Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Olympics, Democtatic Convention ...

and Shakespeare’s first history play.

It’s a sort of weird brace of metaphor for:


During the Olympics I couldn’t help thinking of the way in which people were investing the participants with a sort of representative nationality – by this I mean they became like the ‘coronated’ king (yes, I know the word should be crowned but I wanted to ‘mark’ the idea); the sporting hero went out as a single champion (even if they were in a team) and fought not so much for a national pride as for that part of ‘me’ I had deposited in the symbol of ‘you’.

A bit abstract maybe ….

It was easy with Thorpe: Henry V if ever there was one. What a hero, what a fund of pride … and strangely, like Shakespeare’s Henry V, his magnificent success transcended any nationalism. By the end, all but the meanest minded wanted him to succeed … even if at the expense of ones own favourite. Bolt was more a Hal than a grown king – his antics not quite mature.

For Henry VI there were a number of contenders … we need a sportsman who shows a lot of early promise but who hasn’t quite lived up to them. The obvious contender is the British diver, young Mr Tom Daley: The build up he got, the press coverage and the general media attention lead a lot of people to expect … and what a flop (except, it wasn’t …) ! No medal, lost hopes, wasted investment.

No blame to the young man himself – it was our over expectation, our unsolicited demands, our unreasonable faith in a maturing boy … sound familiar? Henry VI is expected to perform in the same way … especially in competition with France. He doesn’t … and at the start of this play, we feel that disappointment. The magnificent ceremonial hype of trumpets and hautboys … and the immediate disaster of the loss of France.

But the Henry VI of this play is not Mr Daley - he is older … maybe Tom is the Henry of Henry VI Part 1. (And I want to make it very clear the boy done good – I am talking here of the expectations of others and the disappointment their wrong placed expectations result in.)

We need to look for an older, high expectation, low performance competitor … someone like Andy Murray?

Tennis got a bit of a rough ride from the English sporting press (well it might) for not really being an Olympic sport … there are much more important events for it than the Olympics (bet Mr Nadal and certainly Mr Federer would beg to differ). Murray wasn’t taking the competition seriously, he hadn’t prepared, he was focussed elsewhere. He thought he could swan in and get somewhere reasonable and people would be happy …

Now, that is more like the Henry VI of the ‘First Contention’. Henry is more focused on the Kingdom of Heaven than that of England … his paradise is not of this earth, he is not so interested in an Eden, although he doesn’t mind being there whilst he waits for a more important job of work over in the Flushing Meadows of … perdition.

But we are stuck with Murray – he’s the English number one, but there are obviously much better foreign princes and real monarchs out there … he is never going to perform, not even at home.

But, hold on, he’s not English … he’s really not entitled to the job of representing me … isn’t there someone else with a better right to do that?

Welcome to the American Political Conventions!

In the UK speechifying is about as important as … learning grammar: People nod in the direction but realise it is an outdated and impotent way of getting things done. The press conference and the sound bite are much more important (like genre and texting).

Not so in the quaint old US of A!

The conventions (origin: with talk although I had hoped it was with wind) are back to back speech making getting prime time coverage and swamping a nation already deaf to meaning with more meaningless but impassioned sounds.

And we are back to Shakespeare’s play.

As soon as Henry enters, his warm-up man, Suffolk, gives us a speech. It is one sentence long, lasts for around 15 lines and drops a lot of names. Great start to the convention. Set the ground, pull out all the supporters and place yourself at the centre of attention whilst nodding in the direction of the guy currently in power.

The new Queen throws in a similar but more fawning speech … great to be here, happy with the husband and the land (Mrs Obama or what? – God Bless America!). Then it’s the turn for the heavyweight contenders to way in … old powers first, Gloucester … (read Kennedy) and Cardinal Beaufort (read Clinton – which one I’ll lead you , and the results of this November’s election to decide).

But this is not the convention of today … this is a ‘certain loser’ convention. As soon as the candidate leaves the stage the speeches of descent start – each speaker jockeying for position.

