bible

Job

Advertisements

The Taming of the Shrew as Biblical Commentary (part 7)

Various interpreters and commentators have offered a diversity of opinions on the final scene of the play. David Bevington, a Shakespeare scholar the University of Chicago, describes the great variety of recent stage renditions of Katherine’s final monologue in his introduction to The Taming of the Shrew in the edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare which he edited:

Kate emerges in various stage productions as more or less contented, or as simply resigned, or as cruelly brainwashed, or as only playing the role of obedient wife to get what she wants.[1]

None of this, however, seems necessary in the light of Shakespeare’s use of the creation narrative of a subtext for the relationship between Petruchio and Katherine. It is quite possible, indeed much more likely, that both Katherine and Petruchio are quite happy in the relationship that they have established for themselves, a relationship that entails a mutuality of wills and a shared mastery over the world around them. Sly is the foil to Petruchio and Bianca and Hortensio’s Widow are the foils to Katherine specifically because each of them remains apart from their respective partners. Each refuses to understand and identify with his or her spouse. Katherine and Petruchio, on the other hand, have merged themselves into a marriage of perfect harmony in which neither has lost anything but each has gained the other.

[1] Bevington, Complete Works, 110.

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.

The Taming of the Shrew and Biblical Commentary (part 5)

The same is true of Petruchio, who enters for the first time in the following scene in the midst of giving orders to his servant Grumio. When Grumio misunderstands Petruchio’s orders, Petruchio immediately turns to threats of violence, warning Grumio that he will “knock your knave’s pate,” and finally to actual violence as he grabs Grumo and “wrings him by the ears.”[1] From the moment he enters the stage, then, Petruchio is violent, abrupt, and pompous. As Kahn accurately describes him,

he evokes and creates noise and violence. A hubbub of loud speech, beatings, and quarrelsomeness surrounds him. “The swelling Adriatic seas” and “thunder when the clouds in autumn crack” are a familiar part of his experience, which he easily masters with his own force of will and physical strength. Like Adam, he is lord over nature, and his own violence has been well legitimized by society, unlike Kate’s, which has marked her as unnatural and abhorrent.[2]

Importantly, however, Petruchio is Adam before the creation of Eve, the Adam about whom God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”[3] Petruchio is alone because he has not yet met his match. Petruchio’s violence and pomposity are not presented as positive characteristics.

Petruchio’s violence is certainly more socially acceptable than Katherine’s, as when he describes the sounds and sights of battle:

Have I not in my time heard lions roar?

Have I not heard the sea, puffed up with winds,

Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?

Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,

And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?

Have I not in a pitched battle heard

Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?[4]

In spite of the greater social acceptance of Petruchio’s state-sanctioned violence, however, he is nonetheless an outsider because of it. As Gremio, the elderly suitor of Bianca, comments beforehand on Petruchio’s plan to woo Katherine, “such a life with such a wife were strange.”[5] When Petruchio, with his usual abruptness, approaches Katherine’s father Baptista to inquire about Katherine, Gremio warns him, “You are too blunt. Go to it orderly.”[6] Petruchio, then, like Kate, lacks orderliness. He is, like her, an embodiment of the primeval chaos that pervaded existence before the creation.

[1] The Taming of the Shrew, 1.2.12, 17.

[2] Kahn, 92.

[3] Genesis 2:18, ESV.

[4] The Taming of the Shrew, 1.2.198-204.

[5] Ibid., 1.2.191.

[6] Ibid., 2.1.45.

The Taming of the Shrew as Biblical Commentary (part 4)

Katherine is at first shown as a woman who is at war with all of those around her. The first sign that there is something amiss is that Katherine appears before Petruchio in the play. She first appears in the first scene and he follows her in the second. She, then, precedes him in the order of creation, indicating that chaos is in the ascendant. The first lines then spoken by Katherine are an accusation that her father is trying to turn her into a prostitute, an exhibition of her contempt for the familial and social hierarchies of the Elizabethans: “I pray you, sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me among these mates?”[1] She follows this up with a rejection of any desire for marriage coupled with insults and threats of violence against her younger sister’s suitors. Addressing Hortensio, she says,

I’faith, sir, you shall never need fear;

Iwis it is not halfway to her heart.

But if it were, doubt not her care should be

To comb your noodle with a three-legged stool,

And paint your face, and use you like a fool.[2]

These are no idle threats as she is indeed depicted, as Coppélia Kahn has pointed out, committing “four acts of physical violence onstage,” three of which are against men and one against her sister.[3] Katherine even follows up on this threat of violence to Hortensio in particular when she smashes his head with a lute while he attempts to give her music lessons. As Hortensio, disguised as “Litio,” a music teacher, tells it,

I did but tell her she mistook her frets,

And bowed her hand to teacher her fingering,

When, with a most impatient devilish spirit,

“Frets, call you these?” quot she, “I’ll fume with them.”

And with that word she struck me on the head,

And through the instrument my pate made way;

And there I stood amazed for a while,

As on a pillory, looking through the lute,

While she did call me rascal fiddler

And twangling Jack, with twenty such vile terms,

As had she studied to misuse me so.[4]

According to Kahn,

the language in which her music lesson with Hortensio is described conveys the idea that it is but another masculine attempt to subjugate woman. . . . Later Petruchio explicitly attempts to “break” Kate to his will, and throughout the play men tell her that she “mistakes her frets”—that her anger is unjustified.[5]

Katherine, then, is not merely a “shrew,” but a woman who is, in a sense, in rebellion against cultural norms. As such, there is chaos in her life and in the lives of those around her.

[1] Ibid., 1.1.57-58.

[2] Ibid., 1.1.61-65.

[3] Coppélia Kahn, “‘The Taming of the Shrew’: Shakespeare’s Mirror of Marriage,” Modern Language Studies 5, no. 1 (Spring, 1975): 93.

[4] The Taming of the Shrew, 2.1.149-159.

[5] Kahn, 93.