transmutes is the model of masculine scholar.
Katherina's lesson is an eloquent rendition of the place of the humanist in Renaissance society. She does not rely on cues from her tutor, and her dependent status is not quantitatively different from the status of any Renaissance citizen, except that her authority is lower than her lord's. Katherina's caveat that female obedience depends upon her lord's "honest will" is the same specified by Renaissance humanists concerning masculine obedience to the prince. As unattractive as is the role Katherine espouses, it is no less attractive than that prescribed by Renaissance humanism to its male adherents. But Katherine is not male. She turns her superior "reason," the superiority of which isolates her from her sisters, her now "disfigure[d]" mother-wit, against them and herself. As a master of language within this public forum, Kate in The Shrew gains status as orator at the expense of all things feminine; but as she cannot, in actuality, be regendered, her action is essential silencing and self-destruction. In A Shrew, however, Kate's final soliloquy moves her sister to suggest the superiority of feminine excess:
Erne. How now Polidor in a dump, what sayst thou man?
Pol. I say thou art a shrew.
Erne. Thats better than a sheepe.
Pol. Well since tis don let it go, come lets in.
Polidor does not contest Emelia's assertion that a shrewish wife is superior to a sheepish one; neither his estate nor the state is undermined by what appears to be little more than Emelia's, or Philema's, or even Kate's shifting moods. But as Leah Marcus notes in her examination of the divergent ideologies of these Shrew plays [in English Literary Renaissance 22, 1992]:
Kate's rationale for obedience in The Shrew is given a political base: … The machinery of state lying behind th[e] appeal for submission [in The Shrew] is rather more awesome and immediate than the diffuse and generalized appeal for order in A Shrew.
Kate's education, the source of her public power in The Shrew, is the means of her domestic oppression.
Because the humanist tradition conflates female and language, it is almost impossible in a discussion of The Shrew to speak of one in isolation from the other. But the problem which is elucidated by The Shrew exists at the level of all discourse, with Woman, not merely Kate, the tabula rasa for masculine impression. Her display of eloquence and masculine moral superiority in The Shrew silences her sisters, and their inept tutors as well, who, unlike her own rhetor, have been more concerned with their appearance as instructors than with the act of instruction. Because fatti maschii, parole femine ("women are words, men deeds") the inferior tutors indict themselves in the effeminacy of inaction. Kate's education does not make her subservient to the lesser scholars, Lucentio and Hortensio, who fail in the instruction of their pupils and in their responsibilities as "govenour and lord." Their limitations are reflected in the failure of their "pupils," Bianca and the widow, to follow Kate's example and place their own hands beneath their lords' feet. However, Kate's act, her oratory, promotes essential masculine superiority through an infinite series of descending masters and female pupils. In this final, tragic pretense of The Shrew, Kate acts in the guise of vir eloquentissimus—with female language shackled by misogynist education, female hand ground beneath male boot, and female mouth infibulated with the threads of humanist rhetoric.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16065
Carol F. Heffernan (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "The Taming of the Shrew: The Bourgeoisie in Love," in Essays in Literature, Vol. XII, No. 1, Spring, 1985, pp. 3-14.
[In the following essay, Heffernan analyzes the play's portrayal of the values of the emergent middle class critique of the materialistic nature of Elizabethan marriage arrangements.]
Besides the much discussed romantic wooing of Bianca and rough taming of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, there is a less noted but steady undercurrent of suggestion that calls attention to the fact that in the society of Padua marriage is a business and that, in general, this world is one where social position and wealth count for much. The play's concern with marrying well and with social status helps create the atmosphere of the bourgeois world of substantial citizens; The Taming of the Shrew shows Shakespeare's interest in the process of choosing mates in the middle class of his day. Comparison to the contemporary The Taming of A Shrew (possibly the source play), other related literary works, and manuals of domestic relations suggests that Shakespeare has purposely broadened the burgher aspects of the play to expose a real element of Elizabethan middle class life. There is much talk of contracts, dowries, property, clothes, and the things that money can buy. While Shakespeare does not ridicule bourgeois attitudes and values as Ben Jonson would, they are, nonetheless, one of the objects of his attention. Kate and Petruchio are shown to rise above them—at least, temporarily—and to a lesser degree so are Lucentio and Bianca.
Shakespeare fully establishes Petruchio and Lucentio, suitors for the hands of Baptista's daughters, as upper middle class citizens. There are indications of the wealth of their counterparts in The Taming of A Shrew, but Shakespeare in his play gives the matter of high middle class station more prominence than does the anonymous playwright of the parallel play. When in Act I Lucentio first appears, newly arrived in Padua to begin his studies, Shakespeare has him talk about his background.
Pisa, renowned for grave citizens,
Gave me my being and my father first,
A merchant of great traffic through the
Vincentio, come of the Bentivolii. (I.i.10-13)
Shakespeare makes clear that to be a merchant's son entailed considerable social and business responsibilities, for as Tranio points out, if Lucentio pretends to be a teacher in order to gain access to Bianca, many duties will go undone:
… who shall bear your part
And be in Padua here Vincentio's son,
Keep house, and ply his book, welcome his
Visit his countrymen and banquet them?
Evidently Lucentio plays an important part in keeping his father's account books as well as in "public relations." That role is assumed by Tranio when he enters the intrigue for winning Bianca by pretending to be his master. When Tranio, as Lucentio, goes to seek permission of Baptista to woo Bianca, his "father's" merchant reputation serves him well, as may be seen in the following interchange:
Baptista. Lucentio is your name, of whence, I pray?Tranio. Of Pisa, sir, son to Vincentio.
Baptista. A mighty man of Pisa; by report
I know him well. You are very welcome, sir.
Lucentio's actual merchant background stands in contrast to the pretended merchant identity of his counter-part, Aurelius, in The Taming of A Shrew. Ostensibly to test the sincerity of the love of Kate's sister (here, Philena, one of two), Aurelius sheds his princely status, gives it to his man, Valeria, and announces,
… when we come into hir fathers house,
Tell him I am a Merchants sonne of Cestus,
That comes for trafficke unto Athens heere,
And heere sirha, I will change with you.…
But in the world of A Shrew, as in Shakespeare's play, to be a "merchant prince" is prince enough. Introduced as "a wealthie Merchants sonne of Cestus" (Scene V.1.165), Aurelius is welcomed by Philena's father, Alfonso (/Baptista), who is himself a merchant: "Your welcom sir and if my house aforde / You anything that may content your mind, / I pray you sir make bold with me" (Scene V.11.167-69).
Shakespeare is much more detailed about Petruchio's social position than the author of A Shrew is about Ferando's. Ferando has already arranged to woo Kate when A Shrew begins, so we have only an indirect report to start with, this the report of Polidor, a suitor for the hand of one of Kate's two younger sisters. Now knowing that Ferando has already arranged to court Kate, he puts him forth as one who by winning the older sister might free the younger ones to marry. He is clearly rich enough to be taken seriously: " … he is a man of wealth sufficient / And for his person worth as good as she" (Scene IV.11.48-9). That's all we are told about Ferando's social position until Alfonso publicly announces his bethrothal to Kate, "Give me thy hand, Ferando loves thee well, / And will with wealth and ease maintaine thy state. / Here Ferando, take her for thy wife" (Scene V.11.43-5).
Shakespeare, on the other hand, directly reveals details about Petruchio's station in life and financial worth; he makes the audience a witness to Petruchio's acceptance as Kate's wooer and to his contracting arrangements with Baptista. First, like Bianca's main suitor, Lucentio, he gains admission to the house by establishing his pedigree: "Petruchio is my name, Antonio's son, / A man well known throughout all Italy" (II.i.68-9). And the almost formulaic invitation to court his daughter comes—"I know him well; You are welcome for his sake" (1.70). Furthermore, while the financial arrangements are struck between Petruchio and Baptista, we gain additional information about Kate's suitor. He is one of the landed gentry:
Petruchio. Signior Baptista, my business
And every day I cannot come to woo.
You knew my father well, and in him me,
Left soly heir to all his lands and goods,
Which I have bettered rather than decreas'd.
There is something about the explicit obsessiveness with property and the fact of having "bettered" the land's worth through attention to "business" that suggests that Petruchio may be one of the new gentry. Petruchio's busyness hints at what Louis Wright [in Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England, 1935] describes as the "acquisitive habits of the middle class," which in Shakespeare's day "brought much aristocratic property into their possession" as well as titles of gentility. Later in the same scene Kate's witty play with Petruchio over coats of armor may be seen as Shakespeare's glance at the controversy surrounding the right of the mercantile classes to claim coats of armor:
Petruchio: I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again.
Katharina: So may you lose your arms.
If you strike me, you are no gentleman,
And if no gentleman, why then no arms.Petruchio: A herald, Kate? (II.i.220-24)
The very mention of arms in this punning passage suggests that Petruchio is one of the new landed gentry who has acquired something he would not wish to lose.
The actual courtships of Kate and Bianca reveal much about middle class domestic relations. Nevill Coghill [in Essays and Studies 3, 1950] is fairly representative of critical opinion in characterizing Petruchio as "a brute fortune-hunter." The characterization is Shakespeare's invention, though a glance at related literature on the shrew theme and at contemporary marriage manuals is enough to indicate that Shakespeare is merely exaggerating a type found in middle class Elizabethan life. Petruchio comes on the scene in Act I a declared adventurer, out to find a rich wife:
… wealth is burthen of my wooing dance
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua. (I.ii.75-6)
Even after Hortensio, one of Bianca's suitors, explains that Kate "is intolerable curst / And shrewd and froward" (I.ii.89-90), Petruchio is determined to have her:
… thou know'st not gold's effect. Tell me her father's name, and 'tis enough;
For I will board her, though she chide as loud
As thunder when the clouds in autumn crack.
And when Petruchio comes to settle the financial arrangements with Kate's father, Baptista, he comes right to the point: "Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love, / What dowry shall I have with her to wife?" (II.i.119-20). Baptista's answer being sufficient, Petruchio closes the deal with his offer that
… I'll assure her of
Her widowhood, be it that she survive me,
In all my lands and leases whatsoever.
Let specialties be therefore drawn between us,
That covenants may be kept on either hand.
