Monday, 27 May 2013

The Taming of the Shrew

After Oedipus, it seemed natural to me to continue either with something Greek, or with something dramatic. I couldn't keep myself from Shakespeare.

Even though I found the comedy hilarious and the characters well-drawn, it's been difficult for me to decipher what Shakespeare's meaning was in The Taming of the Shrew. Even Harold Bloom had nothing to say about it, devoting only three pages of his disquisition on the bard to Kate and Petruchio. He calls them the happiest married couple in all of the plays and insists that the secret of it is in Kate's final speech. The meanings of strength and weakness have been switched, says Bloom, and Kate has preserved her voracious will in a way far more refined than that of her sister and the widow.

Muir mentioned the play last term, and ascribed Bianca's mildness to her study of the classics. By extension I assumed he meant that Kate's taming in the same way was prevented by the smashing of the lute and refusal of the tutor. She refuses the activity of a heightened mind, so must be treated like an animal undergoing domestication.

Bloom and Muir differ greatly in their estimation of Kate's mental capacity, and I'm not sure who to believe. Her acid tongue and quick wit make me lean towards Bloom. I do wonder what education has to do with the meaning, since all of the suitors have obviously studied the classics (Petruchio gives an example in his speech about wealthy but venomous women, mentioning Florentine, Sibyl, and Xanthippe).

And why has no one mentioned Bianca and Lucentio? Bianca plays opposite to Katherine, acting perfectly mild but ending the play disobedient. Bloom reflects on this, calling it social commentary. Women can only be 16th century ideals (silent, obedient, pretty) or shrews.

Lucentio abandons his studies to court Bianca, turning Tranio into himself. If the transformation from servant to Lord is a metaphor, education can certainly be counted as a major theme in TOS. Tranio is allowed to don Lucentio's lordly garb after he promises to attend the University in his place. Or, that's just a joke, and Shakespeare's meaning is that the only difference between servants and their masters are clothes.

The play as a whole is equal parts amusing and puzzling. There are so many threads I can hardly count them all. They do weave together nicely into a happy caricature of young people.

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