Sunday, June 29, 2008

Double whammy coming up!

Having been out in the wilderness for years, suddenly real theatre comes back into vision ...

July 10th, in Timisoara, The Globe touring production of Romeo and Juliet. I'd have preferred a different play, but to get the locals in to a performance of Shakespeare I can't think of a better play.

I'll be curious to see the size of the audience - remember it is going to be in English (well, Shakespearean) in a provincial town, with most of the teenagers and students (and teachers) on summer holiday away from the town and the heat. Not only that but the same night there is a performance of La Traviata in a production from the Mariinsky Theatre on at the Opera House.

Topping it off though is the trip planned to The Globe itself in London in August - I'm being dragged to see The Merry Wives of Windsor: Now that I am excited about.

(Along with my Romanian friend Cris) I attended the first ever afternoon public performance at The Globe many years ago - and it is something which has marked me for life.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Words, words, words ...

Bit out of sorts at the moment so not up to posting too much, but


That, as everyone knows is the bunch of garlic smelling hobbledehoys who are too tight to pay for a real ticket and we assume it was the name they were known by in Shakespeare's time - not true.

Hamlet does the dirty deed of naming them:

O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to totters, to very rags, to spleet the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.
(Act 3, Scene 2)

... and that is the first usage we know of.

What he is doing is using the metaphor of a fish - something like the stone loach. Not a fish you'd normally think of unless you are mad about fish - but Shakespeare knew about them - he mentions fleas on a loach in one of the history plays.
What is significant about the fish is there habit of staying close to the ground - this particular loach is called stone because that's where you find it, under stones.
They are rubbish eaters - collectors and consumers of the detritus which falls to the bottom of the water it lives in - it's small and thin: You can see Shakespeare's idea of naming the apprentice full courtyard after the fish is something of a joke!

But the insult has become a mere, common name - and all assume it was the name given by the Elizabethans - whereas, in fact, it is one of the words that maybe gives a clue to Hamlet being a much less than sympathetic character.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A 'Flagellation' and Shakespeare

Some things are obvious.

Take this painting, for one - it is by Piero della Francesca, an Italian artist of the 15th Century. It is quite famous - was painted around 1459 and can be found in Urbino (one of the truly memorably named towns).

It shows a flagellation - a whipping ...

... and is quite disturbing and thought provoking when you look at it in detail - just what are those three men in the foreground? Who is the man sitting down with the silly hat on? Why is the guy with his back to us wearing a turban? What sort of whipping is this with such a bloodless and calm man on the end of it?

Therein lies the problem - the artist is asking the questions - is provoking thought and condensing ambiguity in the picture. This is in modern dress - why? There is a very rigid formal look to the picture - why? He has done things intended not to answer but to question.

This is a big problem for the critics - it is the job of a critic to disambiguate .. to make clear what is murky, to clean off the detritus and tell us the answers. Art critics delight in telling us what each and every symbol means, what each and every brush stroke was meant for; they expose and reveal the mystery.

Except there is a big problem with that - if the artist is truly great, and wanted there to be ambiguity and mystery, the work won't reveal what is not there - there is no answer, there is only a question.

The critic's supposition is that s/he is more intelligent, more refined, more knowledgeable than the artist. Arrogance at least - and not the sort based on a strong foundation.

So too with Shakespeare and his texts - countless generations of critics have revealed the 'true' meaning, only to be superseded by a better truth and a better 'critic'.

Reams of paper and reams of editions, with reams of answers to questions Shakespeare doesn't answer - and many to questions Shakespeare doesn't ask.

And the arrogance of the critics knows no bounds - they nod in the direction of Shakespeare's greatness, but then knock it by attempting to reveal what was hidden - for their capacity to reveal is greater than his to hide.

(Thanks to the unknown artist who pointed out the intelligence needed to have painted The Flagellation on a tv programme I saw last night.)

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Wiving Wealthily

I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.

Money? Or something else as well: From the root weal. Linked to the word commonweal - an implication of much wider usage than just goods and money (and that is still used in its wider sense, eg the Catholic Publication and the Commonweal Institute).

Wealth is a word that is used much in some of the Homilies preached every Sunday from the pulpit in Elizabethan England - on the one on good Order and obedience, for example, it is a word used 10 times - never once meaning money. In the homily against drunkeness it appears four times, including this -

so they haue worldly wealth and riches aboundant to satisfie their vnmeasurable lustes, they care not what they doe. They are not ashamed to shew their drunken faces, and to play the madde man openly.

where the 'worldly' is necessary to distinguish other types of wealth.

Does Petruccio, when he says he comes to 'wive it wealthily' mean this worldly wealth - or is he saying something else?

There was a saying in Elizabethan England about it not being possible to gain both a wife and wealth in the same year - is Petruccio out to prove it wrong?