The cut-and-dried tone of these transactions bears out Maurice Ashley's observation [in The Stuarts in Love: With Some Reflections on Love and Marriage in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 1963] that "most marriages among the landed gentry were unquestionably matter-of-fact property deals.… They were the result of hard bargaining, ending with the engrossing of deeds in a lawyer's office." Lucrative money arrangements were clearly a necessary prelude to Ferando's wooing Kate in A Shrew, though we do not witness the actual negotiations and they are, therefore, given less prominence. It is with obvious satisfaction that Ferando, on his way to court Kate, reports to his friend Polidor that her father "hath promisde me six thousand crownes / If I can win her once to be my wife" (Scene IV.11.88-9). A similar note of monetary contentment is struck by the bridegroom on his wedding day in A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife Lapped in Morel's Skin, a ballad frequently mentioned in connection with both The Shrew and A Shrew: "Now shall I receyve an heape of golde, / Of poundes many one, and much goodys besyde."
Marriage handbooks, prized sources of advice on questions of domestic relationships, were found in many middle class Elizabethan libraries. Part of their appeal to the middle class citizen, no doubt, was the attention they gave to the problems of the family unit, the stability of which "made his goods safe and gave his accumulated possessions continuity." Among the matters addressed by these manuals is the question of arranging marriage contracts. In connection with Petruchio's dealings with Baptista it is interesting to note several representative comments which consider the arrangement of profitable marriage alliances. For example, the preacher Charles Gibbon, in a marriage manual titled A Work Worth Reading (1591), complains that in his day the aim of marriages is to match a rich man with a rich woman, whereas "The time was when rich men would have taken poore women to their wiues, and yet never made any respect of their portions, as Boaz did Ruth. He was a man of great authoritie and riches (Ruth 2.1.) as some thinke iudge of Israel (Judg. 12.8), she a poore woman, that gleaned vpon his land for her liuing." That there was a need to make the point indicates how typical Petruchio's greedy motives were of the prospective middle class husbands of the time. Striking a similar note, Thomas Becon complains, " … in these our dayes fewe mary in the feare and loue of god, while they all hunt and seke after mony, riches, welth.… If mony be present, nothing is absent." The greed of parents, eager to secure the most profitable marriage alliances for their children was equally a target of the marriage manuals. In Tell-Trothes New-Yeares Gift (1593), a work of great interest so far as the family life of the middle class is concerned, Robin Goodfellow, just back from hell, relates to TellTroth the devil's boast that jealousy is one of the chief means of bringing people to his domain. There follows an account of the causes of jealousy and of unhappy marital relations, first of which is marriage for money:
The first cause (quoth he) is a constrained love, when as parents do by compulsion coople two bodies, neither respecting the ioyning of their hartes, nor hauinge any care of the continuance of their wellfare, but more regardinge the linkinge of wealth and money together then of loue with honesty.…
While Baptista negotiates with Petruchio without having consulted Kate, he does make a gesture towards making Kate's love the final condition of the marriage, for he tells Petruchio that the legal papers cannot be drawn up until "the special thing is well obtain'ed, / That is, her love …" (II.i.128-29). But Baptista is not truly interested in whether Kate's love has been won or not. When Petruchio lies, asserting that Kate has fallen in love with him at first sight, Baptista grabs at the match even though he doubts the unlikely claim—"I know not what to say" (II.i.318). Furthermore, Baptista actually doesn't seem too concerned with the financial details of Kate's marriage either. Relieved to have a reasonable suitor for the shrew, he doesn't haggle at all. Gremio, in fact, an elderly suitor for Bianca's hand who has witnessed the negotiations, observes, "Was ever match clapp'd up so suddenly?" (II.i.325).
Quite otherwise are Baptista's negotiations on behalf of his younger daughter, Bianca. Indeed, he signals that he has turned his attention to the marriage of his other daughter by referring to his altered stance. Now he will really get down to business. Comparing himself to a merchant venturer, he turns to Bianca's two suitors, old Gremio and Tranio (as Lucentio): "Faith, gentlemen, now I play a merchant's part / And venture madly on a desperate mart" (II.i.326-27). Baptista creates a contest of bidding between Tranio and Gemio by stating: "'Tis deeds must win the prize, and he of both / That can assure my daughter greatest dower / Shall have Bianca's love" (II.i.342-44). Gremio enters into the competition by evoking the picture of a house, which Shakespeare must have intended as the quintessence of the new luxuries, new comforts, and new pleasures that the middle classes had come to enjoy in his day:
First, as you know, my house within the city
Is richly furnished with plate and gold,
Basins and ewers to lave her dainty hands;
My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry;
In ivory coffers I have stuff d my crowns;
In cypress chests my arras counterpoints,
Costly apparel, tents, and canopies,
Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss'd with pearl,
Valens of Venice gold in needle-work.
The passage resembles the Marlovian catalogue found in A Shrew wherein the supposed father of a suitor for Kate's sister tries to impress the girl's father with his worth:
If unto Cestus you do send your ships,
Myselfe will fraught them with Arabian silkes,
Rich affrick spices, Arras counterpoines,
Muske, Cassia, sweet smelling Ambergreece,
Pearle, currol, christall, jilt, ivorie
To gratulate the favors of my son.
Both passages reflect a real burgher interest in living grandly and heighten the two plays' pictures of middle class milieus. The same aspect of contemporary taste is similarly captured in a prose work by William Harrison, The Description of England (1577): "Great provision of tapestrie, Turkie worke, pewter, brasse, fine linen, and thereto costlie cupboards of plate" filled the houses of "knights, gentlemen, merchantmen, and some other wealthie citizens."
Tranio more than matches Gremio's extravagant offers and to his triumphant advancement of an argosy—"What have I choked you with an argosy?" (II.i.378)—Tranio retorts with his winning bluff, "Gremio, 'tis known my father hath no less / Than three great argosies, besides two galliasses / And twelve tight galleys. These I will assure her" (II.i.377-79), adding to himself, "And twice as much what e'er thou off rest next" (II.i.380). The extent to which Tranio has entered into the auction spirit Baptista initiated is best captured in the gambling language of his final comment on Gremio, "I have fac'd it with a card of ten" (II.i.405).
The business of vying for the beloved is a farcical underscoring of the crass materialism at the heart of middle class marriage arrangements. There is no scene of contending suitors in A Shrew; the episode is entirely Shakespeare's invention. Shakespeare may have found the seed of this scene, however, in a competition that appears in one of his sources for the underplot, George Gascoigne's The Supposes. In this play there is a competition between an old doctor, Cleander, and Erastrato for the hand of the heroine, Polinesia. Cleander needs constant reassurance from the parasite, Pasiphilo, that Polinesia's father will favor his suit: "whose welth? whose virtue? whose skill? or whose estimation can be compared to yours in this Citie?" He is, however, as unsuccessful as Gremio in Shakespeare's play. But Shakespeare makes the possibility of marriage to the amans senex very real. Baptista, convinced that Tranio can offer Bianca the most, settles on him, but not without stipulating that a binding legal contract be settled. Otherwise Bianca is to go "to Signior Gremio" (II.i.397). Thus Gremio is kept in reserve lest the "supposed Lucentio" not make good his bargain. Bianca could well be married to an old man without her consent.
A father like Baptista who stands ready to sell his daughter to the highest bidder illustrates the auctioneer tactics of parents who are criticized in Elizabethan marriage manuals. For example, we come upon the following passage in The Passionate Morrice, the sequel to Tell-Trothes New-Yeares Gift: "Fie, fie! marriages for the most part, are at this day so made, as looke how the butcher bies his cattle, so wil men sel their children. He that bids most, shal speed soonest.…" And we find Thomas Becon using the same cattle imagery in his Boke of Matrymony, Part two: "many parents at this day … do so handle their children as the Grasier doth his oxen and shepe, for as the one maketh sale of his beastes to such as wyl geue moste, so likewise do the othere of theyr children. Who offereth moste, he beareth awaye the ringe.…"
Since "old Gremio" is kept in reserve in case "supposed Lucentio" default on his generous offer, it is clear that Baptista gives no thought to the compatibility of the marriage partners. This compounds the callousness of selling Bianca to the highest bidder. Both arranging marriages for lucre's sake and indifference to matching the natures of the couple are subjects addressed in books of matrimonial conduct. Turning again to Thomas Becon's Boke of Matrymony, we find the following observation: "Too much wretched are those parentes, which enforce theyr children for lucres sake vnto suche maryages, as they from the verye hearte abhore." Charles Gibbon strikes a similar note when, in a debate between the characters Philogus and Tychicus, he has the former say, against the argument that children cannot match without their parents' consent, "Alas, you doo not consider the innumerable inconveniences that bee incident to those parties which bee brought together more for lucre than loue, more for goods than good will, more by constraint than consent, nay more than that, you doe little way the inequalitee of yeares, the contrarietie of natures between age and youth.…"
Lucentio and Bianca are made to triumph over the commercial machinations surrounding the arrangements for Bianca's wedding. Baptista, having made the final financial negotiations with a man he supposes to be Vincentio, Lucentio's father, sends a messenger to Bianca to inform her that "Lucentio's father is arriv'd in Padua, / And how she's like to be Lucentio's wife" (IV.iv.65-6). But at the very moment the arranging of an assurance takes place between Baptista and the supposed Vincentio, the real Lucentio leaves to elope with Bianca before "the priest, clerk, and some sufficient honest witnesses" (IV.iv.94-5). Ready to evade ordinary bourgeois expectations, he says,
'Twere good methinks to steal our marriage,
Which once perform'd, let all the world say
I'll keep mine own, despite of all the world.
And Lucentio is quite right. Even clandestine espousal, not a secret wedding ceremony, would have been binding, for as William Heale points out [in An Apologie for Women, 1609], if a woman proceeds to espouse herself without her father's consent, she is "vnhonestly espoused," but she is lawfully espoused just the same. Furthermore, had Bianca obeyed her father and married the "supposed Lucentio," two impediments would have stood in the way of a valid marriage which might have served later as grounds for annulment: "error of person (when the one you marry is not the one you thought him to be)" and "forced matrimoney." The elopement is unique to Shakespeare's play, though a minor rebellion against parental authority is found in A Shrew. There Aurelius, Lucentio's counterpart, marries below his station without his father's consent.
Kate and Petruchio rise above the middle class commercialism of their marital arrangements even more dramatically, for the taming process, through which Petruchio gradually wins Kate's love and respect, involves flying in the face of middle class formalities attaching to clothes, the decorum of weddings, and the rules of hospitality. Initially it appears that Petruchio looks forward to a substantial bourgeois wedding: "Sunday comes apace. / We will have rings and things, and fine array" (II.i.322-23). But he turns these expectations on their head. This is Biondello's description of Petruchio as he approaches—late—on his wedding day:
Petruchio is coming in a new hat and an old
jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turn'd;
a pair of boots that have been candle-cases,
one buckled, another lac'd; an old rusty sword
ta'en out of the town armory, with a broken
hilt … (III.ii.43-7)
Even Petruchio's servant is badly set out—"a monster, a very monster in apparel, and not like a Christian footboy or a gentleman's lackey" (III.ii.69-71). Baptista calls the clothes not merely inappropriate for the wedding day but a shame to his station:
First were we sad, fearing you would not
Now sadder, that you come so unprovided.
