The Taming of The Shrew
Acts Two and Three
By Dennis Abrams
From the 1929 film version of The Taming of the Shrew starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Mary Pickford. The film featured the immortal screen credit: “Based on William Shakespeare’s comedy…with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.”
Act Two: Katherine attempts to bully Bianca into telling her which suitor she prefers before they arrive. Petruchio offers himself to Baptista as a suitable suitor for Katherine and is immediately accepted; he also presents Hortensio (disguised as Licio) as a music teacher for the two sisters. Gremio responds by introducing Lucentio (disguised as Cambio) as a teacher, while Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) offers himself up as a third suitor for Bianca. Hortensio/Licio finds himself suffering at the hands of Katherine (a lute to the head), but Petruchio manages to more than hold his own. MEANWHILE, Gremio and Tranio (still disguised as Lucentio) attempt to win fair Bianca’s hand by comparing the size of their…financial holdings.
Act Three: Bianca is under siege from both Hortensio and Lucentio, both of whom secretly reveal their identities in an attempt to win her hand. Petruchio shocks the Minola family by showing up late, shabby and unkempt for his wedding to Katherine. After the ceremony, Petruchio insists that he and Katherine cannot attend the planned wedding dinner, but must leave immediately.
1. Tanner was right. One thing that leaps out at me is the sheer mercenary aspect of marriage: Baptista virtually buying Petruchio with the promised dower, “After my death the one half of my lands,/And in possession twenty thousand crowns;” Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) and Gremio comparing the size of their…wallets as they bid for Bianca “First, as you know, my house within the city” vs. “I’ll leave her houses three or four as good,” “Ten thousand ducats by the year of land!…That she shall have, beside an argosy,” vs. “Gremio, ‘tis known my father hath no less/Than three great argosies, besides two galliasses/And twelve tight galleys…Why, then the maid is mine from all the world/By your firm promise. Gremio is outvied,” leading to Baptista’s “I must confess your offer is the best,/And let your father make her the assurance/She is your own, else you must pardon me.”
2. I loved the music of Petruchio’s first speech to Katherine:
You lie, in faith, for you are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst.
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate Hall, my superdainty Kate,
For dainties are all cates, the therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of all my consolation:
Hearing thy mildness praised in every town,
Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,
Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife.
3. And, of course the banter – the seemingly hard-fought battle of wit and spirit between Katherine and Petruchio:
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Katherine: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where the wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Katherine: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katherine: Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail?
Is their a flirtation going on underneath the competitiveness? It sounds to me not unlike the romantic comedy banter of the 1940s – Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday comes to mind. And while in this scene Petruchio does, momentarily at least, silence Katherine with his obscene pun (she goes on to slap him, to which he responds with a threat of violence “I swear I’ll cuff you if you strike again”), he will not have the final word. Shakespeare, I think, does make clear that sexual attraction can and does blossom from this kind of banter (as we will see in later comedies such as As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing.
Harold Bloom picks up on this aspect of Shrew:
“…Several feminist critics have asserted that Kate marries Petruchio against her will, which is simply untrue. Though you have to read carefully to see it, Petruchio is accurate when he insists that Kate fell in love with him at first sight. How could she not? Badgered into violence and vehemence by her dreadful father Baptista, who greatly prefers the authentic shrew, his insipid younger daughter, Bianca, the high-spirited Kate desperately needs rescue. The swaggering Petruchio provokes a double reaction in her: outwardly furious, inwardly smitten. The perpetual popularity of the Shrew does not derive from male sadism but from the sexual excitation of women and men alike.
