Secular authorities had (and still have) every investment in discouraging revenge. If citizens perceive that the law no longer serves them, then we get the kind of situation that Francis Bacon famously warned of:
‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice’
And this is a point that Jonathan Bate develops, quoting Fredson Bowers:
Private action undermines the authority of the state:Elizabethan law felt itself capable of meting out justice to murderers, and therefore punished an avenger who took justice into his own hands just as heavily as the original murderer.The authorities, conscious of the Elizabethan inheritance of private justice from earlier ages, recognised that their own times still held the possibilities of serious turmoil; and the were determined that private revenge should not unleash a general disrespect for law.
Act IV however adds the dimension of the breakdown of DIVINE justice to the individual’s decision to subvert the legal process.
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.
Ponytail Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV
KATHERINA: ‘And be it moon or sun or what you please,
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
PETRUCCIO: I say it is the moon.
KATHERINA: I know it is the moon.
PETRUCCIO: Nay then, you lie; it is the blessed sun.
KATHERINA: Then God be blest, it is the blessed sun.’
I so often say to students (usually when we’re looking at poetry) that you should ‘bring your baggage’ to a work. It’s one of the things that makes re-reading an unexpected joy, as you arrive at a familiar work with fresh eyes. The ‘baggage’ can, of course, be life experiences, or other works that you’ve read: regular readers will already know that I have a habit of conflating Caliban, Richard III and Frankenstein’s monster, to talk through a sympathetic lens about those three characters and the nature vs. nurture argument.
(with apologies to Cole Porter. This is my all-time favourite bit of Shakespearean fan fiction – take a look here to see why …
It turned out that as well as simply bringing along the June 2017 Ponytail text – Two Gentlemen of Verona – I had packed the Complete Works with me for my trip, in my mind, at least. The plays haunted me wherever I went, fighting tooth-and-nail (if you’ll pardon the pun) against the constant impulse to declaim lines from Dracula in my best Bela Lugosi Romanian accent, to make even worse puns than the one I’ve just used, and to call my other half ‘Nadia’ (until she lost patience).
You are holding in your hands one of the most interesting, influential – and readable – books in British history.
Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland have long been famous as the key source of Shakespeare’s history plays. Given the role of Shakespeare’s view of Tudor history in shaping English nationalism, Holinshed’s long-term influence on British culture and English literature can hardly be overstated. Michael Wood (intro), Holinshed Chronicles (The Folio Society: London, 2012)