Fie, doff this habit, shame to your estate,
An eye-sore to our solemn festival!
The matter of proper clothes is serious not only to Baptista but to Tranio who offers more proper attire: "See not your bride in these unreverent robes, / Go to my chamber, put on clothes of mine" (III.ii.112-13). But Petruchio refuses and when Baptista complains about Petruchio's marrying Kate in such unseemly clothes, he speaks up for plainness:
To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
Could I repair what she will wear in me,
As I can change these poor accouterments,
'Twere well for Kate, and better for myself.
That Petruchio's behavior has not been a mere frolic is clear to Tranio who observes wisely that "He hath some meaning in his mad attire" (III.ii.124). To be sure, the careless dress is part of Petruchio's scheme for taming the shrew, but it is also more than that. When Petruchio stands up for plainness, he reacts against the abuses of the class to which Baptista and Kate belong, and, in the particular instance of the church wedding, he appears to share the attitude of Myles Coverdale who complains [in The Christian State of Matrimony, 1575] that people attending wedding ceremonies enter the church "as it were into a house of marchaundise to lay forth their wares.… And even as they come to the church, so go they from the church again, light, nice, in shamefull pompe.…" Petruchio seems to have followed in part Coverdale's recommendation that the wedding be attended "without pomp … in … honest raiment, without pride."
The travesty of conventional behavior continues with Petruchio's wild manner during the ceremony. Gremio reports that the groom's swearing so shocked the priest that he dropped his prayerbook and that Petruchio "took him such a cuff when the stooped to pick it up, that both it and the priest "down fell" (III.ii.164). While tradition decreed that a cup of muscatel wine with cakes or sops were shared by the bride, groom, and company, Petruchio drank off the wine, threw the sops in the sexton's face, and kissed Kate with such "a clamorous smack" that Gremio left the church "for very shame" (III.ii.178,180). Finally, Petruchio, taking Kate, rudely leaves the ceremony without attending the reception, an especially rude breach of etiquette since earlier in the play, when he left Baptista to make preparations, he told him to arrange a grand affair:
… I will unto Venice
To buy apparel 'gainst the wedding-day.
Provide the feast, father, and bid the guests.
Petruchio's failure to attend the reception is an abuse of bourgeois convention to which even a Puritan would be sensitive. William Gouge [in Domestical Duties, 1626] declared that the celebrating of marriages with feasting and merrymaking is in the nature of a civil ceremony and "very requisite":
Though vpon the forenamed consecrating of mariage it bee in regard to the substance thereof fully consummate, yet for the greater solemnity of so honourable a thing, it is very requisite that further there be added a ciuill celebration of it: vnder which I comprise all those lawfull customes that are vsed for the setting forth of the outward solemnitie thereof, as meeting friends, accompanying the Bridegroome and Bride both to and from the Church, putting on best appareil, feasting, with other tokens of reioycing.…
Clearly Petruchio's flaunting of conventional behavior is not indicative of a permanent rebellion against the values of his class. Gremio's questions to Curtis on arriving at Petruchio's country estate give some notion of the style in which life ordinarily proceeds there, particularly on festive occasions: "Where's the cook? Is supper ready, the house trimm'd, rushes strew'd, cobwebs swept, the servingmen in their new fustian, [their] white stockings, and every officer his wedding garment on? Be the jacks fair within, the Gills fair without, the carpets laid, and every thing in order?" (IV.i.45-51). And Petruchio's own words to Kate, as she hungrily eats the meat finally given her after being virtually starved, suggest that he retains a clear sense of what his class's standard is:
Kate, eat apace. And now, my honey love,
We will return to thy father's house,
And revel it bravely as the best,
With silken coats and caps and golden rings,
With ruffs and cuffs, and fardingales, and
But while the taming proceeds, these dainties are dangled only to be snatched away. When a haberdasher and tailor come on the scene offering caps and elegant gowns, Petruchio finds fault with their wares and, to Kate's chagrin, sends them on their way. Settling on the virtue of plainness as he did in the church scene, Petruchio declares,
… we will unto your father's
Even in these honest mean habiliments;
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich.
Ferando's words at this point in the action in A Shrew represent one of the few verbal echoes in the play:
Come Kate, wee now will go see thy fathers
Even in these honest means abilliments,
Our purses shal be rich, our garments plaine.
Otherwise the taming scenes in A Shrew contain just the bare outlines of Shakespeare's plot. Ferando comes ill attired to church, but less is made of it and there is no description of his behavior during the wedding ceremony. The hasty retreat from the reception is handled more briefly as is the arrival at Ferando's country house and the scene with the tailor.
It is fitting that Petruchio's taming includes as one of its central elements an attack on certain middle class values and conventions, for as Muriel Bradbrook has stated [in Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 94, 1958], "money helps to set the shrew where she belongs, within the merchant class." Nonetheless, Petruchio remains essentially a man of his class, however sincere his standing up for plainness may sound. In this he is perhaps akin to more virulent social critics, satirists like Shakespeare's Thersites and Ben Jonson's Macilente who, while attacking vice, contain within themselves many of the faults they censure in others. Though it might seem that social criticism would be more effective if the character who delivers it is the moral opposite of what he condemns, the fact is that the satirical tradition is full of "superior," yet defective critics. I do not mean to argue, however, that Petruchio is a satirist, but merely that some confusion may attend the fact that his is a critical voice arising out of a nature which contains contradictions. Marrying well, for example, remains a value he does not give up. Note his announcement to the real Vincentio, met on the return trip to Padua:
Thy son by this hath married. Wonder not,
Nor be grieved; she is of good esteem,
Her dowry wealthy, and of worthy birth;
Beside, so qualified as may beseem
The spouse of any noble gentlemen.
The arranged marriage may have been evaded, but the romantic one is as lucrative and brings with it a woman of as high station as any calculating arrangement might. Indeed, Petruchio closes the play as he entered it, joining love and money. He has won the wager: Kate comes obediently at his call while the wives of Hortensio and Lucentio sit talking. Besides, Baptista has given him twenty thousand crowns, "Another dowry to another daughter" (V.ii.114) to honor Kate's new personality. With reason Petruchio can say boldly in an aside to Lucentio: "'Twas I won the wager, though you won the white, / And being a winner, God give you good night!" (V.ii.186-87). One implication of the play is certainly that life in this opulent world of Padua will go on in much the same way as before. But the abuses that Shakespeare exposes in this examination of bourgeois marriage patterns and social values have not been resolved, and are too serious to be dispersed in laughter.
Lynda E. Boose (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "The Taming of the Shrew, Good Husbandry, and Enclosure," in Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, edited by Russ McDonald, Cornell, 1994, pp. 193-225.
[In the following essay, Boose relates the play's treatment of social and sexual hierarchy to socioeconomic changes and class conflict in early modern England.]
Readings of The Taming of the Shrew have always felt compelled to begin at the end, the site where happily-ever-after presumably begins and, in this play, the site/ sight where the play produces its theatrical tour de force by offering up a prostrated woman's body to the eye—and the boot—of the stunned viewer. But whereas the play's stage history of repeated revisions clearly marks Kate's final speech as the site of textual excess, what Shrew revisions have characteristically desired is not so much a way of undoing Kate's ventriloquization of male superiority as a way of making it more palatable. Kate's subjugation must be endowed with signs of resistance—but a resistance that Petruchio will not recognize. She must embody the illusion of subversiveness—but simultaneously be authorized to submit to whatever self-abnegation is imagined as necessary to preserve the heterosexual bond.
New Critical readings of The Shrew—even many feminist ones—have largely remained trapped within the revisionist conundrum, trying to resolve the play's contradictory desires from the already contained position of reading from "inside" the text and dismissing all considerations that lie "outside." Poststructuralist methodologies were probably necessary before this play could be read through a fully feminist perspective, for so long as readers adhered to the formalist injunction to stay "inside," critique was tautologically restricted by assumptions that granted not only texts but also "good readers" the ideal status of artifacts somehow immaculately conceived outside history, ideology, and all the disunifying politics of historical contingency. But masked behind the presumption of being apolitical and hence "objective," formalism's impulse to universalize the particular has always tacitly subscribed to a politics that affirms the status quo. Reading The Shrew from inside the text dissociates the reader both from recognizing how the material conditions of early modern England might be implicated in producing its narrative and from any consciousness of the reader's own potential distance from the cultural location of insiderness. Seduced into reading patriarchal texts from their center, the woman reader remains safely divorced from any recognition of her own resistance. When lured into such a position, the feminist critic has inevitably felt defensively compelled to take Kate's part, a course that by definition leads to rationalizing Kate's actions, usually by means of finding some hidden assurance of marital "mutuality" lurking behind the play's formidable show of patriarchal domination. And while such ameliorating scripts may format an unconscious working through of both the culture's and the critic's own relationship to the entangled symbiotics of patriarchal culture and heterosexual marriage, they are virtually incapable of emancipating either female or male readers from the relentlessly gendered experience that the dynamics of this play have constituted as inseparable from its fulfillment of comic desire.
Outside of such a (too) close reading, there is an "other" space from which to generate a potentially different understanding of this play, one that neither denies nor unwittingly validates the play's patriarchal premises but tries instead to consider how the text itself may offer a revealing narrative not only of its own production but also of the markedly compulsive needs for masculine dominance that underwrite it. Central to this strategy is a reading order which, by insisting on the diachronic structure of the narrative, firmly binds the play's often forgotten Induction to its more familiar woman-taming material. In the perspective I propose, the issues of gender and hierarchy are pushed outside the fictive frame of the Kate and Petruchio story in order to be searched out again among a variety of historicized construction sites, including, most prominently, an overdue consideration of the ways in which the material conditions of early modern England may be implicated in this text.
