Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

No new play posted this week. I've spent the morning frantically finishing the rough draft to my essay about The Comedy of Errors, which Hal and I finished reading this week. So now three plays are fighting for my attention in my head, Henry VI Part One, Richard III and The Comedy of Errors. I'll deal with them properly, one at a time, in coming weeks.

  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • In the novel The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, two of the high school characters discuss Shakespeare, seeing his plays, and studying him in English class.
    • In a crossword in Dagens Nyheter the clue was “Shakespeare king”. A common enough occurrence in Swedish crosswords as elsewhere.
    • Careful readers of my Monday report will be aware of my current nostalgia for the musical “Hair.” In the book order mentioned below was a book of easy piano versions of some of the songs from “Hair”. Even easy versions are too advanced for my pathetically bad playing but I enjoy it. One of my favorites has always been the last medley “Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine in.” Imagine my surprise when I saw in this book that the text of “Flesh Failures” is adapted from Romeo and Juliet”! However, even upon looking closely I couldn't find any of the song's text in Romeo's last soliloquy. Am I blind or what? Feel free to help out on this!
  • Now reading aloud with Hal: Having just finished The Comedy of Errors, nothing, but we hope to start Love's Labour's Lost this evening or tomorrow.
  • Shakespeare movie watched this week: BBC's The Comedy of Errors.
  • Book order received:
    • Materialist Shakespeare
    • Shakespeare's Words
    • The Daughter of Time (a detective book about RIII)
  • Just finished reading half an hour ago: Contested Will by James Shapiro. Don't wait for me to start my book reviews. Read it now!
  • Also read this week: The Daughter of Time by JosephineTey (the detective book – more comments when I post the RIII text).
  • Text posted: None

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011

  • Moving right along here...Today I'm going to post my text on Titus Andronicus. We've started reading A Comedy of Errors. After that comes Love's Labour's Lost and finally after that, one that most people have heard of, seen or actually read, A Midsummer Night's Dream. And then! One of the biggies – Romeo and Juliet. So patience out there, Shakespeare lovers, progress is slow but steady.
  • Shakespeare sightings –
    • In the old “Black Adder” series, season 3, episode “Sense and Senility”, jokes about Macbeth, Hamlet and Julius Caesar. One of the funniest episodes so far.
    • In Dagens Nyheter a supplement about the fall season in theater:
      • “Romeo and Juliet” at the Royal Dramatic Theater – to see or not to see...?
      • “Romeo and Juliet the Musical” - see last week's report
      • “King Lear” at the 123 Schtunk theater – would like to see this one
      • “Othello” in Dalarna
      • “Romeo and Juliet” in Uppsala
  • Now reading aloud with Hal: A Comedy of Errors.
  • Now reading: Contested Will by James Shapiro
  • Text posted: The Nastiness of Lucius or How the Hero Causes All the Bad Stuff in Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus - The Nastiness of Lucius

The Nastiness of Lucius
How the Hero Causes All the Bad Stuff
in Titus Andronicus

A lot of nasty people do a lot of nasty things to other people in Shakespeare's plays but the tragedy is that nothing happens in Shakespeare that doesn't happen in real life. Women are raped and mutilated every day. Racists poison the world and fertilize reciprocal hatred. Power-hungry maniacs take control. Wars of revenge break out. Today.

That's why Titus Andronicus is relevant now. Not, as Harold Bloom would have it, as a parody or a send-up, or hilarious, or a howler or a bloody farce or sublimely lunatic (what kind of sick humor does this guy have, anyway?) but as an almost unbearable, incomprehensible and powerful anti-violence, anti-revenge play. Whatever reason Shakespeare had for writing this play, the serious viewer cannot be left with any other feeling than the one that Julie Taymor's film does, that violence breeds violence, revenge breeds revenge. There are no heroes in violence and revenge. Shakespeare shows this, we should see it. But what we should also see is that the good guys do it as much as the bad guys. Which makes them worse because they're supposed to be the good guys and ought to know better.

So are there any good guys in Titus Andronicus? Not exactly. Even Bassianus, who according to Andrew Hadfield in Shakespeare and Republicanism, represents the forces of a republican Rome versus a tyrannical imperial Rome, and Lavinia, an educated and accomplished young woman, are really nasty to Tamora and Aaron without the excuse of knowing that both Tamora and Aaron are plotting evil deeds. Bassianus is of course immediately murdered and Lavinia is raped and mutilated and eventually murdered but they still can't be counted as heroes.

Lucius, however, is a hero from the first scene to the last and actually wins in the end and is therefore of interest in an analysis of how the heroes, a.k.a. the good guys, in this play like so many others by Shakespeare, are really the bad guys too.

The first words Lucius utters are in the first scene and they are violent:

Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs and on a pile
Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh...(Act 1.1)

His brothers had been killed fair and square in war, so why, as Tamora asks, should her son be murdered to pay for that? Reasonable enough. But both Titus and Lucius refuse to listen. Titus claims religious reasons, Lucius merely commands that it be done:

Away with him, and make a fire straight,
And with our swords upon a pile of wood
Let's hew his limbs till they be clean consumed. (Act 1.1)

He leaves and returns shortly to report:

See, lord and father, how we have performed
Our Roman rites. Alarbus' limbs are lopped
And entrails feed the sacrificing fire
Whose smoke like incense doth perfume the sky.

And so the ball of violent revenge is set rolling, giving Tamora and Aaron reason to kick it back. Not only does Lucius carry out this violence matter-of-factly and remorselessly, he even gets enjoyment from it, describing the smoke as “perfume.” And of course, the whole thing makes him feel righteous, a matter we will return to.

Throughout much of the play Lucius acts nobly within the framework of his soldierly masculine role. He is angered when Titus kills brother Mutius for defending Lavinia and would prefer to kill his sister than yield her to Saturninus (but not Saturnius, of course). In this confusing scene of abrupt switches between Lavinia and Tamora as Saturninus' betrothed, Lucius is somewhat consistent in defending his sister's “honour”, which somewhat coincides with her interests, although when men speak of a woman's honor, as they do throughout this play as well as in real life, they mean their own honor, whatever that is, not caring a whit about the woman's anger or pain. Indeed, the first thing he says, upon seeing his mutilated sister is, “Ay me, this object kills me” (Act 3.1). Object. Me. Enough said.

