Monday, June 09, 2008


Today being the anniversary of the introduction of the Protestant Book of Common Prayer, I thought, 'What better time to think about marriage and The Taming of the Shrew?'

DEARELY beloved frendes, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of his congregacion, to joyne together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable state, instytuted of God in Paradise, in the time of manes innocencie, signiflyng unto us the mistical union that is betwixt Christ and his Churche:

That's the opening of the church service - notice the very public 'gathering' of friends - marriage is a social ritual;

therfore is not to be enterprised, nor taken in hande unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly, to satisfye mennes carnall lustes and appetytes, lyke brute beastes that have no understandyng ; but reverently, discretely, advisedly, soberly, and in the feare of God,

and that is part of the continuation - love the contrast (and think it connects with the final scene in 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona');

Followed by this:

One was the procreation of children, to be brought up in the feare and nurtoure of the Lorde, and praise of God. Secondly, it was ordeined for a remedy agaynste sinne and to avoide fornication, that suche persones as have not the gifte of continencie might mary, and kepe themselves undefiled membres of Christes body. Thirdly, for the mutual societie, helpe, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, bothe in prosperity and adversitye, into the whiche holy state these two persones present, come nowe to be joyned.
Which basically says ...You get married for children, to avoid sin and ... for mutual society!

That's the basis of marriage - that is the norm of Shakespeare's day, that is the background to Kate and Petruccio getting hitched.

It is a publicly performed ritual, in English so that everyone can understand it, even if you do not read or write.

There are several points we tend to loose sight of nowadays and in our changed times.

First, marriage is a way of avoiding sin.

When Kate behaves the way she does at the start of the play, it is seen as excessive, wild, uncontrolled - and would have been seen as sinful. At the end of the play, she has grown calm, more mature - and has joined in an enterprise (marriage) in the correct spirit: "
reverently, discretely, advisedly, soberly, and in the feare of God."

I cannot emphasis the last five words enough for an Elizabethan audience - Petruccio's 'taming' has saved Kate (and himself) from Hell's flames.

The idea of original sin was strong - so too was the idea that salvation came through marriage and the family.

One of the significant changes in perception that the Protestant Reformation brought about was the elevation of marriage - and the rejection of necessarily unmarried priests (one of the first things Luther did was get married - and Archbishop Cranmer - the man behind the prayer book we are looking at - did too).

This 'sea change' is difficult to communicate nowadays, but the family has been shifted well and truly 'centre stage'.

Shakespeare is exploring that in this play. When Petruccio has taken the decision to marry, he has taken the decision to take the 'remedy against sin' - in a sober fashion.

Which is interesting if you consider his behaviour during the service - his clothes, his lateness, his throwing down and assault of the priest.

Unless you were meant to take 'the service' as being in Latin and meaningless. The throwing down of the Latin text, unintelligible to all but a few - consequently un-wittnessable.

Or unless you are meant to take the actions as a deliberately ironic comment.

Don't forget - we have a drunken 'Sly' with his pretend wife up above ... and Petruccio, in intent, is deadly serious about the marriage and the holy state they are both entering into.

The second point I'd emphasis is the '
mutual societie' - the church service makes no bones about this - both get and give, both contribute, both benefit. This is the only context we should read Katerina's submission in.

What both her sister and the widow have failed to grasp is the mutual - they are treating the marriages they have entered into as a battleground - I win this one, you win that one ... Katherina has learnt it is all about '
helpe, and comfort' - in prosperity and in adversity: It is, for her, a holy state - representing the union of man and god.

It is also the mistake made by the 'silly' feminist brigade (as opposed to the thinking feminists) and too many modern (usually male) directors who treat the text and their productions as a 'battle of the sexes'.

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Craig said...

Well, you're putting some interesting ideas into play here, but I'm just not along for the ride. You write, "he is seeking an equal - who he is willing to treat equally," but I can not see it. I just can't. In which scene is Kate his "equal?" He names the tune, and she dances to it. Always. This is no equality that I can recognize.

(If Shakespeare had wanted to give us one scene, one speech, one line, in which Kate takes a stand or makes a decision or even proposes a jest and her hubby goes along with it, he could have. He didn't.)

That this is the vision of marital harmony in the England of four hundred years ago, I have no doubt. But "equality" doesn't enter into it--it's specifically about _in_equality. Men and women are different, and both have their place on the Great Chain of Existance, with prescribed duties and powers.

Kate certainly reminds her husband about his end of the bargain in that last speech, but that bargain clearly involves husbands being in charge and wives being submissive. It's nothing that speaks to me.

Well, once you're done exploring Shrew, you'll have tacked the two Shakespeare plays I find completely distasteful, so I can look forward with happiness to almost the entire remainder of the canon...there's one other play, The Merry Wives, that I don't care for, but only because Falstaff is such a disappointment in it.

Till then!

Alan K.Farrar said...

Very quickly (I should be preparing some work):
1. Equality in terms of standing before God (equal soul - not to be dismissed in the times written);
2. Equal in power, in strength in potential - Petruccio in his 'fire' cancelling fire speech;
3. Not equal in 'authority, but equal in all else - a judge is equal under the law, as is a king).
4. It is not Kate we need to look to - it is Petruccio: He is the one who expresses;
5. I don't go with the Great Chain - a male dominated construct: Greer (bbke) in her recent book demonstrates a much more complex situation;
6. The marriage service itself (still in essence used in the Anglican rite) demands the equality.
(Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go ...)