To begin such a historicizing, readers need first to recognize that there is a concrete historical analogue for the final scene and Kate's insistence that wives should "place your hands below your husband's foot, / In token of which duty, if he please, / My hand is ready, may it do him ease" (5.2.182-84). What needs to be recognized is that the (in)famous concluding spectacle of this play is itself a dramatized (and now correctly ordered) version of the parodic church wedding scene which had earlier occurred offstage. Within the invoked ritual framework, Kate's actions essentially replicate the script that appears in the Sarum, the York, the (Scottish) Rathen, and the (French) Martène manuals for the actions that the bride was to perform upon receipt of the wedding ring and her husband's accompanying vow of endowment. Following his pledge of worldly goods, the bride is directed to fall prostrate at the bridegroom's feet, and—in phrasings that vary from ceremony to ceremony but in both English manuals are contingent upon whether the groom had endowed his wife with land—the rite then directs that she is to "courtesy" his foot in gratitude before he stoops to raise her up into her new status as wife.
For feminist scholars, recognizing this analogue (or discovering that Shakespeare is not the guilty party who invented it) does not resolve the issue. Rather, it compels the question of why Shakespeare chose to use so adamantly hierarchical and patriarchal a form of the wedding service when that model had been excised from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and therefore had been, by the time Shrew was written, officially prohibited for some forty years. The invocation of a ritual service that the audience would almost certainly have recognized—but recognized as anachronistic—seems to me to work two ways at once: on the one hand, it inscribes the concluding Kate and Petruchio marital relation as an anachronism; and yet, on the other, by idealizing and romanticizing that model, it imbues it with the nostalgic value of a vision of social order imagined as passing away. It is within this framework—the sense that this play both participates energetically in and yet nostalgically withholds itself from the world of its own contemporary modernity—that I hope, through a feminist-materialist reading, historically to situate the notably dislocated structural logic of The Taming of the Shrew and its obsessive investments in the reinstatment of a hierarchically gendered order.
Shakespeare's play is set in England. But in the unusual framing device with which it opens, the play literally dislocates its scene of action away from the setting it has first foregrounded: Christopher Sly's Burton-Heath (or William Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon). By such relocation, the play situates the social and political landscape of small-town, rural, late sixteenth-century Warwickshire as the ground from which Signior Baptista Minola's "Padua" emerges as narrative displacement. Historically, the landscape from which the "taming" plot emerges was precisely the world where women defined as "shrews" or "scolds" became, during the late sixteenth century, an obsessive sign of monstrous disorder, and one in which—as I have elsewhere described [in Shakespeare Quarterly 42, 1991]—a number of local Kates were being subjected to taming processes significantly more brutal than the proto-Skinnerian program of negative reinforcement which Kate undergoes in Shakespeare's play. The era's obsession with taming unruly women—which historian David Underdown has documented [in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, eds. Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, 1985] as a phenomenon peculiar to the "crisis of order" that he defines as having itself developed between 1560 and 1640 out of a "period of strained gender relations"—is precisely what warrants the move to construct a reading from outside the text. For in terms of the history of gender during this era, the fixation on scolds, the substantial rise in both official punishments such as the cucking stool and extralegal ones such as the scold's bridle which were meted out to women defined by that term, and the marked increase during this period in defamation suits filed by women, suggest not only a precipitous increase of male anxiety about authority but also the possibility that Kate and her sister scolds may have been symbolically implicated in a larger network of cultural meanings than any that are immediately apparent within the Kate and Petruchio/Bianca and Lucentio story. My contention is that, despite its seeming lack of any of the "political" markers of the history plays, this play is every bit as much a dramatization of English history as are the Henry VI plays, which were written at very nearly the same time.
Obviously, many factors underwrite the gender crisis that Underdown defines. But beyond such anxieties that may have stemmed from the presence of the "female king" or the world of court politics, there was something else going on in England—something that may initially seem to bear no relation to issues of gender but that, in rapid increments, was the factor that was most dramatically changing the very basis of English social organization during these years. The events in question come from the history of English land use. To include them seems appropriate, for they effectively shift attention away from the sexual conduct of the Elizabethan upper classes, which has been the more frequent focus of The Shrew's literary historians, and relocate it inside the world and the issues which the Induction sets up as ground.
As scholars such as Raymond Williams and R. H. Tawney have eloquently discussed, it was during this era and in this world that the geographic, economic, demographic, and social landscape of England changed precipitously as the pattern of land use and tenancy, in addition to the way of life it had signified, was transformed from men working and living on land worked by their families for centuries and inherited in copy-hold into a system of rigidly demarcated private ownership for the few and dispersion and vagabondage for the many. During this transformation, England's social geography changed from a form of community space defined by common land on which manorial lord, yeoman, and peasant all grazed their livestock to a landscape of exclusive ownership quite literally etched by fences, hedges, and ditches across the face of England. It was during the Tudor years, with the decline of ecclesiastical authority, that lay landlords gained the necessary power, both in Parliament and at the county level, to outmaneuver the crown's rather desultory attempts to protect peasant tenancy. Through manipulation of the legal strategies of "ascertainment, enclosure, and the triumph of common law over clerical law and manorial custom … a plurality of English peasants [were removed] from their tenancies, relegating them to positions as wage laborers or relief recipients … On Manors where the court and custom had been abolished, a quarter of the original tenants, on average, retained their land rights. If the commons was enclosed, even fewer peasant farmers saved their holdings. Where manorial structures were preserved, more than a third … survived as independent farmers."
By consequence, a few families (or one family) came to control all or most manors in a parish, while simultaneously, anywhere from one half to three quarters of the English peasantry were, by 1640 or so, left landless. As the supply of landless laborers increased, their worth in wages declined. Whereas fewer than 15 percent of English peasants had been wage laborers at any time prior to the 1570s, by 1688 over half had been reduced to that status. Furthermore, in refutation of the 1970s-80s revisionist explanation that the primary rationale behind these massive dispossessions was improvement of the land for maximization of profits (and thus an end for the greater good), the data that historian Richard Lachmann amasses [in From Manor to Market: Structural Change in England, 1536-1640, 1987] about the uses to which English landowners put the acquired land indicate that "the wage-labor market must be understood as the consequence of gentry strategies for land control, not profit maximization." Whereas "the majority of landless peasants prior to the dis-solution had been sons of landholding peasants who were awaiting the inheritance of the family farm … by the latter half of the sixteenth century, most landless peasants had no prospect of acquiring land at any point in their lives." By then, the growing number of landless had only memories of claims to what had once been the land of their fathers and grandfathers—claims that at one time, in the old manorial court system, could have been substantiated by memorial recall of the genealogy from which such copyhold had been inherited. Whereas modern historians, commenting from hindsight, may view enclosure as merely a stage in the alteration of land use, for villagers of the late sixteenth century it was, as Roger Manning emphasizes [in Village Revolts; Social Protest and Popular Disturbance in England, 1509-1640, 1988], the "symbolic act [upon which] contemporary debate focused and it was upon the enclosing hedge that villagers with a sense of wrong vented their rage … Enclosure also was widely blamed for causing dearth [which] is why antienclosure riots were a much more widespread protest … than grain riots." Likewise Joan Thirsk, who [in The Rural Economy of England, 1984] takes a more benign view of enclosure motives than does Lachmann, insists along with Manning that although the levels of catastrophe may seem exaggerated if measured retrospectively and from a national standpoint,
this was cold comfort to the husbandman of the sixteenth century watching the progress of enclosure in and around his own village. Enclosure has first to be recognized as a social problem concentrated in the Midlands. Seen in that narrower context, it cannot be lightly dismissed. In Leicestershire alone, more than one in three of its 370 villages and hamlets underwent some enclosure between 1485 and 1607. The motives and incentives to enclose … were many and complex. But they worked their worst effects in one consolidated belt of country, stretching from the western half of Lincolnshire through Northamptonshire and Leicestershire to Warwickshire and reaching south to include Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The historian who tries to account for trends and changes in a broad context recognizes different types of enclosures and different motives … [and] sees the problem of the sixteenth century as a temporary crisis only. But the Midland peasant lived in the midst of events and saw only one widespread movement to enclose and convert the land to pasture. He saw more cattle and more sheep in the closes. He saw rich farmers taking up more and more land but giving less employment than ever before to the labourer.
As enclosure began to effect the economic and demo-graphic shifts that enclosed the open fields and nearly depopulated areas in the Midlands such as the limestone and Cotswold hills where Christopher Sly's Burton-Heath is located, it was primarily the aristocrats and lower gentry who improved their lot. The rise in status was also, however, limitedly accessible to those yeomen and upper peasants who could come up with either enough cash to buy a field and get a corner on the land speculation market or enough determination to marry the daughters of the lower gentry, both of which strategies provided plausible routes upward. If Osric—the nouveau courtier whom Hamlet says "hath much land, and fertile; let a beast be lord of beasts, and his crib shall stand at the King's mess. 'Tis a chough, but, as I say, spacious in the possession of dirt" (5.2.85-88)—represents (from Hamlet's aristocratic perspective) the first type of entrepreneurial good fortune, then William Shakespeare (like his father before him) represents the second group, the yeoman-class sons who married upward and then assuaged their apparent class insecurities by later purchasing bogus coats of arms. But as the few moved up, the greater majority of tenants became landless, leaving England with a suddenly sizable population of vagrants, who themselves accelerated the anxieties about ownership and material possession as they roamed the land in search of wage labor and squatted cottages on it. This is the England that suddenly became obsessed with laws against vagrancy; the England that, by the end of the sixteenth century, had established poor laws that instituted a system of compulsive charity as part of a design to control the mobility of the landless and thereby allay the fears of the landed. By the end of the seventeenth century, the poor had been successfully removed from public view, enclosed in workhouses.
Throughout the 1590s, however, before systems of social control had been fully implemented, and while peasant solidarity was still strong, popular protest was on the rise. Organized class rebellion and riots over enclosure were still perceived as a real threat; and local landowners were engaged in devising legal strategies to subvert peasant unity, to implement inexpensive ways to deflect and undermine the potential for protest, and, ultimately, to ensure [according to Lachmann] that "peasant reaction to the loss of land tenure did not escalate beyond passive appeal for mercy from those landlords." In London alone, between 1581 and 1603, Roger Manning counts "no fewer than 35 outbreaks of disorder"; Annabel Patterson, reflecting on these statistics [in Shakespeare and the Popular Voice, 1989], comments on "how unstable the social framework must have appeared to Shakespeare, beginning his analysis of Elizabethan history and culture in the early 1590's." Moreover, it was the seven Midland counties, including Warwickshire, that lay at the center of the disturbances, and when the situation finally did explode, it did so in the 1607 Midland Revolt. In Stratford itself, agitation against enclosure was apparently an integral part of village life: "In Stratford-upon-Avon, the enclosure of the town commons by Sir Edward Greville, the lord of the borough, provoked the burgesses to elect Richard Quiney as bailiff without seeking Greville's approval. Quiney and several townsmen then levelled the hedges and were prosecuted by Greville for riot … Their quarrels generated numerous cross-suits [and ultimately] Quiney, a friend of Shakespeare, died of head wounds inflicted upon him by one of Greville's servants while attempting to stop a brawl.