I will watch the Republican convention with interest …

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Playing Tag ...

Strange game for grown people ...

However, seeing as El Geek has set the challenge I will go, so far, with it ... with a difference:

1) My first 'big' role in a school play (apart from doing 'all' the singing in earlier productions) was as Oberon - and Theseus ... and my costume was on hire from the RSC - as worn originally by ...Ian Richardson, I am not sure - but I think it was the one worn in the production Judy Dench played Titania and Helen Miren one of the lovers - so my costume 'big' resonance.

2) My mother, when she was at school, had stared in a performance of 'Midsummer Nights Dream' as Titania ... and was on her way to being a professional until struck down with TB. She always claimed to have been pushed in her pram by a young Charlie Chaplin and his brother Sid - but after she died we discovered it wasn't her but her older sister, Madge, who had that honour ... my grandmother, also invalided off the stage ran a 'guest house' for Music Hall performers in Manchester.

Her 'god father' was George Robey, the Prime Minister of Mirth which sort of compensates for her claiming more of a connection than she really had to greatness ... I of course would never dream of doing such a thing!

3) Willy Russell once described my acting as being, 'like that of Orson Welles' - he described me as a 'King Actor' ... and then added the somewhat deflationary, 'not necessarily good, but certainly big.' That was at a time he was casting his play, 'Blodd Brothers' first productin in Australia ... which eventually included Russel Crowe in the cast.

4) I attended the first ever public performance at the New London Globe - quite by accident. I was on holiday in London and had heard the place was opening ... went along with a friend to see it and they were selling tickets ... so, we bought a couple for the yard and that was it ... i was one of many, my friend, the first Romanian ever to see a production at the Globe!

5) When I was training to be a teacher I did my teaching practice in 'Mirfield', which is in Yorkshire - and many would regard it as the armpit of England. It is a town with two famous inhabitants .. one, the Yorkshire Ripper ... the other Patrick Stewart. He, as you may be aware, has gone on to greater things ... although I did teach at the school he attended, it was some time after he left - and no one knew in the school just what a star they had on their hands.

6) And a final Shakespeare (not spectacular) Farrar experience - Hamlet (above) is being played by Doctor Who ... the actor who played the Doctor before, Christopher Eccleston was taught drama by the boy (grown to man) who played Lysander in the production of The Dream I appeared in at school ... he also went on to teach the most recent 'Othello' at the RSC.

Small world isn't it ...

Wiving it at the Globe

It was, to say the least, an interesting day.

National Gallery in the morning – complete with red dressed, blond-haired Virgin; Globe Theatre for the ‘Merry Wives’ in the afternoon; a quick dash to ‘The Sound of Music’ in the evening. We ended squeezed in the last tube to Victoria … tired and somewhat satiated.

Nothing was quite what was expected.

I like Shakespearean comedy – you might have noticed.

What I didn’t know (because you sometimes forget that it is the ‘experts’ that have told you – and you should always be cautious and careful of expert opinion) is how good a play The Merry Wives of Windsor is.

I don't understand why there are not more school productions ... it would make an excellent school play.

After the Globe production I can’t understand why it isn’t better known or better loved. Verdi chose it for his operatic masterpiece and he obviously realized something – it is very funny.

It is also remarkably ‘feminist’ – the only sensible and solid people are the two wives … merry, and virtuous. All the men seem to be missing something – usually restraint.

In this production the women got good solid performances: As with the Romeo and Juliet production which visited Timisoara last month, it is an ensemble production – although with a full cast. There were no star performances – but that is what makes these comedies … they are not vehicles for individuals.

Falstaff was a part – and only a part, but an excellent part. He is balanced in the play with a “bugger”ing French doctor; a jealous, knuckle biting, husband; a language crunching schoolteacher and a small cheeky boy. And the production did just that – balanced.