There are other attempts at wealthy marriages and other talks of money in the play - don't forget, Kate's father is as anxious to find a rich suitor for Kate as Petruccio is for himself (which puts pay to the idea Petruccio doesn't have money); and he selects a partner for his other daughter on the same criteria; the widow at the end of the play is 'rich'.

Aren't we being faced with a dilemma - isn't Shakespeare asking the question - wherein lies true wealth?

Katherina and Petruccio make a 'rich' match - but they are also wealthily married - I'm not too sure about the other two couples.

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On Sly's small beer ...

Few of us know (or would want to know) Small Beer.

Sly, when he wakes up calls for small beer -

SLY. For God's sake, a pot of small ale.

Benjamin Franklin drank it for breakfast, George Washington had a recipe for it, Ann Hathaway would have made it at home for the whole family to drink - and schoolboys at Elizabethan school were given it to drink at lunchtime.

When I visited a village in Oltenea (a part of Southern Romania) back in the last century (think about it) I found out exactly why people drank small beer:

The water is dangerous.

I arrived in a small village - the only road in being along a dried river bed - in winter there are times when you can't drive in.

There was no electricity - maybe there still isn't.

I was treated royally - good food, plenty of alcohol.

I stayed overnight there - sleeping in the same room as the family - hot and mosquito bitten.

In the morning I woke with a 'bit of a head' (much like Sly must have woken) and asked for water -

"Water is for animals."

I was given a glass of wine ... water just was not available. There was a well, there was 'water' but unfit for human consumption - experience had taught the villagers that it was better to drink the fermented juice of the grape - unfermented when available (as must but that is only available for part of the year).

The youngest children drank milk - the older ones wine. When it was available, and up in the mountains it was throughout the summer, you drank the liquid that comes off the top of the sheep cheese - the whey.

So too in England for most of its history - drink water and risk serious disease and death.

When you make very low alcohol beer (small beer) you will boil the water - it 'kills the germs' and so is much safer to drink than water from a well. There is alcohol in it - but not much.

Sly calls for small beer - not because he is in need of alcohol, but because he is in need of liquid - do the servants offer the upper-class wine - in the same spirit? Is it the equivalent of the red wine I got in Oltenea?

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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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Friday, June 13, 2008

Music and Shakespeare

Just put the first of the Complete Works music connections over on my Music Reflected blog:

Singing Shakespeare.

Alfred Deller and the Deller Consort.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fun Shakespeare

The three plays will fun consecutively from December to March 2009.

Accidental? Typo? - or just damn true?

Over on Shakespeare Post a site all interested in Shakespeare should regularly dip in to, for news and views.

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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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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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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Tying the knot

On how Kate Conquers:

The key point, I think, in Kate's transformation through submission into Katherina, is that she ties a knot - binding herself to Petruccio AND Petruccio to herself.

I am reminded of the knot garden - an Elizabethan fashion reflecting a harmonious complexity, man ruled, but natural. Originally planted with aromatic herbs used for cooking and in medicine, it had a domestic purpose - so too with 'tying the knot' (as we still say in England) - with marriage.

And marriage, not love, is the point of 'The Taming of the Shrew'.

Petruccio makes it very clear in his first appearance:

Antonio, my father, is deceas'd,
And I have thrust myself into this maze,
Happily to wive and thrive as best I may.
Crowns in my purse I have, and goods at home,
And so am come abroad to see the world.

Unlike the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' - who went not for love but education, and found love leading to marriage, Petruccio, as a consequence of his father's death, is now 'head' of the household - and in need of a wife. It is in a maze he seeks - indicating a complexity that belies the apparent rough crudity of the actual pursuit he undertakes. He is not poor (a point several critics and productions miss - although he seeks a wealth-bringing wife) - he has come to a place he knows and is known:

Verona, for a while I take my leave
To see my friends in Padua, but of all
My best beloved and approved friend,

so with single-minded determination, and with a knowledge of his 'self' that is important to understanding Katherina's conquest:

for I tell you, father,
I am as peremptory as she proud-minded;
And where two raging fires meet together,
They do consume the thing that feeds their fury

he sets about winning Kate's 'love'.

Two things are important - he knows, if he is successful, he will be changed - his fire will burn out, just like hers; and secondly, he is seeking an equal - who he is willing to treat equally. If he wants a big dowry - he offers equal - and assures her father of her security in the event of Petruccio's death:

After my death, the one half of my lands,
And in possession twenty thousand crowns.
And for that dowry, I'll assure her of
Her widowhood, be it that she survive me,
In all my lands and leases whatsoever.
Let specialties be therefore drawn between us,
That covenants may be kept on either hand.
If this sounds mercenary and loveless, it is not - it is the mechanics of arranged marriages. The 'covenants' bind both sides. A 'suitable' suitor is needed for a rich girl - a rich girl is needed for a rich husband - the knot tied with equal thicknesses of thread is stronger.