Within the shire culture of small towns and villages, enclosure met with widespread resistance in the form of antienclosure riots. From surviving records of such resistance, it seems that women as well as men were participants, even staging some of the protests by them-selves, as wives rounded up other wives in the dead of night to rip down the fences and hedges that had come to signify their own economic enclosure. And although cross-dressing can be given too much symbolic emphasis if it is read primarily as a desire to invert the gendered order of things rather than recognized as a strategy for disguising the identity of male rioters, it is nonetheless true that the riots were often acted out on the stage of gender by men in cross-dress. Yet despite the hints of an implied sexual egalitarianism in the various acts of resistance to enclosure, and despite the obvious shared interests that would argue for solidarity between men and women of a threatened social class, it was nonetheless during precisely this same period that the communities themselves began enacting newly harsh prohibitions and enclosures against women. Like-wise at this time, female "disorder" and "unruliness" suddenly came to be viewed as a massive threat to community integrity. And though "misogyny" may be accurately descriptive of the phenomenon, it is not very explanatory. The question to be asked is why, during an era when class relations had begun to shift precipitously, does the society undergo an epidemic-size outbreak of misogyny? With class anxieties breaking into public riot around England, to what extent does a play such as Shakespeare's Shrew—where the subjugation of resistance is played out on the battleground of gender—serve a culture's more amorphous desire for order by offering a displaced site for resolution of the other, more materially threatening issue of class conflict which is simultaneously always present and forever deferred inside the inverted master-servant dynamic of male relations so repeatedly played out in both this play's Induction and its inner text?
Through such questions I situate Shakespeare's comedy of circa 1592 squarely within what might be called a vast cultural circulation of the anxieties of displacement which arose from the enclosure era. Within that circulation, the impetus for unchallenged proprietary ownership and culturally visible dominance was an issue foregrounded inside the increasingly pressured connection between class status and the privatization of land. Such desires were played out, however, within displaced forms of enclosure that concentrated on the public subjugation and private ownership of women. And although the equation between land and the female body which makes rape and imperialism homologous is a metaphor of masculine ownership that is neither peculiarly English nor new to England's enclosure period, the collocation of the two discursive fields clearly acquired new energy at precisely this historical moment of heightened land anxieties. The birth of England's colonizing impulse occurs within a discourse that repeatedly collapses the erotic and the imperial: the frank sexual desire of Donne's Elegy 19, "Going to Bed," for instance, is underwritten by the lust for land and imperial status that become the imaginary possible of "O my America, my new found land"; and Raleigh's Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empyre of Guiana, while nominally a discourse on land acquisition, is equally inflected by a barely concealed incitement to rape: "Guiana is a Countrey that hath yet her Maydenhead, never sackt, turned, nor wrought, the face of the earth hath not beene torne, nor the vertue and salt of the soyle spent by manurance, the graves have not beene opened for gold, the mines not broken with sledges, nor their Images puld down out of their temples. It hath never been entred by any armie of strength and never conquered and possessed by any Christian Prince."
In terms of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century discourse that was directly about enclosure, from More's Utopia onward, the debate over the moral and social consequences is starkly one-sided and weighted heavily in support of peasant claims. No one argued the ethical or even the practical advantages of the England whose shape could be seen emerging into troubled form. Yet nonetheless, enclosure went relentlessly on, any guilt that the culture may have felt over the growing ranks of the dispossessed ultimately displacing itself in a pattern that should seem familiar to present-day America: the demonization of the homeless vagabond who signified it. At this juncture, when one socioeconomic system was being replaced by another in a transition that was never inevitable, irreversible, or even very popular, a factor that may have made it possible for early modern capitalism to take root in the imaginations of even those Englishmen who did not them-selves profit from it was the way that its model of private property played into and was conflated with the key terms and values of other highly invested discourses. As Annabel Patterson recognizes, the idea of "the common," for instance, carried considerable ideological force and "stood for customary practices and 'rights' that were clearly perceived as such at the time of, and because of, their rescinding." Throughout the era, "the common" provided a powerful rallying cry for principles of fairness and community. Yet simultaneously, the way it could be fortuitously conflated with issues about women's sexuality made the term itself also ambiguous, if not downright suspect. The adjectival "common" routinely crops up, for instance, in utopias or descriptions of new world societies where "no one owns anything, but all things are common property. And the men have as wives those that please them, whether mother, sisters or friends; they make no distinctions among them." Through this frequent association with sexual access, the primary meaning of the term as "possessed or shared alike by both or all (the persons or things in question)" (OED I .1) apparently began, through a process appropriate to an Empsonian analysis, to gravitate connotatively. Thus, by the early 1600s its association to female promiscuity (OED I.6[b]) was so widely presumed that Ben Jonson could simply depend on his audience to recognize the implications of a character named "Doll Common" (The Alchemist). By comparison, a figure named "Jeremy Common" would be referentially unintelligible, because "common" had by then become a gendered term.
Logically, the misogyny implicit in a usage such as Doll Common is unrelated to the issue of peasant rights abrogated by the enclosure of common lands. But the usage nonetheless seems to have infected the enclosure discourse and made the cry for "common" translatable—particularly to the ears of a London artisan class fearful of the spread of social upheaval—as the demand for the common ownership of wives, an association that itself played into the culture's already overinvested anxieties about cuckoldry and bastardy. Thus in Edward IV (Part I) (1599), Thomas Heywood inscribes history with contemporary anxieties by explicitly imagining the rebels as dispossessed products of enclosure ("hegebred rascals" and "filthy fry of ditches") and repeatedly characterizes the motives of the rebellion in the terms which his rebel Spicing invokes in the rallying cry: "Come on my hearts, we will be kings tonight, / Carouse in gold, and sleep with merchants wiues." Likewise, the motives of the city artisans who fight to keep the rebels out of the enclosure of London derive from this same fantasy. As Master Shore the goldsmith tells his wife, Jane, the reasons he fights are
First to maintain King Edward's royalty;
Next, to defend the city's liberty;
But chiefly Jane, to keep thee from the toil
Of him that to my face did vow thy spoil.
Had he preuaild, where then had been our
Dishonourd our daughters, rauishd our fair
Ironically, of course, while the artisans fight for the king primarily out of fear that their shops will be sacked by the desiring rebels, when the violation happens and Shore's shop is robbed of his most valued "jewel," it is the king, not the rebels, who makes Shore's wife "common." In this linguistic mediation, a positively valenced term for affirming the claims of class equity became—by being routed through the discourse of gender—infected with negative, female-associated meanings from the other register. Once the male-female binary was piggybacked onto the enclosure-versus-common debate, the potency of the unrelated meanings could themselves then work to neutralize the cry against privilege and effectively marshall a certain affirmation back to the side of the enclosers. In George Gascoigne's use of this discourse for double entendre in The Adventures of Master F. J., positive masculine success clearly accrues to the encloser: "The experiment she meant was this: for that she thought F.J.—I use her words—a man in every respect very worthy to have the several use of a more commodious common, she hoped now to see if his enclosure thereof might be defensible against her said secretary, and such like."
Several other key terms for the collocation, recirculation, and eventual cultural displacement of class anxieties onto ones of gender appear in Joseph Hall's antiutopian fantasy voyage, Mundus Alter et Idem (1605), purportedly recording the discovery of "Antarctica." Once again, the cultural fantasy involves the discovery of inhabitable land. "New Gynia" or "Viraginia," which Hall's traveler Mercurius Brittanicus discovers, is here, as in many discovery narratives, synonymous with woman. In Hall's parodic vision, however, the unexpected encounter with woman-as-shrew radically disturbs the traditional virgin/rape/dominance paradigm of conquest and converts it into one of male fear of subjugation. Controlled by unruly women who are apparently so proud of their loquacity that cities have been named for parts of the mouth, in this upside-down society rather than dominating the woman/land as her master, Brittanicus is repeatedly enslaved by the authority of the woman/state. In the province of Amazonia (time-honored locus for male fantasies about female power), the extended satire on inverted authority exposes another key mediator linking the gendered deflection of class hostilities with the era's massive agrarian displacements. With men in Amazonia confined to housework and wives now tilling the fields, the houses for the first time, says Brittanicus sardonically, are actually getting clean. But the fields, alas, are "badly husbanded." Beneath the pun, the desired object of resentful dispute is a man's tenure over land; within the pun, as within Hall's dystopian narrative, the agent of his displacement from that status and from the respectability that came with it has been reconstituted from a cormorant landlord to an insubordinate wife.
The newly intensified anxieties about women's self-sovereignty during this era and the discourse which Linda Woodbridge [in Women and the English Renaissance, 1984] calls a veritable "storehouse of misogyny," that it produced all contribute, of course, to a reinscription of the very paradigm of the master-slave, possessor-dispossessed model of social relationship that lies at the root of the enclosure crisis. And although reenacting the hierarchical principle in the register of gender must only perpetuate its authority in the arena of class, this same illogical transfer does serve to produce the ego compensations of power, regardless of how limited and temporary such compensations may be. And because the prevailing anxiety from enclosure was itself invested in the amorphous fear of being literally displaced from one's land and deprived of the status of "husband," based on the constituting energies of language it makes a strange kind of sense that the cultural compensation produced in England would take the form of displaced hostilities enacted into new verbal, social, and ultimately legal enclosures of wives.
In addition to being the Shakespeare play that participates most overtly in the culture's need to assert a hierarchy of gender, The Taming of the Shrew is like-wise a play peculiarly invested in the master-servant positions of social class. The play's only "authoritative" text appears in the Folio, where the play opens with the odd Induction, which seems itself to be the broken part of an enclosing frame from which the original conclusion (and perhaps additional segments) are missing. Including the Induction reconstructs the nature of the cultural story this comedy plays out: within the inclusive version, the Kate and Petruchio story occurs as "only" a play, fictionally located in Italy but actually being staged by a group of English players at the dictation of the local lord for the edification of a vagabond out in Shakespeare's Warwickshire.
