Ponytail Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew, Act V
When I was about 8, I vividly remember having a competition with a lad called David – surname O’Toole, if I remember correctly – who shortly afterwards moved to Australia. The competition took place in school and could have been called: “Let’s see who can piss the highest against the wall.” David won. I moved on.
But many boys and men never really graduate from that game – they just play variations on it, like:
- I’ve got further with a girl than you have;
- the girls who like me are hotter than the ones who like you; then, once they’re older
- remind me what you drive again; and
- who’s your daddy?
I also get, by the way, the occasional sneering “But Shakespeare didn’t even write those plays.” Never backed up by evidence. Never by anyone who has actually read the plays themselves. But they drive better cars than me (not difficult, since I don’t drive), so they must be right, surely? You are NOT my daddy. But you ARE a ‘three-inch fool‘, to quote this play.
Overall, The Taming of the Shrew is in many places an embarrassing reminder that ‘laddishness’ hasn’t changed in at least 400 years – that men are constantly pissing up the wall against each other. No more obviously than in Act 5.
Who’s Your Daddy? (part one)
The play’s issues have really engaged me over the past few posts, even if I wasn’t always pleasantly entertained. Perhaps some have dominated to the extent where I have almost, but not quite, skipped over some parts of the play.
The chickens were always going to come home to roost in the ‘fake father’ scenario. We have, as someone helpfully pointed out to me on Reddit, another attempt to ‘gaslight’ an individual: possibly the third after Christopher Sly and Katherina. Despite a semantic field of madness being thrown at him, Vincentio doesn’t buckle. With the truth revealed, he seems to effectively cover up Lucentio‘s trick and Baptista‘s accompanying dismay. Yet there is a hint of steel in his response that reminds me of a more effective version of Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and I enjoyed the idea that Vincentio IS ‘the daddy’ in more ways than one, and that someone will pay for his treatment:
“I’ll slit the villain’s nose that would have sent me to the jail.” (V.i.121)
“Fear not, Baptista, we will content you –
Go to. But I will be revenged for this villainy.” (V.i.125-6)
Who’s Your Daddy? (part two)
And so to the biggest Shakespearean Wall-Pissing competition I’ve found to date. Contextually, we know that wagers were a large part of everyday life, and that people enjoyed betting on entertainents like bear-baiting or cock-fighting.
And this is, actually what we have here: a cock-fight.
‘A hundred marks my Kate does put her down.’ (PETRUCCIO: V.ii.38)
Petruccio seems utterly sure of his wife in a cat-fight, wagering an eye-watering sum, even in a play where huge amounts are often bandied about. The bet itself is famous, and whilst I am dehumanising our cast and their actions, let’s liken it to calling a dog to heel. And, of course, the two unsubjugated women refuse to be leashed whilst Katherina comes. Petruccio answers the wondering comments of the other men:
‘Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life,
An awful rule and right supremacy
And, to be short, what’s not that’s sweet and happy.’ (V.ii.114-116)
Back in Act III, I wondered if anyone was who they said they were. Barbara Hodgson interesting glosses Petruccio‘s use of Katherine and Kate. I wonder to what extent she is playing ‘Katherine’ for the benefit of her husband, and they both put ‘Kate’ away until the wager is won.
There ARE problems in this idea – that she is complicit in her own subjugation. As in the most recent act, I was reminded of Nineteen Eighty-Four:
‘But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. (THE END)
We are heading into the territory of Simone de Beauvoir, here. Katherina might fit the idea of the Woman In Love, who is defined by her male partner. See Omar S Alatas and elsewhere for ideas on this. Her life might end up being empty, or she could be the sleeping partner in a successful marital unit. Certainly, she’s enriched the couple, and it probably does assure her peace, and love and quiet life.
On the other hand, there is always a danger of taking things too literally, of ignoring wider messages and the relationship between the micro and macrocosms. This was a time when loyalty, to church and to state was often tested and testing. I think there’s a metaphorical message for the entire audience, in Katherina’s closing speech:
‘Such duty as the subect owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
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? (V.ii.161-166)
What’s the message I see in there? The desirability of obedience. At least to those in charge. The hypocrisy (and implied threat of dangerous words like ‘rebel’ and ‘traitor’?) of expecting unthinking loyalty and not offering it upwards yourself. The message that everyone should know their place in the ultra-classified chain of being and in society. I think the church and the crown would have nodded heartily at these sentiments, even as the groundlings were doing the same at the thought of being masters in their own homes.
A final thought. One thing I never quite lost track of, and was disappointed to leave unresolved, was the gulling of Christopher Sly. The play feels incomplete and abrupt without being bookended by the end of his deception. Back when I was discussing the carnivalesque in relation to the Induction, I expected to see the usual reversion to the status quo, but to my disappointment, this never appeared.
Next month I move from Padua to Verona, to see what kind of pissing contests those two gentlemen get up to …
Line references are, as ever, to the Arden Third Edition of the play. Links are provided to any other sources. Any other Shakespeare quotations are taken from www.opensourceshakespeare.org