“But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure, Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.”

The Taming of the Shrew

Final thoughts

Sonnet #20

by Dennis Abrams

“Kate is a woman striving for her own existence in a world where she is a stale, a decoy to be bid for against her sister’s higher market value, so she opts out by becoming unmanageable, a scold. Bianca has found the women’s way of guile and feigned gentleness to pay better dividends: she woos for herself under false colours, manipulating her father and her suitors in a perilous game which could end in her ruin. Kate courts ruin in a different way, but she has the uncommon good fortune to find Petruchio who is man enough to know what he wants and how to get it. He wants her spirit and her energy because he wants a wife worth keeping. He tames her like he might a hawk or a high-mettle horse, and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty. Lucentio finds himself saddled with a cold, disloyal woman, who has no objection to humiliating him in public. The submission of a woman like Kate is genuine and exciting because she has something to lay down, her virgin pride and individuality: Bianca is the soul of duplicity, married without earnestness or good will. Kate’s speech at the close of the play is the greatest defence of Christian monogamy ever written.  It rests upon the role of a husband as protector and friend, and it is valid because Kate has a man who is capable of being both, for Petruchio is both gentle and strong (it is a vile distortion of the play to have him strike her ever). The message is probably twofold: only Kates make good wives, and then only to Petruchios; for the rest, their cake is dough.”

p 208-9 The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer.

And this, from Marjorie Garber discussing Kate and her final speech:

“It’s difficult to read — much less perform — these lines as ironic, given their similarity to…passages in The Comedy of Errors, and, more mundanely, given the length and sustained nature of Kate’s speech, which extends for more than forty lines, and culminates in the famous injunction to her fellow wives to swallow their pride and show their obedience and subservience.

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,

And 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.

We may note that Petruchio does not in fact demand this act of physical humbling but – quite to the contrary – greets the whole speech, and the whole performance, with an audience member’s praise, a tone of easy, familiar equality and a sexual invitation:  ‘Why, there’s a wench!  Come on, and kiss me, Kate.’  A few lines later his stage-clearing lines, ‘Come, Kate, we’ll to bed./We three are married, but you two are sped’ leave the two losers of the wager, Lucentio and Hortensio, to speak the final couplet, which demonstrates, as will so often be the case at the end of Shakespeare’s plays and especially his comedies, that there is still a discrepancy between what has been learned by those onstage and by the audience in the theater:

Hortensio:         Now go thy ways, thou has tames a curst shrew.

Lucentio:          ‘Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so.

One thing that has surely taken place in the course of the play is that Kate has been awakened into action, and perhaps also into passion, by her breaking away from her father and sister.  Cast in the role of ‘curst shrew’ or Ugly Duckling in the household of Baptista, where she is the ‘bad girl’ or bad daughter and Bianca the good daughter, Kate comes alive in her slanging matches with Petruchio.  Her final performance is for him, and seems to represent not an abandonment of her earlier independence, but a revised understanding of what freedom means, in sexuality and in marriage.  Bianca, whose name means ‘white,’ is pure and virginal but is also a blank slate; unrebellious as a child, she becomes, belatedly and at least for a comic moment, a rebellious wife rather than a defiant daughter.  The next time Shakespeare uses this name it will be for a courtesan in Othello, whose external ‘whiteness,’ or purity, is at variance with her profession.  The Widow, whose stage type reflects some ‘common wisdom’ about the supposed lustiness of women who remarry after their husbands deaths, shows the way in this rebellion, and since there is no preparation in the play for her marriage (Hortensio weds her quickly on the rebound from the rejection from Bianca) she can easily offer a model of a marriage of convenience and profit, rather than of love.  Whatever we may think of the sentiments voiced in Kate’s ‘obedience’ speech, Petruchio seems at least an appealing a figure as Lucentio (not to mention Hortensio) as a life partner and bed partner.

