Taming of the Shrew, Part I

Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.

A few weeks ago I went to see The Taming of the Shrew with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.

I have seen many of Shakespeares plays performed live over the years (The first I remember is probably Comedy of Errors, and the most recent was A Winter's Tale) and have always enjoyed his unique wordplay and turn of phrase, even when I find his stories lacking in originality, truth, or powerful characters.

Taming of the Shrew, for those of you unfamiliar with the plot, is the story of how various plots and disguises are employed in the wooing of two sisters, fair and gentle Bianca and strong-willed, free spirited Kate.

Baptista: Katharina, you may stay [. . .]

Kate: Why, and I trust I may go too, may I not? What,
shall I be appointed hours; as though, belike, I
knew not what to take and what to leave, ha?

Their father, Baptista, refuses to allow Bianca to be courted until her older sister is married off, and so a handful of winsome suitors find themselves stymied in their efforts to win Bianca's hand.

Gremio: I say, a devil. Thinkest thou, Hortensio, though
her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool
to be married to hell?

Hortensio: Tush, Gremio, though it pass your patience and mine
to endure her loud alarums, why, man, there be good
fellows in the world, an a man could light on them,
would take her with all faults, and money enough.

When the rough-and-tumble Petruchio arrives to visit one of their number, they ask him to court and win Kate's hand to free their path to their prize, and Petruchio accepts.

The rest of the play is taken up in a two-pronged plot. One is the way in which the suitors court Bianca, and one is the manner in which Petruchio tames Kate enough to make her not only marriable (for she has little choice in that manner) but turns her anger and transforms her from an angry shrew into a demur and kindhearted lady.

At first blush, when Petruchio is introduced, he jokingly implies that dowry is the only item of any concern to him in the choosing of a wife, though he has money enough and lands at home.

Petruchio: Signior Hortensio, 'twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio's wife,
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,
Affection's 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.

When Petruchio first meats Baptista, even he has become so frustrated with his oldest that he scorns her.

Petruchio: And you, good sir! Pray, have you not a daughter
Call'd Katharina, fair and virtuous?

Baptista:I have a daughter, sir, called Katharina.

And yet Baptista is no fool or callous hearted father. He cares for his daughters, both, even if he cannot always show it most plainly to them. He cautions Petruchio when they are discussing the details of the financial arrangements of the marriage

Baptista: Ay, when the special thing is well obtain'd,
That is, her love; for that is all in all.

And so it is that when Petruchio is first given a chance to meet the woman for whose hand he has already asked her father, he speaks plainly that he will turn the tables on her, overwhelming her with contradictions so that he might get to the heart of the matter.

Petruchio: I will attend her here,
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
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:
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I'll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence:
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week:
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns and when be married.
But here she comes; and now, Petruchio, speak.

And so the wooing begins. When she enters the scene the conversation is both bold and fierce, critical and honest. Flirtatious and callous and kindhearted and jesting. Petruchio holds his own against Kate and asserts that he is charmed by her and that all the world is full of fools if they think her anything but winsome. And before the scene has ended he stakes his claim and tells her plainly that he means to win her for himself.

Petruchio:[. . .]
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
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.

And here we see no words of dowry or power or wealth, but rather words of beauty, and yet of taming. For to tame a beautiful but wild thing is to win for yourself something beyond precious.

And so we will soon come to the heart of my writing (though I'm already two pages in, and most of these so far the words of another man, now long in the earth).

To Be Continued.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


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