The Globe experience is partly the stage and staging – the speed of the production (not breakneck like Romeo and Juliet) and the closeness to the audience all contribute to make the play user friendly. However, I was a little uncomfortable with the set – it had been extended into the courtyard with a walkway which seemed one step too far, I also don’t really think there was any necessity to cover the back of the Globe’s stage with a ‘mock-Elizabethan’ house front. This forced a lot of the action forward and made it difficult at times to see (I chose to try standing at the side of the stage and was acutely aware of how little the back area of the stage was used - in a previous visit I’d noticed how well it was used).

Maybe a danger for the modern productions at the globe is the designer … maybe they should just have a costume wo/man and dump the superfluous modern element of design (which was, strangely enough, the big problem of ‘The Sound of Music’ – all very impressive technicals interrupting the music)?

But that was a mere niggle: On a rain-threatening afternoon I stood for a couple of hours and laughed rather a lot … at a witty play with a social conscience delivered by a group of excellent performers giving the audience exactly what they need – an uplifting theatrical experience.

Having travelled across most of Europe for the day to see it … I was not disappointed. In fact, I'm looking at a way of doing it again.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Now, I didn't know that ...

When the Globe burnt down in 1613, there was a ballad written (knew that): On the Pitiful Burning of the Globe Play-house (link and link)

What I didn't know was that it mentions in it:

Then with swoll'n eyes, like drunken Flemings,
Distressed stood old stuttering Hemings.
Oh sorrow, pitiful sorrow, and yet all this is true.

Now, cast your mind back to 'Shakespeare in Love' and the character who delivers the prologue at the start of Romeo and Juliet (video).

He stutters ... and I thought it was all a directors or writers idea - in fact it is based on a real actor (although the character in the film is not Hemings).

The real stutterer was' of course, behind the printing of the folio! He also seems to have apprenticed as a grocer, become a freeman of London and died wealthy ... acting was as profitable then as now.

(Sorry about the size of the video - not Geek enough to make it smaller!)

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Play Shakespeare off my list

Despite my having deleted all my entries to the play Shakespeare forum, I see they have been re-instated ...

I suggest anyone posting there be aware of the way the board management is willing to ignore the wishes of the people who post.

I, for one, will not be posting anything over on that site again.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What the BBC did with it ...

I have to start out by making it clear, it was the BBC production of the three Henry VI Plays which got me hooked on the History plays - yes I knew Henry V and Henry IV Part 1, I'd endured Richard the Second and seen Larry hamming up the Third for all it was worth. But it was the BBC that made me register 'History Play' as something different. And they still keep up the good work: How well did Shakespeare know history?

The BBC though took a path I am not taking - they did the three Henry VI plays in historical chronological order, I am looking at them in a reconstructed order of their writing.

The three plays as a sequence I will leave until later on - possibly when I have finished the three Henry VIs, possibly when I look at the whole of the history plays.

Here I want to take a look at what the opening of 'The First Part of the Contention ...' was like - taking into consideration what I posted last and those rather irritating Olympics which have me glued to the TV even as I write.

I've blogged on the opening ceremony of the Olympics over on Thoughts from the Edge and won't tread the same ground - I will say though that both Shakespeare and the BBC open this exploration of a national history in the same spirit - big loud and colourful.

Which is precisely what the BBC production gave us - well, not so big (as befits a stage play) but certainly loud and colourful.

Trumpets blared, drums rolled, crowds cheered and in marched the key agents to the play which will follow - each preceded by a flag, each marching in and nodding to the king, who we don't see as the camera is peeping over his shoulder, and each taking up his appointed place.

The colours are all there - mainly in the costume but also in the painted wood of the 'bear-pit' the production is placed in, and in all the fluttering flags and shiny clothes.

Then, with all the 'athletes' in place, in comes the 'torch' on the hand of an upstart - rose-petal like discs of coloured paper fluttering around Margaret and Suffolk just as after a wedding - but this is a bride who has not yet married although a 'troth' has been plighted.

This has the essence of an Olympic ceremony and is as much an attempt to claim national identity and significance as any such splendours played out nowadays.