One pertinent questions we might ask is whether the play is ‘meant’ to be experienced from Kate’s perspective or from Petruchio’s.  There is, of course, no way to know Shakespeare’s ‘intension,’ a will-o’-the-wisp that has led many commentators astray.  What is more important here is to remember that stage plays, unlike novels, memoirs, or lyric poems, have no single point of view, and no narrative voice.  The play can be entered from many different perspectives – the Widow’s as well as Kate’s, Lucentio’s and Baptista’s as well as Petruchio’s – so that there is no single ‘right’ point of view.  [MY NOTE – think of Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.]  Indeed, it is one of Shakespeare’s brilliant gifts as a dramatist to provide, in almost every case, a credible contrary argument, onstage, to what might seem to be a prevailing viewpoint.  The ‘philosophy’ of Shakespeare’s plays is offered, always, contrapuntally, with opposing ideas placed in explicit juxtaposition.  These plays are not consellated around a single hero or heroine:  Taming is not ‘Kate’s story’ or ‘Petruchio’s story’ any more than King Lear is only the story of an errant and aging king, or Hamlet the story of an ambitious, thwarted, and melancholy prince.  The ‘main characters’ of the drama are linked to others, always, by analogy, by theme, and by language or image, so that Kate can be grouped with the women, with the daughters, and with her husband, as well as with the sleeping Christopher Sly, likewise caught between ‘flatt’ring dream’ and ‘worthless fancy.’  When in the Induction the cross-dressed page tells Sly, ‘I am your wife in all obedience’ the question of wifely obedience is already put in play – especially when the first thing this ‘wife’ does is to disobey her ‘husband’s’ peremptory command, ‘Madame, undress you, and come now to bed.’  From this delayed bedding to Petruchio’s ‘Come Kate, we’ll to bed’ at the end of act 5, the play will explore key questions of gender, sexuality, language, equality, freedom, duty, and desire.”

——————————

So what do you all think?  I am beginning to lean in this direction:  It is important, I think, to remember that the main portion of “Shrew” isn’t the “real-life” thing – that’s the Induction – we’re reading what is intentionally meant to be a play performed for Sly’s behalf.  And within the play within a play, nearly every character seems to be either in disguise or “performing,” be it Bianca’s various suitors and the permutations of disguise, or Petruchio’s hyper-performance wooing (or taming) Kate.  Given that – isn’t it likely that Kate’s ‘obedience’ speech is just as much a performance, just as much over-the top as Petruchio’s, and really “put on” as it were for the enjoyment of both her and Petruchio (and for the benefit of the “audience” of those on stage as well as the “audience,” Sly and his “wife” watching the performance?

—————————–

And two final things on The Taming of the Shrew:

From Maurice Charney:

The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy of transformation and metamorphosis, of suppositions and illusions like The Comedy of Errors.  We should not forget the elaborate induction that precedes the main play and introduces us to the theme of identity that can be so masterfully altered by histrionic means.  In The Taming of a Shrew, a later, ‘bad quarto’ version of Shakespeare’s play, the framing action of Christopher Sly is considerably extended, so that Sly ends up where he began, outside the alehouse, with memories of a wonderful dream like Bottom’s in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  But the transformation of Sly into a great lord is an experiment in acting, and the whole of The Taming of the Shrew is a play with a play intended to operate on Sly’s imagination like the ‘wanton pictures’ the music, and the appurtenances of upper-class life.

Notice how specifically the pictures recall Ovidian subjects in the Metamorphoses and the Art of Love.

Adonis painted by a running brook

And Cytherea all in sedges hid,

Which seem to move and wanton with her breath

Even as the waving sedges play with wind.

This is not a scene from Shakespeare’s own erotic poem, Venus and Adonis, although the spirit of seduction is there.  In some sense, Sly is being seduced into accepting the fact that he is a great lord and has finally awakened from his fifteen years’ dream that he was Christopher Sly, the tinker.  This had obvious analogies with the radical transformation of Kate and with the role-playing of Petruchio, the wife-tamer.  It is also linked with The Comedy of Errors, especially at the moment when Antipholus of Syracuse, after some questioning of himself, agrees to accept ‘the offered fallacy.’

As recognition of a new identity comes upon Sly, he suddenly shifts from a racy prose into a high-flown poetry (or partly high-flown, like Bottom’s):  ‘I see, I hear, I speak,/I smell sweet savors and I feel soft things.’  The ‘pleasant comedy’ that will be presented by the lord’s players is meant to frame Sly’s mind ‘to mirth and merriment,/Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life,’ but Sly wants to know:  ‘Is not a comontie [a comedy in Sly’s idiom] a Christmas gambold or a tumbling trick?’  Sly’s practical conception of drama is endearing, but we are still left to wonder how the induction connects with the play-within-a-play.  Is The Taming of the Shrew a pleasant comedy, one that will cure Sly’s settled melancholy (combined with a convincing hangover)?

