Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Save Face

Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew starts out in a very
powerful way. The play opens with a tavern hostess and Christopher Sly
having a conversation. The hostess that is putting up with Christopher
Sly tells him that she will put him in the ‘stocks’ is he doesn’t
change his ways towards her. She follows up her threat by calling him
a ‘rouge’ (a very bad thing during Shakespeare’s times). The hostess
does not seem to care that she is a woman and Sly is a man. She is
intent on putting Sly in his place no matter what.
Sly’s comment back to the hostess is a derogatory one and so a main
motif in Shakespeare’s well-known comedy is born. Domestication. The
hostess wants to tame Sly by publicly binding and humiliating him.
Sly’s quick comeback is as simple and as sexist as they come. By
calling the hostess a ‘baggage’ or a ‘whore’, Sly is thinking on his
feet. He is using the most direct form of speech that will insult any
women. A small threat to his manhood and he punches below the belt.
Sly is hoping to gain control and power over the hostess by calling
her an insult intended only for women. Sly is trying to domesticate
and tame an unruly woman who has just threatened his manhood. This is
how this comedy begins. In just the first two lines of the play, this
sexism sets the stage (literally) for the rest of the play.
      In 1.1.14 we are introduced to the Lord. The Lord plays with this
idea of domestication while he speaks about his dogs. The Lord names
the dogs and discusses which one will be best to train. He talks about
‘leashing’ the dogs. He uses words like ‘esteem’, ‘better’, and
‘deep-mouthed’. The Lord’s choice of words lets the reader know that
he is familiar with these dogs. They are a product of his training,
his domestication. The Lord seems to know the unique personalities of
these hounds and is proud of them. We have not seen the Lord interact
with anyone other than the huntsman, but can assume that he is a man
who is set in his ways. With his first speech, he is a man who thinks
what he does and how he acts is correct. He has a title a Lord and
seems to abuse that. The reader knows much about the Lord and his
position in the play just by reading his first speech a few lines in
to the play.
      The characters in The Taming of the Shrew display the need to control
someone or something. This control comes across as forced
domestication in Shakespeare’s play. This domestication leads to the
feeling of power. The hostess wanted to show Sly her power and control
when she told him she would put him in the stocks. Sly exhibited the
need for control when he called the hostess a ‘baggage’ (whore). The
Lord shows his need to be in control and exude power when he explains
his fleet of dogs. Shakespeare shows us that the need for
domestication in The Taming of the Shrew knows no sex or status. Power
comes from the ability to control and tame other people, or animals.
The first three characters we meet set up this common threads that run
through Shakespeare comedy. Had it been the Lord and three of his
underlings I think the message would pack less of a punch.

“It’s a Jungle Out There”

While reading the first 2 acts of Richard II, I was struck by the animal reference and began to think about what the animals brought to mind. Richard says, “Lions make leopards tame” (1.1.176). The foot note in the Norton explains that “Lions were the King’s emblem”; Lions are usually associated with royalty, but they are also usually associated with a Pride, with Family. However, King Richard does not seem to care about his family at all. It is implied that he probably ordered the murder of his uncle, Thomas Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. He also sets up a clever rouse exile the two men that threaten him the most. One is his cousin, Bollinbroke and the other is the man who killed Woodstock, Thomas Mowbray. It is clear that family means nothing to the King if he can order the death of his uncle and purposefully banish his cousin to keep the execution covered up.

 The King’s remaining relatives do not like him either. John of Gaunt, another of Richard’s uncles, is suspicious of Richard’s role in the death of his brother Woodstock. He eventually grows to hate him after the King banishes his son Bollinbroke. Gaunt pleaded for his son but Richard would not hear of it (1.3). Gaunt becomes sick with grief after the death of his brother and the exile of his son and he says, “Ill in myself to see, and in thee seeing ill” (2.1.94). Gaunt has finally seen the evil in King Richard. Gaunt dies after telling Richard this and the King is unfazed. He has no remorse or sadness over the death of his family member, he just moves onto the business at hand, the war in Ireland.  

Another of the King’s uncles, the Duke of York, begins to see how Richard is abusing the crown and his power. The king wants to unfairly take away Bollinbroke’s rights and money after his father (Gaunt) dies. The Duke of York states, “Ah, how long Shall tender duty make me suffer wrong?/ Not Gloucester’s death, nor Hereford’s banishment,/ Not Gaunt’s rebukes, nor England’s private wrongs” (2.1.1164-167), he is listing out all the misdeeds Richard has done and in the same speech he makes reference to Richard’s father, his brother Edward, and how King Edward would never do what Richard has done. The Duke of York stays with him because he is loyal to the law not necessarily to Richard. Richard has alienated (or killed off) his whole family. This is a stark contrast to the idea of Pride of Lions, a tight knit family unit.