You get a 'feel good factor' - there is pride and there is hope.

Suffolk, speaking as only the politician in front of a national audience can, declares, "... in sight of England and her lordly peers ..." to have fulfilled all that was requested of him.

And you just know, in the original production - that sight of England was accompanied by a gesture to the assembled theatre - already dragged in emotionally by the music and flag waving.

You didn't quite get that from the TV. Although the voice made clear its importance - we are watching you - the world is watching you; Cue camera and roll.

Henry, weak of voice, pale of colour (although with lively eyes) responds.

He thanks Suffolk, then kisses his bride - and, if you are expecting warmth and love, excitement and passion, forget it. In a triumphal theatrical moment, Henry kisses the hand of Margaret. She had moved to kiss cheeks or lips and is visibly surprised.

This is back to the question of the marriage relationship - Henry, as a devout man, as a Catholic King esteems the Platonic above the lustful. Whatever, union is about to be sanctified, it is not going to be carnal. Friendship before equality? And, after the three kisses of 'The Taming of the Shrew' what clearer indication could you have of all not being well?

There is a disappointment - it is as if you were to discover the fireworks opening the Beijing Olympics were a computer trick, or the cute girl singing the Chinese national anthem was miming to someone else's voice.
The difference, of course, being we do not discover 'til after the event, the slight of hand in China - here the BBC give us, in the middle of the ceremony, disappointment and unease.

And they haven't finished with us yet ...

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

And the trumpet shall sound

The first thing to strike you as the play opens is the noise – as my new ‘Complete Works’ (2nd edition) informs me,

trumpets flourish,

then hautboys

which is a pretty impressive, if loud, way to open.

You do notice it – there is a majesty, and a ceremony about it. A good trumpet ‘flourish’ – none of your wishy-washy blowing – this is a growing vigorously, a grand gesture, a flaunt, a boom! And then the hautboys follow – which is the signal for the stage to be processed (as in procession) on to … for a hautboy is to be processed to.

I like a good hautboy flourish almost as much as I like a good trumpet flourish.

Neither of Shakespeare’s previous plays even thought of opening like this – they both sort of … started: Which fitted their ‘domestic’ themes. Here we are in a different world – and, for the original Theatre audience, a more familiar world.

This is to be a play about England - this is to be a play about Dukes and Kings, about Duchesses and Queens, their lovers and rebellion – above all, rebellion: Overt, physical fighting and secret caterpillar creepings and crawlings; rebellion in the state, in the town, in the countryside and in the family.

And what colours and materials soon fill the stage! The royal velvety reds and rich shimmering blue silks, the sparkling cloth of golds, the lions and unicorns rampant, the full panoply of state laid out for both a royal wedding and a coronation.

For the young Henry VI, King of England is to meet for the first time his espoused bride and straight away lead her into Westminster Abbey for their wedding and her installation as Queen.

Which is when you notice that there is a link to both the previous plays – this is yet another play about marriage. Here the marriage is the actual union of man and woman, complete with all the associated ‘Shrew’ commands of mutuality and respect; but it is also the greater marriage of subject to state, for Henry is England; further, as God’s representative on Earth, wedding Henry is a holy marriage.

Now that is cause for the trumpets to flourish – and well might the hautboys ‘en-music’ the march to the alter.

How will Henry and Margaret measure up to the standards set by Petruccio and Katherine?

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Must reads

... From the Shakespeare Post:

Gregory Doran Explains How He Picked David Tennant for Hamlet


Mary Rose Sank Because Crew Didn’t Speak English

The first because it is interesting, the second because it shows the international nature of the English navy and suggests all sorts of reasons why Shakespeare was so second-hand-knowledgeable about foreign climes (yes, I know Henry was before Shakey's time).