Seeing the main play as an expression of the induction is a useful change of perspective.  If Sly is transformed, then aren’t Kate and Petruchio transformed too?  And what about Hortensio and his widow, Bianca, and Lucentio?  Aren’t they all transformed by love and marriage?  Isn’t that the point of comedy?  The Lord coming from hunting and discovering the drunken Sly anticipates the drunken Stephano and Trinculo finding Caliban in The Tempest:  ‘O Monstrous beat, how like a swine he lies!’  Aren’t Kate and Petruchio, too, ‘swinish’ in their own stubborn way until they undergo a metamorphosis in the name of love?  The Lord’s lines about the powers of dramatic illusion look forward to Duke Theseus’s speech on the lunatic, the lover, and the poet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The heart of the matter is that Sly should be persuaded ‘that he hath been lunatic,/And when he says he is, say that he dreams.’  This makes the play within a play look very much like the dream of the taming of the shrew.”

Or, finally, from W.H. Auden’s Lectures on Shakespeare:

“We shall not spend very much time on Taming of the Shrew.  It is the only play of Shakespeare’s that is a total failure…There is too much writing in The Taming of the Shrew for the limits of farce, and Shakespeare is not unaware of this.  He intended the Induction to comment on and expand the play by suggesting that the action is a daydream of Christopher Sly.  But the play’s a bore.  Either Petruchio should have been timid and then got drunk and tamed Katherina as she wished, or, after her beautiful speech, she should have picked up a stool and hit him over the head.”

——————

SONNET 20

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,

And 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.
We may note that Petruchio does not in fact demand this act of physical humbling but – quite to the contrary – greets the whole speech, and the whole performance, with an audience member’s praise, a tone of easy, familiar equality and a sexual invitation:  ‘Why, there’s a wench!  Come on, and kiss me, Kate.’  A few lines later his stage-clearing lines, ‘Come, Kate, we’ll to bed./We three are married, but you two are sped’ leave the two losers of the wager, Lucentio and Hortensio, to speak the final couplet, which demonstrates, as will so often be the case at the end of Shakespeare’s plays and especially his comedies, that there is still a discrepancy between what has been learned by those onstage and by the audience in the theater:

Hortensio:         Now go thy ways, thou has tames a curst shrew.

Lucentio:          ‘Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so.

One thing that has surely taken place in the course of the play is that Kate has been awakened into action, and perhaps also into passion, by her breaking away from her father and sister.  Cast in the role of ‘curst shrew’ or Ugly Duckling in the household of Baptista, where she is the ‘bad girl’ or bad daughter and Bianca the good daughter, Kate comes alive in her slanging matches with Petruchio.  Her final performance is for him, and seems to represent not an abandonment of her earlier independence, but a revised understanding of what freedom means, in sexuality and in marriage.  Bianca, whose name means ‘white,’ is pure and virginal but is also a blank slate; unrebellious as a child, she becomes, belatedly and at least for a comic moment, a rebellious wife rather than a defiant daughter.  The next time Shakespeare uses this name it will be for a courtesan in Othello, whose external ‘whiteness,’ or purity, is at variance with her profession.  The Widow, whose stage type reflects some ‘common wisdom’ about the supposed lustiness of women who remarry after their husbands deaths, shows the way in this rebellion, and since there is no preparation in the play for her marriage (Hortensio weds her quickly on the rebound from the rejection from Bianca) she can easily offer a model of a marriage of convenience and profit, rather than of love.  Whatever we may think of the sentiments voiced in Kate’s ‘obedience’ speech, Petruchio seems at least an appealing a figure as Lucentio (not to mention Hortensio) as a life partner and bed partner.