He does however offer the noble sacrifice of having his hand chopped off instead of Titus's to redeem the brothers and promises, upon heading off in exile, to “requite your wrongs”, i.e. Lavinia's, with the help of the recent enemy, the Goths.

Lucius is off stage for awhile but we hear about his military powers and his popularity with the people. We see him again in the last act in which he reports that everybody hates Saturninus and wants him, Lucius, to come back. The Goths declare their loyalty to him for which he thanks them. So far so good. But then Aaron is brought in with his child and Lucius immediately reverts to his initial blood lust. Not only is Aaron to hang for the crime of tricking Titus to chop off his own hand (in other words, he goes farther than the eye for an eye principle) and, maybe even worse, having sex with Tamora in mutual lust, but the product of that lust, the baby, is to hang too. Not only that but the baby is to hang first so that Aaron can watch it suffer.

This leads to the most interesting exchange in the play. Aaron, the ultimate Other, in demanding that the baby be spared, neatly maneuvers Lucius into the corner of hypocrisy. As Katherine Eisman Maus points out in the introduction to the Norton edition of the complete works, Aaron has no reason to “accept the validity” of the Roman racism that attempts to “consign [him]...permanently to a subordinate position...why should he collaborate in his own oppression?” Why indeed? In spite of his wiles and conniving, Aaron is the most honest character in the play and he exposes the arbitrariness of Lucius' piety when he refers to “conscience” and “popish tricks”, undoubtedly referring to Lucius' murder of Tamora's son in the name of religion. Eric S. Malin, in his Godless Shakespeare, goes further when saying that Aaron's purpose is “the exposure of false belief” and “religious fraud.” Mallin points out that Aaron is Shakespeare's only explicit atheist and that he in fact “signifies atheistical integrity.” This is clearly seen when Aaron “attempts to allow his child to survive him” in contrast to devout Lucius' religious father Titus who “having sacrificed 22 sons to the Goth wars, thinks nothing of slaughtering another one of them if the poor dolt gets in his way” (pages 83-84).
Lucius is powerless against Aaron's reasoning and because he wants to know what Aaron offers to tell him, he swears to spare the baby and have him fostered, “Even by my god I swear to thee I will” (Act 5.1). Coming after Aaron's astute observation that,

“An idiot holds his bauble for a god
And keeps the oath by that god he swears...

Shakespeare none too subtly shows that the anachronistic somewhat Christian piety of his somewhat hero isn't to be trusted. Shakespeare leaves the consequences of Lucius's oath ambiguous. Does he let the baby live, or doesn't he? The child is mentioned a few times in the last scene. The stage instructions at the beginning of Act 5.3 tell us that Lucius, Marcus and the Goths enter and maybe Aaron and an attendant with child. It is in brackets indicating that it's not certain that these are Shakespeare's directions. The same applies a few lines down with directions in brackets that the Goths leave with Aaron and his child. The only clear mention is made by Marcus: “Behold the child” (line 118) but he doesn't actually say whether the child is dead or alive.
The reason I'm laboring this point is to show that the oath that Lucius took to his god, (clearly his god and not God the One and Only) was very possibly just a convenience, granted to get information. Since Shakespeare doesn't make it absolutely clear that Lucius honors his oath (and Shakespeare is jam packed with oath-breaking) this exchange only serves to emphasize the unreliability of Lucius's piety.

And so to the victory of the hero. He wins in the end - he gets to be emperor. Does that prove that he's the good guy? Hardly. Hadfield shows that it is far from clear that Lucius has popular support, that it is just as likely that “Lucius is staging an Andronicus coup” and that “a corrupted Rome...has failed to learn from its history and the same political errors will be repeated by the Andronici, who will inevitably degenerate into tyrants, propped up by the Goth army” (page 165). Far from being a good emperor, Lucius will show that he leads a “Rome driven by dark forces” and we clearly see that there are “similarities between supposedly civilized Roman society and the barbarian Goths” (page 159).

Nothing could be more clear than Lucius's own words. Not only does he order Aaron's torturous death:

Set him breast-deep in earth and famish him
There let him stand, and rave, and cry for food (Act 5.3)

but sentences to death any pitying soul who might be prompted to ease his pain.

And finally, he mocks Aaron further, not to mention the Goths as well as Tamora herself, when he orders that the dead queen be denied the honor granted the vicious Saturninus and the equally vicious Titus in proper burial with the final words of the play:

No mournful bell shall ring her burial,
But throw her forth to beasts and birds to prey.
Her life was beastly and devoid of pity,
And being dead, let birds on her take pity (Act 5.3)

A slew of clichés leap to mind. Look who's calling the kettle black. Takes one to know one. Those who live in glass houses....With friends like that who needs enemies?
Whichever one we choose, one thing is clear. Shakespeare has once again demonstrated that when heroes win, everybody loses.

July 2011
September 2011

Works cited:

The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
Hadfield, Andrew. Shakespeare and Republicanism. 2005.
Mallin, Erik S. Godless Shakespeare. 2007.
Maus, Katherine Eisman, Introduction to Titus Andronicus, Norton edition (see above.)

Films seen:
1985. BBC. Directed by Jane Howell. Cast: Titus – Trevor Peacock; Tamora – Eileen Atkins; Lavinia – Anna Calder-Marshall; Aaron – Hugh Quarshie; Saturninus – Brian Protheroe; Lucius – Gavin Richards. This is one of the best of the BBC productions.
1999. Directed by Julie Taymor. Cast: Titus – Anthony Hopkins; Tamora – Jessica Lange; Lavinia – Laura Fraser; Aaron – Harry Lennix; Saturninus – Alan Cumming; Lucius – Angus McFadyen. Brilliant. A must-see!

seen on stage: no

The Taming of the Shrew: The Breaking of Katherine's Spirit

The Breaking of Katherine's Spirit

There are several themes in The Taming of the Shrew that would be interesting to explore. The purpose of Sly and the whole Induction scenes, omitted in all the movie versions I've seen, and their connection to the rest of the play, is one of them. Bianca's character is another. The role of education and the gentle ridicule of it is a third and a fourth is the role of disguises and unclear identities. But I find that I can't see these things clearly until I've confronted the glaring question of the relationship between Katherine and Petruccio. The rest fades – unfortunately because there is much to explore there – behind the incendiary confrontations between the two.

