To Balk Logic and Practice Rhetoric: Allegories of Rhetoric and Dialectic in Shakespeare’s Plays
Chapter 2: The Fantastic Mirror in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew
"He's left me here behind to expound the meaning or moral of his
signs and tokens." (Biondello, The Taming of the Shrew, 4.4.78-9)
Traditional interpreters of The Taming of the Shrew assert that Petruchio's taming of Kate is good for her; by contrast, feminist critics are appalled by it.1 To them, Petruchio's effort to tame Kate in his obedience school is horrifying. Feminist readers make no attempt to defend Shakespeare's play, as middle-ground "revisionist" interpreters do, those who claim that Kate's final speech is ironic or broadly hyperbolic.2
Among feminist readings, my favorite is a 1988 essay by Shirley Nelson Garner, who hates The Taming of the Shrew because the central joke, intended for a misogynistic audience, is directed against women. She says, "Since I am outside the community for whom the joke is made and do not share its implicit values, I do not participate in its humor. . . . The play does not have for me what I assume to be its intended effect; that is, I do not find it funny" (106)3 For these reasons, Garner says it is a bad play.
On one thing traditionalists and feminists agree: both are sure that the play is "univocal." Traditionalist Anne Barton calls the play "perhaps the most unequivocally light-hearted of all Shakespeare's comedies, the one whose qualities lie most obviously on the surface. [It] is short on poetry and deep emotion, without the power to disturb" (italics mine).4 Feminist Lynda Boose tells us that, "for feminist scholars, the irreplaceable value if not pleasure to be realized by an historicized confrontation with Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew lies in the unequivocality with which the play locates both women's abjected position in the social order of early modern England and the costs exacted for resistance" (italics mine).5 Traditional and feminist critics both see a stable meaning to the play: the first group likes it; the second group hates it.
We could chalk up this difference of audience reaction solely to late twentieth-century feminist readings of the play, except that, as Boose points out, "apparently from the play's inception its sexual politics have inspired controversy. Within Shakespeare's own lifetime it elicited a reaction, John Fletcher's sequel, The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tam'd, which featured Petruchio marrying a second, untamable wife after his household tyranny has sent poor Kate to an early grave. As the title itself announces, Fletcher's play ends with Petruchio a reclaimed and newly lovable husband--'a woman's prize'".6
Beyond the “biter bitten" aspect of Maria's victory over Petruchio, what does Fletcher's sequel reveal about Fletcher's own reaction (as reader, audience, and playwright) to Shakespeare's play as an intertext? Further, if Boose is right that the sequel shows that the "sexual politics" of The Taming of the Shrew have always been controversial, what does Fletcher show in the sequel that might suggest what these points of controversy were in Shakespeare's play?
First of all, the Prologue to The Woman's Prize announces that in the battle of the sexes, "Fletcher's brave Muse" is on the side of the "ladies" (WP ll. 1-2).7 The scene is England. Petruchio has left his native Italy to marry an English wife, Maria, a "soft maid" (WP 1.1.22) whom everyone fears Petruchio will bully to death as he did his late wife, Kate. Alluding to the conditions that tamed Kate and eventually killed her, two of Petruchio's friends lament Maria's fate:
Tranio: She must do nothing of herselfe; not eate,
Drink, say sir how do ye, make her ready, pisse,
Unlesse he bid her.
Sophocles: He will bury her. (WP 1.1.45-48)
However, in this battle, in this play, Maria has help. Bianca, Maria's cousin, becomes instigator and commander-in-chief of a "female war" (Prologue, line 10) against Petruchio and his supporters. Joined by Livia, Maria's sister, who refuses to marry an old geezer named Moroso, the three women wage a Lysistrata campaign, barracading themselves in Petruchio's house on Petruchio and Maria's wedding night. Maria will withhold consummation until a tame Petruchio submits to her.
The situation is the same as in The Taming of the Shrew, but the tables are turned this time against Petruchio, the woman tamer. The theme of female solidarity against men who try to bully women is clear, as legions of country women and city women rally to Petruchio's house in support of Maria, Livia, and Bianca. Maria beshrews and befuddles Petruchio throughout the play, and all the women in the play are there to support her when she needs help.
The general point Fletcher took from The Taming of the Shrew was that all the women in Shakespeare's play (and there are only three of them) ingratiate themselves with men by putting other women down. Collaborators with the enemy, Kate, Bianca, and the widow fail to support their "sisters." The situation is emphatically reversed in Fletcher's sequel. Men are the enemy, and women stand firm against them. It is a radical feminist argument.
This is not to say that the play uniformly favors women. As in The Taming of the Shrew, rebellious women are maligned by men, but in Fletcher's play all the men are impotent--powerless and full of sexual anxiety--including Petruchio. For example, Maria's father Petronius and Petruchio's friend Sophocles both imagine Petruchio on his wedding night, approaching and being defeated by Maria, as if he were St. George losing to the Dragon:
Petronius: Tomorrow morning we shall have you looke,
For all your great words, like St. George at Kingston,
Running a foot-back from the furious Dragon,
That with her angry tayle belabours him
For being lazie.
Sophocles: His warlike launce
Bent like a crosse bow lath, alas the while. (WP 1.3.17-21)
Although the female characters refer to Fletcher's Petruchio as Petruchio Furius (1.3.174) and "fierce Petruchio . . . with his Myrmidons" (WP 2.2.8-9), he is no Hercules or Achilles, and he has none of the potentially dangerous madness of Shakespeare's character. In Fletcher's play, the merry madness is Maria's. There is no champion for the fantasy of masculine superiority over women, and the wimpy men in The Woman's Prize, unlike the weak men of Shakespeare's play, have to get by without him.
It seems probable that Fletcher consulted a copy of The Taming of the Shrew as he wrote his sequel. Close verbal echoes and Fletcher's association with Shakespeare and the King's Men almost guarantee it.8 Since Fletcher's response to Shakespeare's play makes him as good an eyewitness as we are ever likely to find among Shakespeare's theater or reading audience, I shall rely on him for help from time to time. At this point, however, we can already see that the example of Fletcher's sequel dispells any notion that there might have been a unanimous response to The Taming of the Shrew when it first appeared.
