Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taming of the Shrew

Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew.

Why Taming? Why now? I realized this weekend that I had one more Shakespeare play due before the Shakespearean Summer challenge closes tomorrow. Knowing that I'd never be able to handle a new-to-me play, I decided to go with one I'd not blogged about before. Plus, I've had this desire to watch Ten Things I Hate About You for a week or so. And this is the perfect excuse for why it needs to happen now.

Chances are you're aware that this Shakespeare play is a bit controversial with modern readers. What is Shakespeare saying about women? And what's up with this "cruel to be kind" notion of wooing?

The story, quite simply, concerns two sisters. The oldest, Katharina (aka Kate), is known for her sharp tongue, her wit, her sassy and all-too-disagreeable ways. She has a mind of her own, and she's not afraid to tell you where to go. The youngest, Bianca, is the favorite. She supposedly is beautiful and perfect and just so darn likable that she's got a long list of would-be-suitors. The father won't allow Bianca to marry until Katharina does.

Enter Petruchio. A man who has "come to wive it weathily" in Padua. He's determined to marry Kate--he insists on calling her Kate--and "tame" her. To turn her into a good little wife, one who will do his bidding.

Of course there are other characters--some more comical than others--but I've always focused on Kate and Petruchio. Bianca and her suitors? Well, to be honest, they bore me. So she's beautiful? Big deal. So a dozen guys want her? So what?! Can she hold her own in conversation? Kate, on the other hand, has always been an interesting character to me.

There are all sorts of things I could try to say about this one. It's a comedy. You can tell these lines are supposed to come across as funny. (You can almost always tell where Shakespeare wanted a laugh track inserted.) Should the relationships be taken seriously? Is this a true romance? Is there anything in the play itself that shows that Kate really and truly loves Petruchio? Or that he loves her? Most of his 'wooing words' came before the ceremony, and most were spoken in jest. Or at least Kate took them that way. (Should readers???) Didn't he just say he came to wive it wealthily? Didn't he agree to marry her before he even met her once the dowry had been agreed upon? Isn't this more about pride than love? What about respect? We get the idea that Kate is at the very least showing respect to him outwardly. But is there any indication that he respects her?

I remember I had a point I wanted to get across when I began...

What struck me this second (or is it third?) time through is that neither Bianca nor Kate are exactly as they appear. Kate isn't really a shrew. And Bianca isn't little miss perfect. The father doesn't really get his daughters. It makes me think that maybe there was labeling going on. If this "shrewishness" wasn't brought about in a big case of sibling rivalry where the dad was fanning the flames. No one likes to be labeled 'the shrew.' No one likes to be treated so condescendingly. The way this dear-old-dad spoke about his daughter was embarrassing and shameful. If this is what he tells strangers, I can only imagine the kind of stuff he says in private.

But does her marriage put her in a better place? I just don't know. I think, in a way, they're equally matched. But will they have their happily ever after? Will he treat her with kindness and respect now that he's "tamed" her? Now that he's proven his case, will he stop testing her, pushing the boundaries to see just how far she'll submit?

And what about Bianca? What is she really like? Is she selfish and stupid and shallow? What kind of wife will she make? If all her worth is tied up into her beauty, what will happen when her looks start to fade? Doesn't a wife need to be more than a pretty face?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Rebecca Reid said...

I like your point that maybe the dad is misinterpreting them to begin with. I'll have to reread this and see what I think. It's been a long time, so I don't recall all details, it just seems to me in my memory of when I did read it, that something isn't quite right with assuming it's all about dominating women.

Suko said...

You ask some good questions. I don't recall all the details, either, and what you read when you're (really) young changes when you're older. Or more accurately, we change, and have a broader perspective and more wisdom or knowledge. It's worth rereading!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you reviewed this one. I enjoy the first couple of acts of this play and then can't stand the ending. Taken in its historical context, I understand the celebration at the end, but I, as a modern woman, cannot stand Kate's fate. She's beaten and starved and made to agree with anything her husband says, no matter how ridiculous. It's one thing to be taught to be a nicer person, but quite another to be completely conquered. Shakespeare tends to do this quite a lot to his stronger female characters; I can't think of too many that have what I would call a happy ending, other than Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing.

Becky said...

Rebecca, I think the dad is a bit clueless. I don't know how well he "really knows" either of his daughters. I think favoritism does happen in some families. And I think sometimes parents can be blind to their favorite's faults and exaggerate the faults of the black sheep. I'm not saying that this has to be the case here. I don't know that there is enough evidence. But it sure seems like the dad doesn't love and appreciate Kate.

Suko, I think you're right. Whenever I reread a book, I always realize how much I've changed since the last reading.

GraceKelly, I agree with you completely. It starts off great. And I *really* liked Petruchio's wooing of Kate before the wedding. Some of these scenes just work really well. But the crueler ones are hard to take. And I think you're right about Beatrice. I think hers is the best case scenario. I think she is the only one to really truly get her happy ending.