By virtue of the array of particular details the Induction provides, this scene—situated indeterminately outside a tavern at the edge of some aristocrat's hunting preserve somewhere in Warwickshire—becomes in itself an abstract and composite of the conditions, the sites, the antagonists, and, ultimately, the means deployed for dispersing the threat of class conflict that rumbled beneath the surface of English life. The Induction opens as the drunken Christopher Sly is thrown out of a tavern by its hostess. In her first lines of the play, "A pair of stocks, you rogue" (Ind. 1.2), the hostess identifies Sly by the term that had arisen in the mid-sixteenth century as a specific pejorative for the newly created class of vagrants. What her remark prompts in Sly is a social-class discourse asserting the respectability and tenure of his family origins. Sly, as we will shortly learn, has in his time been a peddler, cardmaker, a bear-herd, and is now a tinker (20-22)—all of which reads like a veritable résumé and classic profile of the vagabond poor inside clay vale and/or wood pasture areas such as Warwickshire, the proto-typical figure of the man dispossessed by enclosure and forced into piecemeal wage labor when shoved off the land by the entrepreneurial real estate class, itself predominantly composed of rich landlords who subsequently obviated the need for farm labor by converting tillage to pasture. At least one of Sly's occupations—a cardmaker, or one who carded the wool for spin-ning—specifically associates him with the cloth-working industry, the labor group most notoriously involved in the uprisings thoughout the era, especially those that had convulsed just four years earlier in a series of food riots in nearby Gloucestershire, the Cotswolds (where Burton-Heath is located), and the Severn River area. Moreover, the figures that populated those areas of deprivation likewise clearly populated Shakespeare's imagination. In a contemporary attack on the consequences of cloth-trade stoppages in the Cotswolds, for instance, it almost seems that we meet Autolycus in the observer's description of "infinite nombers of Spynners, Carders, Pickers of woll [who] are turned to begging with no smale store of pore children, who driven with necessitie (that hath no lawe) both come idelie abowt to begg to the oppression of the poore husbandmen, And robbe their hedges of lynnen, stele pig, gose, and capon … [and] being forced by povertie stele fish, conies, dere, and such like."
This play begins with Sly's being thrown out of the alehouse for his inability to pay. The scene of the ejected beggar asleep onstage is then invaded by a lord with his hunting party, creating a signifying tableau that speaks to yet another bitter contemporary struggle over land use: the struggle over disafforestation and the nobility's enclosure of new deer parks for hunting. Onstage, the positional status of these two figures iconographically proposes precisely the conflict that the rest of the play must then disperse: the muted threat of class violence. For of all the various types of land conversions going on during this era, the conversion of forest land into private enclaves for the privileges of one aristocrat was the one that was most often and most intensely marked by violent popular protest. As Roger Manning notes, "Scores of new deer parks were enclosed during the Tudor-Stuart period … As symbols of aristocratic arrogance, emparkments invited both antienclosure riots and widespread poaching. Where previously there had been a tangible expression of a sense of community … the appearance of the enclosing hedge in the landscape served notice that hence-forth the commodity of one individual was to be preferred."
Even the alewife who opens the Induction is in several ways a historically specific player in an iconography of nascent social conflict. As men were losing the traditional bases of their occupational security, alewives—who, by the end of the sixteenth century, were still prominent in a trade that women had not yet been pushed out of—became particularly subject to negative caricature. They become stock figures of comedy, associated with an enraging kind of female independence and garrulous insubordination. But furthermore, as signifier of the alehouse, the figure specifically suggests the site which, as Buchanan Sharp notes [in In Contempt of All Authority: Rural Artisans and Riot in the West of England, 1586-1660, 1980], was so traditionally understood as the space where local uprisings were planned and initiated that it became attached to popular protest and associated with the common folk's "deep hatred of the people possessed of the power, social standing, and landed wealth denied to them." So allied did the alehouse come to be with sedition, in fact, that in the 1590s the crown ordered "suppression of superfluous alehouses in time of scarcity." Other officials, however, more cynically contended that the alehouse and the alcohol consumption it encouraged served a highly useful social purpose by deflecting the rage of the poor away from "more socially dangerous forms of expression"—as the quiescent image of the drunken Sly would seem to confirm. And if indeed there was, as Annabel Patterson argues, a tradition of "memorial vocabulary" that worked like code to collate "the popular protests of the past, both with each other and with the issues of the day … [and] act as an incentive, an organizational credo, a symbol of radical claims that are themselves broadly defined," then even the otherwise unassimilated reference to "Marian Hacket," the "fat alewife of Wincot" may play a suggestive role in lacing this Induction with signifiers meant amorphously to evoke the scene of populist issues. For the chief rebel in the abortive 1591 London uprising at Cheapside—which had taken place perhaps only a year before The Shrew was written and would thus likely have been current in the populist genealogy of rebel history—was likewise named Hackett.
As Sly falls asleep, a Lord enters onto the stage, ordering his huntsmen to "tender" his hounds, "sup them well and look unto them all" (Ind. 1.16,28), ostentatiously enunciating all the excesses of wealth in his boastful valuation of one of his dogs at twenty pounds (21). In all he says and does, the unnamed, presumably generic "Lord" provides a virtuoso dramatization of class position as he arrogantly plays out the privileges reserved for the aristocracy. Hard upon the heels of the Lord's solicitous concern for his hounds and his order to "breathe Merriman, the poor cur is embossed" (14) comes his mildly contemptuous reaction to discovering Sly asleep on the ground: "What's here? One dead or drunk? See, doth he breathe?" (31). Deciding to have a bit of fun with this "monstrous beast [who] like a swine" (34) lies drunk before him, the Lord orders that the sleeping tinker be placed in the Lord's own bed, dressed in lordly raiment, and awakened to a world of exorbitant consumption, where he will be surrounded by servants who treat him as though he were the lord of the estate who has languished in sleep for many years, raving in his dreams as though he were a peasant. The world to which Sly awakens—which includes even the voyeuristic seductions of the Lord's private stock of "wanton pictures" depicting classical rapes—is one of luxurious excess that taunts rather than offers to fulfill the desires it solicits.
Initially, and with a pugnacious tenacity that configures class pride, Sly resists all enticements to being a lord, insisting that he needs no more clothes than he can wear, that he is "Christophero Sly, call not me honor nor lordship," and that he wants his pot of small ale, for "I ne'er drank sack in my life" (Ind. 2.5-6). To the Lord's assurance that he is "a mighty man of such descent, / Of such possessions and so high esteem" (14-15), Sly counters by invoking his pedigree as "old Sly's son of Burton-heath" (19)—a heritage that, as we learned from his contretemps with the hostess, Sly insists is an honorable and longstanding one that can be traced back to "Richard Conqueror" (1.4). But Sly, suddenly switching to unaccustomed blank verse, eventually comes around to believing "upon my life, I am a lord indeed" (2.72). Curiously, what finally persuades him is neither the material wealth, the sensory pleasures, nor the linguistic deference he receives from his supposed servants. It is the presence of the signified "wife." Once this fiction is in place—a fiction that correlates the audience's desires with Sly's, for the Lord's page Bartholomew is obviously no more a woman than is the actor who will play Kate—the inner play is ready to begin. As an entertainment especially designed to educate this lordly peasant, the Lord, who has produced the pretense of Sly's class superiority, has also arranged for a play to be put on by a band of traveling players—men who, because occupationally defined by the law as vagabonds, were themselves subject to arrest for vagrancy unless in service to a lord and thus constitute a group whose own status in society was scarcely more secure than the itinerant tinker's.
As I would propose to read the relation between opening frame and inner play, in its choice of central figures the frame has marked out the most extreme oppositions of class privilege, and thus quite literally fore-grounds the potential for class conflict. But rather than dramatize the incipient opposition between the landed Lord and the landless tinker, before the Induction has ever introduced its plot line it has already inserted the paradigm of what the inner play will subsequently offer as substitute. In its opening conflict between Sly and the tavern hostess, the play offers a prologuelike scene of gender hostility that its Kate and Petruchio story will subsequently dramatize as the site for deflecting, absorbing, and relocating the conflict that the Induction embodies before us. To rechannel the implied class resentment into the arena of gender, the frame effectively transposes the woman's and the landlord's positional relations to Sly. What is thereby produced is a narrative in which the woman becomes the agent of dispossession who throws the impoverished Sly out of domicile and the Lord becomes the benefactor who welcomes him, makes him lord of the castle, and lavishes on him sumptuous food and soft bedding.
As the disgruntlements of class are being transferred into the space of gender, the statuses that in reality quite strongly demarcate male class positions are simultaneously being made invisible by the pretense of their interchangeability: Sly can be the Lord and the Lord will be one of his servants; Tranio can be Lucentio and Lucentio change to Cambio; and, just as Sly can fill the Lord's position of "a mighty man," a Mantuan pedant can fill up the role even of Vincentio, the "mighty man of Pisa" (2.1.104). By means of such displacements and erasures, Sly, the lower-class male who has been dispossessed from all terms of husbandry, is set up as lord to a lady and husband to an estate, who sits by his lady to watch, in the story of Petruchio, a gendered model of male success. What he watches is an implicit pattern for obtaining social and financial prestige plus the domestic rewards of "peace … and love, and quiet life. / An awful rule and right supremacy; / And, to be short, what not, that's sweet and happy" (5.2, 108-10). But all of this good fortune itself depends on a husband's ability to demonstrate that he "will be master of what is [his] own" (3.2.229), which, within the narrative of The Shrew, is a mastery whose demonstration lies in compelling "headstrong women" to know "what duty they do owe their lords and husbands" (5.2.130-31). These two terms, "lord" and "husband," which are at the end of the play again paired as they were by Sly's "Madam Wife" in the Induction, are, of course, interchangeable cognates not in the world of male relations but only within the domestic sphere. All other venues being restricted by class and economic position, the statuses of "lord," "master," and "husband" are available to all men only through marriage. It is through Kate's public submission that Petruchio, having become a husband, becomes a lord indeed—and a "king," and "governor." And, as he reminds the disempowered Lucentio just before exiting the stage, it is Petruchio, alone among the men to have secured this entitlement, who exits "a winner."
Besides acquiring a dominant position in society through women, inside the copensatory fiction that The Shrew offers, all men—from the Lord to the tinker, from the the landed owner who produces and controls this fiction to the dispossessed vagrant who constitutes its target audience—are all bonded together by a common enemy: the shrewish female. Within that fantasy of egalitarian fraternity, distinctions of class get suspended and ultimately supplanted by the inner play's narration of woman taming. Through the comic mirror embedded in the play's conclusion, every man is made into potential lord in his own castle, confirmed in a status analogous to that of the land-owner by the marriage covenant that guarantees him private husbandry over the wife/servant who is compelled to "serve, love, honor, and obey"—the wife/servant figure whom the Lord had placed next to Sly's bed as the reassuring sign of his status as an owner and the figure whose submission is literally staged in the inner play as the sign of Petruchio's public covenant with patriarchy. In the play's final scene, as all the players converge on Padua into the space of marriage celebration, the acting out of the shrew-taming scene transforms the celebration of "bridal" into a masculine arena of wager and competitive husbandry. Within this marketplace, disobedient wives, ironically enough, are by far the culture's most essential object. Like dragons to be conquered in medieval romance or maidens to be de-flowered in love stories, the shrew appears in sixteenthand seventeeth-century narratives as the test obstacle essential for positing the culture's terms for male dominance not only over women but over other men as well. Compelled during this era into an imaginatively heightened existence, the disobedient female is thrust into cultural centrality as a lightning rod to absorb and contain the society's amorphously circulating anxieties about the interlocked issues of dominance and subordination.