Monday, February 27, 2012

theme of nature

Nature is a theme that I found throughout the first two acts. The metaphor of the tree and its “seven fair branches” is something that seems important to this play. It is obvious that the root of the tree is John of Gaunt’s father who had seven children one of which was murdered.  Duchess, the wife of the murdered Thomas of Woodstock, points out that nature can either take its course, “some of those seven are dried by nature’s course / Some of those branches by the destinies cut” or can be influenced by outside sources like man (1.2.14-15). By her stating this it shows that even royalty cannot escape nature. But the Duchess’s husband’s branch was, “hacked down, and in his summer leaves all faded / By envy’s hand and murderer’s bloody axe” (1.2.20-21). I think it is interesting how Shakespeare uses the season summer when explaining when the Duchess’s husband’s branch was hacked. During the summer time trees are full of life and leaves which could mean that when Thomas of Woodstock was murdered he was in a good place and was full of life. Also by using a natural metaphor is brings the royalty down to earth and makes them part of the cycle of nature that no one can escape from.  The theme of seasons is used a lot. When King Richard is banishing Bolingbroke and Mowbray he uses the seasons to explain the times that each must be banished away. Bolingbroke is banished and cannot return until, “twice five summers have enriched our fields” (1.3.135) the theme of summer continues when Bolingbroke explains that he hopes where he goes, “that sun that warms you here shall shine on me / and those his golden beams to you here lent / shall point on me and gild my banishment” (1.2.139-141) reading these lines it seems that Bolingbroke is not very upset about being banished and by using light,  sun, and warmth it makes the banishment seem less harsh. Also summer is a season that goes fairly quickly and is mostly bright with shorter darkness at night.  Mowbray’s banishment in the other hand uses the season winter and when King Richard explains his banishment to him phrases like, “sly slow hours, dateless limit, and hopeless word” are used making the banishment seem long and endless. Mowbray is banished for six winters and winter feels like the longest season of the year which makes Mowbray’s banishment feel endless. Also winter is full of darkness and the days are much shorter and the nights full of darkness much longer. While Bolingbroke makes his banishment seem not so bad, Mowbray takes it as, “thy sentence then but speechless death / which robs my tongue from breathing native breathe” (1.3.166-167). I am curious to see how each character plays out throughout the rest of the play and if the theme of winter and summer continues to be associated with each character and throughout other aspects of the play.

A Lack of Imagination

Richard II is a play that is bursting with male characters.  The only woman we have really heard from so far is the Duchess of Gloucester, who appears in a very short scene.  Therefore, going into the play, I assumed that the language and the actions that take place were going to be very masculine and hard.  Even when the Duchess of Gloucester speaks, it is for Gaunt to seek revenge for her husband’s death – “The best way is to venge my Gloucester’s death” (1.3 36), which is a very violent, masculine thought.  In other Shakespeare plays that deal with revenge, they usually involve men convincing other men to get revenge and the women tend to be the voices of reason.  So far, however, there seems to be little reason when it comes to the men’s rash decisions.  There are many arguments and stubbornness that is amplified through the language.  For example, when Gaunt is on his deathbed arguing with King Richard, many plosives appear to exaggerate their anger and stubbornness toward each other.  Richard calls Gaunt “a lunatic lean-witted fool” (2.1 116).  Also, Gaunt’s line, “That blood already, like the pelican, Hast thou tapped out and drunkenly caroused” (2.1 127-8) is filled with plosives, so that the reader can hear these characters spitting these words out at each other.  The language expressed in this play seems very male-centered and strong.

                What also stuck out to me was Bolingbroke’s short speech at the end of 1.3, as he’s is leaving England for being banished by Richard.  Gaunt attempts to convince him to take the penalty lightly, and Bolingbroke makes a statement about the imagination.  This is important because it further exposes the male mentality that is going on in this play.  He states:

                                O, who can hold a fire in his hand

                                By thinking on the frosty Caucasus,

                                Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite

                                By bare imagination of a feast,

                                Or wallow naked in December snow

                                By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?

                                O no, the apprehension of the good

                                Gives but the greater feeling to the worse. (1.3 257-264)

This shows how much the men rely on hard facts and don’t waste their time on dreaming or imagining.  Bolinbroke believes that if he imagines that the banishment is not as bad as it really is, then it will make things worse in the long run.  He puts down Gaunt’s suggestion and basically says, just because you think something is true, doesn’t make it true.  This hopeful way of thinking has no place in a world that is run by harsh men during a time of war.  I am interested to see how this masculine world continues to run without emotions or dreams, and only with the hard calculations of pure self-interest.

Clothes Make the Man

     The play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare tells the story of a group of suitors who although wishing to marry Bianca, cannot pursue her until her older sister Katherine, the shrew, is married. While there are several themes in the play, such as bonds, feminism, and other such things, one of the most important themes in this play is that of clothing. This is seen specifically in the way that clothing not only showed one's position in society, but in this play also gave one power in society.
      In The Taming of the Shrew one of the most important plot points is when Lucentio and his servant Tranio switch places with each other so that Lucentio can appear to be of the lower class, become Bianca's teacher and woo her unofficially; at which point Tranio, pretending to be Lucentio, will woo Bianca officially. This transformation is achieved mainly through the exchanging of their clothing. This is seen when Lucentio tells, "Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead; . . . Uncase thee. Take my coloured hat and cloak." (1.1.196-201). It is here that clothing is shown as an important part of the story, mainly in the way that while Lucentio gave Tranio his permission to be him and have his position in society, it is not until they change clothes that this permission becomes relevant. This is because it is the quality of the clothes that define a person's station of life, and the only way that a servant pretending to be his master and vice versa could possibly happen is through the changing of clothes. It is clear that in this play clothing itself has a great deal of power in this society, giving the people who wear them even higher status in life. This is seen when Tranio is attempting to secure Bianca's hand to him while pretending to be Lucentio and is able to do and be taken seriously, mainly through the fact that no one questions his status. This is seen in "Now, on the Sunday following shall Bianca / be bride to you." (2.1.387-388). It is clear that without the rich clothes of his master, Tranio would never have been able to either pass himself off as Lucentio or even compete in the negotiations for Bianca's hand if he were not rich, which is inferred by the type of clothing he wears. The power that clothes possess in society is seen also in act 5 where Lucentio's father arrives and attempts to tell everyone Tranio is an imposter. This is made almost impossible however not only in the fact that Tranio has done his part so well, but also through the fact that once again his clothing shows him to be a member of the upper class. This is noted by Vicentio himself in, "O fine villain, a silken doublet, a velvet hose, a scarlet cloak, and a copintank hat - O, I am undone, I am undone!" (5.1.54-55). Even though Vincentio knows that he is in the right, that Tranio is impersonating his son that Tranio is wearing such nice clothes and also acknowledging that there is little he can do to prove it, especially given the clothing he is wearing.
         The power of clothing in The Taming of the Shrew, lies in its ability to describe the person who is wearing it, just who they are in society. While this may not seem to be such a great power, it allows people to wield influence over others through the sheer fact that they are wearing such nice clothes. This is seen in the way that Tranio is able to successfully pretend to be his master simply because he has good set of clothing. The power that clothing possess in this time allows Tranio to negotiate with an incredibly rich man and and even claim that a  man who is telling the truth is lying and almost be successful in it. In this play, it is the man with the best clothing that has the power.