One pertinent questions we might ask is whether the play is ‘meant’ to be experienced from Kate’s perspective or from Petruchio’s.  There is, of course, no way to know Shakespeare’s ‘intension,’ a will-o’-the-wisp that has led many commentators astray.  What is more important here is to remember that stage plays, unlike novels, memoirs, or lyric poems, have no single point of view, and no narrative voice.  The play can be entered from many different perspectives – the Widow’s as well as Kate’s, Lucentio’s and Baptista’s as well as Petruchio’s – so that there is no single ‘right’ point of view.  [MY NOTE – think of Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.]  Indeed, it is one of Shakespeare’s brilliant gifts as a dramatist to provide, in almost every case, a credible contrary argument, onstage, to what might seem to be a prevailing viewpoint.  The ‘philosophy’ of Shakespeare’s plays is offered, always, contrapuntally, with opposing ideas placed in explicit juxtaposition.  These plays are not consellated around a single hero or heroine:  Taming is not ‘Kate’s story’ or ‘Petruchio’s story’ any more than King Lear is only the story of an errant and aging king, or Hamlet the story of an ambitious, thwarted, and melancholy prince.  The ‘main characters’ of the drama are linked to others, always, by analogy, by theme, and by language or image, so that Kate can be grouped with the women, with the daughters, and with her husband, as well as with the sleeping Christopher Sly, likewise caught between ‘flatt’ring dream’ and ‘worthless fancy.’  When in the Induction the cross-dressed page tells Sly, ‘I am your wife in all obedience’ the question of wifely obedience is already put in play – especially when the first thing this ‘wife’ does is to disobey her ‘husband’s’ peremptory command, ‘Madame, undress you, and come now to bed.’  From this delayed bedding to Petruchio’s ‘Come Kate, we’ll to bed’ at the end of act 5, the play will explore key questions of gender, sexuality, language, equality, freedom, duty, and desire.”

So what do you all think?  I am beginning to lean in this direction:  It is important, I think, to remember that the main portion of “Shrew” isn’t the “real-life” thing – that’s the Induction – we’re reading what is intentionally meant to be a play performed for Sly’s behalf.  And within the play within a play, nearly every character seems to be either in disguise or “performing,” be it Bianca’s various suitors and the permutations of disguise, or Petruchio’s hyper-performance wooing (or taming) Kate.  Given that – isn’t it likely that Kate’s ‘obedience’ speech is just as much a performance, just as much over-the top as Petruchio’s, and really “put on” as it were for the enjoyment of both her and Petruchio (and for the benefit of the “audience” of those on stage as well as the “audience,” Sly and his “wife” watching the performance?

And two last things:

From Maurice Charney:

The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy of transformation and metamorphosis, of suppositions and illusions like The Comedy of Errors.  We should not forget the elaborate induction that precedes the main play and introduces us to the theme of identity that can be so masterfully altered by histrionic means.  In The Taming of a Shrew, a later, ‘bad quarto’ version of Shakespeare’s play, the framing action of Christopher Sly is considerably extended, so that Sly ends up where he began, outside the alehouse, with memories of a wonderful dream like Bottom’s in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  But the transformation of Sly into a great lord is an experiment in acting, and the whole of The Taming of the Shrew is a play with a play intended to operate on Sly’s imagination like the ‘wanton pictures’ the music, and the appurtenances of upper-class life.

Notice how specifically the pictures recall Ovidian subjects in the Metamorphoses and the Art of Love.

Adonis painted by a running brook

And Cytherea all in sedges hid,

Which seem to move and wanton with her breath

Even as the waving sedges play with wind.

This is not a scene from Shakespeare’s own erotic poem, Venus and Adonis, although the spirit of seduction is there.  In some sense, Sly is being seduced into accepting the fact that he is a great lord and has finally awakened from his fifteen years’ dream that he was Christopher Sly, the tinker.  This had obvious analogies with the radical transformation of Kate and with the role-playing of Petruchio, the wife-tamer.  It is also linked with The Comedy of Errors, especially at the moment when Antipholus of Syracuse, after some questioning of himself, agrees to accept ‘the offered fallacy.’

As recognition of a new identity comes upon Sly, he suddenly shifts from a racy prose into a high-flown poetry (or partly high-flown, like Bottom’s):  ‘I see, I hear, I speak,/I smell sweet savors and I feel soft things.’  The ‘pleasant comedy’ that will be presented by the lord’s players is meant to frame Sly’s mind ‘to mirth and merriment,/Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life,’ but Sly wants to know:  ‘Is not a comontie [a comedy in Sly’s idiom] a Christmas gambold or a tumbling trick?’  Sly’s practical conception of drama is endearing, but we are still left to wonder how the induction connects with the play-within-a-play.  Is The Taming of the Shrew a pleasant comedy, one that will cure Sly’s settled melancholy (combined with a convincing hangover)?