Many have already looked at this, of course, and in the little that I have explored in others' interpretations I am disconcerted, if not worse, to see that it is so often interpreted as a love story, a perfect match. In these cases there are two schools of thought. The first is that Katherine in her submission is being ironic. The other is that she is not. In both cases, she loves him.

In the first case, Katherine's final speech is seen as an indication that she is essentially pretending to give in to Petruccio but has clearly tamed him instead, showing that she will in future be running things while letting him imagine that he is, and that she is a docile wife. This was evidently the case in the 1929 film version with Mary Pickford and her famous wink (which I have not seen), and it is the case in Harold Bloom's claim that Katherine is “advising women how to rule absolutely, while feigning obedience” (page 33). While I often enjoy Bloom, agree with him and am inspired by him, this, I find, is a blatant example of the patriarchal power structure in which the powerful (men) pretend condescendingly, knowingly, amusedly, resentfully or violently, that falsely obedient women really have the power over the men. This power play effectively disarms the women by diminishing them into...guess what. Manipulative shrews. This is a universal theme in literature and often a fact in real life relationships. So even if it is wishful thinking among those who don't want to see Katherine as a loser and those who would like to see this as a love match, I find that this interpretation diminishes her while pretending to give her power. It also demeans (out of fear) the very real survival technique of pretending to submit while actually resisting that the oppressed everywhere have always used.

The other interpretation, that she is not being ironic, that she is truly submissive because she loves him, is even worse. The 1967 Zeffirelli film version is a perfect example. Throughout the film we see Elizabeth Taylor's beautiful eyes secretly following Petruccio through holes in the wall and such-like and as Deborah Cartmell points out in her essay in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, Katherine “becomes the ideal 1960s housewife, complete with headscarf, having the time of her life tidying up and feminising a long neglected male domain” (pages 217-218). The film of course ends with Taylor's dewy-eyed gaze at the children playing around the banquet table and her adoring eyes turned on Petruccio at the end of her speech. In other words, the movie is filled with the use of mechanisms that allow men to continue to use violence against their collaborating wives in the name of love.

So. OK. Love. Is this a love story? Yes, say Bloom and his friends. Bloom uses such words as “mutual triumph”, “the happiest married couple in Shakespeare” and “charming scene of married life.” Bloom even insults those of us who don't agree with him by describing us as “tone-deaf or ideologically crazed” if we can't hear the “subtly exquisite music of marriage at its happiest” and “very literal-minded” not to see the “delicious irony of Kate's undersong” (pages 28-35). In fact, he calls those of us who see problems with the love interpretation as a problem ourselves. Fine. If Bloom has a problem with that, that's his problem. If he calls it “literal-minded” to interpret what Shakespeare has actually written instead of seeing the play as a rambunctious romp between two zany but adorable sexpots then I am more than happy to be literal-minded, even ideologically crazed. Because what we have to go on is in fact the text itself. And in that text, I suggest that we will not find a love story but a portrait of a strong woman who is trying to find a place in a society that does not accept strong women, a strong woman who is defeated. I suggest that The Taming of the Shrew is a portrait of a woman whose spirit is broken.

I will show this first by discovering the characters of Katherine and Petruccio as presented in the text, second by exploring the meetings between them and finally by looking at what Katherine actually says in her final speech.

In the movie versions I have seen (The BBC version, Zeffirelli and Shakespeare Retold) Katherine is presented as a screaming, hysterical and violent harridan who throws things and throws tantrums. There is evidence in the text of her violence. Shakespeare's stage directions tell her to strike Bianca, Petruccio and Grumio, and we are told that she breaks a lute over Hortensio's head. She also, for some unspecified reason, ties Bianca's hands. No, these are not signs of a gentle person but these indications are evenly matched by Petruccio's abuse of Grumio and his threat to strike Katherine if she hits him again. Is it possible that Katherine's violence is used in frustration over situations that give her no room for standing up for herself while Petruccio's violence is simple exertion of what he sees as his right as a man of the nobility? This could be explored!

So Shakespeare indicates in both of these characters unadmirable and unlikeable tendencies toward violence.

But a shouting, screaming, hysterical Katherine is not to be found in the text. What we find in Act One, Scene One is an older sister who is outshone by the spoiled and beautiful Bianca and who is forced to watch their father favoring Bianca and rejecting her. This has undoubtedly been going on all of the sisters' lives and Katherine has learned to counter it by verbally sticking up for herself. When we first see them, Baptista has declared that Katherine must marry before Bianca. His friends reject Katherine as “too rough” and Katherine reasonably asks her father if he intends to make a “stale” of her among these men. The Norton edition explains a “stale” as a laughingstock, or a prostitute or a decoy for Bianca. Whichever of these definitions we choose, Katherine is justifiably protesting against being offered by her father as a figure of contempt and little worth. Her father does not even reply and she tartly responds to Gremio's and Hortensio's rejection of her by retorting that even if she did want to marry, she would take care to abuse him (rather than be abused!).

The scene continues with Baptista showing more favor for Bianca and brusquely telling Katherine that he has nothing more to say to her but wishes to talk to Bianca whom he has just told he loves and whom he has praised to the eager wooers. Katherine understandably retorts that she doesn't like being told what to do.

So it is in Act 1.1 where it is established that Katherine isn't afraid to speak up for herself. That is enough, as Shakespeare undoubtedly understood, to get herself called a shrew. No screaming, shouting or hysterics necessary.

Next scene enter Petruccio, beating Grumio, his servant, about the ears over an exchange of nonsense and presenting himself as a fortune hunter out to marry the richest woman he can find. Even at this point Grumio expresses pity for the woman who marries Petruccio.

Petruccio himself is so arrogant and self-centered that he proclaims to be unbothered by Katherine's reported shrewishness and he proceeds in Act 2.1 to bargain with Baptista for Katherine's hand. Before meeting her he plans his strategy of countering her every manner by declaring it to be the opposite. Talk about manipulative!

