Tuesday, December 14, 2010


“V” is for “Virago”
Dictionary: “A noisy, domineering woman; a shrew.”

As you probably know, Will Shakespeare wrote a play titled “The Taming of the Shrew.”
It’s strange that a work like this has been performed so often in our time; the feminist revolution of the past century or so would seem to have rendered portions of the play – shall we say, unpalatable? – for today’s audiences. But there have been plenty of staged productions, as well as Broadway musicals and major motion pictures (“Kiss Me Kate,” for example).
Here’s the story. Kate is angry. She has quite a bit to be angry about. She’s the eldest daughter, but she feels she has always been treated as second-rate while her younger sister, Bianca – who is regarded as more beautiful as well as “nicer” – receives attention and admiration from everyone. So Kate has become sharp-tongued and quick-tempered and has been known to throw stuff about during a tantrum.
The father, Baptista, had the problem all fathers of that era had: he must find suitable husbands for his daughters. He felt that it was important that Kate, the eldest, be married first, but of course the problem was that any potential suitor who got to know Kate took off as soon as he could and was not seen again.
So Baptista’s rule was, no one could court (or marry) Bianca until Kate was married.
That’s the situation when our hero, Petruchio, arrives in town, openly planning to get married, assuming he can find a reasonably attractive female who also has a hefty dowry.
Well, Kate fits that description, but locals warn him that the girl is impossible. But Petruchio, who can be as loud, boisterous and eccentric as Baptista’s oldest daughter, disregards everyone who warns him of her shrewishness.

When he goes to Baptista’s house to meet Kate, they have a tremendous duel of words. (Above, the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton version.) Katherine insults Petruchio repeatedly, but he tells her that he is going to marry her whether she agrees or not. Hearing this claim, Kate is strangely silent, so the wedding is set.
One gets the feeling that Katherine really has a deep-seated sense of insecurity, which is probably the cause of her shrewishness, and that she actually rather likes the idea of marrying this brash young man.

Petruchio does all kinds of wild stuff to prove he’s the boss. He shows up at the wedding under the alfluence of inkohol while wearing outlandish clothes, and he plays tricks on his new wife. Today’s audiences tend to feel a bit uncomfortable during all this; it is clearly abusive behavior.
But it’s the final sequence that is the hardest to take. Petruchio has succeeded in taming the shrew. His wife has changed greatly; she has become passive and submissive. When he orders her to drop what she’s doing and come to him, she replies:

“What is’t your honour will command wherein your lady and your humble wife may show her duty and make known her love?”
Petruchio replies: “Kiss me, Kate, since thou art become so prudent, kind and dutiful a wife.”
So we are left with a question. Is the play titled “The Taming of the Shrew” an indication of what William Shakespeare thought an ideal wife should be to have a good marriage? Or is the play actually his attack on the hypocrisy of the customs and practices of his time?
Your opinion?


chiccoreal said...

Dear Berowne: The Taming of The Shrew and Kiss Me Kate love the dramatic and witty productions! Shakespeare may be the first advocate for woman's lib, (was not Portia a woman in Merchant of Venice?) and having such a name; "The Shrew" or "Virago" (sounds like Viagra). The woman had chutzpah. I dont think she was deep seated passive-agressive, just probably miffed by the "many parts" she have to don for her subservient role as "wife". Woman can relate to Kate! Most definitely!

Roger Owen Green said...

"alfluence of inkohol" - sorry, too soused to answer.
OK, actually I'm not at all sure. I used to hate it because of its sexism, but I've either mellowed, or am seeing it differently.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Jeanne Estridge said...

I've always loved that play. And I've always considered myself a feminist.

Emerson was right. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Gigi Ann said...

This sounds like a fun one, I will have to watch the Liz and Richard movie next time it is on TCM.

girl daydreaming said...

i'm guessing the latter, 'knowing Shakespeare;' clever fellow and ahead of his time...

EG CameraGirl said...

I think Shakespeare was saying that people are not always what they appear to be. Kate appeared to be a shrew but was actually acting out because she felt inferior.

Berowne said...

chiccoreal: "Shakespeare may be the first advocate for woman's lib."
It would be nice to think so. ;-0

Berowne said...

girldaydreaming: "I'm guessing the latter."
Good guess.

Tumblewords: said...

Far ahead of his time, I think.

Rinkly Rimes said...

Since Shakespeare probably lifted this story from somewhere else I think we might have to go back in time to discover the author's meaning!

Hildred said...

That is a conundrum, isn't it?

Berowne said...

Rinkly Rimes: "Since Shakespeare probably lifted this story from somewhere else..."
Yes, the scholars tell us there was an earlier similar play, now known as the "Ur-Shrew," but it has been lost and no one knows much about it.

Francisca said...

What a super V post! I would guess that Willie was telling how it was, yet was at the same time exposing it for the need to change social attitudes. In response to some of the other comments, I think it's a mistake not to read/hear/watch something well done that does not resonate with today's social values. There is intrinsic value in seeing how it was, and let it be thought-provoking. And frankly, I don't think a virago - or just a strong woman - is that much better treated by society today.

Berowne said...

Francisca: "I would guess that Willie was telling how it was, yet was at the same time exposing it for the need to change social attitudes."
Good guess.

Elizabeth said...

I think Will proved through all of his plays and sonnets that he was a more even minded chap than most of today, giving equal bearing to men and women and knowing that the dictum 'a wife should be a lady in the boardroom but a whore in the bedroom' contains more than a modicum of truth at any point in history.
Remember Will served a queen who was not, by all accounts,as virgo intactus as she claimed to be but who discreetly distanced herself from those lovers in the public arena, so this may have been a measure of what was deemed correct behaviour and also I suspect that society at that time was far more accepting than we imagine it to be.

As Arnold Bennett wrote, 'Women are strange and incomprehensible, a device invented by Providence to keep the wit of man well sharpened by constant employment'.

I notice, Berowne, that you have given no personal opinion on the answer to the question. Tell me, sir, do YOU think all shrews need to be tamed?

Berowne said...

Elizabeth: "I notice, Berowne, that you have given no personal opinion on the answer to the question. Tell me, sir, do YOU think all shrews need to be tamed?"
Don't know. I'm having a tough enough time trying to keep YOU in line. (Jes' kiddin')

Elizabeth said...

;-) x

Elizabeth said...

This particular shrew wishes you a wonderful holiday season, Berowne, filled with all you would wish for yourself. x

Berowne said...

What I would wish for myself is that I had more readers like you. Buon Natale!

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