Many in the audience, mostly men but also some women (perhaps endorsing a system in which they had a stake), would have applauded the comedy and the way Petruchio tamed Kate and made her conform to traditional patriarchal authority. Others in the audience, mostly women but also some men (embarrassed by the hyperbolic display of masculine power and privilege), would have been at least uneasy and perhaps infuriated by it.
These speculations raise further questions. The play clearly invites such reactions. Fletcher's sequel is a rebuttal to the patriarchy of Shakespeare's play.
The Taming of the Shrew may be a bad play, as Garner asserts, but it could be that we have been a bad audience. I do not dispute that "the master narrative" of the play, as Karen Newman calls it, is patriarchal and misogynistic.9 I wonder, though, if Shakespeare's play is univocal, as interpreters on both sides have assumed.
Even Garner admits that she finds the first part of the play funny. She likes the "high-spirited play of wit that was characteristic of [Kate] when Petruchio first met her (2.1.182-259)" (116), and she can identify exactly where it is in the play that she stops laughing: "After Kate and Petruchio are married and go to Petruchio's house in act 4, the play loses humor for me. The change in tone follows partly from the fact that Petruchio's control over Kate becomes mainly physical. In Padua, the pair fights mainly through language, a weapon that Kate can wield as well as Petruchio" (114). At the end of the play, when Kate speaks the language of patriarchy, Garner finds herself identifying with the Widow and Bianca, who protest the whole proceeding as absurd and demeaning.
Perhaps Shakespeare hoped that at least some members of his audience would react as Garner does, in the places where Garner does, and that Shakespeare counted on female outrage and male embarrassment, at least among some members of the audience, at such a self-satisfied endorsement of masculine prerogative. As Lynda Boose suggests, the play represents "male authority so successfully that it nearly destabilizes the very discourse it so blatantly confirms" (179). I would go further and say that, when looked at in this way, the play definitely renders unstable the fantasy of male supremacy and that Shakespeare intended such an effect if only the audience would recognize it.By "intention" I mean that Shakespeare can be held responsible for putting in whatever we can reasonably get out of the play, rather than some unknowable notion of intention as the author's wish or desire for the work before the fact of production of a text (the intentional fallacy of Wimsatt and Beardsley).
My sense of Shakespeare's intention is that of Stanley Cavell who says, in Must We Mean What We Say:
The artist is responsible for everything that happens in his work-- and not just in the sense that it is done, but in the sense that it is meant. It is a terrible responsibility; very few men have the gift and the patience and the singleness to shoulder it. But it is all the more terrible, when it is shouldered, not to appreciate it, to refuse to understand something meant so well. (236-7)10
What I am getting at here is that if various, careful readers like Garner and Boose are outraged by the play's master narrative of male patriarchy and misogyny, and that Fletcher found it theatrically expedient to speak against it, it might just be that Shakespeare expected that reasonable people in his audience would find absurd and outrageous the overblown version of male superiority and female subservience that he represents on stage.
The focal point of outrage seems to be the moment in Act Five, scene two, when Kate drags the other two women on stage and delivers her epideictic speech in praise of wifely submission to them, during which she actually prostrates herself before her husband, Petruchio, in a kind of remarriage ceremony, co-opting Bianca's place at her own wedding, just as Bianca almost did to her.
As Lynda Boose points out, this "bodily prostration" is "a virtual representation of the ceremony that women were required to perform in most pre-Reformation marriage services throughout Europe" (182), but in England such ceremonial prostration had been banned since 1549 when Archbishop Cranmer created the Book of Common prayer "and excised just such ritual excesses" (182).
Granted that Shakespeare set the play in Padua (as opposed to the Inductions to the play, which are set in England), why would Shakespeare represent an anachronistic ritual of female submission unless he wanted to maximize the self-satisfaction of a certain type of man in the audience and guarantee the fury of most of the women? To write this off as insignificant is to beg the question. I contend that Shakespeare knew full well what the reactions of his various audiences would be.
Is it then necessary to assume that Shakespeare endorsed the patriarchy and misogyny the master narrative presents? I would like to examine the assumption, almost universally held, that the play is univocal. Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew right after, or concurrent with, the first tetralogy of history plays, which A. P. Rossiter describes not as univocal but dialectical.11 The history plays, based on the chronicles of Holinshed and Hall, include opposing explanations of the action in the plays, a dominant discourse that carries the rhetorical weight of the play, and a secondary discourse, which, as dialectic, skeptically questions the dominant rhetoric of the master discourse.
I suggest that Shakespeare follows the same procedure in The Taming of the Shrew, and that he provides ample though subtle (perhaps too subtle) hints and clues that he is skeptically undercutting the master narrative of the play, and that this intention is announced by various allegorical moments or emblems in the play.
Years ago (1951), Harold Goddard suggested the possibility of an alternate or secondary discourse in the play when he said, "It is The Taming of the Shrew that is possibly the most striking example among his early works of his love of so contriving a play that it should mean, to those who might choose to think so, the precise opposite of what he knew it would mean to the multitude."12 I would like to emphasize Goddard's parenthetical "to those who might choose to think so" because what I am proposing does not replace the dominant or master discourse of male patriarchy with an underlying "real" meaning.
The secondary discourse of dialectical questioning does not replace anything. It depends on the master narrative for its own dialectical opposition. Nonetheless, to miss hints and clues to its existence precludes the possibility of weighing and judging with the full implication or unfolding of the play in view. Thus, our ability to see and hear what Shakespeare has enfolded in the play becomes for us an allegory of reading. What I hear as a secondary discourse in the play is a skeptical dialectic that questions the master narrative's fantasy of male superiority.
My own argument may sound like special pleading about Shakespeare's bad or uncomfortable play. However, within the last two decades, other critics have noted Shakespeare's consistent emphasis in The Taming of the Shrew on male fantasy--the workings of the imagination without grounding in nature, or, as we would say today, without attachment to facts.
For instance, concerning such fantasy, Karen Newman says the play represents an historical phenomenon in Elizabethan England, "a community fantasy, the shaming and subjection of a shrewish wife" (87). Newman further observes that women have to buy into this male fantasy to validate it: "In this androcentric culture men depend on women to authorize their sexual and social masculine identities" (88).
