Saturday, June 14, 2008


The Library of the University of Toronto has kindly made available to all the Elizabethan and Jacobean Homilies. The one I'm interested in at the moment is the one on the state marriage.

For this folly is euer from our tender age growne vp with vs, to haue a desire to rule, to thinke highly of our selfe, so that none thinketh it meet to giue place to another and to disseuer the loue of heart, then to preserue concord. That wicked vice of stubborne will and selfe loue, is more meet to breake

OK - that's a clear reference to Kate - and it is a danger to marriage - so Petruccio breaking her of it is good: Elizabethan view.

But surely Petruccio is aiming at ruling? I am not so sure - elsewhere in the Homily it says (about marriage):

It is instituted of GOD, to the intent that man and wo­man should liue lawfully in a perpetuall friendship

That's an interesting word - friendship - back to Two Gentlemen and their 'friendship'?

The friends in Two Gentlemen teased each other - Petruccio and Katherina haven't got to the stage where that teasing can happen -or have they? Does the moon/sun encounter on the road show a dawning in Katherina that Petruccio is moving on from tame to tease? When he calls her in at the end of the play - is she teasing him? (Which flies in the face all I've said before - or does it?)

And let's make clear - this Homily doesn't only set about women - it sets about men too:

For that is surely the singular gift of GOD, where the common example of the world declareth how the diuell hath their hearts bound and entangled in diuers snares, so that they in their wiuelesse state runne into open abominations, without any grudge of their conscience. Which sort of men that liue so desperately, and filthy,

Doesn't that sound a bit like Sly? The desperate and filthy life he leads ... the Lord calls him a swine ... he looks like a pig in mud.

But isn't it also what Petruccio is about - getting a wife? He has heard the Homily - and wants to avoid sin.

I have to admit - there are elements (well, whopping big chunks) of the Homily that are firmly in the male is best camp -

For the woman is a weake creature, not indued with like strength and constancie of minde, therefore they be the sooner disquieted, and they be the more prone to all weake affections & dispositions of mind, more then men bee, & lighter they bee, and more vaine in their fantasies & opinions.

Not exactly the modern view ... but notice something please - there is a 'hesitation' in that text ... the word 'prone'. All women are not like this - and women are 'sooner' likely to be disquieted - not that men will not be - both are in danger.

And the Homily goes on to say:

reasoning should be vsed, and not figh­ting. Yea hee saith more, that the woman ought to haue a certaine honour attributed to her, that is to say, shee must bee spared and borne with,

which, in a perverse sort of way, Petruccio is doing? He honours Katherina in seeing her as a fit partner for himself?

The homily is quite clearly against violence between husband and wife - so the A Shrew text doesn't follow where The Shrew leads ... Petruccio does not hit Kate - he refrains, although he clearly could.

And there is a piece of advice in the homily:

that first and be­fore all things, a man doe his best endeuour to get him a good wife, en­dued with all honestie and vertue

which links to:

let vs doe all things, that we may haue the fellowship of our wiues, which is the factour of all our doings at home, in great quiet and rest. And by these meanes all things shall prosper quietly, and so shall we passe through the dangers of the troublous sea of this world.

and on to

For this state of life will bee more honourable and comfortable then our houses, then seruants, then money, then landes and possessions, then all things that can bee told.

As I've said before - this is a play not about lustful love .. but about the true deep 'in God' Love between man and women paired for life ... in sickness and in health, through flood, fire and ... well, an out of date concept?

The Book of Common Prayer and the Homilies were the linguistic and moral foundations on which Shakespeare and his contemporaries built their fantastic works. Every Sunday, unless for very good reason, the population of England was in church listening to these words, thinking about them and measuring their lives against them.

We might not be of the same religion (or shade of religion), we might have moved away from the concepts of harmony and order common at the time of writing - but if we want to take out of the works of Shakespeare some idea of the original intention, then we need to remember the deep faith they were written under.

We don't need to though to get great pleasure out of performances, or even the text when read.

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