Why All The Rhyme?

      As I was reading Act one scene one of Richard II, I realized that there were a lot of lines that were rhyming. Characters would just tend to start rhyming their lines when the scene became more emotional, or when they were trying to get a strong statement across. A good portion of this rhyming can be seen in the end of scene one in the first act. During this part of the scene Richard II is trying to mediate the situation between the two noblemen. For example Richard's lines are "Good uncle, let this end where it begun;/ We'll calm the Duke of Norfolk, you your son." (around line 152). I found this to be quite interesting at the time, since the scene did not start off this way. It made me wonder why Shakespeare would want the actors to have these lines at that particular moment in the scene and not the entire scene?
      As I started the second and third scenes of act one, I would notice this rhyming technique in many other places. I think that this technique says a lot about what Shakespeare wanted us to take from these lines. When I think of rhyming I automatically think of poems, and their importance of words to get the full meaning of what is being said. I really wanted to analyze this rhyming technique so I chose to pick the passionate lines of the Duchess, in the very end of act one, scene two. At this point in the scene the Duchess is trying to persuade John of Gaunt to avenge her husband Thomas of Glouceste's death. The Duchess says "Yet one word more: grief boundeth where it falls,/ Not with the empty hollowness, but weight:/ I take my leave before I have begun,/ For sorrow ends not when it seemeth done./ Commend me to thy brother, Edmund York....." I really felt that when she delivered these lines the amount of pain and anger in her voice really comes through. Shakespeare may have her rhyme these lines as an indicator of what is to come from her revengeful mourning. Almost as a hint to the readers that this is a major foreshadow of something that will happen in the play. This reminds me of something like a key to a map. When John replies back to the Duchess and refuses her and says that the punishment is up to God,  I noticed that his lines before and after her did not rhyme. Perhaps telling the audience that he may change his mind, because there is not as much passion to his lines as the Duchess has. The same can be said for the beginning lines in which Richard II is trying to break up the arguing of the gentlemen Thomas and Henry. The rhyming here is insinuating that the argument is the basis of event to follow in the play. It is not until after Henry and Thomas' long speeches of how they have been betrayed by one another that Richard II lines begin to rhyme. Maybe to say that Richard II did not think the argument was serious until he really felt the passion between their speeches.
        A lot can be said about these lines in the play and their true meaning. There are many ways to interpret what Shakespeare is trying to say by rhyming these particular lines. Is it merely for emotional purposes, or could it have a hint of foreshadowing for the readers to decipher?  I'm curious to see if my theories on what will happen in the play from interpreting these lines will come true.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

In Act two of Scene one, the audience or the reader sees the Duchess of Gloucester, who is the widow of the Duke of Gloucester, implore John of Gaunt to avenge his murdered brother. She notes many intelligent reasons as to why he should do this, both mentioning the fact that he was in fact Gloucester’s brother as well as the fact that “If Suff’ring thus they brother to be slaughtered/Thou show’st the naked pathway to thy life” (1.2.30-31). What she means by this is that if he does not avenge his brother, he is showing that he is an easy target to be assassinated next.

However, we see that John of Gaunt refuses to avenge his brother’s death, even though he laments that his brother is indeed dead. The oddest reason of all for his lack of avenging his brother comes up: he believes to know who had the mightiest part in his brother’s assassination. Once we learn that the person whom he suspects is in fact the king, his nephew, Richard the second, however, the audience can see why it would be that he would avoid avenging his brother. If he were to go about the more righteous route, he would be turned down and possibly killed himself—or accused of treason and killed—because the person who could punish the offender is the one who did the deed, which makes it certainly difficult to bring it to court, as it were.

His reason for why he does not go against him by assassinating Richard himself is the more interesting reason, however, for all that it only takes up five lines. He believes, as all did in this time, that Richard was appointed by God. And as such, to assassinate Richard is to go against the will of God, which he will not do. He would rather for God to punish him, if that were the case. It leaves him in a tough spot. He believes that he knows who killed his brother, but is unable to exact his revenge because it could in turn cause his soul to rot in Hell for going against God’s minister. What John of Gaunt thus decides to do is to “Let heaven revenge, for I may never lift/An angry arm against his minister” (1.2.40-41). It makes the reader or watcher feel for John, because what guilt must be laying on him to know who he could revenge, but is unable to do so due to his beliefs.

Perhaps revenge could be exacted by God however, due to another reason. If Richard truly is guilty, he could be punished for breaking up a seven. What I mean here is the Duchess of Gloucester mentions that John and the late Gloucester were the seven sons of Edward; in fact a good part of her speech is dominated by her stating them being seven branches of one tree and seven vials of his holy blood. Seven is a very important number, and one to note when reading through any story or play. Sevens and threes often mean something. From seven days of the week, to seven dwarfs, it has made an appearance in just about everything, including the Bible. It was said that Cain would be avenged sevenfold, and Cain and Abel were already mentioned previously.  So perhaps Richard will be punished by God, or perhaps by mortal hands working, as they might believe in this time, for God.