Of the ideal, obedient wife, Shirley Nelson Garner says that "the male fantasy . . . is that a wife will be subject, even subservient, to her husband in all matters" (107). In a 1995 essay, Wayne Rebhorn examines Petruchio's lunatic logic:
Petruchio can be seen as intending to act out--indeed, to carry to its logical conclusion--the fantasy of control at the heart of absolutism not just in his taming and ruling over Katherine generally, but in the principle sign he demands of her, a sign which is calculated to confirm his status as monarch and her own as immediate subject. For he insists that she speak just as he does and, more important, that his words be allowed to determine the very reality of their world. (302)13
Seconding Newman, Rebhorn notes that Petruchio "indulges a fantasy of ultimate power that Katherine confirms as she tells him: 'What you will have it named, even that it is' (4.5.21)" (302).
The old stories Shakespeare used for the three plots of the play all deal with male fantasies regarding women. First, there is the Induction in which the drunken tinker Christopher Sly has two such fantasies: one of being a lord with a beautiful, subservient wife and, later, of watching a play in which a manly man tames a shrewish wife.14
Second, there is the subplot of Lucentio in disguise, wooing Bianca with the fantastic nonsense of romantic love derived from Ovid and Petrarch. Third, there is Petruchio's mad fantasy of male dominance. Only the Christopher Sly induction is clearly fantastic: it is a fantasy in which Sly, at the bottom of the social barrel, is made to think he is a lord by being reflected as a lord in the fantastic mirror of a true lord's servants' fawning gazes.
The other two plots, of romantic love and of male superiority, are purely conventional. Nonetheless, despite their utter conventionality, the latter two plots, by implication with the Sly plot, may be seen as fantastic. This, I think, is one of Shakespeare's major points of the play as dialectic.
All three plots contain potential horrors that only comic distance keeps at bay. Christopher Sly, assuming he is resolutely heterosexual, might be horrified to learn that his lovely lady is Bartholomew the page. Lucentio, by elevating Bianca to a pedestal of ideal purity, is treading the same path as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing, Othello in the play of that name, and Leontes in The Winter's Tale. Further,Petruchio and Kate have a private relationship and shared fantasy that resembles no other couple in Shakespeare's plays so much as Lord and Lady Macbeth. As Jean Howard concludes, The Taming of the Shrew seems "to traffic in dangerous matters."15
In the Inductions, the play (really a play-within-a-play) is described to Sly as a comedy, but it is also called "a kind of history" (Induction.2.137). The word "history" is a slippery term in Renaissance England. It can simply mean "narrative," or it can mean chronicle history. I suggest that here, as a kind of syllepsis, it slides from one meaning to the other and can mean both.
As "history," what would it be a history of? In terms of the taming plot, Petruchio tells us explicitly that it is a history of male anxiety when faced with a woman with an impudent tongue, from Xanthippe, the "curst and shrewd" wife of Socrates, to Chaucer and the Wife of Bath's Tale (derived from Gower) in which a knight marries, in Grumio's words, "an old trot," to the then-present day of Petruchio and Kate (1.2.68-78).
It is one long "tale" of misogyny in which men deny women's humanity by calling them something less--an animal--perhaps a horse, a brach, a falcon, or a shrew; or men call women by a synecdoche--(a tongue) or a voice (a scold). At other times, a woman's humanity may be denied by raising her to the level of the superhuman (as goddess, witch, or devil).
What leads men to deny the humanness of women? In The Taming of the Shrew it seems to be the fear that women are the equal of men, or in some ways men's superior. I think the marking of the play as a "history" by Sly's page is a deixis, pointing to the play as the latest installment in a long literary history of masculine fantasies of superiority that deny men’s fear of women.
If this sounds farfetched, we can turn to John Fletcher's sequel where we find that he may have picked up on this idea of The Taming of the Shrew as a history of the fantasy of male superiority. In The Woman's Prize, the rebellious ladies mark their own "text" as a counter-history, one that will inscribe a fantasy of female superiority. Bianca, the ringleader, cheers Maria on in her Lysistrata rebellion, saying,
Bianca goes on to tell Maria that her success will go down in history: "Thou wilt be chronicl'd" (WP 1.2.176).
All the severall wrongs
Done by Emperious husbands to their wives
These thousand yeeres and upwards, strengthen thee:
Thou hast a brave cause" (WP 1.2.121-24).
In Act Two, Bianca compares herself to Aeneas and his ultimate triumph after a temporary defeat by Achilles and the Myrmidons, and then she compares herself and her "sisters" to
Amazons [who will] root our selves and to our endless gloryIn the "history" they are writing and rewriting, women will provide new examples for women. To Maria, Livia says, "I come / Full of that liberty you stand for, Sister," and Maria replies:
Live, and despise base men. (WP 2.2.33-39)
Think what women shall
An hundred yeare hence speak thee, when examples
Are look'd for, and so great ones, whose relations
Spoke as we do 'em wench, shall make new customs. (WP 2.2.76-83)
As I see it, Fletcher noted Shakespeare's marking of his own text as misogynistic history and then marked his own sequel as feminist chronicle, in rebuttal.
In Induction 1 to The Taming of the Shrew, Christopher Sly, the audience to the play, is represented as a dreamer, and the trick the lord and his huntsmen play on Sly is called a “flattering dream or worthless fancy” (Induction 1.43). In Induction 2, Sly asks himself, “Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?” Is it too much of a reach to recall that in earlier times a story that featured a dreamer and his dream was a clear hint that the dream-story was written as allegory and that the reader ought to pay close attention because there would be important matters of soul and spirit to be interpreted?
If Sly is dreaming, and the play presented for his entertainment is part of his dream, then perhaps Shakespeare is marking the play as a kind of allegory. This may seem like a heavy weight to place on a comedy, but the play itself deals with weighty matters.
There are hints and clues that the play should be read as allegory in at least three different places.
The first, as I have said, is the frame tale of Christopher Sly, the drunken tinker, who is the play's ostensible audience. The play-within-the-play is put on to appeal to the base insensibility of such a person. Sly has never seen a real play, so he ranks below the groundlings at the Globe Theater. Therefore, we can assume that the dominent theme of the play (male superiority over women) would appeal to a churl such as Sly and by extension to anyone like him.