Seeing the main play as an expression of the induction is a useful change of perspective.  If Sly is transformed, then aren’t Kate and Petruchio transformed too?  And what about Hortensio and his widow, Bianca, and Lucentio?  Aren’t they all transformed by love and marriage?  Isn’t that the point of comedy?  The Lord coming from hunting and discovering the drunken Sly anticipates the drunken Stephano and Trinculo finding Caliban in The Tempest:  ‘O Monstrous beat, how like a swine he lies!’  Aren’t Kate and Petruchio, too, ‘swinish’ in their own stubborn way until they undergo a metamorphosis in the name of love?  The Lord’s lines about the powers of dramatic illusion look forward to Duke Theseus’s speech on the lunatic, the lover, and the poet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The heart of the matter is that Sly should be persuaded ‘that he hath been lunatic,/And when he says he is, say that he dreams.’  This makes the play within a play look very much like the dream of the taming of the shrew.”

Or, finally, from W.H. Auden:

“We shall not spend very much time on Taming of the Shrew.  It is the only play of Shakespeare’s that is a total failure…There is too much writing in The Taming of the Shrew for the limits of farce, and Shakespeare is not unaware of this.  He intended the Induction to comment on and expand the play by suggesting that the action is a daydream of Christopher Sly.  But the play’s a bore.  Either Petruchio should have been timid and then got drunk and tamed Katherina as she wished, or, after her beautiful speech, she should have picked up a stool and hit him over the head.”

———————–

SONNET 20

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

SONNET 20 PARAPHRASE
A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted A woman’s face, colored by Nature’s own hand
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; Have you, the master/mistress of my desire;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted You have a woman’s gentle heart, but you are not prone
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion; To fickle change, as is the way with women;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling, You have eyes brighter than their eyes, and more sincere,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth; Lighting up the very object that they look upon;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling, You are a man in shape and form, and all men are in your control,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth. You catch the attention of men and amaze women’s souls [hearts].
And for a woman wert thou first created; You were originally intended to be a woman;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting, Until Nature, made a mistake in making you,
And by addition me of thee defeated, And by adding one extra thing [Nature] defeated me,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing. By adding one thing she has prevented me from fully having you,
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure, But since Nature equipped you for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure. Let your body be their treasure, and let me have your love.

ANALYSIS

with…painted (1):a natural beauty.

master-mistress (2): likely male-mistress. This line is hotly debated. Please see commentary below for more.

false (4): unfaithful.

rolling (5): straying.

Gilding (6): making the object seem golden.

Sonnet 20 has caused much debate. Some scholars believe that this is a clear admission of Shakespeare’s homosexuality. Despite the fact that male friendships in the Renaissance were openly affectionate, the powerful emotions the poet displays here are indicative of a deep and sensual love. The poet’s lover is ‘the master-mistress of [his] passion’. He has the grace and features of a woman but is devoid of the guile and pretense that comes with female lovers; those wily women with eyes ‘false in rolling’, who change their moods and affections like chameleons. Lines 9-14 are of particular interest to critics on both sides of the homosexual debate. Some argue these lines show that, despite his love for the young man, the poet does not want to ‘have’ him physically. The poet proclaims that he is content to let women enjoy the ‘manly gifts’ that God has given his friend. He is satisfied to love the young man in a spiritual way. But others contend that Shakespeare had to include this disclaimer, due to the homophobia of the time. “The meaning is conveyed not just by what is said but by the tone. The argument may serve to clear Shakespeare of the charge of a serious offense…” (Spender, 99).

