Or just a brilliant disguise?
… as The Boss might remark. A guy who, perhaps appositely in the light of this post, I admire for his authenticity as much as his music.
The Taming of the Shrew: Act III
By now, I wonder if anyone is who they say they are in this play. Poor old Christopher Sly‘s been conned into thinking he’s a Lord with a young, beautiful wife, remember: and that was BEFORE the play properly started … When I see the Stage Direction:
“Enter LUCENTIO [as Cambio], HORTENSIO [as Licio] and BIANCA”
(who I suspect is not as pure, dutiful, or even as nice as she seems), my heart sinks a little.
Disguises just aren’t my thing. I even struggle a bit with Sherlock Holmes‘ redoubtable talent. In an audio performance, I can easily suspend my disbelief, but give me characters on stage pretending to be something they are not, and my brain often freezes. Viola is another case in point in Twelfth Night. I suspect that the Two Gentlemen of Verona is going to ‘do my head in’ – that’s a technical Shakespearean term.
So my hope aren’t high for this act. I can just about live with our reluctant lovers assuming character roles that aren’t theirs. At least they aren’t adopting fancy dress to do it – at least not yet.
Bianca strikes me as knowing, and I still believe, more trouble than her sister in the long run. When she admonishes her tutors:
‘Why gentlemen you do me double wrong
To strive for that which resteth in my choice.
[…] I’ll not be tied to hours nor ‘pointed times
But learn my lessons as I please myself” (III.i.16-17;19-20)
She doesn’t sound any less wilful than her sister, does she?
Nor am I sure that Lucentio/Cambio’s lesson is a skilful choice, channeling Penelope‘s pursuit by wholly unsuitable suitors whilst Odysseus/Ulysses is absent. As I recall, those guys couldn’t tell when they were being played. Nor, I think, can these two. In saying this, I am fully aware that Shakespearean comedy demands marriages, plural, at its conclusion. Perhaps this is another reason why I find the Comedies less satisfying. Bianca is going to end up with one of these guys. I simply can’t help being more frightened for this man than for Petruccio.
‘Presume not’ … ‘Despair not’. (III.i.42-43)
It’s going to be Lucentio, isn’t it? Sigh. He hasn’t – I have to say – got any of the redeeming qualities of other Shakespearean lovers like Orlando in As You Like it. Even Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing has a certain rakish charm. What has Lucentio got? Not much more than a passing resemblance to the 80s UK Radio DJ Noel Edmonds, in the BBC version.
Although others might criticise him as fickle, or not a tryer, it strikes me that Hortensio might be the more savvy of the three suitors in realising (channeling Holmes as I did earlier) that ‘the game is up’. I loved his haughty (is that a pun?) decision to quit the field:
‘if thy thoughts, Bianca, be so humble
To cast thy wandering eyes on every stale,
Seize thee that list (III.86-88)
We move onto scene ii: Katherina’s wedding day. And another ‘brilliant disguise’. I wonder, again, to what extent Petruccio is holding a mirror to his bride by arriving unfashionably late here? If he’s playing her like a fish, she takes the bait – hook, line and sinker!
‘I must forsooth be forced
To give my hand opposed against my heart
Unto a mad-brain rudesby full of spleen
Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure’ (III.ii.8-11)
Funnily enough, I feel little of the sympathy I found for her earlier on. Could it be that I’ve been won over by his boorish, brusque, bonkers but brilliant behaviour? Speaking of which, I’m beginning to find Biondello an absolute treasure in the play. His extended description of the parlous state of Petruccio’s steed really tickled me. Then, of course, he channels Hamlet’s gravediggers in playing on the fact that the jade is coming, not – technically – Petruccio. When the groom arrives, he’s not simply assuming another role, but in Miller’s adaptation he’s wonderfully bare-chested and sporting an outrageous feather in his hat which John Cleese appears to use for the unscripted annoyance of all and sundry, until I was no longer listening to the script and instead looking for signs of imminent corpsing from the rest of the cast 🙂 My fancy dress moment arrived, and it wasn’t as painful as I feared
We end the act with a sense of Petruccio’s steel. There’s something masterful and not to denied in his assertion of proprietorship:
‘I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household-stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything,
And here she stands. Touch her whoever dare.’ (III.ii.230-234)
Phew. I mean, obviously, obviously, unacceptable now. But still. Phew. A Rhett Butler-style declaration, I thought. Compare that to Lucentio’s Romeo-like intention to:
‘steal our marriage,
Which once performed, let all the world say no,
I’ll keep mine own, despite of all the world.’ (III.ii.139-141)
The intention might be the same, but it feels less honest, somehow. I know which approach Bruce Springsteen would take, 400-odd years ago …
Line references are to the Arden Third Edition of the text, edited by Barbara Hodgson.