So here we have the two characters: Katherine, a young woman rejected by her father and suitors alike, constantly being compared unfavorably with her sweet beautiful younger sister and using sharp words to hold her own. And Petruccio, a self-confessed money-hungry schemer.

And so they meet, in the wild and rapid-fire exchange, in which he starts out by belittling her (in the guise of affection) by using the diminutive “Kate” against her express wishes (as Bloom and others do) then proceeds alternatively to taunt her with her reputation as a shrew and woo her with honeyed words. She, however, consistently insults him and rejects his wooing. Bloom claims that “[t]hough you have to read carefully to see it, Petruccio is accurate when he insists that Kate fell in love with him at first sight” (page 29). However, Bloom very carefully does not give a quote that shows this because it simply is not there. There is nothing in this exchange that indicates that Katherine falls in love with Petruccio. Yes, it's possible that she sees in him a potential escape route from a father who neither loves nor respects her, nor even accepts her, and it's possible that she regards Petruccio as no worse than any other man so she might as well marry him since in her society all women had to get married eventually, but in fact she clearly regards Petruccio as a witless lunatic and she in no way consents happily to the marriage. At most she goes along with it in resignation.

Only to be humiliated on her wedding day, in Act 3.2 to be shamed by the man to whom she “must forsooth be forced, to give [her] hand opposed against [her] heart”, first when he doesn't show up on time and then when he shows up “fantastically dressed” in a way that is according to Baptista an “eyesore” and an insult to them all. And when he does show up, Katherine is given no opportunity to speak but is rushed into the church for the wedding.

Which we do not see but which is vividly reported by Gremio whose sympathies now lie with Katherine. Petruccio's outrageous behavior in the church is seen by Eric S. Mallin in Godless Shakespeare as an attack on the figure the Christian god/church, to which Katherine (and everybody else, of course) must bow, in a “forced conversion” of forced obedience onto him, Pettrucio (page 53). This done, he establishes himself as her new master with a shocking kiss. Kisses are clearly Petruccio's means of establishing ownership, since he demands them consistently of Katherine throughout the play.

So they are married, more or less against her will, and now she's trapped.

She continues to try to assert her will, he continues to crush it. He refuses to stay for the wedding dinner. She entreats him, then demands, asserting her right to demand, then tells him to go if he wants to but she's staying. He quickly establishes his order of things by calling himself master and her his goods and chattel, his house, his stuff, his barn, his horse, ox and ass, his anything. (Act 3.3). With violence - “Grumio, draw thy weapon” - he abducts her, as always in the case of abusive, possessive husbands, in the name of love: “Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch thee, Kate.”

In Act 4.1 we hear Grumio's report of their journey in which Petruccio treats both Katherine and Grumio violently because her horse fell; to which Curtis replies accurately that “he's more shrew than she.”

Next we see Petruccio's abuse of his staff and his refusal to let Katherine eat, and in his soliloquy his continued strategy of breaking her will by treating her like a falcon, a wild free bird who can only be tamed by starvation and sleep deprivation, which are well known in our modern world as an effective means of torture. All of which Petruccio sums up as “a way to kill [!] a wife with kindness.” Kindness!

Katherine complains to Grumio, who pretends to sympathize but who follows Petruccio's orders and gives her nothing to eat.

Katherine continues to resist but obtains neither cap nor promised gown.

Petruccio pushes her farther and farther down, all the while castigating her for continuing to cross and contradict him, in fact for telling him he's wrong when he's wrong.

Finally, in resignation, Katherine gives into his lunacy, agreeing with everything his says no matter how ridiculous.

She makes one last attempt in Act 5.1 to get permission to do as she wishes (being married now, she clearly cannot act on her own accord) by asking Petruccio to stay and watch what happens with Bianco, Lucentio and the fathers.

Petruccio's price? A kiss. A public manifestation of what he has established, not as a private symbol of love but as proof of ownership. She is rightly reluctant, but again she is resigned to her entrapment. If she wants anything, she must do as he demands. This is not a charming scene of a happy marriage. It is a clear example of marriage as enforced prostitution – physical payment in return for something that should be hers anyway, the right to go and do as she wishes.

At the banquet then, in the final scene, first Katherine's abasement is cruelly pointed out by the widow and then, finally, the speech.

Before we look at that however, let's recap Katherine's situation. She has grown up and spent some adult years with a father who openly prefers her sister and who is clearly very anxious to get rid of her. The people who know her call her a shrew, a devil, rough, ill-favored and so on. She is then within a few days married off to a scheming, abusive, money-hungry ruffian who immediately forces her away from the only home and people, such as they are, that she has ever known, upon which she has to endure a dangerous and filthy journey with no assistance or comfort from her husband. Arriving at his rural domain she is yelled at, starved, sleep-deprived and denied clothing fitting to her class, in other words lied to, mocked, scolded, pushed into denying what her own eyes see, coerced into a public display of the parody of love that her husband presents to the world.

This is what leads up to her speech. So what does she say?

She speaks through most of it to the two women who have hurt her. Bianca throughout their lives by being the favored daughter, and the widow who has just taunted her in front of the whole company. She's simply telling them what she and they have been told all their lives: wife, obey your husband. She is pointing out to them that they are all in the same boat.

She goes on to say that angry women will not attract a husband, which she knows from bitter experience, ending up as she did, with a husband no woman would wish for.

She follows this with a list of her society's stereotypes – strong men laboring hard physically (which Baptista, Lucentio, Hortensio and Petruccio clearly do not do) while the women, weak, soft and to be protected, stay at home. But in these lines she uses the word “keeper” to describe the husband and “bound to” to describe the wife. Katherine sees marriage as a prison.

She goes on to say that she has battled against this but she has lost, her “lances are but straws”, her “strength as weak”. Though she is not speaking directly to Petruccio she is conceding publicly that she has lost the struggle to him and there is no point in continuing it, “for there is no boot.”

Still she senses that this is not enough. We are not told what Petruccio is doing throughout the speech but skillful actors could be directed to exchange a glance, Katherine's resigned, exhausted, apprehensive and Petruccio's victorious, gloating but still not satisfied. With a haughty lift of his chin he could be seen to be demanding more, in fact Katherine's total submission. Whatever small concession she may still have hope for from him, she sees that there will be none and in defeat she admits that if he so chooses, her husband has the right to use violence and bodily injury against her. Like Shylock, who several plays later will be stripped of everything and humiliated beyond endurance, Katherine is cornered into being content.