Natural pleasures and feathered friends

To be honest, I'm not convinced too many of my readers will be able to make use of a communication I received this morning:

I write to ask whether you would be willing to include a link to (or even write a blog entry about) the WINGS tour “Birds and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” conducted each June by Rich Hoyer and Bryan Bland. This imaginative combination of birding and culture follows in the tradition of our popular “Birds and Music” and “Birds and Art” tours of Europe. After a delightful morning of birding that includes famously delicious picnic breakfasts and lunches in stunningly gorgeous surroundings, we return in time for a daily performance in the the Iaters just a block from our hotel.

But to me it looks a wonderful combination!

I suspect that the two people leading the tour have found a cheap way to indulge themselves ... If only I had the energy (and knowledge) to do the same.

As I've blogged before - many times - there is a very strong sympathy between Shakespeare and 'Natural intelligence' - in fact, as I was listening to 'The First Part of the Contention' I was again struck by the number of references to birds and animals.

Unless my dream last night has confused me (and it might have, it was bird filled) this chap, [to be seen on the tour]: the American equivalent of one of the stars of Shakespeare's first History Play!

If anyone reading this blog does get to go on the tour - enjoy!

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Shakespeare's Matrimony

I wasn't going to post this here as it's a bit too 'school essay' - it was written for a different site. But, having just gone through a couple of performances of The First Part of the Contention (Henry VI, Part 2) I thought I better put down some markers -

Marriage has become such a common theme in Literature, and the works of Shakespeare so well known, that it is hard for us to realise that back in Elizabethan England ideas about marriage were very much up in the air.

Until the Reformation, the ideals of virginity, chastity and widowhood; of platonic relationships; of friendship - all rated higher than marriage.

With the coming of Protestantism, ideals changed.

Shakespeare was at the forefront of portraying these changes and many of his plays could be said to act as promotional tools for the act of marriage.

If Stanley Wells and his friends are right, Shakespeare's first two plays are both comedies - The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew.

It is interesting to see how Shakespeare tackles the themes of the marriage debate in these plays - and it reveals several interesting aspects of the plays, some of which are much misunderstood.

The Two Gentlemen is a play about friendship - Valentine and Proteus start the play off with a dialogue making it very clear these two are ideal, youthful friends. What happens during the play undermines this ideal - deliberately so.

The thing that weakens their love for each other is love for a female: Shakespeare seems to be asking us if this is inevitable - will inter-gender love overpower, necessarily, intra-gender love?

But nothing is as simple as that in Shakespeare - Valentine has a one-to-one relationship with Silvia; Proteus already had an attachment to Julia, and then switches to the (un-reciprocated) love of Silvia. This, despite the exchange of rings and other tokens.

One is reminded of the idea of the fickleness of love at this point - and in several plays Shakespeare has young men switching their attentions (Demetrias, don't forget; and Romeo). Love is a necessary condition for a relationship, but is not sufficient.

Another doubt is raised by the way in which Valentine 'loves' Silvia - I am not alone in thinking there is almost a 'Platonic' basis to it - he is in love with an ideal, not with a real human.

The 'clown' Lance with his letter has progressed a little further than either of the two 'Gentlemen': His contract itemising the qualities of a potential wife widens the conditions; thought ought to be given to issues such as money and temperament, to weaknesses as well as strengths - it is very much a dead end in this play, the youth of the main protagonists seems to exclude them from making a sensible decision.

But Shakespeare hasn't quite finished with his exploration of the theme of friendship - there is one horrendous moment, towards the end of the play, where, after Proteus has attempted to force himself on Silvia, been stopped, and repented his sins, Valentine 'gives' Silvia to him.

Julia faints at this point - and well she might.

We need to realise that, far from condoning this action, the audience is meant to be as outraged as Silvia must be, as shocked as Julia. Portraying such a gross act Shakespeare is again questioning the ideal of friendship.

The Two Gentlemen quickly resolves itself into marriage - but we are left with an empty feeling. There is something not quite right in the pairings and the anything-but-gentlemen seem to get off lightly.

Perhaps Shakespeare felt so too, because his next play, The Taming of the Shrew, shows the successful pairing of a well matched couple - and some less than satisfactory fringe partnerships.