But not by John of Gaunt, for he still finds himself trapped in between a rock and a hard place with his beliefs. Both stuck in between the belief that Richard was appointed by God, and the fact that to go against the one who could make the punishment for the crime could label him as one who commits treason. He does, however, manage to get his soul peace, I suspect, in cursing Richard before he dies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Shrew for a Reason

When reading about Petruchio’s flirtatious battle with Katherina and Katherina’s bold resistance and sharpness of tongue in reply to Petruchio’s sexual remarks (2.1.186-319 in the Yale Shakespeare), I can easily relate and cannot blame her for her choice of harsh words. Petruchio is a modern day player and more likely than not encompasses practically all the characteristics of a flirt: good looks, charm, wit, confidence, and persistence. He refuses to take no for an answer from the girl he is trying to pursue, easily believing that, being the kind of guy that he is, she will eventually succumb to his perseverance. Katherina, on the other hand, appears to know more about guys like that than her sister, even though Bianca is the male-magnet in this play. Katherina was more of an observer than an actor when it came to watching her sister get all the suitors, and it may have frustrate her at times, such as when she tied her sister up and demanded to know which suitor she was leaning more towards at the beginning of Act II Scene II. At the same time, however, Kate observed the actions of Bianca and her men and knew how the game of courting was to be played. Perhaps after all this time, she had realized how similar, and perhaps even pathetic, people get when in love and had promised herself that she would not fall prey to such circumstances.

Petruchio, on the other hand, also appears to know exactly how to win the shrew over, and keeps on being persistent in his game. He knows what he wants and he goes after it, despite her retorts to his wooing. His actions and her reactions made me wonder about the modern day world and the game of flirting. Katherina might have sensed a sort of attraction to Petruchio from the start, and began to forcefully push herself away from him. If she didn’t care about him, she wouldn’t have cared to be so harsh in her words. She was a wild shrew for a reason. And perhaps it was this pushing away that encouraged and excited Petruchio all the more.

Similarly, in today’s world of courtship, a guy tends to get excited by a girl’s game of playing hard to get. When I was wondering where this game had originated from, I thought way back. It’s so traditional, it must’ve started from the first day of Time. Katherina, on the day of her wedding, proved to be more human and feminine than others gave her credit for. When her betrothed was late, she said she wished she’d never met him and left the stage in tears (3.2.27). After her wedding, when Petruchio took her away from the party, she began to get more mellow and quiet. He was definitely taming the shrew at this point. But perhaps her shrewdness was a way for her to keep herself safe from the pangs of love. It was her cover-up to preserve her sense of self, knowing all along that feelings of love and being wanted by another would eventually break through her wall anyway.


Shakespeare seems to be teasing us again.
This post is about my own frustration with the sexism in this play. It seems that by act 3, Katherine is “tamed” by Petruccio. Their playful, tense sparring upon meeting saw her asserting herself against his advances, and then, upon their marriage, Katherine watches as Petruccio boldly proclaims that she is his property and vows to protect her from other men (3.3.100-110).
Katherine seemed like a much stronger character in the beginning, albeit a little violent and unruly. But, in my opinion, not unjustly so, given the circumstances. Preceding Petruccio’s proclamation is Katherine’s assertion “I will be angry. What hast thou to do? [footnote: What business is it of yours?],” and then her statement “Gentleman, go forward to the bridal dinner./I see woman may be made a fool/If she had not a spirit to resist” (3.3.84 & 91-92). These statements may be as impassioned as Katherine’s previous, more cartoonish comportment, but they demonstrate Katherine’s capability of acting with conviction and composure at the same time, in place of excessive violence and unruliness. These few lines hold so much potential.
And then Petruccio deigns himself fit to speak for her. His response to Katherine’s assertion is kind of unruly and definitely disrespectful. He responds to Katherine directly—“They [the gentleman, the attendants] shall go forward, Kate, at thy command”—allowing her the authority she had already asserted. He then proceeds to direct the attendants himself through proclaiming his ownership of Katherine, invoking the Ten Commandments, and using language that shows he fancies himself a hero: “I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he/That stops my way in Padua…Fear not, sweet wench. They shall not touch thee, Kate./I’ll buckler thee against a million” (3.3.105-106 & 109-110). This is pretty ironic, considering Katherine’s previous reputation as an undesirable woman. In fact, she isn’t called “woman,” by the characters—just “shrew” or “wife” or her name, and by Petruccio mainly through its diminutive, “Kate.”
The preposterous speech is left hanging when Katherine, Petruccio, and Grumio exit, and Katherine presumably says nothing in response. Even Katherine’s family and Gremio and Lucentio acknowledge that she has probably made a mistake in marrying Petruccio.
I don’t blame Katherine for acting like a so-called “shrew.” She might be well aware of the fact that no one takes her seriously as a person, so she would rather speak her mind in ways that risk reinforcing this fact, than stay quiet and automatically reinforce this fact. Is Shakespeare making a commentary here?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To beast or not to beast?

The play starts with Sly being yelled at like an animal because he has not payed his tab.  The threat is to throw him into the gallows as to embarrass him into acting better.  But before her threat can even be delivered, Sly is passed out.  There is no real background on why Sly is drinking himself to a stupor but either way he is immediately looked down upon for being a passed out drunk.  Then the lord comes in and discusses hunting and choosing the right dog to hunt with.  Now this is not such a subtle metaphor for a wife during these times.  The partnership isn't about love but money.  And the power initial lays with the hunted (the lady) because her father has the fortune that the hunter (man) must win.