The parallel to Shylock is very vivid and could surely be explored in detail. Shylock will be forced to live among the Christians without the pride and wealth of his profession or the comfort of his faith, but Katherine will be forced to share her home and her bed with her “keeper” and cater to his every whim under the pretense of love. There will be no happy marriage for these two. At best it will be a truce but knowing Petruccio as we now do, it is more likely that she will be needled, provoked, coerced and abused for the rest of their lives. And she will kneel. Not for love, but for peace. Because resistance is bootless.

And thus we have the portrait that Shakespeare so astutely created. Like Shylock, Katherine has been placed in a dark superbly nuanced comedy in which everything funny is at their expense. A comedy, which by definition ends in marriage. Haughty, hardly likeable but magnificent in her battle for sovereignty over her self and her life, like Shylock, Katherine is one of Shakespeare's most tragic characters. But Katherine, like Shylock, though hated, reviled and ridiculed by their society and by altogether too many directors and audiences, is deserving of the respect that Shakespeare intended for us to give them. Their spirits were broken but at least they fought back first.

March 2011

August 2011

Works cited:
The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition, 2008.

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.

Cartmell, Deborah. “Franco Zeffirelli and Shakespeare”. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Russell Jackson, editor. 2007.

Howard, Jean. Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, Norton edition (see above.)

Mallin, Erik S. Godless Shakespeare. 2007.

  • 1980, BBC. Directed by Jonathan Miller. Cast: Katherine - Sarah Badel; Petruccio - John Cleese; Bianca – Susan Penhaligon; Baptista – John Franklyn-Roberts. The production ia well done and John Cleese is excellent as the obnoxious Petruccio. It's just too bad Badel's interpretation of Katherine is so wrong.
  • 1967. Directed by Franco Zefferelli. Cast: Katherine – Elizabeth Taylor; Petruccio – Richard Burton; Bianca – Natasha Pyne; Baptista – Michael Hordern. Lavish as Zefferelli tends to be. Taylor and Burton are always fun to watch. But the whole thing is ruined by...well, see above.
  • 2005. "Shakespeare Retold."  Directed by David Richards. Cast: Katherine – Shirley Henderson; Petruccio – Rufus Sewell; Bianca – Jaime Murray; Baptista (sort of) – Twiggy Lawson. Henderson and Sewell are absolutely perfect, the whole cast is excellent, and really if you're going to do a believable modern remake of this play, how else could it be done without being totally depressing. Still I wish someone would try.
  • 1999. "10 Things I Hate About You." Directed by Gil Junger. Cast: Katherine – Julia Stiles; Petruccio – Heath Ledger; Bianca – Larisa Oleynik; Baptista – Larry Miller. Well, it's kind of fun and manages to avoid the whole issue. Best is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger is always seeable.

Seen on stage: No.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011

  • It's been a Richard III – intensive week. Having finished reading the play last week we got busy on the various versions, thus not having time for our current favorite evening activities: Wallander (Oh Kenneth, when are you going to come back to Shakespeare??), The Flight of the Conchords, The Big Bang Theory, the rest of the Blondie CD's. O! What sacrifices one makes for Shakespeare! Anyway, we've watched/listened to the following
    • the BBC production
    • “The Trial of Richard III” - an extra DVD with the Olivier edition.
    • Pacino's “Looking for Richard”
    • McKellan's RIII
    • CDs of the whole thing with Kenneth Branagh – see that's what you should be doing, Kenneth, not waltzing around southern Sweden play a burned out Swedish cop, even if you do a great job at it!
    • Olivier's RIII
  • Shakespeare sightings – not much this week
    • In Sheila Kohler's novel Becoming Jane Eyre, it is written that brother Branwell read lots of classics, “even Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and Twelfth Night.” Meaning the sisters didn't? I find that hard to believe.
    • In Suzette Haden Elgin's “feminist science fiction classic” (according to the cover) one of the main characters repaid [her boss's] years of kindness with murder most foul!” Served him right too....
    • Romeo and Juliet, the Musical” still going strong in one of Stockholm's theaters. Could have reported it long ago but didn't think of it. Haven't seen it either, because the guy playing Romeo is such a pretty boy pop singer. Unfair I know... Should see it!
  • Books ordered:
    • Materialist Shakespeare
    • Shakespeare's Words
    • The Daughter of Time (a detective book about RIII)
  • Text written: about RIII, should be ready to post in a few weeks.
  • Text posted: Well, Make Up Your Minds Already! Side-Switching in Henry VI Part Three also confusedly called The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (unfortunately I can't claim that the title is longer than the text. The text is embarassingly long and I promise to try to write shorter ones from now on.)

    Side switching in Henry VI Part Three

     Well, Make Up Your Minds Already!
    Side-Switching in
    Henry VI Part Three
    also confusedly called
    The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth

    The reader or viewer of this, the second of Shakespeare's history plays, can be forgiven for regularly muttering, “Well, who's side are you on now?” With all the rapid and frequent turncoating it's all a bit confusing, not to mention breathtaking, in the sense of running out of breath in one's attempt to keep up.
    That's probably the whole point of this 16th century action movie – sorry, play. What we have here is a bunch of spoiled whiny lords scrambling for power, scratching and scrapping and of course stabbing their way to the throne and the golden circle. Even those who don't actually change sides on a regular basis change their minds about strategy or even goals every other scene or so. Sometimes from one line to the next!
    Why does Shakespeare toss all of this confusing stuff at his audience? Other than the fact that the whole thing is Based on a True Story, I think he had another reason. He wanted to give us real people, people we'd recognize, identify with. Because, honestly, who amongst us can claim that we never change our minds, even in the middle of a sentence? Exactly. None of us.
    Let's take a look, then, at these waverers and follow the winding, switchbacking paths of these quarrelsome cousins:
    • Richard, Senior – to be or not to be king
    • Warwick – to be or not to be loyal. Loyal? What's that? Who to, anyway?
    • Henry himself – to be or not to be king
    • Edward – to be or not to be king
    • George of Clarence – to be or not to be a York
    There are others but this will suffice. Let's start with the would-be king Richard Senior, otherwise known as York. Historically speaking he's doing what the tides of change dictate. The feudal system, in which noble lords more or less support more or less strong kings in more or less holy (read territorial-fighting-for-power-over-trade) wars, has been breaking down for awhile but inheritance is certainly still the key. That's of course what the whole thing is all about. Who can make the most conniving claim to the throne, York or Henry, based on who begat whom and in what order way back when. A pretty silly excuse for a bloody civil war, one might say, but people have always found flimsy but occasionally noble-sounding excuses for killing each other over power.
    Already in the previous play Richard of York is conniving to present his case. To explore this we have to back up a little and look again at H6:2 where he asks Warwick and Salisbury to
    ...satisfy myself
    In craving your opinion of my title,
    Which is infallible, to England's crown (H6:2, 2.2).