I've already written about Katherine and Petruccio (in Katerina's Just Desserts) and don't want to go over the same ground, but I do think it is important to point out their relationship is about a mutual sharing and suitability. What isn't talked about much is love.

There is a 'love' relationship in the play though, Lucentio and Bianca. At the time of their marriage, their are still issues to resolve - Bianca's refusal to come at the request of her husband is meant to signify the incompleteness of the match-making.

So too is the widow's refusal - where the marriage is based on financial, rather than emotional, compatibility.

What Katherine and Petruccio have done before this point, is worked through all the conditions needed to secure a successful and fecund marriage.

But there are other marriages in the Shrew - Sly, who appears in the Induction, is "married" twice, once to the page boy, and once to a real wife.

We ignore the Induction at our peril.

Sly is a drunk who is so full-up he falls asleep in the street. He is married to a 'shrew' (if we accept 'A Shrew' as indicating further additions to the Folio text) and who can doubt they deserve each other? This is a funny version of the need for a mutual relationship in marriage. Worth noting about Sly's real marriage is the apparent 'respect' he has for his wife - she is not 'madam' but a name - he wants to keep her as Alice or whatever .... surely an indication of social difference and criticism of the aristocratic?

Sly's other marriage is a reminder to the audience that what you are watching is not real, there is a pretence going on here - you are being presented with a dramatic fiction. All of the marriages Shakespeare represents on stage need to be viewed in this light - none are real, all are explorations of limited aspects of the state of matrimony.

Just how all this fits with Shakespeare's first History play I'll let you know in the next post.

Friday, August 01, 2008

To begin, at the beginning ...

We don't have any of the playbills which were posted to announce the performance of a Shakespeare play - although it has been suggested that the frontispieces of the early editions of the plays very much resembled them. With that in mind, I move on from the two early comedies to the first of the Histories ...

The announcement is up ... a new play by - well, it doesn't say. So, Mr Shksperd ain't yet well known enough - but the material is fairly extensively explained.

We start off with the announcement it is the first part - so this is like that Marlowe play - the one with Tamburlaine in it ... two parts.

And its about the fighting between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians ...

In fact - a lot of the plot is told - Humphry dies, Suffolk gets banished and dies, a Cardinal dies, tragically, and there's a rebellion - Jack Cade's.

Lot's of fighting and death then ... sounds a bit of an action movie to me ... just the sort of thing to fill in a cold winter's afternoon ...

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Katerina's Just Desserts ....

(Some notes on Gender Relations in Taming of the Shrew)

There is a tendency to portray Katherine as some sort of abused everywoman and Petruccio as a typical misogynist male. Indeed, this is the line taken in many classrooms and leads to a mistaken understanding both of the play and of Elizabethan society. Support for the stance can be found in the text – as long as you are selective in your reading - and is frequently supplemented by ‘common knowledge’ about the relationships between men and women in times past.

I would like to suggest that, far from being socially conservative in his views of male-female roles and promoting the status quo, Shakespeare is in fact questioning a centuries old acceptance of the inferior status of marriage (as opposed to virginity, celibacy and widowhood) and suggesting, in the words of Germaine Greer, the ‘complimentary couple’ as ‘the linchpin of the social structure’ (Greer, Shakespeare, A Short Introduction: pg 138).

Let me start with the abusive Katherine.

Few commentators dwell too long over the physical and emotional batterings Katherine doles out to all around her. She is clearly the most violent person in the play striking anyone she feels like: Three times she assaults men – Hortensio’s head is ‘broke’, Petruccio is slapped, and she beats Grumio: But her biggest abuse is reserved for her sister who she ties up, drags onto the stage and subjects to far worse treatment than anything she herself will suffer at the hands of Petruccio. It is worth noting that at no point (according to the script) does Petruccio strike Katherine.

