Sunday, June 08, 2008

I had a dream ...

... last night - very strange, flipping between seedy cellar flats in muddy London, Pet Shop Boys trying to pay me back for wood I'd bought on their behalf, a clamped delivery van and ever-lengthening queues to buy tickets for the London Underground whilst a woman I knew 'grilled' the ticket seller for information about times and place to for a Christian 'Timeout".

All irrelevant I hear you say, to the noble theme of Shakespeare - but from this melee of images and ideas I woke (the bloody Blackbird from Hades is back - 5.30 start this morning).

But I woke, once I'd shook the above from my head, with a thought - I bet the boy who played Speed in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, played Kate in 'Shrew'!

A bit of Brahms on the mp3, sink comfortably into the bed and work on it ...

It's the meeting of Kate and Petruccio ... the 'witty' exchange and battle of words: Speed does the same continuously in the earlier play.

But there is a difference - here, in The Shrew, it IS funny - or rather, is still funny.

In the former play, it is words words words - a bit of word-play, verbal fencing, wit for wit's sake; here there is something serious underneath.

In the former play it is intellectual; here it is emotional.

The former play needs a lot of support from the action to make the exchanges comprehensible - here most of the exchange is comprehensible as Kate attempts to bludgeon Petruccio - verbally and then physically.

But the comprehensibility comes not from understanding the words - it comes from understanding the intent.

The words really don't matter that much ... it is the play of emotion, the constant assault of Kate, the sidestepping, and deft pushing away of Petruccio, the resources and intellect shown by Kate, that matter.

Don't miss-take my meaning - if the words are understood, it is witty too - but the words are but a surface.

We've lost the full impact of the play on the word 'Kate' - we have to stretch our minds (or the audience's hearing) to make the pun work; we do not have to stretch anything to understand that 'teasing' a person about their name is a very, very irritating thing.

(Whilst we're at this point - does anyone else see the 'Hate-away' link?)

The exchange is earthy - intimations of sex (all but missing from Two Gentlemen) are here:

Asses are made to beare, and so are you.
Women are made to beare, and so are you.

which is as clear as can be a reference to 'the getting of children'.

But there is also a great 'naturalism' in the exchange - they go on to talk of 'swaine' (don't forget the closeness of that word to swine - as in swine-herd); of buzzing bees and buzzards catching turtle doves that are too slow; of waspes with stings, wasps with tongues and tongues in "Taile' (which is too gross for the delicate sensibilities of this blog to explain).

To remind you:

Alas good Kate, I will not burthen thee,
For knowing thee to be but yong and light.
Too light for such a swaine as you to catch,
And yet as heauie as my waight should be.
Shold be, should: buzze.
Well tane, and like a buzzard.
Oh slow wing'd Turtle, shal a buzard take thee?
I for a Turtle, as he takes a buzard.
Come, come you Waspe, y'faith you are too angrie.
If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
My remedy is then to plucke it out.
I, if the foole could finde it where it lies.
PET. Who knowes not where a Waspe does weare his sting? In his taile.
In his tongue?
Whose tongue.
Yours if you talke of tales, and so farewell.
What with my tongue in your taile. Nay, come againe,
good Kate, I am a Gentleman,

... and Petruccio claims no allegiance with courts, courtly love and such - he is a plain, honest Gentleman!

The speed of the movement of the images - sexual innuendo and the sheer energy needed to say these lines contrast remarkably from a similar early exchange in Two Gentlemen:

Twenty to one then, he is ship'd already,
And I haue plaid the Sheepe in loosing him.
Indeede a Sheepe doth very often stray,
And if the Shepheard be awhile away.
SP. You conclude that my Master is a Shepheard then, and I Sheepe?
PRO. I doe.
SP. Why then my hornes are his hornes, whether I wake or sleepe.
PRO. A silly answere, and fitting well a Sheepe.
SP. This proues me still a Sheepe.
PRO. True: and thy Master a Shepheard.
SP. Nay, that I can deny by a circumstance.
PRO. It shall goe hard but ile proue it by another.
SP. The Shepheard seekes the Sheepe, and not the sheepe the Shepheard; but I seeke my Master, and my master seekes not me: therefore I am no Sheepe.
PRO. The Sheepe for fodder follow the Shepheard, the Shepheard for foode followes not the Sheepe: thou for wages followest thy Master, thy Master for wages followes not thee: therefore thou art a Sheepe.
SP. Such another proofe will make me cry baa.

The slowness of this, the teasing out of an intellectual thread, the silliness and the sound (all those s.s) suggest a very different approach ...

And yet ... if the same actor played Speed and Kate - do we get a deliberate contrast made, do we see Speed's wit behind Kate, and Kate as just another 'Act' on the World's Stage?

If she is - then it is the soldier she is playing rather than the lover. She is about to move on to the 'justice' - and that is where Petruccio is heading too. In the final act, Katerina does give judgement - on her sister and the widow ... but possibly on all mankind too.

But it flows both ways - Kate is in Speed too - he is the wild cat, who has been domesticated.

Speed is swinged into submission - in Shakespeare's Shrew, that doesn't happen to Kate; although the threat is there ... if she hits, he will hit back (so much for courtly love); Equal rights: Equal fights! I am not happy, by the way, with those productions where he does hit her - doesn't fit my view of him.

If the parts were played by the same 'boy', what a remarkable flexibility as an artist he must have had - and a strength in his personality, and an intellect?

Dare we suggest that Shakespeare was writing the part for the actor?

And, if Kate and Speed doubled - who did Petruccio double? Valentine or Proteus?

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