It is interesting to see Shakespeare has all the characters use beautiful language to try complete their devious goals.  The play is called the taming of the shrew because Katherine (the shrew) must be tamed so her lovely younger daughter Bianca can get married.  There is something very animal about the whole setup as if the women are wild animals needed to be tamed and put in their place by a man.  But the men are like animals biting at the bit to try and get at Bianca.  Shakespeare makes it so the women have backbone and power and keep the men at bay initially, but finally crack.  Katherine is key here because she is powerful for that fact that she isn't a docile woman trying to be wooed.  But Petruchio is the grand hunter and his pray is Katherine who he immediately calls Kate, making her informal.  He sets the tone for their relationship and really pushes her into a box quite quickly attempting to tame her.  We see earlier that other men trying to woo her or even teach her lead to them getting hit over the head with a blunt instrument, but Pertuchio has more fight.  The men are too funny for the fact that they all are fighting for one girl but all are trying to deceive her in order to win her "heart".  But really they are winning a title, money, and power.  Which is transferred from the lady to the man.  So how much power does the hunter have if there is nothing to hunt?  The women have a role of importance these men neglect openly to the extent of fault.  I feel that Shakespeare is going to turn this on it's head like in Merchant because he has Portia dress up as a man, save her husband and her husband's friend, and then gets them to give her the one thing the girls said not to give up the rings.  Then she goes on to continue, that the girls slept with the lawyers to get their rings back.  And I think Shakespeare has fun showing the hypocrisy of men thinking they have power when in fact both genders have equal power, which shines in this play.  The battling of the genders is too complicated to have an obvious outcome which is perfect to show the equality of the genders because they are both worthy opponents rather than a hunter and its prey. 

Clothing as a motif in "Shrew"

Throughout the inductions and first three acts of this play, it is clear that clothing expresses a lot about the person wearing it. Even within the first induction we see Christopher Sly, a poor man passed out drunk in ratty and torn clothing. In order for the lords trick to work (making him believe he is of higher status than he really is), the lord needs to have Sly bathed and change his clothing; "O monstrous beast! How like swine he lies. Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image...What think you: if he were conveyed to bed, wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers..." (Induction 1, lines 30-34). Through this section alone, we see just how important clothing was in this time. Clothing was an expression of status and wealth, and also shows a lot about a characters personality.
     Clothing also plays an important part between the marriage of Petruccio and Katherine. Petruccio decides to travel to Venice in order to complete some wedding details, one of which happens to be his wedding attire. Not only does Petruccio show up late to his own wedding, but he shows up in secondhand, worn out clothing. To say that he looks like a complete mess would be an understatement; "Why, Petruccio is coming in a new hat and an old jerkin, a pair of old breeches thrice-turned, a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, another laced..." (3.2.41-43). The fact that clothing is a representation of status should have influenced Petruccio's choice of clothing, especially on his wedding day. Clothing represented wealth and status, which were two of the most important qualities in life and marriage back then. Petruccio offers the explanation that "Therefore ha' done with words. To me she's married, not unto my clothes. Could I repair what she will wear in me...When I should bid good morrow to my bride, and seal the title with a lovely kiss!" (3.2.109-116). Petruccio is saying that Katherine is not marrying his clothes, she is marrying his personality. This is an odd thing to say due to the importance of clothing and wealth in that period of time.
     Following Petruccio's arrival like this, Kate and him get married. Gremio describes the wedding; "...he stamped and swore As if the vicar meant to cozen him...This done, he took the bride about the neck and kissed her lips with a clamorous smack...Such a mad marriage never was before..." (3.3.40-55). The fact that he shows up to his wedding in this type of clothing and the wedding is described in this manner could be foreshadowing what is in store for the newlywed couple. Clothing is clearly a motif in "The Taming of the Shrew".

Monday, February 20, 2012

And in this corner...

Something that really struck me during this read was the first exchange between Petruccio and Katherine in Act II Scene 1.  The conversation reminded me of an intense verbal boxing match; when one opponent swung, the other fired back swiftly and fiercely.   Both characters were hit ‘below the belt,’ yet didn’t let the blow shake them.  This resilience requires a tough exterior and a very strong will that both Katherine and Petruccio maintain throughout.  Upon entering this “match,” Petruccio knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of his quest for victory.

Throughout Act II, the readers become very acquainted with the fiery nature of Katherine.  We see her beat her helpless and bound sister, swear revenge on her father, and smash a lute over the head of Hortensio.  She has certainly proven herself to be the top contender.  When Petruccio comes into the picture, I definitely questioned his ability to hold his ground with Katherine.  After the first few lines of the conversation my doubts are completely squashed.  Petruccio absolutely proves himself a worthy opponent for the “shrew.”  After each of Katherine’s quick and witty jabs, Petruccio knows exactly what to say to keep him self in the running.  I can vividly imagine the confident smirk on his face while Katherine grows red with fury.  When it comes to witty comebacks, it seems Katherine has met her match.  One of my favorite exchanges between the quick-witted duo is lines 218-220, where Kate first exclaims, “What is your crest? A coxcomb?”  and Petruccio insinuatingly replies, “A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen.” And Kate fires back with “No cock of mine.  You crow too like a craven.”  Needless to say, I was very entertained during Petruccio’s “chase.” 

In today’s world, I think we can see a conversation much like Petruccio and Katherine’s in our local P&G’s on any given Friday night.  There are plenty of persistent, smoothing-talking guys today that love a challenging hook up.  If a girl doesn’t give seem to be interested, these guys, like Petruccio, do not back down just yet.   Sometimes, a girl may be impressed with this persistence and confidence.  Other times, however, a girl may react in the same way Katherine does—with swift slap in the face.  Fortunately for women today, we are not forced into a marriage with these guys that wont take no for an answer.  Katherine, however, was not so lucky.  Even though she had to give in and marry Petruccio, she certainly put up a solid fight and showed her future husband just whom he was dealing with.    