The Shrew is as much a romantic comedy as it is a farce. The mutual roughness of Kate and Petruchio makes a primal appeal, and yet the humor of their relationship is highly sophisticated. The amiable ruffian Petruchio is actually an ideal – that is to say an overdetermined – choice for Kate in her quest to free herself from a household situation far more maddening than Petruchio’s antic zaniness. Roaring on the outside, Petruchio is something else within, as Kate gets to see, understand, and control, with his final approval. Their rhetorical war begins as mutual sexual provocation, which Petruchio replaces, after marriage, with his hyperbolic game of childish tantrums. It is surely worth remarking that Kate, whatever her initial sufferings as to food, costume, and so on, has only one true moment of agony: when Petruchio’s deliberately tardy arrival for the wedding makes her fear she has been jilted:
Baptista: Signor Lucentio, this is the ‘pointed day
That Katherine and Petruchio should be married,
And yet we hear not of our son-in-law.
What will be said: What mockery will it be
To want the bridegroom where the priest attends
To speak the ceremonial rites of marriage!
What says Lucentio to this shame of ours?
Katherine: No shame but mine. I must forsooth be forc’d
To give my hand, oppos’d against my heart,
Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen,
Who woo’d in haste and means to wed at leisure.
I told you, I, he was a frantic fool,
Hiding his bitter jests in blunt behaviour.
And to be noted for a merry man
He’ll woo a thousand, ‘point the day of marriage,
Make feast, invite friends, and proclaim the banns,
Yet never means to wed where he hath woo’d.
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.’
Tranio: Patience, good Katherine, and Baptista too.
Upon my life, Petruchio means but well,
Whatever fortune stays him from his word.
Though to be blunt, I know him passing wise;
Though he be merry, yet withal he’s honest.
Katherine: Would Katherine had never seen him though.
Exit weeping [followed by Bianca and attendants].
No one enjoys being jilted, but this is not the anxiety of an unwilling bride. Kate, authentically in love, nevertheless is unnerved by the madcap Petruchio, lest he turn out to be an obsessive practical joker, betrothed to half of Italy. When, after the ceremony, Petruchio refuses to allow his bride to attend her own wedding feast, he crushes what he calls her ‘spirit to resist’ with a possessive diatribe firmly founded upon the doubtless highly patriarchal Tenth Commandment.
They shall go forward Kate, at thy command.
Obey the bride, you that attend on her.
Go to the feast, revel and domineer,
Carouse full measure to her maidenhead,
Be made and merry, or go hang yourselves.
But for my bonny Kate, she must with me.
Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret;
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything,
And here she stands. Touch her whoever dare!
I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he
That stops my way in Padua. Grumio,
Draw forth thy weapon, we are beset with thieves,
Rescue thy mistress if thou be a man.
Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch thee, Kate.
I’ll buckler thee against a million.
Exeunt Petruchio, Katharina [and Grumio].
This histrionic departure, with Petruchio and Grumio brandishing drawn swords, is a symbolic carrying-off, and begins Petruchio’s almost phantasmagoric ‘cure’ of poor Kate, which will continue until at last she discovers how to tame the swaggerer.”
For the weekend:
The Taming of the Shrew
Acts Four and Five
And enjoy your weekend.
And for a bonus…I had written this in response to a comment from one of our reader’s Pat Rosier. I had asked last weekend, in regard to Sonnet #19, why causing wrinkles on his beloved’s brow is the worst crime that Time can do. I found this as a possible answer:
The governing metaphor of Sonnet 19 is Time is a destroyer, the effects of Time has on the world, and its transformative abilities.
Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood; (lines 1-4)
The first quatrain starts with an apostrophe-an address, often to an absent person, a force, or a quality-to “devouring Time,” which comes from the proverb “time devours all things.” This proverb is also found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book XV, 1.234). Time is set up as being monstrous; Time is greedily eating up life. Lion’s symbolize dominion, and they are often called the “king of beasts.” Hercules was “often portrayed as defeating lions in combat-a representation of the victory of the human intellect over animalistic nature” (209). Time makes the lion’s claws blunt (dull/ not sharp), in doing so Time is essentially stripping them of what makes them a powerful animal. Time makes Mother Nature eat/kill her offspring, which is completely against her natural inclinations. Tigers have long been seen as powerful animals that inspire both fear and wonder. In Chinese culture, they are greatly revered for warding off danger, and often times you will see tiger statues around houses and building to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. The tiger was also “esteemed because it drove off (or destroyed) the wild boar that threatened the farmer’s crops” (344). Time pluck’s (pull/ pick out) the tiger’s keen (sharp) teeth from its jaw, which, like the lion, is part of what makes the tiger a tiger. The phoenix is widely associated with immortality; the bird gathers twigs from all over and builds a nest, which catches fire and the bird is consumed by the fire and from the fire’s ashes a new phoenix arises. It originates from the sacred Egyptian bird Benu, which is “a heron said to have been the first creature to alight on the hill that came into being out of the primordial ooze. Benu was revered in Heliopolis as a manifestation of the sun god” (264). Time does not allow the phoenix to be reborn, instead it just dies in the flames; Time takes away the phoenix’s immortality. Time is doing unnatural things; such as, de-lionizing the lion, de-tigerizing the tiger, de-maternalizing mother earth, and de-immortalizing the phoenix. Time is committing crimes against nature.
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets,
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime: (5-8)
The second quatrain celebrates the paradox of dying beauty. The speaker observes that seasons are both glad and sorry about the swift passage of time. Nature is submissive to Time; nature accepts that Time is going to do whatever it wants to do, and there is nothing nature can do about it so nature is resigned to Time’s whims. The last line of the second quatrain belongs more with the third quatrain, because it introduces Time as committing a heinous (shockingly evil) crime against the beloved young man. The speaker takes on a dominate voice when he FORBIDS time from committing this heinous crime.
O carve not with thy hours my loves fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow,
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men. (9-12)
In the third quatrain, the speaker tells Time what the heinous crime is; to draw lines (i.e. wrinkles) on the young man’s forehead, to make him appear older would be the most heinous crime that Time could commit. Time is transformed into an artist-first into a sculptor, then a painter, who defaces Nature’s masterpiece with his antique pen. Time as an artist is creates ugliness, instead of preserving beauty, which is something that the speaker cannot allow to happen. The speaker wants Time to leave the young man untainted (undefiled/ untouched), in order to preserve the standard of beauty for future generations.
Yet do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young. (13-4)
In the rhyming couplet, the speaker seems to dare Time to do his absolute worst on the young man, even though it would be wrong for Time to do so. The speaker dares Time, because he knows that no matter what time does to his beloved, the young man will remain beautiful in the speaker’s verse. The speaker uses the word “love,” which can denote both the word “beloved” and it could be used to show the poet’s feeling of passion and/or affection for the young man.
Helen Vendler adds: “Time does what is natural to it (it overthrows monuments, etc.), but here it does, in the first quatrain, exclusively unnatural things, de-lionizing the lion, de-tigerizing the tiger, de-maternalizing Mother Earth, and de-immortalizing the phoenix. These are not devourings — nor are they things that, in the normal course of time, Time does, and contra Naturam (against Nature) is one of the most powerful accusations available to Shakespeare’s Renaissance speaker.
We must deduce that even Time is not allowed these acts in the ordinary governed course of Nature; a tiger with blunted paws, a devouring Gaia, a toothless tiger, and a mortal phoenix would each be a lusus Naturae. (a freak of nature). Such acts on Time’s part would be genuine crimes against Nature, as making lions grow old, e.g., would not be. We are to deduce that the young man, as beauty’s pattern would in the course of things be naturally exempt, as a Platonic form (a being nobler even than the Phoenix), from Time’s destruction. Consequently, the most heinous crime is not per se the wrinkling of a young man’s brow, but the destruction of one of the forms that Nature needs as patterns to create more creatures from: She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby/Thou should print more, said the version putting the responsibility of self-reproduction on the young man (sonnet 11); but here the perpetuation of pattern is shifted to Nature and Time.