Shrewpost 2: second read

Alright – I feel a little better now. First of all, the seldom-performed prologue provides a big clue: it sets up the play to be all about disguises, role-playing, and playful deceit. One of the most astonishing moments is when the drunken Sly, convinced by the Lord and his men that he is noble, begins to speak in verse. S’speare seems to be proclaiming the power of the art he loves. When one deeply believes in the role thrust upon them, they can be utterly changed. Now think of Katherine, growing up as the “ugly one”, the “shrew” next to her virtuous and pretty little sister. It reminds me of the modern psychological syndrome of familial role playing, in which inherit “roles” within a family dynamic we never asked for, but they trap us and guide our development none the less. Perhaps K is trapped in a self-definition that has more to do with other people’s expectations of her, and perhaps P’s gift to her is shattering those definitions. What does he do immediately upon woo-ing her? He inverts virtually everything others have ever said about her.

The disguise theme proceeds apace in the play-within-the-play which is what we’ve come to think of as Taming of The Shrew. Buy mid 1.1 there are three concentric circles of performance: the game being played on Sly, the players’ play (Shrew) and Lucentio’s plan with Tranio. It suddenly occurred to me that 400 years ago (or so) a man at the Globe played an actor playing Kate in a tavern late at night at the behest of a noble lord to play a trick on a drunken sot. Hmmmm . . .

Second sigh of relief: it’s a slapstick farce. Grumio gets knocked around comically straight away and any violence in the play is instantly set up as comedy. This softens up the implications of P’s actions considerably.

There’s something important in K’s 2.1. rant at her father. She rails at her him about the different way he treats her vs. Bianca, playing into the familial role-playing idea expressed above. The nastier Baptista, the more sympathetic K. Also in 2.1 I noticed this line of P’s when he’s talking about wooing K: “where two raging fires meet together/They do consume the thing that feeds their fury”. I like the implication that P and K are two “raging fires”, somehow kindred souls in torment, and in their coming together the torment is erased.

I recently read the wooing scene through a few times with my wife in a double gender-reversed pre-rehearsal. It struck me how not insulting P is, how all he does is compliment her, how – in fact – he very effectively woos her. I didn’t feel tricked in the playing of it, I actually felt quite charmed, and “Where did you learn all this goodly speech?” felt involuntarily complimentary. Then I wondered if some kind of understanding had been reached between the two of them with this line of P’s: “T’is bargain’d twixt us twain, being alone,/That she shall still be cursed in company”. Is the implication here that in the presence of others (“in company”) she will behave “curs’d”, but differently in private? Is this a re-assuring aside to nervous co-conspirators, or game face-saving?

K’s 3.2 outburst is interesting. It seems to be about P. being someone who only pretends to marry. It feels like the outburst of a woman who, when her much anticipated bridegroom is late for the wedding, is afraid she’s been betrayed. It implies that she is at least possessive of P, if not in love with him. If it’s an authentic outburst it implies she actually does want to be married to him, but fears he isn’t serious. If this is true, it has enormous implications for what comes before this outburst, and what comes after. If this is true, her “shrewishness” is considerably diminished. She is revealed as woman who very much wants to be loved.

Throughout 4 & 5 she witnesses P abuse his servants and underlings, while never abusing her (directly). Maybe watching all this comic mayhem allows her to reflect on her abuse of B? She occasionally comes to the defense of Grumio or some other object of P’s craziness. Through P’s charade (he’s putting it all on – or is he?), she witnesses the ill effects of rage and bitterness on others. Does this soften her? Does it make her see P as a version of herself in the past, and then make it possible to forgive herself by forgiving him? Or am I getting way too 21st c. pop-psych on this?

As far as 5.1 is concerned, I wonder if “the thing she witnesses” I suggested in the last post is the true love between L & B? I wonder if his reveal and others’ reaction to it has a big effect on her. And I wonder if, by that point in the play, P and K are tired of playing roles with each other and for everyone else, and are relieved simply to be husband and wife for each other in what ever way makes the most sense to them.

And then there’s that final speech . . .