    What follows is, of course, a reasonable argument, which according to the rules of the day, support York's claim. Still, he and his buddies don't rush off to kill or otherwise dispose of Henry. They bide their time, even giving Queen Margaret their support in her conflict with Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, while keeping in mind that “'tis York that hath more reason for his death” (H6:2, Act 3.1). In other words he hasn't changed his mind about wanting to be king, he's just waiting for the right time. Momentarily disconcerted when Henry sends him off to Ireland, York in his soliloquy tells himself to “Be that thou hop'st to be” (H6:2, Act 3.1) and realizes that to his advantage Henry has “put sharp weapons in a madman's hands.” Madman? His claim is mad? He's crazy for thinking he will be king? Whatever – he's not changing his mind. He's plotting. He tells us that he's using Cade's rebellion to further his own cause. Sure enough, as soon as York returns from Ireland he claims the crown:

    From Ireland thus comes York to claim his right,
    And pluck the crown from feeble Henry's head. (H6:2, Act 5.1)

    But he speaks these words only to himself and he still pretends to be loyal to Henry in spite of the temper he's whipped up in his next aside:

    Scarce can I speak, my choler is so great.
    O, I could hew up rocks and fight with flint,
    I am so angry at these abject terms;
    I am far better born than is the King,
    More like a king , more kingly in my thoughts;
    But I must make fair weather yet awhile,
    Till Henry be more weak and I more strong. (H6:2, Act 5.1)

    Why is he so furious right at this moment requires more analysis than this essay allows (we haven't even come to the play, i.e. H6:3, yet!) but angry he is, and conniving too. He clearly hasn't changed his mind.
    Henry believes for a couple of minutes that York is still simply a Duke. Indeed moments later, Somerset's appearance tips the tippy York over and York goes public with his ambitions to kingship. “That gold must round engird these brows of mine”, he declares a few lines later. The battle is on.
    So on to H6:3. The play opens with York proclaiming, “By words or blows here let us win our right...I mean to take possession of my right” (H6:3, Act 1.1), whereby he sits on the throne. No ambiguity there, no indecision about whether or not he sees himself as the rightful king. But when Henry comes up with his offer just a few minutes later, York says, “OK.” In five lines the whole conflict is resolved in amiable cousinly accord:

    King Henry: Let me for this my lifetime reign as king.
    York: Confirm the crown to me and mine heirs,
    And thou shalt reign in quiet while thou liv'st.
    King Henry: I am content. Richard Plantagent,
    Enjoy the kingdom after my decease. (H6:3, Act 1.1)

    Well, that's reasonable. Now everybody can go home and enjoy life. York's fury, his determination to get the crown by hook or by crook – all gone. Replaced by his oath to be loyal to Henry, his king: “This oath I willingly take and will perform...Now York and Lancaster are reconciled.”
    One could be forgiven for almost starting to like York and think he's quite a peaceful man after all but – aha – a few minutes later we see that it takes practically no convincing at all by Richard Junior to go back on “I took an oath.” Young Richard says the oath wasn't legal and Richard Senior says, “I will be king or die.” Of course, oaths and the breaking of them is something that occupies many of Shakespeare's characters in their various power struggles, but this is certainly one of the quickest changes done by a Shakespearean quick-change artist.
    And the battle is on. Again. And it doesn't take long for York's prophetic line to come true. Two scenes later York is confronted by Margaret and that's the end of York.
    So did York ever actually change his mind? No, he was simply treacherous. Or, if you think he had more right to the throne than Henry (which he probably did), then you'd want to use the word strategic.
    What then of his buddy Warwick? As in the case of York, the question of Warwick's steadfast loyalty, or lack thereof, must be traced back to Part Two. As we have seen, Warwick was one of the two to whom York presented his pedigree and it didn't take much persuading for Warwick to declare:

    ...Father Salisbury, kneel we together,
    And in this private plot be we first
    That shall salute our rightful sovereign
    With honouring his birthright to the crown.
    Long live our sovereign, Richard, England's king (H6:2, Act 2.2)

    Not being the humble type, Warwick shortly thereafter adds:

    My heart assures me that the Earl of Warwick
    Shall one day make the Duke of York a king (H6:2, Act 2.2)

    Warwick isn't directly involved in the plot against Gloucester, nor the Cade rebellion. Instead he seems to be loyal to Henry until the last act when York has been arrested for declaring himself king in Henry's presence. And then he doesn't really say straight out that he's no longer loyal to the king and after awhile he refers obliquely to raising his banner. His biggest conflict seems to be with the hotheaded Clifford, although he does have the last words in the play, celebrating York's victory over Henry.
    The first we see of him in H6:3 is in the very first scene in which he speaks the first line wondering how Henry got away. He doesn't waste much time egging York on to sit on the throne, to take the king's place, and he doesn't bother to answer when Henry enters and calls him “false peer”. Still, in the exchange in which Henry tries to prove his lineage is stronger than York's. Warwick at first rather reasonably says, “Prove it, Henry, and thou shalt be king.” In the following squabble he gets quite belligerent and tells Henry's supporters, “Deposed he shall be, in spite of all.” In other words, I wasn't really being reasonable, no matter what you say, you won't convince me. And in case there was any doubt, he threatens violence:

    Do right unto this princely Duke of York,
    Or I will fill the house with arméd men
    And over the chair of state, where now he sits,
    Write up his title with usurping blood (H6:3, Act 1,1)

