1 year ago
Sunday, April 8, 2012
("M" is for "Marriage in Shakespeare's day")
The prompt this week got me to thinking about Kate.
You remember Kate, the shrew?
In Shakespeare’s play, “The Taming of the Shrew,” we are introduced to a young woman who was difficult – no, not difficult; impossible.
But if ever a female had a right to be, er, shrewish, it was a girl of that Elizabethan age.
In this play Will Shakespeare shines a light on the condition of women of his time. A girl of respectable family was raised to get married. There wasn’t much else for her. She usually had no education; she never got to go to school.
If she was bright, intelligent, witty, these would be handicaps she would be expected to try to overcome.
No wonder Kate wasn’t all that enthusiastic about marriage. It was often no treat. She would probably have agreed with Cher, who said: “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to spend their life in an institution?”
Shakespeare created a character like the girl in this week’s prompt: it’s Kate trying to break out of the egg – the traditions, conventions, of that era - that held her back.
And she knew that marriage in those days, even if she did finally get around to accepting it, wasn’t all that great. A married woman was owned by her husband. And not just her person; everything she had was his too.
In “The Merchant of Venice,” the beautiful Portia is a young woman of great wealth. She is, not to put too fine a point on it, loaded.
The day she marries, the piles of dough - what today we might call her financial portfolio - immediately becomes her husband’s and he will decide what to do with it.
To get back to Kate: she finally, inevitably, gets married. She locates a husband; Petruchio just picks her up and lugs her off. This, by the way, is usually played as comedy.
Once married, as I’m sure you know, she finally changes. What’s interesting is how drastically she changes.
In the last act, Kate has accepted the onerous restrictions of her marriage and assures us that she’s very happy. She's a picture of serenity; she has become a Stepford wife. She even gives advice to young brides.
“Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper. Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman owes to her husband. 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.”
It’s too much; it’s unbelievable.
Many scholars feel – and I, no scholar, tend to agree – that Will Shakespeare wrote this draft of the play with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek. They would agree with modern productions of this play that have Kate delivering these lines in a kind of bitter, sardonic way, to make sure everyone in the audience will “get” what she really thinks of her situation.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)