The second hint has to do with Petruchio. In a long soliloquy on taming methods in Act Four, he turns to the audience and asks us directly whether we know of a better way to humanize his wife:
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak. 'Tis charity to know. (4.1.198-9)
Indeed, it would be "charitable"-- that is, loving-- for us to know for ourselves and for us to tell him. In his soliloquy Petruchio gloats that he is a king who has "politicly begun [his] reign" (4.1.176). He also compares himself to a falconer. Kate is his "haggard," a female falcon, whom he will starve "to make her come and know her keeper's call" and learn to "stoop" to the falconer's "lure" (4.1.178-182). To me, this soliloquy announces its own allegorical intention by insisting that the audience judge Petruchio's animal training methods for Kate and contemplate alternatives. Thus, the audience is implicated in the outcome of the play.
In case what I have just said is unconvincing, let us turn again to John Fletcher to see how he read the allegorical challenge of Petruchio's soliloquy. His response comes from our new Kate, Maria, who says,
By the faith I haveThen all the women decide to wear the pants in the family ("Let's all weare breeches" WP 1.2.146), after which Maria tells us that the "beast" she refuses to become is a captive, tame falcon:
In mine own Noble will, that childish woman
That lives a prisoner to her husband's pleasure,
Has lost her making, and become a beast,
Created for his use, not fellowship. (WP 1.2.136-40)
Now thou comst neere the nature of a woman;
Hang these tame hearted Eyasses, that no sooner
See the Lure out, and heare their husbands halla,
But cry like Kites upon 'em: The free Haggard
(Which is that woman, that hath wing, and knows it,
Spirit, and plume) will make an hundred checks,
To shew her freedome, saile in ev'ry ayre,
And look out ev'ry pleasure; not regarding
Lure, nor quarry, till her pitch command
What she desires, making her foundred keeper
Be glad to fling out traines, and golden ones,
To take her down again. (WP 1.2.148-58)
This seems to be Fletcher's response to Petruchio's challenge. As Maria says, women are "free haggards" who command what they desire.
This does not quite answer Petruchio's question, however. Kate had no self-control. How else might a husband tame a shrewish wife? Fletcher's play says this is the wrong question. When Fletcher's Petruchio demands obedience from Maria as the duty she owes him, Maria responds, ". . . As I take it sir, I owe no more / Then you owe back again" (WP 1.3.194-95 and 205-6).16 The question then is not how do men tame women or women tame men to their use, but how can men and women be brought to see their mutual obligation to and love for each other as equal human beings.
As Fletcher's epilogue makes explicit, the purpose of his sequel was "to teach both Sexes due equality; / And as they stand bound, to love mutually" (WP Epilogue 7-8). This is Fletcher's answer to Petruchio's soliloquy in The Taming of the Shrew. As we shall see, there was a chance for such mutuality and equality in Shakespeare's play as well as in Fletcher's.
As a further clue to read the play as allegory, there is the hint provided by Lucentio's servant Biondello that I used as an epigraph for this essay. Biondello explains Tranio's winks and laughs at Lucentio by saying, "He's left me here behind to expound the meaning or moral of his signs and tokens" (4.4.78-9). These lines are unnecessary to the action. They seem rather to be an emblem inserted by the author to let the reader know that there is something going on besides the narrative of patriarchy. There is no need for these lines unless there is some allegorical purpose.
Perhaps the reader is once again being reminded to pay attention--to realize that the "signs and tokens" provided by the play may not necessarily mean what we think they mean. In this way, Biondello's interpretation of Tranio's winks and laughs would stand as an emblem for the audience's responsibilty to interpret skeptically when we see "Master [Shakespeare] wink and laugh upon" us.17
Yet another sign that The Taming of the Shrew ought to be read as allegory is the instability of the rhetoric of conventional patriarchy. The repetition of shrew, shrew, shrew in The Taming of the Shrew (much like the repetition of Jew, Jew, Jew in The Merchant of Venice) is so strong that the play's apparent endorsement of its own rhetoric may fall of its own weight into antiphrasis. To paraphrase The Merchant of Venice, "Who is the woman here, and who is the shrew?" We are given a direct answer to this implied question when Grumio relates to a fellow servant how Petruchio has treated Kate in Padua. After hearing Grumio's tale, the man judges that "by this reckoning he is more shrew than she" (4.1.77).
I contend that the very weight of patriarchal language may catapult us into another realm of understanding, that the energy focused on such language, like packets of energy loaded on to a certain orbit of an atom in quantum physics, is capable of launching us into a wider orbit or new valence of understanding. This metaphor of quantum energy that precipitates a "quantum leap" is peculiar to our own time, but the principle of overloading meaning on to a word in order to subvert it was available to every rhetorician of Shakespeare's time.
If I am right, these allegorical signs and tokens point us in the direction of a secondary discourse, a dialectic that questions the male fantasy of superiority over women. At the time Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew, questions about fantasy and poetic imitation were in the air. The Italian debate of the latter part of the sixteenth century over what constituted proper mimesis, or fictional representation, had become a hot topic among poets in England by the 1580s and 1590s, as shown by Sir Philip Sidney's discussion of fantastic and eikastic imitation in The Apology for Poetry.18 Shakespeare's plays show an interest in the positive and negative aspects of human fantasy extending throughout his career.19
Whereas in A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, Shakespeare offsets the dark fantasies of a corrupt society against the benign fantasies of a green world, in The Taming of the Shrew there is no safe place beyond society. As a result, all the fantasies of the play are potentially malevolent. Petruchio's taming project to rehabilitate Kate as a dutiful wife is just such a destructive fantasy, but it is not a private fantasy. It has a history; it is public and conventional.
As part of a cultural inheritance, it has been validated and reified through the generations so as to seem natural. Petruchio's fantasy reflects a convention masked as natural order. Because of the outrageousness of Petruchio's conduct, the play may be asking us to see as madness not only Petruchio's fantasy but also the whole history of this convention, to make us ask what is the natural ground on which our conventions are to be based.20
Petruchio's fantastic mirror of Kate can be seen as an example of the mad mirroring of women by men in Elizabethan society and in the history of a whole culture. Petruchio's willful bad mirroring and non-mirroring of Kate are a source of fun in the play, but his odd "speaking pictures," as Sidney calls the words we say to make our minds known to others, are a kind of nightmare mimesis, a fantastic imitation of reality that is potentially horrifying (as in Much Ado About Nothing when Claudio reflects a devastating word picture of Hero).21
In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio's fantastic mirror of Kate is a conscious plot, not an unconscious projection. As a rhetorical device, what Petruchio does to Kate is called suppositio, taking an idea in the mind and supposing it to be reality. Of course, the basis of the subplot, taken from Ariosto's I Suppositi (1509) via Gascoigne's version called The Supposes (1566), is just this sort of mistaken or false identity, where characters suppose each other to be someone they are not. The obvious example is the switch of roles between Master Lucentio and his servant, Tranio. However, the signs and tokens of the play's secondary discourse indicate that we should look for a dark allegorical valence to the main plot, Petruchio's "supposes" regarding Kate.