    Two minutes later he says, “Long live King Henry.” Slippery guy, our Warwick.
    We don't see much of him for awhile but of course after York is once again in battle with Henry we assume Warwick is too, which is confirmed in Act 2.1 when he reports to the boys of already knowing about York's death, “Ten days ago I drowned these news in tears,” and went on to recount his recent woes. In this long speech he uses the patriotic slogans “justice of our cause,” proclaims his determination that “this strong right hand of mine can pluck the diadem from Henry's head,” and declares his loyalty to young Edward:

    No longer Earl of March but Duke of York.
    The next degree is England's royal throne -
    For King of England shalt thou be proclaimed
    In every borough as we pass along
    And he that throws up not his cap for joy,
    Shall for the fault make forfeit of his head. (Act 2.2)

    Long live King Henry indeed.
    Warwick continues to declare his loyalty to Edward now and then, in and out of battle until the fateful moment in the French court when he gets the news that Edward has made a public fool of him. And that he cannot endure. Without hesitation he changes his mind, switches sides, says oops, he was wrong all along:

    Did I forget that by the House of York
    My father came untimely to his death?
    Did I let pass th'abuse done to my niece *
    ...Did I put Henry from his native right? 
    I hereby renounce [Edward] and return to Henry. (Act 3.3)

    (* In Norton's note we're told that Edward had attempted to rape Warwick's niece, which evidently didn't bother him until now.)

    He even promises Queen Margaret, whom he had called “proud, insulting queen” to be “thy true servitor.”
    Warwick is really, really annoyed. Here he'd gone and made Edward king and this is the thanks he gets. One could almost feel sorry for him. But he reveals his true nature to us – noble cause, rightful king, whatever – his change of mind is purely personal:

    Not that I pity Henry's misery,
    But seek revenge on Edward's mockery. (Act 3.3)

    He tells Edward so a couple of times in later scenes and actually manages to remain loyal to Henry for the rest of his life. Which however, was short. Who know how many more times he might have switched sides if he'd lived longer? Anyway, exit Warwick, loyal and true subject to Henry.

    It's time to look at Henry himself. Henry has never been a happy king and throughout the play he can't make up his mind about his crown. Give it away? Keep it? Keep it for awhile? Fight for it? Poor Henry.
    In the first scene he's upset to find Edward in his throne but he tries to calm his hot-headed friends and prevent violence with reasoning:

    Far be the thought of this from Henry's heart,
    To make a shambles of the Parliament House
    ...frowns, words and threats
    Shall be the war that Henry means to use.
    Thou factious Duke of York, descend my throne
    And kneel for grace and mercy at my feet.
    I am thy sovereign. (Act 1.1)

    He then asks, “And shall I stand and thou sit in my throne?” and goes on, as we have seen, to convince everybody he should be king by inheritance. And as we have seen, he fails. He offers the compromise that he keep the crown while he lives, thereafter York will be king. Fine. Everyone agrees. Sort of.
    An admirable statesmanlike move on Henry's part? Hardly. He immediately wiggles out of Margaret's wrath by saying, “The Earl of Warwick and the Duke enforced me.” Margaret, of course, is right in the context to demand, “Art thou King, and wilt be enforced?” No, Henry isn't really king, at least not in his mind, or heart, or wherever hunger for power resides.

    Henry fades from the stage and doesn't return until the second scene of Act Two in which he flutters around saying it wasn't his fault York was killed. He hints once again that he wishes he wasn't king:

    I'll leave my son with virtuous deeds behind,
    And would my father had left me no more
    For all the rest is held at such a rate
    As brings a thousandfold more care to keep
    Than in possession any jot of pleasure. (2.2)

    Of all the turncoating characters, Henry is the one who provokes the most impatience – all right already! If you don't want to be king, just abdicate! If you want to be king, get regal! Quit futzing around!

    But futz he does and though he lamely points out, “I am a king and privileged to speak,” he meekly doesn't in the heated exchange between Margaret et al on one side, and the Yorks on the other. One can't help but wonder what Henry had intended to say but knowing him it would have been the equivalent to, “Uh er...”
    Henry continues to hover around the action but chooses, and is directed to, keep out of things. One has to feel a little sorry for him and sympathize, even admire, his humanity in his long speech on the hill and his despair at witnessing the sons and fathers who've killed their sons and fathers unawares. But he can't weep his way out of the responsibility he has in the war.

    And he continues to waver. King or not? In the first scene of Act 3 in which he is captured by the gamekeepers he claims, sort of, that he is the king and they owe their loyalty to him, but then he says. “Oh well,” and goes with them peacefully.

    Once again, fade out Henry. And fade in again in Act 4, Scene 7. Released from pleasant imprisonment he expresses joy at being king once again, or at least out of jail, and promptly hands the power of state over to Warwick and George of Clarence. He himself “will lead a private life.”

    Hmmm. Why then is his response to Warwick's news, that Edward is approaching, rather aggressive: “Let's levy men and beat him back again”, (Act 4.9). Private life or not, Harry is still at war with the Yorks. And in the next scene he tries to convince Exeter and himself that he's more kingly than Edward and should therefore be more beloved by the people. Whereupon Edward enters, proclaims the crown once again and sends Henry back to the tower.

    Exit Henry. And exit permanently he does with Richard's help. In the moments before he's murdered, Henry says not a word about his royal rights, his claims to the crown or the injustice of Edward sitting on the throne. He mourns the death of his son, he analyzes Richard's nastiness, and he dies, his wish to a private life forever now fulfilled.

    To go now from Henry, who was king whether he liked it or not, or acted like one or not, to a minor, rather sleazy character like George of Clarence may seem illogical but I am going to conclude this list of back-and-forthers with Clarence anyway.

