Thursday, June 05, 2008

Can you be induced ... ?

Neither of the two 'filmed' versions I watched of The Taming of the Shrew used the Induction. Few people know it, fewer regard it, some even claim it ain't Shakespeare ... and yet!

The induction does add to the play - if you think about it.

Not only that - if you follow the Oxford 'Complete Works' you are reminded of the framing plot in several places.

Most striking for me is the theatricality of it - if you add the induction (and rest) you never loose track of The Taming of the Shrew as a play - it is the play being performed for 'Sly' - he is (presumably) 'above' - or possibly in the curtained alcove at the back - he may be visible all through the play - maybe he is doubling a role (could he be Petruccio?).

Notice, you need to think of the staging techniques of the Elizabethan theatre to get part of the meaning out ... just as Peter Brook indicates - the platform stage is an active ingredient of the play.

As a play there is a sense of make-believe, of imitation rather than reality - a distancing - which allows the antics of Petruccio and Kate to be seen less as realistic than symbolic - as deliberate 'over the top' for amusement's sake. This is the stuff of farce ... no one is meant to take it seriously as 'serious' ... although farce does play on basic errors of humanity.

The induction starts with Sly being thrown out of an 'alehouse' by a 'baggage' - the Hostess. He falls into a drunken slumber ... this is all extremely extreme. We see excess - we start with lack of control and alcohol induced sleep - surely, when we see both Petruccio and Kate we see a further pair of examples of this extremity? Without the induction there is a danger of taking both male and female character as 'real'?

If played right the 'throwing out' is also funny - knock-about funny. I can't believe, in the spirit of 'Commedia', there was not improvisation - possibly even spoken dialogue improvised - at this point.
I wouldn't like to suggest a full 'Italian treatment' - alla the picture - but we should remember the first folio refers to 'Gremio a Pantelowne' - suggesting knowledge of the stock characters ... and also linking nicely with the induction.

A bit of rough and tumble at the beginning would also set quite a tone for what follows - very un-serious - but then, it is a comedy ... and maybe you should be very cautious when you read the scripts with 'comedy scenes' - especially as later in his writing Shakespeare has a character moan about comedians adding lines.

A word of warning over this one - everyone takes the words against comedians to be a reflection of Shakespeare's own thoughts ... strange, when for most of the rest of the time the very same people are cautioning us about taking the words of any one character as being Shakespeare's ... I have also seen the suggestion that Shakespeare himself, in his role as an actor, was not averse to taking on the 'lighter' roles ... and with his linguistic inventiveness and quick wit, I bet he was a great improviser!

Back to the induction.

A second (and third?) theme introduced in the induction is the 'correct order of things' - as reflected in 'the world turned upside down, of the lord serving the beggar and the male dressing up as female.

Very clearly the first is seen as a source of humour - firmly in the control of the 'Lord'. In the Taming itself, the role Kate takes on as Shrew can be seen in the light of this - both as an 'un-natural' and humorous manifestation ... it is absurd.
Is it also to be seen as role playing? Is she concious of the absurdity herself?

When you add to this the next factor - the play starts with a boy dressing as a woman ... the issue of illusion, of the reality of Kate being played by a boy .. and consequently reflecting a boyish spirit ... only leads to 'complexicate' the whole process.

How is it possible, without the induction, to raise these guidelines and issues?

Well, as I said at the start ... both the versions I watched left them out. The Zefferelli film did nod in the direction of drunkeness - the opening shots include a drunk being punished in a cage (which suspiciously looks like the opening of Othello in Orson Welles's film).

Can the induction work outside the theatre?

I don't think it can .. and I suspect you need a Globe-like theatre for it to really work ... one with a balcony above ...

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Craig said...

Some people love that Induction...I can't really say I'm among them. I acted once in Shrew in college, and we did the Induction--may be the only time I've seen it done. I don't think it added much. I think that one mangled quote from the Spanish Tragedy ("Saint Jeronimy") is pretty funny, but of course I'm one of about six people in North America who would say that.

Alan K.Farrar said...

I think one interesting aspect I didn't explore (although thought about) was the 'irrelevance' to the modern world of several of the themes - or maybe not irrelevance, but distance: We don't have boys playing women; the 'natural order of things' has been 'turned upside down'; the loss of control through drink maybe connects - but in the society in which I live it is not such an issue.
I have seen productions with the Induction - but it didn't "Boing" in production the way it does when I read ... I understand the cutting of it ... although regret - and do think it might work better in the London Globe.

Ian Thal said...

I certainly think there is something to be gained by acknowledging Shakespeare's indebtedness to the commedia dell'arte-- in becoming aware of his roots, we better see how innovative he is, and we start to see that in combining these comic archtypes, with his great talent for linguistic invention, character observation, even transmuting comedy into tragedy and tragedy into comedy, we move away from the idea that Shakespeare is "advocating" anything.

Alan K.Farrar said...

Couldn't agree more - his use of 'type' in character, genre, language all allow him to move quickly on - and to ask not answer.

As I've read and re-read the induction (not seen it since a production when I was back in England many moons ago) I am increasingly convinced the characters improvised between the written scenes - my only question is - did Shakespeare play Sly?