At this point, I would like to talk about the whole structure of disguise in the play as a way into exactly what is going on with Petruchio's fantasy and his "supposed" Kate. In all three plots, almost everyone is supposed to be someone he or she is not. Sly appears to be a lord, the page a woman, Lucentio and Hortensio tutors, and an old merchant or scholar Lucentio's father. Petruchio disguises himself as a fool or madcap. One could almost say that Baptista Minola is in disguise as Kate's father; he certainly is supposed to be her father, although he is not a very good one. He does not love her. He calls her shrew and devil and plays favorites with Bianca. Of course, Gremio is not in disguise, nor is the real Vincentio. Among the women only the lusty widow who marries Hortensio is not in a disguise of some sort.
Why does Shakespeare choose three old stories that involve disguise? What does he see in them? Perhaps we should ask another question first: if most of the characters are in disguise, what are they trying to hide? The obvious answer is that they think they can get what they want by not revealing who they are. Bianca is disguised as a perfect daughter to get what she wants from her father. Then she is disguised as a statue on a pedestal to get Lucentio. She is not silent, but her speech only confirms her outward disguise. None of her words tell what she is thinking.
What then is Kate's disguise? She is disguised as a shrew. That is what she is called, and she plays the role. Or, considering her violent playing with Bianca when she ties Bianca up and cuffs her (2.1.21), perhaps she should be called a cat (a big cat, like a lioness). She answers to this identification too. Petruchio tells her:
For I am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates. (2.1.273-5)
When he calls her a wild cat, she does not object. Her outrage is directed at her father, at the idea that he would marry her off to a "half-lunatic" (2.1.284) who would try to domesticate her.
She does not object to being called a wild cat because she is used to being called unpleasant animal names and actually thinks of herself in such terms. When Petruchio calls her a cat, she goes along with it, just as she does when he calls her a wasp, and she replies, "If I be waspish, best beware my sting" (2.1.210).
This is only a game, of course, and Kate likes verbal games because she can win, but it is clear that she thinks of herself as a formidable, wild creature. However, if she believes this is what she is, how could it be a disguise? The answer I see is that she does not really know who or what she is, but she thinks she is a cat (or some kind of untamed animal) before Petruchio tells her he will make her a household cat.
I Kate already thinks of herself as a cat, what need is there for Petruchio to insist on it? The point is that Petruchio's fantastic mirror reflects back at Kate her own picture of herself. Unlike Petruchio's other, earlier distortions (of pretty Kate, dainty Kate, and mild Kate at 2.1.187-91), his reflection of her as Kate the cat conforms to her own fantastic version of herself. But Petruchio will make Kate into his cat, a cat who will do his bidding, as he announces again in his soliloquy in Act Four, scene 1, this time using a falcon metaphor.
He is confident that he will tame his falcon when he says, "Another way I have to man my haggard, / To make her come and know her keeper's call" (4.1.181-2). He has married her and removed her to his own house in Verona, where he holds her prisoner and deprives her of food and sleep to make her pliable. His servant Grumio taunts her with food he will not give her, while her new husband acts as her jailer, masking the fact with solicitous words.
During this ordeal, Kate violently resists. Finally, confident that Kate has become conformable to his bidding, Petruchio summons a tailor to outfit her with a new cap and dress to wear to visit her father's house. At this point, Kate is forced to submit to a further humiliation, as Petruchio withdraws the cap she wants, calling it, among other things, "lewd and filthy" and insists that she will have no cap until she is "gentle" (4.3.65 and71).
Kate resists, not with the fury of a cat but with the dignity and eloquence of a mature woman:
Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak,
And speak I will. I am no child, no babe.
Your betters have endured me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart, concealing it, will break.
And rather than it shall, I will be free
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words. (4.3.73-80)
I have quoted Kate's whole speech because Kate expresses exactly who she is. It stands in sharp contrast to her final speech, whose words are not her own, when she endorses patriarchy and female subjection, at the end of Act Five. Here she asserts her adulthood, her freedom to reveal herself (her heart) in words. It is an assertion of her humanity, and it is the central moment of the play.
This is the allegorical point, morally and spiritually, of the dialectic that offers an alternate ground, to contest the dominant discourse of the play. Petruchio has the opportunity here to confirm Kate as an adult woman, his wife, his equal, his fellow human being. All he has to do is respond to her with respect and friendship, to mirror back at her, through his own words, feelings for her that ought to be in his own heart. But he does not do it. Why not? My answer is that, whereas she reveals herself to him, he is hiding from her, in the disguise of an animal trainer.
I suspect that this moment of potential mutuality and equality is what John Fletcher picked up on and used in his sequel, but, unlike The Taming of the Shrew where the rhetoric of the play never states that the general principles of "mutuality" and equality are at stake, The Woman's Prize names and praises these qualities (epideictically) throughout the play. In my view, Fletcher's sequel articulates as a primary discourse what is only shown but never named in Shakespeare's play. The potential moment of mutuality and equality is present but inarticulate, as mute as an allegorical dumbshow.
The Taming of the Shrew may not name the moment when mutuality and equality are possible, but it does point at it (deictically), and it points out the moment when such a possibility is lost. Shakespeare's Petruchio will not acknowledge Kate's eloquent, dignified words to him. Instead, he responds as if she were still talking only about the cap. This is not just a failure to hear what she said. It is a denial of Kate as a human being, and it is a turning point in their relationship. She herself realizes it and articulates her understanding when she says, after a new dress is offered and withdrawn, ""Belike you mean to make a puppet out of me" (4.3.103).