A Maiden Mislabeled

A Maiden Mislabeled
                Katherine Minola is a sad, desperate maiden who has become mislabeled by Baptista and other characters in Taming.  Her reputation as being “shrewish” or unmanageable, and brash becomes strongly attached to her.  I think it becomes easy for the audience (as the play moves on) to spot moments of Katherine crying out, literally and metaphorically, for some respite from her socially assigned role.  In Act 1, scene 2 Petruccio, although he has not met Katherine yet, essentially compares her to the likes of an angry sea, roaring lion, firing cannon, piercing trumpets, and artillery fire.  These unfair references should be checked with Kate’s actions in Act 2 and 3.  After Baptista, Katherine, and others are waiting for Petruccio to show up on the wedding day, a different type of emotion is exposed by Kate.  “Would Katherine had never seen him, though” is the line uttered by this distraught woman who exits the scene weeping (3.2.26).  It appears that no character gives much consideration to this “shrew” acting so vulnerably.  Baptista only states a backhanded comment of “Go, girl.  I cannot blame thee now to weep./ For such an injury would vex a very saint,/Much more a shrew of thy impatient humour”(3.2.27-29).  Her father does not understand her strong opposition to this union.  It is not that she is acting in her typical brazen way.  Katherine shows real fear of what Pertuccio’s motives are in his wooing her.  She even states early in Act 3, scene 2 “I must forsooth be forced/ To give my hand opposed against my heart…”(lines 8-9).  Thus the lines clearly emphasize how something within her heart does not feel right with the marriage.
                Earlier in Act 2, more cheerless emotions of “the shrew” are spotted in the play.  After Katherine binds Bianca, she questions her about whom she loves.  It appears Katherine is taking her frustration out on the sister that all men care for and admire.  Bianca bravely replies, when her Kate prods if she loves Hortensio, “If you affect him, sister, here I swear/I’ll plead for you myself but you shall have him” (2.1.14-15).  Bianca talks kindly, but her speech is not well received by Katherine who believes her sister  has all the power, let alone the affection from men.  Another occurrence of weeping appears when Baptista enters the scene with his two daughters.  Katherine lets her guard down with a couple of important lines.  “She is your treasure, she must have a husband./ I must dance barefoot on her wedding day…./Talk not to me, I will go sit and weep/ Till I can find occasion of revenge” (2.1.32-33, 35,36).  These lines divulge an immense amount about Katherine’s feelings over the whole marriage circumstance.  She may act willfully, but she allows the readers to see her desire for a loving marriage and approval within these lines.  “I will go sit and weep” is yet another sign of Kate’s utter sadness and unashamed inclination to weep.  Katherine does not wish to “dance barefoot on [Bianca’s] wedding day” or as the footnote 2 explains, what is “expected of older unmarried sisters.”  Her fearfulness and disappointment in her situation come bubbling over and the audience cannot help but feel pity for our mislabeled maiden.  One could argue that Baptista’s unfair love of Bianca has driven Katherine to her current troubles and attitude on life.  The Minola’s would surely be labeled a ‘dysfunctional family’ if their situation was looked at today by therapists.  Perhaps I am taking a far too sentimental look at poor Katherine, but I still consider her to be misunderstood and an emotive woman that should not be ignored by anyone, including the audience, Baptista, or potential suitors.

In Katherine's Eyes

Sam Montagna
Shakespeare II
Professor Mulready
20 February 2012

In Katherine's Eyes
Katherine is an outspoken woman. She does not want to get married and she is automatically classified as a shrew. Today, people call women that speak their mind a bitch. Katherine would be called that if she were alive today. Katherine would be better off living today because she would have more control over her life. Her father controls everything. The only sense of control she has is her mouth. She does not want to get married so she will scream and yell at men. She will insult her suitors which scares them away. No man wants her at all which is what Katherine prefers. This all changes when Petruccio comes along. He is the epitome of an arrogant jerk. Petruccio does not care how much of a shrew she is. He is only interested in her money. In addition to the money, he wants to tame Katherine. He tells her “For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,” (Shakespeare 194.268). Petruccio wants to take her from the horrid woman she is and subdue her until she is like other “household Kates” (194.270). Today, Petruccio would be the high school jock who gets with a girl just because of the sheer challenge of it, not because he really cares about her. Petruccio vows to tame her and is looking forward to the challenge. He says loves Katherine. I do not think he does, however. I think he loves her money, the challenge of taming her and the control he now has over her. I feel sympathy for Katherine. She was passed off to any man that could stand her opinions. Her father had complete control over her until Petruccio comes along and now he has complete control. Petruccio states “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” (204.100-103). He, in his mind while seemingly praising her, is stating that he owns her completely. She is now his property and he is willing to defend her. According to the footnote on page 204, Petruccio references to the Tenth Commandment when he warns others from looking at his wife/property. Petruccio goes on to say “I'll buckler thee against a million” (204.110). In my opinion, he is either exaggerating about the extent that he will defend her against in the name of love or he views her more as property than as his wife and will defend it to his fullest extent. Men fought over land and possessions throughout history for centuries. Starting a war or fight over property or possessions is not a strange concept. The couple's friends and family think that the couple is well suited or “madly mated” (204.115). Gremio states that “Petruccio is Kated” (204.116). These two lines rhyme like a fairy tale. It's like they believe it is a match made in heaven. At this point in the story, in Katherine's eyes, this match is hell. After all, she has lost all of her freedom and control and now an attempt to change her attitude and her identity will be made by her husband, who is supposed to love her as she is unconditionally.

