The Taming of the Shrew as Biblical Commentary (part 6)

When Katherine and Petruchio finally meet, their initial dialogue is a hilarious exchange of insults and innuendo which incorporates language about the creation of men and women:

Petruchio

Why, what’s a movable?

Katharina

A joint stool.

Petruchio

Thou hast hit it. Come, sit on me.

Katharina

Asses are made to bear, and so are you.

Petruchio

Women are made to bear, and so are you.

Katharina

No such jade as you, if me you mean.

In this and the other barbs they exchange, both Petruchio and Katherine attempt to force each other into submission. Katherine compares Petruchio to inanimate objects (“a joint stool”) and animals (“asses” and a “jade,” which David Bevington identifies as “an ill-conditioned horse”).[1] In so doing, she is attempting to establish mastery over him like the mastery she has over other objects and animals, as well as other men, whom she treats as objects and animals. Petruchio responds by reminding her of the expectations of women in Elizabethan society to “bear” their husbands and, subsequently, to “bear” children. To this she responds with her usual rebuffs against such expectations. As the two go round with each other, each discovers in the other an equal match, the first which either of them have encountered, though neither of them is willing yet to acknowledge it. When Baptista and the other men return, Petruchio proclaims to them that “‘tis incredible to believe / How much she loves me.”[2] While it is tempting to reject this as a lie by Petruchio, especially given that much of what follows in the same statement is clearly false and Kate attempts to protest at such statements by Petruchio, Harold Bloom offers the best explanation for what has occurred: “the swaggering Petruchio provokes a double reaction in her: outwardly furious, inwardly smitten.”[3]

Indeed, this is the only explanation which can take into account Katherine’s behavior in the scene in which she next appears, waiting outside of the church for a very late Petruchio to arrive to their wedding. After worrying aloud, in a monologue that is remarkably uncharacteristic of a shrew, what people will think of her now that Petruchio has apparently abandoned her, Katherine exclaims, “Would Katharine had never seen him, though!,” followed by the stage direction “Exit weeping.”[4]

Petruchio does at last arrive and the marriage ceremony is completed, all in a manner that is consistent with the abrupt and over-the-top personality of Petruchio. As the wedding guests begin to make their way to the banquet following the ceremony, Shakespeare once again delves into explicit biblical commentary, taking up the opportunity to satirize a too-literal reading of the Tenth Commandment. Petruchio prevents Katherine from going with the guests to the wedding banquet, declaring,

I will be master of what is my 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.[5]

The scene is typical of the Petruchio’s outrageousness, yet serves a practical purpose. Petruchio here binds Katherine to himself, making her “bone of my bones / and flesh of my flesh,” in the words of Adam in Genesis, by separating her from her father and the rest of those of her household and hometown. As Petruchio continues, he presents himself as the rescuer and defender of Katherine against her family:

I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he

That stops my way in Padua.—Grumio,

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.[6]

As Marion D. Perret writes in her “Petruchio: The Model Wife,” “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.”[7] This “brilliant stroke” then “forces Kate into the traditional feminine role.”[8]

The remainder of Katherine’s “taming” once she enters into Petruchio’s home is taken up by a series of scenes in which Petruchio implicitly questions her trespasses of his prerogatives by trespassing into territory traditionally assigned to the woman of the household. Upon, entering the house, for example, Petruchio, ordering about the servants, demands them to bring food. In so doing, Petruchio usurps Katherine’s wifely prerogatives of household management and food preparation, a point he drives home by asking her, once the food has been presented, “will you give thanks, sweet Kate, or else shall I?”[9] As it was the husband’s duty to say the grace before meals, Petruchio is subtly asking Katherine whether she will continue in her former shrewish ways in his household by usurping his authority in the same manner that he has here usurped those tasks which would otherwise be under her dominion.

Petruchio again usurps Katherine’s prerogatives when a haberdasher and a tailor come to present them with new clothing for a journey back to Padua to visit Katherine’s father. While buying clothing would rightfully have been within the purview of the wife, Petruchio takes it upon himself to choose even Katherine’s clothing for her. This usurpation is driven home by Grumio’s intentional misunderstanding of Petruchio’s words as Petruchio rejects the dress the tailor has brought for Katherine to wear:

Petruchio

Well, sir, in brief, the gown is not for me.