Again, Petruchio refuses her meaning. He says she means the tailor is trying to make her look like a puppet in the new dress. Petruchio denies what she is asserting, and then he denies the denial, but the tailor reiterates Kate's statement, correcting Petruchio's willful misapprehension: "She says your worship means to make a puppet of her" (4.3.105). The tailor is audience to the goings-on between Petruchio and Kate. He confirms that Kate said what she said rather than what Petruchio chooses to suppose that she said.
Moreover, the tailor verbally points at the words as he repeats and confirms Kate's meaning. The tailor's deixis shows to us that we are seeing an allegorical moment. The scene points at but never gives words to what might be gained in that moment, as Petruchio fails to acknowledge Kate as a woman. It only tells us what Kate is allowed to be, a puppet for Petruchio's use.
John Fletcher seems to have caught something of what is happening in this scene. In his sequel, when Livia seems to be casting Rowland aside after pledging her love to him, Rowland laments that Livia used him as a toy and then cast him aside. He says, "She made a puppy of me" (WP 3.421). Although "puppy" and "puppet" already had their modern meanings in Shakespeare and Fletcher's time, they share a common etymology, in the Latin pupa and the French poupe, meaning doll or toy. In the same kind of situation as that of Shakespeare's Petruchio and Kate but inverted as to the gender of abuser and abused, Fletcher's Rowland echoes the words of Kate echoed by the tailor. It is impossible to know whether or not Fletcher saw the allegorical implications of Shakespeare's scene, but he caught the importance of the words, and his sequel captures the importance of their meaning.
The allegorical significance of Shakespeare's scene may now be clear to us. Kate's eloquent assertion of her own humanness and a double insistence that Petruchio is turning her into a puppet, along with Petruchio's double denial of what is going on, reveals that Petruchio's project is not to create with her a relationship based on mutual respect and love. Kate identifies his goal. Petruchio wants Kate to remain a cat, but he wants her to be his creature. At the very moment when Kate apprehends herself as a self-controlled, self-intelligible, adult human being, Petruchio insists that she return to her self-fantasy as an animal, to serve him.
By the end of Act Four, scene three, Kate is "still crossing" her husband, by insisting on her perception of facts such as the time of day. Because of her insistence on what is true, Petruchio withdraws his offer to take her to visit her father's house in Padua. He warns her that he will not take her until she agrees to conform herself to whatever fantasy he dictates as reality. He tells her, "I will not go today, and ere I do, / It shall be what o'clock I say it is" (4.3.190-1). Hortensio, who is present at this bizarre conversation, turns to the audience in an aside and says, "Why, so this gallant will command the sun" (4.3.192). This is all very funny, if we are still laughing, but Hortensio's comment points to the fact that Petruchio wants to be treated as a god (her god).
Kate capitulates in Act Four, scene five. But first, she tries one more time to stand against him and insist on the reality she sees and reflect it back at him in words. Petruchio says, "Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon" (4.5.2).22 She tells him it is the sun. He insists it is the moon. She figures out that she will never get to visit Padua unless she stops "crossing" or contradicting her husband's fantasy. She tells him,
Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,She still knows what the facts are, but she will call real whatever he says is true:
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please;
And if you please to call it a rush candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me. (4.5.12-15)
Then, God be blessed, it is the blessed sun.
But sun it is not, when you say it is not,
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it named, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katharine. (4.5.18-22)
Thus, Kate pledges to ignore her own senses and reason and confirm as real whatever Petruchio dictates. She also gives up her power to put words to the reality she sees. She has made her choice. Kate has decided that her tongue is no longer free to tell what she knows, as she pleases, in words.
When Petruchio tests her vow by declaring that the old man they meet on the way to Padua (Vincentio) is a young gentlewoman, Kate not only agrees with him but carries forward the fantasy on her own. She plays it as a game, and as usual with verbal games, she is very good at it. When Petruchio informs her that it is an old man, she apologizes to Vincentio for her "mistaking eyes, / That have been so bedazzled with the sun" of her husband's fantasy, but she blames the error on her own "mad mistaking" (4.5.44-5 and 48).
Her husband's madness is no longer his alone but hers. She takes responsibility. Earlier in the play, Kate realized how easily women could be made the butt of men's jokes: "I see a woman may be made a fool / If she had not a spirit to resist" (3.2.220-1). Now, she plays the fool willingly and imaginatively. She thoroughly inhabits the role of Petruchio's Kat(e).
Can this be funny and disturbing at the same time? If so, we are in the thrall of Shakespeare's dialectical allegory. If this is still funny, we are deeply implicated because of our laughter. I imagine that Shakespeare wants us to laugh as long as possible before we realize what is going on. There is no evidence that Petruchio will ever allow her to speak her mind, but now this is no longer a problem. Petruchio and Kate are of one mind--his mind--in all things.
This series of moments in the play casts in a new light Petruchio's project "to kill a wife with kindness" (4.1.196). These words, delivered directly to the audience in his soliloquy, have been variously interpreted by critics. One meaning is that Petruchio is being kind to Kate. This meaning fits the traditionalist view that Petruchio's "kindness" is good medicine, and it is that, up to a point. That point was reached in Act Four, scene three, when Petruchio's cure has led Kate to act like a mature woman.
In contrast to this view of "kindness" is the idea that Petruchio is killing her with her own poison (in kind). This is Peter-the-servant's view when he says of his master, "He kills her in her own humor" (4.1.162). The "humor" he speaks of is the yellow bile of chronic anger, and Petruchio names it as the ill-humor from which they both suffer: "Since, of ourselves, ourselves are choleric" (4.1.162). According to this meaning (Peter's and my own), Petruchio is killing her chances to be an autonomous adult by an overdose of his poison because when Kate stops acting choleric and chooses to be reasonable, Petruchio ignores her and persists in his own fantasy in order to subject her.
John Fletcher reacted to the play as an attempt to kill Kate, not only in spirit but in fact, since in the sequel Kate died of Petruchio's lethal form of "kindness" before Fletcher's play begins. In terms of my own reading of Shakespeare's play, Fletcher's insight directs us to the idea that Kate dies to her own humanity because Petruchio refuses to acknowledge her as a human being, forcing her to see herself as his pet.
However, there seems to be something else, beyond Petruchio's force, that causes Kate the wild cat to play the role of Kate the domestic cat. Kate as cat participates in her own erasure. It is not that Kate is no longer there; rather, she is wearing a permanent disguise. Like the other characters in disguise in the play, she plays the game of "supposes" to get what she wants.
