Monday, September 3, 2018

Sly, Bianca and dashed hopes in The Taming of the Shrew

Sly, Bianca and dashed hopes
The Taming of the Shrew

     Can we please agree that Katherine in absolutely no way loves Petruchio, that he has tortured her into submission and that theirs is not a happy marriage, at least not for her? If we can do that, if we can agree that like Shylock Katherine is a tragic figure in a funny play, then maybe we can enjoy this silly play in the parts that aren’t quite so tragic.
     For example, Christopher Sly. Of course, as an alcoholic wreck he’s tragic but he’s funny, albeit an odd character to tack on at the beginning.  Or is he so odd? The trick played on him to make him believe that he’s a lord brings an uncertainty to everyone’s identity and status in the play to come and the fact that this whole play is presented as a play offers all kinds of exciting questions about the validity of perceived truths about – dare I say? – gender roles in Shakespeare’s society. Not to mention wondering what Shakespeare was trying to tell us with all this.
     The disguises and switching of roles – Tranio as Lucentio and Lucentio as Cambio and Hortensio as Licio – same thing. Who is really who he is and who is really in his proper place in this class society? Are they all really interchangeable? All the names ending in -io only add to the confusion and humour.
     Bianca certainly should not be ignored. A resourceful lass, she eludes her father’s manipulations much more subtly and effectively than poor Katherine. She ends up with a man she actually loves but does not allow herself to be locked into an oppressive relationship like Katherine. Her answer at the dinner when the wager is on which wife will be obedient is the nonchalant retort that ‘she is busy, and she cannot come.’ When Katherine, at Petruchio’s command, removes her cap and throws it on the floor, Bianca says, ‘Fie! What a foolish duty call you this?’ Lucentio points out to his new bride that he wished she were as duteous since she ‘hath cost one hundred crowns since supper-time.’ Her response: ‘The more fool you, for laying on my duty.’ (All quotes are from Act 5.2.)
     So yes, there are several things I had been inspired to explore after this second reading of the play, and remembering the excellent production by a visiting all-woman theatre group we saw at the Globe in 2013 (see pages 418-19 in Shakespeare calling – the book) I was looking forward to the DVD of the Globe production from 2012 and reading the analysis in Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber.
     But no! My hopes were dashed to pieces. No subtleties, no nuances, no darkness. Katherine loves Petruchio = happy marriage.
     No! No! No!
     This is a funny, acerbic, multi-levelled, astute view of society and it ends in tragedy for Katherine.
     That. Is. It. Those of you who think it doesn’t, your arguments are invalid.

Film seen this time:
  • The Globe version 2012. Director: Toby Frow. Katherine: Samantha Spiro. Petruchio: Simon Paisley Day. Grumio: Pearce Quigley. Lucentio: Joseph Timms. Bianca: Sarah MacRae. Biondello: Tom Godwin. Tranio: Jamie Beamish.
    • Loud, farcical, annoying, absolutely no subtlety. Quigley as Grumio was quite amusing, the intro with the drunken Sly pushing his way through the audience was funny. Otherwise this was a dreadful production with the worst imaginable ending – Kate falls dewy-eyed in love with Petruchio and gives her final monologue sincerely and adoringly. Absolutely awful. Globe, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

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