Grumio

You are i’the right, sir, ‘tis for my mistress.

Petruchio

Go, take it up unto thy master’s use.

Grumio

Villain, not for thy life! Take up my mistress’ gown for thy master’s use!

Petruchio

Why sir, what’s your conceit in that?

Grumio

Oh, sir, the conceit is deeper than you think for:

Take up my mistress’ gown to his master’s use!

Oh, fie, fie, fie![10]

The repetition of this bawdy double entendre by Grumio emphasizes Petruchio’s overstepping of the traditional role of a husband in his taking up himself of the roles that would more commonly be assigned to the wife.

The “taming” of Katherine reaches its climax along the road from Petruchio’s house back to her father’s house in Padua. It is here that the wills of Petruchio and Katherine finally come into sync and with the establishment of marital harmony there is a culmination in the process of creation of cosmos out of chaos which Shakespeare has been depicting. The scene begins, like Genesis, with an invocation of God and a declaration of the existence of light by Petruchio:

Come on, i’God’s name, once more toward our father’s.

Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon![11]

The brief debate that ensues from Petruchio’s declaration offers a short satire upon the debate over the source of the light created on the first day, according to Genesis 1:3-5, as the sun and the moon were created on the fourth day, according to Genesis 1:14-19:

Katherine

The moon? The sun. It is not moonlight now.

Petruchio

I say it is the moon that shines so bright.

Katherine

I know it is the sun that shines so bright.[12]

Petruchio, apparently exasperated with Katherine’s continued contrariness at last tells her that unless she agrees with him he will turn the party around and go back to his home rather than continuing on to her father’s house.

In a moment of sudden insight, however, Katherine realizes the game that Petruchio has been playing all along. Throughout their relationship, he has continuously attempted to forge a bond with her through a shared mastery over the norms of the society around them. In this instance, as Katherine realizes, he has turned their shared ability to stand above these social impositions upon nature itself. At last, she responds,

Then, God be blessed, 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 named, even that it is,

And so it shall be so for Katherine.[13]

As Katherine’s will finally comes into sync with Petruchio’s, the process of new creation reaches its completion, a point made by Shakespeare with the arrival of Vincentio. Petruchio conspires with Katherine to pretend that Vincentio, an elderly man, is a “young budding virgin, fair, and fresh, and sweet.”[14] As Katherine explains to the perplexed Vincentio at the completion of the trick,

Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,

That have been so bedazzled with the sun

That everything I look on seemeth green.[15]

Indeed, for Katherine and Petruchio, everything in the world is “green,” or new, in their new creation.

It is with the kiss between Petruchio and Katherine in the following scene that the process of new creation finally comes to a close. Standing outside of Katherine’s father’s house in Padua, Petruchio entreats his wife for a kiss. At first, she is hesitant, but finally relents.

Petruchio

First kiss me, Kate, and we will.

Katherine

What, in the midst of the street?

Petruchio

What, art thou ashamed of me?

Katherine

No, sir, God forbid, but ashamed to kiss.

Petruchio

Why, then let’s home again. Come, sirrah, let’s away.

Katherine

Nay, I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee, love, stay.

Like the primeval couple in the Garden, “the man and his wife were both naked” in their display of their love to the sight of the world, “and were not ashamed.”[16]

[1] David Bevington, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 7th ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2014), 125.

[2] Ibid., 2.1.304-305.

[3] Bloom, Shakespeare, 29.

[4] The Taming of the Shrew, 3.2.26.

[5] Ibid., 3.2.229-233.

[6] Ibid., 3.2.234-239.

[7] Marion D. Perret, “Petruchio: The Model Wife,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 23, no. 2 (Spring, 1983): 231.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Taming of the Shrew, 4.1.147.

[10] Ibid., 4.3.151-159.

[11] Ibid., 4.5.1-2.

[12] Ibid., 4.5.3-5.

[13] Ibid., 4.5.18-22.

[14] Ibid., 4.5.36.

[15] Ibid., 4.5.44-46.

[16] Gn. 2:25.

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