If you add to this the ‘you don’t love me’; ‘you treat my sister better than me’; ‘you’re not a real man’ and other such jibes and comments which flow continuously from her mouth, she is not an attractive human being (although is great fun to watch on stage).

Presenting Katherine as ‘downtrodden victim’ is absurd. She is clearly out of control and her behaviour is causing misery to all around her. More importantly, in Elizabethan terms, she is also in danger of her soul – she is damaging not only her earthly marriage prospects, but her immortal ones too.

By the end of the play, Katherine has become a dignified, self-controlled rock; half of the foundation of what will become a strong family unit. Equally important is the fact she is now able to play a role in society (which includes lordship over the male servants) and is firmly on the path to a happy afterlife.

What brings on the metamorphosis is her pairing with a complementary force – Petruccio. The key word here is complementary – Petruccio balances Katherine, he is not the same and he is not ‘better’.

When he talks, early in the play, of ‘two raging fires’ burning themselves out, he admits his similarity to Katherine, with a difference – he is ‘pre-emptory’, she , ‘proud minded’. Together they will be in balance.

This is the point in the play at which the financial deal is done – again much misunderstood.

Both sides bring money – Petruccio, who has just inherited a considerable fortune, is sensibly seeking an equal amount: This will benefit both himself and his wife – and lay in a strong inheritance for any children. Marriage is all about family, it is an economic and social union – as much today as in Elizabethan days.

What people miss in this exchange is Petruccio’s leaving of everything to his ‘widow’ in the event of his early death: Katherine gets everything – she becomes an exceptionally wealthy woman. There is no need to bargain over this point – it is freely given. It shows Petruccio has complete faith in his wife-to-be’s sense and economic astuteness (hence the need for a female from an equal house). It also disproves the ‘goods and chattels’ view of the relationship regularly suggested – since when have goods and chattels inherited themselves?

Which brings me on to another frequently expressed view – Petruccio is only interested in the money. He certainly says such a thing when he is talking to Hortensio – but he uses an interesting expression to do so, he talks of finding a woman rich enough to be his wife, then he goes on to use the word wealth – “to wive it wealthily”.

The word wealth is suggestive of more than money – could it be that Petruccio is being deliberately ironic in his choice of word? Later in the play, when Katherine has been deprived of the expensive fashionable gown and hat, Petruccio says, “for ‘tis the mind that makes the body rich” and points out the jay and adder have earthly looking riches but inwardly are not better than other creatures.

Petruccio has seen Katherine’s potential – as an equal, not as an inferior. He has chosen her as a balance … and negotiated with her father for her hand.

And her father has given as much as he can of her – but he demands, before agreeing, that Katherine agree. He demands Petruccio win Katherine’s ‘love’.

We do not see the intervening days between the first encounter of Katherine and Petruccio and their wedding day – but there is ample opportunity for Katherine to stop the marriage – she doesn’t. She waits for Petruccio on the steps of the church – she would be asked in church if she accepts Petruccio, and she must have said, before God, she does.

All of this suggests, whatever public face she puts on it, Katherine has accepted Petruccio – it is a mutual not an enforced marriage.

Katherine’s last speech, rather than being an act of submission to oppression, is a recognition that the former firebrand Katherine was counter productive – there is always a stronger than you. It is a contract laying out the conditions needed for peace and prosperity, for right balance and mutual benefit.

But it is only half a contract – Petruccio is as bound by unspoken bonds which lay duties and commitments on him. He binds himself to her with a kiss – and physically they become one – not lord and servant, but a unity.

Shakespeare, in The Taming of the Shrew, is laying out, possibly for the first time on the English stage, a view of society where the mutual support of man and wife is the foundation of peace and contentment for society as a whole. It expresses not a view that women are subservient to men – but that only by mutual support can fulfilment be attained.

The battle of the sexes, shown at the start of the ‘Shrew’ play-within-a-play, is destructive and holds back both the individual and the community. Only by joining with the balancing power of a marriage partner of the right fit can life find a fuller, and more soul-fulfilling path.

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