Inside The Shrew's narrative model of male success, Kate's ultimate function is to make Petruchio a winner, which status he achieves through the wager he makes on his wife's proficiency in subjection. And, by the terms of his bet—"Twenty crowns! / I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound, / But twenty times so much upon my wife" (5.2.71-73), Petruchio acquires the preemptive privilege of a narrative entrance into the emparkment of superior status previously owned by the aristocratic Lord, who had entered the stage likewise venturing a bet beyond twenty pounds on his well-trained prize bitch.
For a theater audience, it is Petruchio who carries the middle- and lower-class male viewer's fused fantasies of erotic reward, financial success, and upward social mobility. What we know from the terms of the play is that, although Petruchio seems to have inherited a respectable amount of land, to guarantee an apparently otherwise precarious hold on upward mobility he has by necessity embarked on an openly acknowledged quest to wive it wealthily and, if wealthily, then well. As Gremio tells us, his master is flat broke and would marry an old trot if she had money enough. And although Hortensio can afford to insist that he would not marry a shrew for a mine of gold, Petruchio's financial exigencies make him assert, "thou know'st not gold's effect" (1.2.93). In the play's subliminal class structure, everything we know about Petruchio's situation suggests that he is in the predicament of a land-poor son whose father acquired enough land to stake a claim on the future, but who, like many others trying during this era to defend their newly won status, urgently needs ready cash to protect his gains against the various new fines, taxes, costs of enclosing, and other assessments that powerful and land-hungry owners kept successfully pushing into county legislation to force their less solvent neighbors to sell. In wiving it wealthily, Petruchio manages to prove himself not only a good husband to his patrimonial inheritance but a better son-inlaw than even Lucentio, the rich young Pisan whose class background announces itself in various ways throughout his opening speech of act 1, including the information he there provides about his father. "A merchant of great traffic through the world, / Vincendo, come of the Bentivolii; / Vincentio's son, brought up in Florence" (1.1.12-14).
In this play, the fantasy of a bourgeois (male) culture achieves a fully satisfying statement: upward mobility, displacement of one's supposed betters through the entrepreneurial success of deeds, and a new hierarchy of male relations no longer strictly defined by social class as birthright. The story is, essentially, a paradigm of the success story of the English yeomanry. And the fact of Petruchio's location in that class origin is strongly suggested through the connection the Induction sets up between Petruchio and the actor whom the Lord apparently singles out to play him—the actor whom the Lord praises for his verisimilitude in playing "a farmer's eldest son" in a play "where you wooed the gentlewoman so well" that the "part / Was aptly fitted and naturally perform'd" (Ind. 1.84-87). The yeomanry was likewise the status group that defined Shakespeare's own origins and was the social class within which at least some—including both John and William Shakespeare—made significant gains during the shift to agrarian capitalism. But furthermore, it was the class that in the early 1590s seems already to have evolved into something of a universal signifier, as capable as is the status of "middle class" in present-day America of carrying the projections of even the Slys of the world, as unmaterializable as their desires might ultimately prove to be.
In terms of this implied status, Petruchio actually belongs to a large group of aspiring hero figures who fill up the comic stage of the era: impoverished males like Bassanio, who may standardly appear in these fictions as down-on-their-luck young aristocrats with whom the upper tier of the audience can identify but whose penniless state nonetheless simultaneously suggests an unspoken class differential that lurks beneath such male portraits and creates much of the desiring energy that drives their narratives. Inside such stories, success is defined by winning the golden fleece/wife, who signifies for not only Petruchio but also Bassanio (in Merchant), Orlando (in As You Like It), Claudio (in Much Ado), and Sebastian (in Twelfth Night) a thoroughly affirmed upward shift in economic and social status achieved through becoming "husbands." Placed onstage to act out that trajectory, such figures suggestively represent a cultural unconscious being writ large and played out on the popular stage by playwrights and actors who were themselves prototypical of all the anxious class desires their fictions surreptitiously embody. Within the fiction that Petruchio enacts, "deeds" are in every way preeminent. It is a new world of opportunity and opportunism, one in which Sly's claim to being a "lord indeed" translates into Petruchio's entitlement to being a lord in deeds. For Petruchio is, as he several times says, the man who "would fain be doing" (2.1.74). And yet, as the dowry negotiations that so repeatedly enter into this play attest, "deeds" is never wholly separate from a reference to land titles.
Even the famous Kate and Petruchio battle of wills is waged through the vocabularly of class, most of which for an audience today no longer carry the same weight. At the moment Signior Baptista's elder daughter enters the stage, Petruchio greets her with an instant demotion from the aristocratic "Katherine" by which she defines herself to the distinctly common "Kate"—and "plain Kate, / And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst" (2.1.185-86). In her suggestion to Petruchio to "Remove you hence. I knew you at the first / You were a movable" (196-97) lies the disdaining insult by which Kate identifies her suitor as one of England's newly mobile social groups, either a vagabond or a social climber attempting to move up. In saying she is "too light for such a swain as you to catch" (204), she mocks his courtship as that of a country bumpkin. The tenor of most of the courtship consists, in fact, of a series of loaded class insults in which Kate repeatedly hits at the evident inferiority of Petruchio's status while Petruchio parries by repeatedly bringing Kate down to level terms and treating her more like a barnyard wench than a gentlewoman:
Pet. What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come
Good Kath, I am a gentleman—
Kath. That I'll try. [She strikes him.]
Pet. I swear I'll cuff you if you strike again.
Kath. So may you lose your arms.
If you strike me, you are no gentleman,
And if no gentleman, why then no arms.
Pet. A herald, Kate? O put me in thy books!
Kath. What is your crest—a coxcomb?
Likewise, Kate's complaint to her father
Call you me "daughter"? …
You have show'd a tender fatherly regard,
To wish me wed to one half-lunatic,
A madcap ruffian and a swearing Jack,
That thinks with oaths to face the matter out
is likewise grounded in terms that protest the class basis of the proposed match. And although Signior Baptista—happy that anyone will marry Kate—never mentions such a class differential, it seems obvious enough to the rich old nobleman Gremio, whose caustic observations about Petruchio and comments to him throughout the play reveal a distinct class disdain. On the wedding day, when Petruchio arrives dressed as a vagabond in order to humiliate Kate and bring her to par, it is Signior Gremio, for instance, who comments, "A bridegroom, say you? 'tis a groom indeed, / A grumbling groom, and that the girl shall find" (3.2.151-52).
But it is the term "gentle" and Petruchio's ability to manipulate it that defines the ultimate weapon in the play's arsenal of class threats and insults because slippage in this term was propelling it into an insidious link between the discourses of gender and class. When Petruchio says to Kate, "I find you passing gentle" (2.1.242), his reference is to a term of gender, not class. When he denies her the cap that all the "gentle-women wear" by saying, "When you are gentle you shall have one too, / And not till then" (4.3.71-72), he again switches the reference from her assumption of entitlement based on class status to one that makes it contingent on the exhibition of appropriately submissive female behavior, a standard of gender defined by male authority. And though it is most likely true, as Kate angrily exclaims, that "your betters have endur'd me say my mind" (75), Petruchio has by marriage acquired the power to manipulate the signifiers that define Kate's social status and determine just who her "betters" will be. For, as Pierre Bourdieu discusses extensively [in Outline of a Theory of Practice, tr. Richard Nice, 1971], class status is established through its own totemically self-conscious representations and is thus heavily dependent on the expenditure of cultural capital displayed through an intricate series of social signs: the vocabulary one uses, the fashion and the implied expense of the clothing one wears, and so on. And whether Kate will ever show herself off in the class finery of the "silken coats and caps, and golden rings" (56) that Petruchio promises her or will be kept forever in the "honest, mean habiliments" (170) in which he forces her to return to Padua is a determination over which Petruchio, as the play demonstrates, has acquired complete control.
What has always been so especially disturbing about Kate's final speech is that it is staged as if it were a matter of her own joyful choice. Momentarily setting aside the matter of coercion, it is nonetheless true that for Petruchio to be uncontested lord and master, Kate must, at the minimum, agree to stop "crossing" his assertions. She does; but what she receives in return for her acceptance of patriarchal hierarchy is not, as many wishful readers have hitherto argued, anything that could ever be rightly equated with marital mutuality. Kate's submission to the hierarchy of gender is predicated on the retention of her social position in the hierarchy of class; and leading up to her final speech, Petruchio has employed a consistent strategy to compel her toward that trade-off. Beginning with her public humiliation at the wedding, every time Kate resists submission in the arena of gender, she is punished by degradation in the arena of class. Ultimately, what the play is designed to teach Kate is that, in the area of gender, the only privileges she may claim are the passive, receptive ones of femininity. She may, however, have access to the privileged signs of class; but as this play clearly demonstrates, by 1590 those signs were themselves in the midst of being reconstituted so that they were no longer separate from but were becoming co-implicit in the controlling norms of gender. Furthermore, the class privileges that Kate acquired through birth are now, ironically enough, privileges to which she has access only through her husband. Like the signifying cap and gown that Petruchio dangles in front of her own to whisk away, retention of her class status is a privilege that he has made contingent on her conceding male supremacy. In her final speech of the play, it thus may be said that Kate "masters" a new understanding of the possible trade-offs of her situation. It may also be said that she sells out to the only vision of pleasure that Petruchio will allow—a vision that is almost a comic prototype of the consumerist, middle-class, bourgeois desires that will shortly come to commodify the stage representation of the Restoration gentlewoman and thereby contain it as a comic stereotype.