    What makes Clarence interesting is that he is so uninteresting (except that he has very bad dreams and ends up head first in a vat of wine but of course we don't know that yet) but plays what could be be seen as a pivotal role in this phase of the War of the Roses. He doesn't even show up in H6:2 and even more than Henry he hovers around the edges of H6:3 and doesn't have any soliloquies at all. He doesn't enter the play until Act 2.2. His father has been killed and he takes small but belligerent part in the heated conflict with Margaret. Interestingly, the first thing he says is:

    Since when his oath is broke – for as I hear,
    You that are king though he do wear the crown
    Have caused him by new act of Parliament
    To blot our brothers out, and put his own son in (Act 2.2)

    As we will soon see, Clarence, like many others, is a fine one to talk about breaking oaths.
    The point is that in this and the next confrontation with Margaret -

    Yet thou know, since we have begun to strike,
    We'll never leave till we have hewn thee down,
    Or bathed thy growing with our heated bloods (Act 2.2)

    - he puts himself squarely in the York corner. He stays there with a few lines here and there until Edward marries Lady Gray. He makes fun of Edward together with Richard while Edward is wooing her (if that's what you want to call it) in Act 3.2 but he doesn't get angry until Act 4.1. There, however, he's mostly dissatisfied that the wedding will cause (has caused) King Louis and Warwick to turn against them, and disgruntled over the favors that Edward has shown the River family. He refuses Edward's (probably) disdainful offer to find him a wife by saying he'll the broker in mine own behalf,
    And to that end I shortly mind to leave you (Act 4.1)

    When they hear definite news that Warwick has switched sides and married off his daughter to Prince Edward, Clarence declares his intention to join Warwick and marry the other one.

    This is certainly the action of a petulant middle brother who has probably grown up in the shadow of his less-than-kingly but nevertheless older brother and his clever, sly, dominating little brother. More of a tantrum, then, than a well-thought out political decision. Sure enough, in the next scene he's joined Warwick and won the daughter.

    We next see him in the exchange with Warwick and Henry in which he agrees to share the responsibility of the government with Warwick. He shows neither reluctance nor eagerness.
    He pops up once more in Act 4.9 where he encourages Henry to quickly stamp out the advance of King Edward then, in Act 5.1, two seconds after he marches in declaring “Clarence! Clarence for Lancaster!”, Shakespeare gives the direction “Richard and Clarence whisper together.”
    How intriguing! What in the world does Richard say to him? I would dearly like to know, but Shakespeare gives us no hint. Whatever is said, Clarence promptly switches sides and in his only longer speech of the play now declares himself back in the family fold and he slickly manipulates his oath to Warwick as being invalid because “To keep that oath were more impiety...” and refers to the Bible, always a clever ploy that Shakespeare doesn't hesitate to use.
    So now Clarence is back to making sharp retorts, here to Prince Edward. And his is the final stab killing the doomed Prince. He refuses, however, to kill Margaret.

    So why emphasize this particular example of swivel-door mind-changing in a play full of them? Because, maybe, if Clarence hadn't changed back to Edward, the Lancasters might have won.
    Not that this would have changed history in the long run but it certainly would have changed some individual lives.

    However, I'm not a what-if kind of historian. What happened, happened. The Lancasters lost, the Yorks won. Whatever the political and historical restrictions Shakespeare had in writing the play, he made full use of the infinity of human motivations. York changing his public position for strategic reasons. Warwick for the same reasons initially but finally and irrevocably switching sides for reasons of personal honor. Henry wavering back and forth simply because he couldn't decided whether or not he wanted to be king. And Clarence changing his mind first from petulance and then – who knows?

    Strategy, injured honor, indecisiveness, adolescent defiance and no known reason. All of us can recognize ourselves in this list of reasons why we can't always make up our minds.
    And who is Shakespeare writing about, if not us?

    June 6, 2011
    September, 2011

    Film seen:
    1983, BBC. Directed by Jane Howell. Cast: Henry – Peter Benson; Margaret – Julia Foster; York - Bernard Hill; Warwick – Mark-Wing Davey; Edward – Brian Protheroe: Clarence – Paul Jensen; Richard of Gloucester – Ron Cook. Confusing at times but generally well done. The York family is well acted.

    Seen on stage: No.

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    September 5, 2011

    • Shakespeare sightings
      • Oh no, now they're making a movie about Shakespeare not writing his plays. Of course it's by the same director who did “Day After Tomorrow” and “2012”, which, admittedly were pretty exciting but not terribly serious. So this one will probably be about as believable, that is to say...not. But how exciting can a movie about some other guy writing Shakespeare's texts be, I wonder. I used to say, and still do sort of, what difference does it make, somebody wrote the plays and they're brilliant so who cares? But I find I care, partly because as a history teacher I take historical sources seriously, and the ones we have really do indicate that Shakespeare wrote his own stuff, often not alone but still he did it. And partly because it's so insulting to claim that a relatively uneducated (at least formally) guy from the lower classes and rural England to boot can't be a genius. Come on!
      • In Juliet Nicolson's interesting book The Great Silence, about the two years after the end of World War One and how people adjusted, I've so far found two mentions of Shakespeare:
        • In the general anger towards and hatred for the Germans after the war, George V of England changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a good German name, the king was after all the Kaiser's – and the tsar's for that matter – cousin) to Windsor. According to Nicolson, the Kaiser joked about it by saying that he was on his way to the theater to see The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Ha ha.
        • On July 19, 1919, a large parade and festival were arranged in London to celebrate the signing of the treaty and A Midsummer Night's Dream was performed in Hyde Park.
      • A non-sighting: I love the movie Hair, and have seen it many times, most recently this Saturday evening with friends, and every time I ask myself and the world, “Why????” was “What a Piece of Work is Man” deleted? It's on the soundtrack so evidently it was going to be included at some point. I first heard this song on the Broadway soundtrack and it was probably the first time I fell in love with Shakespeare, and I didn't even know it was Shakespeare at the time. It took years and years before I figured out what play it's from. For those of you who have never heard it, or don't have the soundtracks: here they are:
      • Book finished this week: Frank Kermode's Shakespeare's Language. A brief report will appear on this blog when I get to doing books.
      • Play finished this week: Richard III. Hal and I have also started reading various analyses of the play and have watched the BBC version. Five more DVDs to watch this week. Today I started taking notes for my text, to be posted on this blog in a month or so.
      • Meantime, I'm still working on my text for Henry VI Part 3. I hope to post it next week.
      • Technical tips – if you've been trying to post comments on the blog and it doesn't seem to work try going into Google Chrome (easy to do, go to Google, about Google, our Google Chrome) or Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. That's worked for me.