So, what does she want? There is some evidence that Petruchio and Kate combine in mutual desire, some hint that the payoff for Kate is to be sexual satisfaction. In their very first encounter, Petruchio announces that he is going to wed her and bed her (2.1.264 and 272), but once he marries her and gets her home to his house in Verona, it is clear that, as part of his fantastic project toward Kate, Petruchio is withholding consummation. A conversation between Grumio and another servant, Curtis, points this out:
Grumio: Where is he?
Curtis: In her chamber,
Making a sermon of continency to her,
And rails, and swears, and rates, that she, poor soul,
Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak,
And sits as one new risen from a dream. (4.1.169-74)
This passage parallels Sly's dream in the Induction when he is subjected to the lord's fantasy of delayed gratification with his "wife," the pageboy. By the end of Act Five, scene one, when Petruchio insists that Kate kiss him in the street, Kate is quite obviously in love with him. He overcomes her embarrassment at kissing in public by insisting they return to Verona if she will not do what he says, and she complies willingly: "Nay I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee, love, stay" (5.1.142-3). By the end of the play, when Kate has performed her long speech in praise of men over women, Kate is offered her sexual reward by Petruchio: "Come, Kate, we'll to bed" (5.2.188). Kate is about to receive her sexual payoff.23
Since this is the case, is it not their own private business? As Petruchio says early in the play, "If she and I be pleased, what's it to you?" (2.1.301). If they both are pleased to call Kate what she is not and the world what it is not, why should we object? One answer is that many interpreters of the play do not object. However, those who do object say that it is objectionable because Kate's accommodation to Petruchio's fantasy of male domination is inflicted on the world. If we look at our other play, we see that, despite John Fletcher’s disclaimer in his prologue against looking for "politique discourse" (line 14) in The Woman's Prize, the outrage of Fletcher's female characters against male delusions of superiority in the sequel to The Taming of the Shrew is virtually identical to that of feminist critics over the sexual politics of Shakespeare's play.
Kate's final speech in Shakespeare's play is not only a betrayal of herself but also a betrayal of her sisters (that is, her real sister Bianca and the widow)—a betrayal that Fletcher's play makes abundantly clear.
This brings us to Kate's final motivation. Kate seeks revenge. We know Kate envies Bianca for her success with men, and Kate strikes Bianca for saying so (2.1.18). Kate resents the fact that she is called a shrew and a scold for using her woman's tongue to object to her mistreatment as a woman, while Bianca is rewarded for holding her tongue, endorsing her father's supposition that she is a dutiful daughter, as well as her suitor’s fantasy of her gentle womanliness. As Kate says, "Her silence flouts me, and I'll be revenged" (2.1.29), and "I'll go sit and weep / Till I can find occasion to be revenged" (2.1.35-6).
By the end of the play, Kate has learned not to turn her anger on men for oppressing women. Instead, she learns to play a different game, to put down other women in order to make herself look good to men. This is the game the widow, Hortensio's bride, played on her. When Kate asks the widow what she means by the barbed remark against her, the widow replies by saying:
Your husband, being troubled with a shrew,
Measures my husband's sorrow by his woe.
And now you know my meaning. (5.2.28-30)
Kate takes this to be "a very mean meaning" (5.2.31), and she includes the widow in her revenge on Bianca. Meanwhile, Bianca has found her own voice since her marriage to Lucentio. She is no longer the silent statue receiving and reflecting Lucentio's romantic fantasy of her perfection. Her first words once she is "awakened," as Vincentio puts it (5.2.42), are of cuckolded husbands: "Head, and butt! An hasty-witted body / Would say your head and butt were head and horn" (5.2.40-1).
When Petruchio tries to engage Bianca in an exchange of bitter jests, she declines the challenge by getting up and leaving the room. Bianca will not play Petruchio's game. And when Lucentio loses a hundred crowns betting on her against Kate in Petruchio's obedience contest, Bianca's comment is right to the point: "The more fool you, for laying on my duty" (5.2133).
The final scene of the play can be seen as an allegorical tableau--three women who stand before an audience of men, including, on the balcony above, Christopher Sly, either sleeping or (as in The Taming of A Shrew) awake to the possibility of taming his own wife. This tableau provides a delayed representation, or delayed revelation, of the allegorical discourse of the play and adds the final twist to the dialectic of the plot.24
One of the women, Bianca, is emerging from silence and finding her own voice. A second, the lusty widow, is already her own person, although she is perfectly capable of playing catty games on other women to make herself look good. The third is Kate, who uses her powers obediently to usher the other two reluctant women back into the room, at which point Petruchio instructs her to lecture the disobedient duo on their duties to their husbands: "Katharine, I charge thee tell these headstrong women what duty they do owe their lords and husbands" (5.2.134-5).
Sounding like the old Kate, the widow protests, "Come, come, you're mocking. We will have no telling," and when Petruchio insists that Kate begin with her, the widow again objects: "She shall not" (5.2.136 and 138). Petruchio overrules her, and Kate begins her speech, to which I presume both the widow and Bianca listen in silent protest. Kate has a fantasy of her own that she is about to unfold.25
Kate's final speech is strange. Her scripted behavior, her use of the power of epideictic rhetoric in praise of male superiority and female subjugation, to denigrate her sisters, is "catty" revenge for Kate. In addition, the praise of male superiority, although commonplace, is fantastic in relation to what we have seen in the play. Who among the male characters lives up to the ideal she presents? Where is the man among them who, for his wife's "maintenance commits his body / To painful labor both by sea and land, / To watch the night in storms, the day in cold"? (5.2.152-54). Of the three women, what makes any of them weaker than the men? (5.2.178). Only Petruchio qualifies for praise within Kate's categories of male superiority, but Petruchio is a bully. Then again, we know why Kate says these things. She and Petruchio now share the same fantasy.
We can now see that Petruchio has his tongue in her tale. This is the delayed revelation of the play, foreshadowed by Petruchio's lewd remark in their first conversation:
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp, I’ faith you are too angry.
Kate: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy then is to pluck it out.
Kate: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?
In his tail.
Kate: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Kate: Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail? (2.1.209-218). (At his last remark, Kate strikes him.)