Old vs. Young

I enjoyed the theme of old versus young in Act II scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew. Gremio represents old age while Tranio represents youth. They go back and forth trying to one-up each other in front of Baptista. Whoever has the most wealth to offer Bianca will be rewarded with her hand in marriage. Baptista states: “he of both that can assure my daughter greatest dower shall have my Bianca’s love” (333-335). The interesting issue of age is introduced in lines 380-382 when Baptista tells Tranio: “let your father make her the assurance… If you should die before him, where’s her dower?” Tranio has more wealth to offer than Gremio, yet virtually all of it is his father’s and not his own. This raises the issue of maturity –of the ability to work for and to maintain one’s own wealth and the idea that wisdom increases with age. Tranio responds to Baptista’s question with, “That’s but a cavil: he is old, I young” (383). Tranio’s answer itself exemplifies immature black and white thinking. He sounds foolish with such idealistic, invincible rationale. Gremio counters this argument with: “And may not young men die as well as old?” yet Baptista is surprisingly unreceptive to his point and agrees that Tranio may have his daughter. Ignoring such a significant factor of age and maturity in favor of wealth seems like faulty logic.

It is also interesting that in regards to Katherine, Baptista says, “The gain I seek is quiet in the match” (320) when marrying her off. He is concerned with finding Katherine a compatible match rather than a financially rewarding one. It’s funny that the only reason Baptista considers the personalities of the suitors is because Katherine refuses to be used as a pawn in his wealth accumulation. He wants to quiet her because she can be no help to him. Bianca, on the other hand, can be and is willing to be so he ignores aspects of personality and maturity in her suitors, focusing only on wealth. The concept of money intermingled with love is similar to that which we saw in The Merchant of Venice.

Conflicting Thoughts on Katherine

           Katherine is definitely the most interesting character in the play in my opinion because of the conflicting nature of her character.  When we begin Act 2 we see that she has bound her sister’s hands together.  She questions her sister about who she loves, and Bianca insists that she doesn’t love anyone, but that she would gladly plead for someone to love her (Katherine).  Katherine then strikes her sister, calling her a liar.  I feel that Katherine’s standoffish appearance and violent temperament stems from her envying the attention her sister receives from men.  Bianca has always been the pretty one, the delicate little treasure of her father and men in general, whereas Katherine has always been the “other” daughter, the “other” sister.  Deep beneath the surface, I feel like she is hurt and jealous of all the positive attention her sister has received over the years.  Also, she is tired being bound to the arrangements her father has made upon her.  She is the older sister, and by the natural order of things she should be married before her younger sister.  Nonetheless, many men cannot handle the power play she engages them.  Katherine uses language to overpower the men, always throwing witty comebacks at them.  Attempts by her suitors end in failure because they are unable to handle her.  Unlike her younger dainty sister, Katherine, it seems, will not lower herself to submitting to a man because she refuses to accept Bianca as the standard to follow.  She will not emulate Bianca in order to gain attention and approval from them.  This does not change the fact that she still wants to be married one day, however.  When Katherine tries to follow Bianca after their confrontation Baptista, her father, prevents her.  It is then that Katherine reveals her resentment toward her father for favoring Bianca: “She is your treasure, she must have a husband.  I must dance barefoot on her wedding day, and for your love to her to lead apes in hell" (2.1.31-34).  

            Katherine’s stubbornness and ill-temper have led men to call her a shrew, and she is constantly described as being “too rough” for the men’s liking.  In fact, Petruccio seems to be the only one who is able to handle her in the power plays between them.  He begins his conversation with her by addressing her as “Kate,” and speaks about how the name is associated with so many different things.  He calls her “plain,” “bonny,” “curst,” and “super-dainty,” and even plays on the name Kate by comparing her to “cates” which are dainty delicacies (2.1.183, 184, 186, 187).  When Katherine corrects him, explaining that everyone refers to her as “Katherine,” he is insistent upon calling her Kate," and that is what he continues to address her as throughout the play.  When Katherine goes to strike him, Petruccio does not recede from her.  Petruccio is insistent on making her fall in love with him so that he can inherit her wealth.  The two end up getting married, against Katherine’s will at first, and yet somehow she seems to reach a more contented state and goes along with the arrangement.  Despite not having too much of a choice in the matter, I feel angry that Katherine seems to put up so little of a fight when Petruccio is calling her his possession after the ceremony.  I feel as if she has withdrawn herself from the power struggle that is evident between her and Petruccio.  I found myself wondering where the tough and stubborn Katherine had gone to.  I was expecting her to lash back at Petruccio for belittling her so much because he blatantly says “She is my goods, my chattels.  She is my house, my house-hold stuff…my anything” which I feel should have evoked some frustration from Katherine, who does not want to submit to a man’s will like her sister does (3.3.101-102, 103).  It just didn’t seem believable that Katherine didn’t want to retaliate back after putting up such a fight in the beginning, but perhaps she wanted to be married so badly that she willingly went along with it...?  I do wonder why Shakespeare has Katherine remain silent after Petruccio’s speech after the wedding ceremony as it bothered me more than it probably should have.  