And a slightly deeper commentary:

Commentary

1. A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Nature is depicted as the artist painting, or creating, the young man’s face. The point being made is that the face is as beautiful as that of a woman, but better in that it has none of the defects associated with female beauty. Also implied is that the face is natural, not disfigured by cosmetics, giving it superiority over a female face, which was so often false and artificial.
2. Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
the master mistress – probably intended to be enigmatic, implying that the young man evokes the adoration and devotion which would be due to a mistress, but that he is also masterly in controlling his devotees. It could conceivably suggest that the young man was an androgynous type, having the sexual characteristics of male and female. Some therefore interpret it as meaning ‘you, the object of my homosexual desire’. However the word passion does not usually in Shakespeare have the meaning of sexual desire or infatuation. Its more frequent use is that derived from Christ’s passion on the cross, and it means suffering, or affliction. It can also mean mental derangement, or an attack of frenzy as a result of such. It was also used at the time to describe a heartfelt speech, and could be extended to cover the production of a series of sonnets, such as these. One could therefore paraphrase it as ‘You, whose face was created by nature herself, inspire in me these deeply felt verses. You master my soul, but you also make me adore you as I would a mistress’.
3. A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
272-3. Indeed one would be hard put to imagine Cordelia subjected to the vices of fickleness and duplicity here described. Heroines of the later plays also are unusually close to perfection – Hermione and Perdita in A Winter’s Tale, Imogen in Cymbeline, and Miranda in The Tempest. This may indicate a relatively early date for this sonnet. On the other hand one may take this part of the sonnet as a comparatively conventional description of the worse side of female character, brought in to point up by contrast the excellence of the youth who is the inspiration of the sonnets.but not acquainted can also mean ‘not having a quaint’, a slang word for cunt in Elizabethan times. See KDJ Sonn. p.150, n3-4. Reinforced by the secondary meaning of l.4. (See below).
4. With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion:
Proverbial characterisation of women in general. With shifting change implies continually changing one’s mind. Shakespeare would have known Virgil’s comment Varium, et mutabile semper femina – A woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing. Aeneid IV.569. shifting change could also refer to changing of clothing, which women would require to do more often owing to menstruation. Hence the youth was even superior to them in that respect. (Cf. Sir, I would advise you to shift a shirt… If my shirt were bloody, then to shift it. Cymb I.2.1).
5. An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
less false in rolling – the rolling eye was perhaps productive of the strange oeilliads and most speaking looks referred to in Lear, IV.5.25, where Regan is describing her sister’s amorous advances to Edmund. It suggests flirtatiousness and duplicity.
6. Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
Gilding = giving a golden sheen to. Cf. Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy. XXXIII l.4. whereupon = upon which. The eye was thought to send out rays which touched the objects it saw.
7. A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
hue = appearance, aspect of the face; complexion, colour. (But see the note on hews, the Quarto spelling, in the Introduction above.) his can either be taken with man or with controlling. The general sense is that the youth is a man in appearance, embracing all manly features in himself; or that his appearance is so sublimely that of a man that all who surround him are dominated by him and take their cue (as to appearance, behaviour etc.) from him. A few commentators have seen in this line a reference to a man called Hughes, based on Q’s italicisation of Hews, but there is no supporting evidence for this, other than the line’s undoubted opacity. It may be that there is a meaning buried in it that was obvious to the original circle of readers, but it is unlikely that we will ever recover it. (See above).
8. Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
Which refers to hue, possibly also to A man in the previous line. steals = takes possession of, overwhelms. Similar to the sense of steal in to steal the scene.
9. And for a woman wert thou first created;
And you were first created as a woman. for = as.
10. Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
Nature, as she was making you, fell hopelessly in love with you.
11. And by addition me of thee defeated,
Renaissance vase There is a passage in Plato’s Charmides which might have given rise to the humour of these lines. Chaerophon and the others are admiring Charmides, and praising him to Socrates. ‘Then Chaerophon called me and said ‘What do you think of the young man, Socrates? Has he not a handsome face?’ ‘Exceedingly so’ I replied. ‘But,’ he said, ‘if you were to unclothe him, he would appear to you to have no face at all; for his form and shape is so perfect’. The others all agreed with Chaerophon, and assured me of the same thing. So I said ‘Good Heavens! you would declare him to be completely incomparable if there were one other thing, some small addition, which could by chance be made to him’. ‘What is that?’ said Critias. ‘If his soul also were as well made as his body’. etc. (Charmides. 154D.) It is unlikely that Shakespeare looked at the original Greek, but in the circles in which he moved such passages might well have been discussed, and the general ambience of Plato’s world of young men, with their older admirers, might not have been too far removed from that of the small coterie of men surrounding the beautiful youth of the sonnets. All Plato’s works had been translated into Latin not later than 1499, by Marcilio Ficino of Florence. No doubt these translations would have been available in English libraries, to some of which Shakespeare and his circle would have had access.by addition me of thee defeated = by the addition (of a penis) Nature deprived me of you. Nature, being female, would require the one she loved to be male.
12. By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
By adding is tautological, since by addition occurs in the previous line. However it reads fairly easily, and perhaps emphasises the superfluous nature of the addition from the poet’s viewpoint. one thing to my purpose nothing = one thing (a penis) which is irrelevant. The sense of this could be that he loves the youth as a man loves a woman, and therefore his love having a penis is nothing to the purpose, for he would prefer him to have a woman’s body.
13. But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
she = Nature; prick’d thee out = made a mark on the tally sheet (that you were to be a man); gave you a prick. See 2H4III.2.152etc., where Falstaff enrols soldiers by ‘pricking’ them on his list. OED 17a. gives 1592 as the earliest recorded date of the use of prick = penis, recording it as coarse slang. But, as with all coarse terms, its use, though unrecorded, is probably much earlier.
14. Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.
‘The merely physical love of which you are capable may be set aside for women’s use. But love substantive, that which the soul delights in, may be reserved for me.’ There clearly is an opposition set up here between two aspects of love, aided by the use of puns and references to genitalia, and the fact that one can love even though deprived of the enjoyment of the latter.
———–
What are your thoughts?  Is there any other to read it except as a declaration of gay love?  Could it be a mere exercise in sonnet writing?
————-
And finally our next reading: 
Titus Andronicus, Act One  (This post has definitely run long, so I’ll give you some introductory material etc., in my next post — Thursday evening/Friday morning.)
Enjoy
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10 Responses to “But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure, Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.”

