Sunday, August 5, 2007

Shakespeare on Submission Part II

Shakespeare, a proponent of submission? Verily!

In the Taming of the Shrew, the play builds to a pivotal moment: the three newly married gentleman engage in a little good natured ribbing which results in a wager. The wager is meant to determine the most "obedient wife." Of the three, Katharina is the only one to come when her husband bids. She is then sent to retrieve the other wives and she admonishes them:

"Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,

Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt....

And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,

And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey...."

Forsooth, dear Kate! Obedience? Service? Kneeling?

You must be kidding.

But she's not. Check out what another writing says about submission:

"Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." Ephesians 5:22-24 NET Bible

Kate is not so far wrong after all.

And really, if you look at the entire context of the play, what has she learned? Perhaps, that being a shrew is pretty nasty business. It is not the way to "win friends, and influence people." But when you consider the overarching theme of disguise, it is interesting to consider who concealed themselves the most fruitfully.

Katharina put on the guise of a shrew, her mode of dealing with the inequity of her father's excessive and cosseting treatment of her sister. Bianca put on the guise of an obedient and charming woman, her way of winning a prized husband. But who gains the most in the end?

When Petruchio sets out to woo his wife, he decides the best course of action is to kill her with kindness.
(Act IV Scene 1) His harsh words are not directed to her, but rather rails and flails on her behalf. Always insuring her comfort and care. He praises her wit and beauty and emphasizes her value.

Petruchio's methods could be construed as an attempt to break Kate's will. But nothing could be farther from the truth! He compares his plan to the taming of a hawk. Falconry does not seek to break the spirit of the bird, but redirects the hawk's natural impulses. Her fiery spirit is one of the things that drew him to her from the beginning, he has no desire to put it out.

Petruchio adopts the guise of the shrew. From his behavior, Katharina sees herself in a new way. And despite his pretense she experiences, first hand, the equity of the next verse in Ephesians.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;" Ephesians 5:25 Net Bible

Katharina's reprimand to the other wives ends. She turns to her husband and says:
"My hand is ready; may it do him ease."

Petruchio replies:
"Why there's a wench. Come on and kiss me Kate."

And she does.

One more thing. Skip down a few lines, past the pained musings of the other husbands, and read Petruchio's final lines,

"Come, Kate, we'll to bed.

We three are married, but you two are sped.
Twas I won the wager, [To LUCENTIO.]
though you hit the white;
And, being a winner.
God give you good night!"

In the OSF production (summer 2007) the players left little doubt to the meaning of these words. Petruchio and Kate leave hand in hand. Smiles on their faces and a impish wink from Kate to the other brides.

Has he tamed her? Or loved her?

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