This knottedness, this interlocking is what Kate is signing up for when she submits at the end of the play.

Petruccio has said he will turn her from a wild Kate to a domestic Kate - but implied in that is a change in himself - he has come to wive it, after all.

Kate's speech of acceptance is not one sided - it lays duties on Petruccio.

When Katherina tells the widow:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe;

it is a double edged sword - these are responsibilities, these are duties more than privileges. They reflect the society in which they were written and a view of the hierarchical relationships thought to be needed for safety, comfort and love - but that doesn't take away the point that marriage is about wrapping yourself and your partner in the sort of knot that takes an Alexander with a sword to unravel. Kate 'ties the knot' and Petruccio willingly submits.

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Jung, Donne and Kate ...


Kate Stoops to Conquer

Bethinking me of the Shrew, Kate, as I walked into work this morning (Saturday note - ye great exploiters of the Farrar work ethic, alias m&m) a few things slipped around and into one of those patterns you always knew existed but couldn't quite see - if you don't plot them down, 'tis gone, 'tis gone, 'tis gone.

Geek has been trying to find a quote to chain his spouse with - and is toying with Hotspur's words to another Kate - although he treat's her with apparent disdain, deep love lies under his words ... it's the sort of feeling and relationship which is so easy to miss when reading the text, but which leaps out at you when you see a pair of actors grappling with the words.

Hal, from the same play, as King Henry in Henry V has a conversation with 'Catherine' (yet another Kate!) which is also notoriously regarded as slight - until the actor gets it and unravels its complexities. Alan Howard, as reported in Martin White's Renaissance Drama in Action, had need to correct a critic who read only a light 'footnote' in the scene.

Which brings me to The Taming of the Shrew, and Katherina - and her 'submission' at the end of the play.

From what I remember of some Jungian reading I did once, part of the process of individuation - of becoming a complete human, a mature person, is the act of submission.

I have vague memories of knights and cleansing and Don Quixote in the courtyard moments.

Notice the idea is applicable across genders - it is not a woman submitting to a man, it is a human submitting to a greater thing.

That thing might be an idea, a society, a religion - it is a recognition though of a greater than ourself.

Until Kate submits, she cannot become Katherina - she remains unformed, incomplete as a human.

Kate must Stoop to Conquer - herself. Her submission allows her to see herself both as an individual and a part - a rounded personality.

I am wary of this pseudo-psychological explanation to the extent that, as Brook pointed out, it is a reduction of the text and the play - it is also an intellectualising of the emotions the actress (nowadays) must bring to the part. However, I can see a feasible sense of relief and release (with a deep sense of 'feeling completed' as the words are said) - working on the stage.

Brook also pointed out that the best thing to do is to Forget Shakespeare - so I'll hoist myself on a petard of my own creation, and ignore him (Brook, not Shakespeare).

There is a poem written around the time of Shakespeare, by John Donne: Batter my heart, three person'd God ...

It is a very remarkable, very disturbing and very powerful, some would say beautiful, poem. In it, Donne effectively asks to be 'ravished' - to be enslaved, abused and beaten, as the only way to become free, pure and saved.

Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

This wild paradox is also behind Katherina's submission - it remains a paradox, it remains disturbing, it remains mystical and ... dare I say it ... deeply satisfying and beautiful?

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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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Monday, June 02, 2008

To the ESOL Brigade:

Why are you teaching Shakespeare?

Surely it is only a hangover of the old imperialistic attitude to the language as ‘belonging’ to the British – as ‘real’ English being RP and home-counties middle class? (Shakespeare Wallah + Posh Shakespeare)

Cultural superiority and blind obedience to dogmas-out-of-date?

If you think Shakespeare needs to be taught because of the ‘impact’ he has had on ‘THE’ language – you should be teaching the ‘King James’ bible too – it had a far deeper, direct and more profound impact.

Do you actually know enough about the texts and the theatre to teach ‘Shakespeare’ at all? Are you going to do more damage than good? I spend a lot of time trying to un-do outdated, outmoded and culturally loaded views of the plays imparted to students.

Strong evidence suggests Shakespeare himself never wanted the plays to be read at all – they were meant to be watched, to be listened to, to be transient and ill-defined: Why then are you making your students read the words of the plays at all (another case to be made for the poor-selling sonnets)?

The language of the texts is not the language of today – if you want to ‘illustrate’ language change, an extract might be OK – but a whole play? Why – your students are learning English for communication, surely?

If a whole Shakespeare, why not a whole Milton, or a whole Chaucer? – why not Beowulf?

They are likely to encounter the plays only in their own languages or in dubbed or subtitled films – why do they need anything more than the story for that?

Should you be using film at all – the plays were meant for the stage? Any film is an adaptation – the best, with lots of cutting.

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