Within this emerging vision, Kate's rebellious demand for self-sovereignty falls prey to the substitute pleasures of a highly gendered, patriarchally overlaid model of social class in which femaleness is conceived as a privileged object made to decorate male life, at once constituted so as to be wholly derivative of male status and yet always defined inside a binary opposition to male subjectivity and male power. To be female is constructed as the fine art of thinking one's actions from the position of otherness while simultaneously always seeing oneself as the other—of being careful to preserve one's attractiveness, not blot one's beauty with threatening brows or scornful glances nor let anger muddy up the offered fountain lest that worst of apparent eventualities occur and no man ever deign to drink of it. Feminine achievement is conceived as making it successfully into wifehood, and therein becoming the pampered object of a dedicated provider who, "for thy maintenance; commits his body / To painful labour … Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe" (5.2.148-49, 151). Gone is the Katherina whom Hortensio described as like to prove herself a soldier after she had quite literally broken the lute on him; gone is the Kate who struck Petruchio and threatened to comb old Gremio's noddle with a three-legged stool (1.1.64). In its place in Kate's concluding vision is the model of physical helplessness that will shortly become the romantic axiom for the eroticized feminine object. The speech thus marks a clear historical point at which womanhood has been reconceived into the erotic fantasy of exquisitely helpless fragility, of having a body that is "soft, and weak, and smooth, / Unapt to toil and trouble in the world" (5.2.165-66); a body whose "soft condition," being endowed with only "strength as weak, [and] weakness past compare" (174) must physically yield agency to the mastery of those who are imagined as exact opposites to the soft, weak, and smooth of the feminine—to those opposites whose lances, in Kate's subtending fantasy, are (presumably) not just straws.
The vision of true womanhood that Kate presents us with is, finally, the fantasy of being a gentle/woman—a putatively helpless object of leisure, enclosed and immured in masculine protection, born to shop and displayed forth in the fashionable signs of aristocratic status which Petruchio makes Kate realize he can and will withhold from her. Unless Kate becomes a gentle woman, she will remain in the low status of having to beg the servants for food, in every way infantilized, deprived of all authority, indefinitely dressed in "honest, mean habiliments," and thus signified with all the low-status cultural capital that announces her position in the world as perilously close to that of the beggar who watches this play.
The offered fantasies with which the play concludes are strongly gendered ones that exist in inverse relationship to each other. From the position of male desire, the fantasies that subscribe The Taming of the Shrew "work" through the unconscious displacement of class hostilities onto gender; for women, who are the locus of that displacement, the fantasies this play offers must "work" in precisely the inverse way, through a displacement of gender hostilities which ensures the dispersal of counterpart aggressions against men. For women, the invited trajectory is away from gender and onto anxieties about social class. Within the vision that Kate is constructed to dramatize, the trade-offs for which she settles exchange desire for equality in one hierarchy for the guaranteed material and social privileges of another.
What the play's various displacements contrive throughout to deny, of course, is the very site upon which the whole design is constructed: the enormous difference in the masculine positions of social class and the hostilities that such distributions engender. Despite such avoidances, however, both the displacement and the difference it denies are historically collocated in the title noun that foregrounds them. For the term "shrew" actually belongs to a whole class of words that under-went a semantic shift that the pattern of this play—and, by inference, the culture in which it was constructed—actually duplicates. Like the struggle over land tenure and the trajectory of displacement which I posit, this semantic shift also occurred between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was within those several centuries, which frame England's transition from the late medieval to the early modern world, from the feudalist agrarian economy to the capitalist one, that a whole category of words such as "harlot," "shrew," "hoyden," "scold," "baggage," "brothel," "bordello," and "bawd" were transposed from their origin as contemptuous expressions for lower-class males into terms that gendered such hostility, displacing it away from the threat of male class revolt which remained real throughout the era and redirecting it at women.
If we grant for the moment the Folio text of The Taming of the Shrew, the Sly Induction works to lay bare a mechanism of social control that the play then retreats from exploring. Having exposed the ground on which the Padua displacement is constructed, the text then refuses to return to the scene in Warwickshire, withdraws from the exploration of the class-gender nexus that it initially seemed poised to query, and essentially abandons its audience suspended within the displacement. Leah Marcus [in English Literary Renaissance 22, 1992] has argued for adopting an inter-textual approach that accepts Shakespeare as the author of The Taming of A Shrew, the infamous other, "unauthoritative" text that exists in a historically undecipherable relationship to this play. In Marcus's analysis, the two Shrews should be viewed "as a cluster of related texts which can be fruitfully read together and against each other as 'Shakespeare.'" With the use of A Shrew's closing frame plus several of the interruptions it stages within the taming story, the Sly plot narrative—in which issues of class difference remain active onstage and thus become all but ineradicable—could work at strategic intervals to disrupt the otherwise seamless enactment that the authorized text provides of a social displacement that ends without waking its dreamer/audience. In the closing frame of A Shrew, when Sly awakens on the cold, hard ground, recalling his most rare dream of being a lord and preparing now to go recuperate it by lording it over his own shrewish wife, the return to reality works, at least in part, to collapse the romanticized patriarchal fiction in which The Shrew leaves its audience suspended. Moreover, one could also say that the ending of A Shrew actually constitutes a morally damning critique of the way that The Shrew ends, for what A Shrew's return to Warwickshire dramatizes is just how persuasively such representations of power and dominance as that which the taming narrative has played out can work on the disempowered to induce the kinds of aggressive displacements that Sly, the modeled audience, departs the stage hoping to effect for himself.
The only text available for teaching this play fails to unpack the political narrative it produces. What that text does suggest, however, is a clear recognition on Shakespeare's part of the class and gender relations being constituted within his era and the potential manipulability of the theater to become a stage for culturally reproducing only those narratives that affirm the hegemonic and patriarchal. It suggests an authorially conscious political reading of how, amidst the turbulence of the class and gender crises of the early 1590s, such a thing as a national ideology was being molded into shape, and what role the theater was playing in that production. If The Shrew represents Shakespeare's own pruned-down version of his original interplot narrative, as Marcus feels is likely, what such a revision seems to suggest is a belated form of self-censorship, a second-thought stage in which the author may have decided to excise the politically more radical line of the Sly narrative, leaving behind only its fossil in the Induction. If so, then it was a move that the writer of this play had already rehearsed through his creation of Kate. For it is the move that Kate also chooses when she, too, selects the hierarchical narrative and, dramatizing her own disempowered relationship to it, tells women to "vail your stomachs, for it is no boot" (5.2.176), as she prostrates herself before the represented sign of authority and its symbolic coercions of power.
In this play, as is frequently true in gender and class relations in general, beneath every asserted dominance is inevitably an unacknowledged, uncredited, and usually unpaid dependency of the higher on the lower. Like Sly, Petruchio moves from his initial status as a needy wanderer to the bed of a highborn wife; and, like Sly, Petruchio depends for his lordship on the signifying speech act of a madam wife who, positioned as she is within the gender hierarchy, is the one person who can make lord and husband interchangeable terms. Sly's first anxious demand of his madam wife is that she call him husband. And obediently: "My husband and my lord, my lord and husband, / I am your wife in all obedience" (Ind. 2.104-5), intones Sly's wife. In her words, the play anticipates the parallel lines through which Petruchio's wife will elevate him into metaphoric peerage and women in the audience will be enjoined likewise to elevate their husbands: "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign" (5.2.151-52), says Kate. But Sly's madam wife has always been, of course, little Bartholomew, the Lord's page, who has been commanded by the Lord to dress up like a lady and serve the Lord's voyeuristic desires by playing out a wifely acquiescence that will convince the hapless Sly that he, too, is a lord indeed. The play thus depends, in large, on Bartholomew's unchosen willingness to mediate the story of a class and gender nexus that is doubly represented in him. And it is Bartholomew/Madam Wife—the figure who embodies an intersection on the class-gender hierarchy and thus occupies the culture's most literal space for under-standing—who generically resituates The Taming of the Shrew and insistently removes it from the category of comedy. In doing so, he points toward new locations from which we might profitably consider the cultural fantasies constituted in and reproduced by The Taming of the Shrew. To Sly's query whether the Kate and Petruchio play at hand is a "comonty," a "Christmas gambold," a "tumbling-trick," or some "household stuff (Ind. 2. 138, 140) Bartholomew—speaking right at the juncture between frame and inner play, right between the Warwickshire ground and its Padua displacement—solemnly rejects all these farcical categories. Instead, he insists: "No, my good lord, it is more pleasing stuff.… / It is a kind of history" (Ind. 2.139, 141). And so, perhaps, it is.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428
Berry, Ralph. "The Rules of the Game." In Shakespeare's Comedies, pp. 54-71. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Examines the play's view of the "rules of the game" of marriage as worked out in the relationship between Kate and Petruchio.
Bryant, J. A., Jr. "The Taming of the Shrew." In Shakespeare and the Uses of Comedy, pp. 98-113. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.
Focuses on the character of Kate while examining the place of The Taming of the Shrew in the development of Shakespeare's vision of comedy.
Carroll, William C. "The Taming of the Shrew and Marriage." In The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy, pp. 41-59. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
Presents the play, and particularly Kate's transformation, as an early example of "comic metamorphosis" in Shakespeare's plays.
Cooper, Marilyn M. "Implicature, Convention, and The Taming of the Shrew" Poetics 10, No. 1 (February 1981): 1-14.
Analyzes the verbal behavior of characters in The Taming of the Shrew as a key to various interpretations of the play.
Garner, Shirley Nelson. "The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or Outside of the Joke?" In "Bad" Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, edited by Maurice Charney, pp. 105-19. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988.
Reads the play as a joke "directed against a woman" and "written to please a misogynistic audience."
Hodgdon, Barbara. "Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life." PMLA 107, No. 3 (May 1992): 538-53.
Examines ways in which various stage, film, and television productions of The Taming of the Shrew reflect cultural debates about gender and subjectivity.
Moisan, Thomas. "Interlinear Trysting and 'Household Stuff : The Lesson and the Domestication of Learning in The Taming of the Shrew." Shakespeare Studies 23 (1995): 100-19.
Suggests that the scene in which Lucentio attempts to tutor Bianca in Latin sheds light on social issues that are reflected in the play, particularly Elizabethan concerns about the effects of classical education and of the education of women.
Thompson, Ann. Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, edited by Ann Thompson, pp. 1-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Discusses the play's critical and performance history and the debate over its date and sources.
Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor. "No Shrew, A Shrew, and The Shrew: Internal Revision in The Taming of the Shrew." In Shakespeare Text, Language, Criticism: Essays in Honour of Marvin Spevack, edited by Bernhard Fabian and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador, pp. 351-69. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1987.
Re-examines theories about the origin of the Folio text of The Taming of the Shrew and the relationship between Shakespeare's play and the more or less contemporary The Taming of a Shrew.
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