Characterization in Taming of the Shrew

I found the characterization of those in The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare to be extremely fascinating. Katherine, the shrew who must be tamed, is described with extremely negative characteristics. Katherine is seen as an insulting, abrasive, and miserable woman. Her overall unpleasant attitude is also matched with a great amount of wit, one that is only challenged by Petruccio. It is particularly interesting to compare the sisters, Bianca and Katherine. It is obvious that Bianca serves as a foil to Katherine. Where Katherine is seen as aggressive and almost vicious individual, Bianca is seen as the exact opposite. She is characterized as a peaceful, kind, and even-tempered woman. Shakespeare’s technique as portraying the sisters as foil characters to one another only strengthens their very different personalities. 
One of the most interesting pairings, in my opinion, seen in Shakespeare’s texts is the relationship between Katherine and Petruccio. It seems that among all of the men in Padua, Petruccio is the only person who is able to conquer the challenge of wooing Baptista’s eldest daughter, Katherine. Other men who were forced to interact with Katherine, were very much intimated by her aggressive attitude. This can be seen particularly when Katherine strikes Hortensio when he is attempting to teach her to play the lute. Despite her reputation, Petruccio takes it upon himself to convince Katherine to marry him. Petruccio and Katherine’s fascinating interaction can be first seen in scene 2.1 of the play. Where other men have been emasculated when conversing with Katherine, Petruccio does not suffer the same fate. Immediately, Petruccio takes Katherine completely off guard when calling her “Kate”. Although Katherine responds to Petruccio by informing him that this is not her name, he continues to call her a number of names involving “Kate”. This passage can be seen when Petruccio says: “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 super-dainty Kate- fofr dainties are all cates...” (2.1 184-87). This passage immediately starts of the witty banter that Petruccio and Katherine converse in. It seems that nearly every statement that is uttered by Katherine, is completely contradicted by Petruccio. The interaction seen in this scene between Petruccio and Katherine was very humorous. It is very clear that none of the other men in The Taming of the Shrew would have been brave enough to dare to converse with Katherine in such a way. However, possibly this is what Katherine needed. Perhaps, the reason for Katherine acting the way she does could be a result of feelings of jealousy of her sister, Bianca. It is clear from the amount of suitors that Bianca had, contrasted with the one suitor that Katherine had. Therefore, it is a reasonable conclusion to believe that Katherine’s negative attitude could be a result of sibling rivalry and animosity! 

Kate the Snake??

Taming of the Shrew was a play that I was skeptical to read. I had heard several opinions in regards to this play, mostly in regards to how women are portrayed. They warned me that if I was at all feminist that I would have certain issues with this play. Sure enough there are certain scenes so far that I have some uneasy feelings about, but there is one character in this play I cannot seem to understand. Katherine.

In the beginning of scene two we are given Katherine and her sister Bianca, who has been bound by no other than Katherine herself. She is not simply questioning her sister in regards to what suitor she prefers and she goes so far as to physically hurt Bianca. Why? When asked if she prefers Hortensio she replies “Is it for him you do envy me so?” (2.1, 18) Is Katherine envious of Bianca? What other reason would she have for beating her own sister for simply not knowing who she might prefer? I am not quite sure why Shakespeare put this in the play other than to enhance the brusque nature of Katherine, but did he perhaps go too far within this scene. There are better examples of the nature of Katherine later on in this scene alone.

When she has her interaction with Petruccio that, in my opinion, is still showing Katherine in her harsh nature, but it’s more in an empowering fashion than almost crazy fashion. The continual witty remarks back and forth are something to be admired when reading this. She calls him a stool and he returns by asking her to come “sit on him”, a sexual innuendo that is understood. Her response is, “asses are made to bear, and so are you.” (2.1, 198) She refuses to let him have the last laugh, so to speak and as a result is one of the few women in Shakespeare’s plays that can mentally compete with a man. This is something that needs to be addressed.

Katherine is no shrinking violet, and she is someone that within Shakespeare’s time period would not have been accepted into the normal culture. Her actions towards men, general men and her father as well, are something that would be seen as shocking. I am not sure if Shakespeare intended to make such an outrageous female role, knowing that she would, in some cases, be looked upon as almost mad. While I continue to read the play I will see if I can try to understand why Shakespeare created a character like Katherine and what was his true purpose for making her act the way that she does.

An Attack on Women?

One cannot read Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and not wonder about Petruchio and Katherina’s relationship and whether it is an attack on the idea of women’s independence. In short, is Taming of the Shrew anti-feminist?
 In the second act, Petruchio has already decided to pursue Katherina, and breaks with her father about the match. During this conversation, Petruchio discusses how he will make Katherina “yield” to him. The idea that he will make her submit in itself seems like an attack on women, but Shakespeare does not have Petruchio use the fact that he is “rough and [woos] not like a babe” on just any woman, he has Petruchio use it on Katherina the shrew. Just before Petruchio enters, Shakespeare has Katherina drag Bianca on stage, bound, and being beaten by her sister. This is important because it makes it clear that Katherina is not just any woman that needs to be tamed, but showcases her as the “shrew” the title names her. Petruchio’s arrogance is dissipated some when one sees the violence Katherina enacts against Bianca and Hortensio as the music instructor.
Are Petruchio’s actions an attack on women? No, they are an attack on Katherina’s pride and temper. A woman who hits her musical tutor with his own instrument and beats her own sister is not a stable person. Petruchio appears to be the first person who offers any form of resistance to her. When he is first “wooing” her there is much banter between them. As their relationship continues, Petruchio challenges her temper and pushes her to patience. While the methods seem radical, possibly mental, they do work. Katherina learns not only to be nice to her husband, but also has a change in attitude to those around her.
In the end, Katherina proves to be the only one of the women that come when their men call. The whole play leads up to Katherina’s speech in the final act. Evidence of her previous shrewish nature are present, but they are directed at the other women, who act conversely to the way Petruchio “trained” Katherina. The other women’s ingratitude to their husbands is what forces Katherine to chastise them, saying “too little payment for so great a debt” and to admit that women only fight with lances that “are but straws.” Katherina’s final speech is not about her becoming subject to her man, it is about her understanding the role of wives and husbands, and showing she is not the woman that she was before. One could say her alteration was due to brute force, or Stockholm syndrome, but I believe the better argument lies in Petruchio’s role of giving her a taste of her own medicine.
It is easy to say that Taming of the Shrew is incredibly anti-women, and that Petruchio was a chauvinistic pig that systematically destroyed an independent woman, but I believe that interpretation to be narrow minded. Katherina was not an independent woman, she still lived under the rule of her father, and her shrewish behavior and actions before Petruchio’s arrival are more accurately described as those of a child, not a woman. However, her final speech on the nature of marriage between husbands and wives proves that Katherina has matured, and that her spirits have rather changed direction and not disappeared.