  1. By the end of Act 1 of Titus I am already drunk on blood. Horrific with worse to come.

    • I’m looking forward to this one, honestly. I’ll have a lot to say about the blood,. the gore, and how it was Shakespeare’s attempt (I think) to escape from Christopher Marlowe’s influence by out Marlowing him, as it were. Or…is it, as Camille Paglia insists, intentionally so over-the-top, such an attempt to parody Spencer that it’s a comedy? Much to talk about, obviously.

  2. GGG says:

    I haven’t started Titus yet, but have a comment on the sonnet.

    For pictures of an Elizabethan “metrosexual” man, you can look at the Wikipedia entry for Henry Wriosthley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Wriothesley,_3rd_Earl_of_Southampton

    One portrait of him was thought for hundreds of years to be of “Lady Norton,” until it was identified a few years ago as Wriosthley (This is the Cobbe portrait of Wriosthley.) He was the patron Shakespeare dedicated two long poems to, and some people think he was the youth addressed in the sonnets.

    So when I read sonnet 20, the portraits of Wriosthley pop into my head, and it makes perfect sense. Not that I’m saying he was the actual subject of this poem!

    I wish we had titles to the sonnets, not just numbers: “To my dear lover John on getting his first wrinkle…” might have helped us all out!

  3. Suzanne Parke says:

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Shakespeare was in love with a youth. The early sonnets prove this and sonnet 20 is about as obvious as it gets. I’m surpized that the commentary doesn’t mention the word ‘nothing’ as often refering to a women’s gentalia. I forget where I read this, but it kind of goes with the idea that if a prick is an addition that makes a man- take it away and nothing is woman. I don’t think that Shakespeare was only in love with men- if you read the later sonnets there is definitly something going on with a woman.

  4. Chris says:

    This sonnet inspires a low-rent scandal-sheet article, “I Didn’t Know Shakespeare Was Gay, and I Don’t Mean Merry, Mary.”
    Very interesting!

  5. Mahood says:

    W.H. Auden’s summation of Taming of the Shrew: a total failure…too much writing in [it]…the play’s a bore…

    That seems to be a remarkably limited summary of the play – sure, it’s no Hamlet/King Lear etc. but it’s a fascinating text nonetheless.

  6. Eddie Chism says:

    I always found it interesting that so many of the sonnets are addressed to a male in a time when homosexuality was so taboo, but I don’t think I had read this one before. I had no idea there was such explicit reference!

    • Very. Of course there are questions: Was the guy he was addressing also his patron? Were the sonnets ever intended to be read by anyone other than him? Were they just “exercises” in writing and not necessarily the autobiographical glimpses we think they are?

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