The Taming Rises Only if You Ignore How Low it Stoops
I read (and watched—which I now do for most of the plays; thanks to the local library and BBC Shakespeare) the Taming of the Shrew. I found it offensive in its treatment of women and that I could only say I liked it if I read it symbolically. Symbolic of what? I’ll get to that.
The words and phrases that came to mind as I read the play were tearing down others, manipulation of others for self-interest, tough love (if it’s love at all), deceit, cabal, humiliation, subjection, submission–and all this to poor, harmless Kate!
As I read the play, I wasn’t getting much from it, but kept looking for something good in it. I found it in reading it as symbolic of submission to God’s will. Here’s how it works: We are all like Kate: spoiled, selfish, rebellious, strong-willed, but God wants to make more of us than we are capable of making ourselves. But this re-creation is not through a soft life and easy work; it’s through a difficult, demanding, sometimes sorrowful path that he converts us to something better than we were, something better than ourselves. We are, during at least part of the process, like Kate, willfully fighting the transformation and the joy God promises us.
In the play, Kate begins to blossom into a strong, capable woman only after she submits to the humbling machinations of Petruchio. When she gives up her will and accepts his as always superior to her own, she begins to blossom in self-confidence, trust, happiness. This Kate-Petruchio relationship seems unrealistic and chauvinistic, but if you substitute God for Petruchio and each of us for Kate, it begins to seem real, profound and ennobling. It is through substituting God’s will for our own that we begin to blossom in confidence, trust and happiness. There, the play (and Shakespeare’s reputation) is saved.
Quotes that appealed to me for various reasons:
Tranio: …Do as adversaries do in law,–Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
Petruchio: And where two raging fires meet together, they do consume the thing that feeds their fury….
Peter: He kills her in her own humour.
Petruchio: This is a way to kill a wife with kindness. And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour. (I’m not sure we use this Shakespearean phrase as he used it here. What Petruchio was doing to Kate was essentially torture.)
Petruchio: For ’tis the mind that makes the body rich; and as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, so honour peereth in the meanest habit.
Biondello: Forgot you! No, sir: I could not forget you, for I never saw you before in all my life.
I apologize for the following quote. It’s too long, but the interchange is too wonderful leave out, occurring at the critical moment when the shrew’s will is finally brought into obedience:
Petruchio: …how bright and goodly shines the moon!
Katharina: The moon! the sun: it is not moonlight now.
Petruchio: I say it is the moon that shines so bright.
Katharina: I know it is the sun that shines so bright.
Petruchio: Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father’s house.—
Go on, and fetch our horses back again.—
Evermore cross’d and cross’d; nothing but cross’d!
Hortensio: Say as he says, or we shall never go.
Katharina: Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
Petruchio: I say it is the moon.
Katharina: I know it is the moon.
Petruchio: Nay, then you lie: it is the blessed sun.
Katharina: 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 Katharina.
A second test comes moments later:
Petruchio to Vencentio who they meet on the road:
Good morrow, gentle mistress: where away?—
Tell me, sweet Kate, and tell me truly too,
Hast thou beheld a fresher gentlewoman?
Such war of white and red within her cheeks!
What stars do spangle heaven with such beauty,
As those two eyes become that heavenly face—
Fair lovely maid, once more good day to thee:—
Sweet Kate, embrace her for her beauty’s sake.
Hortensio: ‘A will make the man mad, to make a woman of him.
Katharina: Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet,
Whither away, or where is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child;
Happier the man whom favourable stars
Allot thee for his lovely bed-fellow!
Petruchio: Why, how now, Kate! I hope thou art not mad:
This is a man, old, wrinkled, faded, wither’d;
And not a maiden, as thou say’st he is.
Katharina: Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with the sun,
That everything I look on seemeth green:
Now I perceive thou art a reverend father;
Pardon, I pray thee, for my mad mistaking.
Next Up (if you’re reading along): The Winter’s Tale