Kate no longer has a voice of her own to tell her own tale. This outcome has deep psychological significance for both men and women. Like Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Kate has been enamored of an ass, but she has chosen not to awaken from this dream--or nightmare. A permanent part of Petruchio's fantasy, she is his puppet and his cat. Kate has fallen in love with a man who, like her father, mirrors her own worst conception of herself, and Petruchio loves her for it. This private, mutual fantasy is inflicted on others as a political statement that reaffirms patriarchy and misogyny. Thus, Kate avenges herself on Bianca's earlier hypocrisy by outdoing it.
The Taming of the Shrew is a revenge comedy. Against the master narrative of male superiorityis a skeptical dialectic that points to the outrageousness of Petruchio's fantasy of male superiority over women and the way in which women can be implicated in their own subjugation. John Fletcher's sequel, The Woman's Prize, uses the first but inverts it as female superiority and counters the second with universal sisterhood.
If The Taming of the Shrew is a failure (a bad play), it is a failure in the sense that Shakespeare may have overestimated his audience's capacity to get his meaning. If his allegorical clues are too subtle or if the dialectical questioning contained in the counter-discourse is insufficiently audible, it is the playwright's fault, but it is our own fault if we fail to see what is hidden in plain sight, or having seen, if we fail to acknowledge that Shakespeare has put it there. This is Shakespeare's version of the veil of allegory. On his part, it is a dialectic. On our part, it is an allegory of reading.26 On the one hand, if we fail to see, the veil may be over our own eyes. On the other hand, the dominant discourse speaks loudly and the counter-discourse is perhaps too subtle. In this regard, I wonder if Shakespeare explained his obscure, allegorical "signs and tokens" to his friend John Fletcher. I do not suppose that he did.
1 Among traditional interpreters, Anne Barton says, "What Petruchio wants, and ends up with, is a Katherina of unbroken spirit and gaiety who has suffered only minor physical discomfort and who has learned the value of self-control and of caring about someone other than herself"; Barton approves of "the way Petruchio's 'method' has harmonized and ordered the elements of a personality without doing violence to its essential selfhood," the introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) 106-7. David Bevington (in consultation with Susan Snyder) in the introduction to the play in The Complete Works says that Kate's "shrewish manner" and "rejection of men does not leave her very happy, however genuine her disdain is for most of those who come to woo. Petruchio's 'schooling' is therefore curative" (110).
2Attempts at an ironic reading of Kate's final speech include male and female critics. John Bean refers to those who favor an ironic reading as "revisionist." "Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew," The Woman's Part, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana, 1980). Among revisionists of this sort, see Coppelia Kahn's "The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of a Marriage," Modern Language Studies 5 (1975), 88-102. See also David Bevington's introduction (consulting with Susan Snyder) to The Taming of the Shrew, The Complete Works, 108-10. Karen Newman's reading seems to favor a "hyperbolic" Kate, "Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew," ELR 1986 Winter 16:1, 86-100. Citing Luce Irigaray and Nancy Miller, Newman calls Kate's speech a "linguistic masquerade" involving stategies of italics, mimetic strategies, in Irigary's sense of mimetism," 99. Newman refers to Miller's "Writing from the Feminine," The Representation of Women, English Institute Essays (Cambridge, 1983) 38.
3Shirley Nelson Garner, "The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or outside the Joke?" "Bad" Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. Maurice Charney (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1988) 106. Lynda Boose is another feminist critic who refuses to soften or revise the horror of what happens to Kate: "As dominant onstage as the ameliorative tradition of Shrew production has been, the impulse to rewrite the more oppressive patriarchal material in this play serves the very ideologies about gender that it makes less visible by making less offensive. To tamper with the literalness of Kate's physical submission onstage deflects attention away from an equally literal history in which both Kate and the staging of her body are embedded" (181-2).
4Barton, The Riverside Shakespeare 108.
5Lynda Boose, "Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member," SQ, 1991 Summer, 42:2: 179.
6Boose goes on to observe that "Fletcher's response may in itself suggest the kind of discomfort that Shrew has characteristically provoked in men. . . . Witness George Bernard Shaw's distress:
No man with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed of the lord-of-creation moral implied in the wager and the speech put into the woman's own mouth.Shaw's remarks appeared in the "Saturday Review, 6 November 1897, as quoted in editor Ann Thompson's introduction to the New Cambridge Shakespeare The Taming of the Shrew (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), 21. See Thompson for further instances of this [male] reaction" (Boose, fn 1, 179).
7References to John Fletcher's play are from The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed: A Critical Edition, ed. George B. Ferguson (London: Mouton and Co., 1966).
8In English Drama 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), G. K. Hunter guesses that John Fletcher's A Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed was probably written between 1604 and 1617 (411). It was not published until 1647. Hunter tells us that the "Prologue" referred to above was written for a revival of The Woman's Prize. Apparently referring to WP, Fletcher says of himself in "the Second Prologue to The Woman Hater that Fletcher 'to the stars your sex did raise / For which full twenty years he wore the bays" (fn 71, p. 410). From this statement we can infer that WP was a popular play and that it was written fairly early in Fletcher's career. He died of the plague in 1625. Hunter's chronology lists Fletcher's plays written for the King's Men from 1608 until his death. Fletcher would likely have had access to a copy of The Taming of the Shrew in some form while he collaborated with Shakespeare or, later, when he succeeded him as lead playwright of the King's Men upon Shakespeare's retirement. Andrew Gurr lists a back-to-back revival of The Taming of the Shrew and The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed on 26 and 28 November 1633, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) 389.
9"Patriarchy as a master narrative" is Karen Newman's phrase (88).
10Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969) 236-7.
11A. P. Rossiter describes the histories as "a process thoroughly dialectical" in Angel With Horns (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1961) 22.
12Goddard's "precise opposite" of what the general multitude would take to be the play's meaning is not mine. Goddard's "opposite" view is within the confines of male patriarchy and misogyny: he sees Bianca rather than Kate as the real shrew of the play and Petruchio as more nearly tamed than Kate. The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951) 68.
13Wayne A. Rebhorn, "Petruchio's 'Rope Tricks': The Taming of the Shrew and the Renaissance Discourse of Rhetoric," Modern Philology, Chicago, 1995 February, 92:3: 302.
14Karen Newman makes this point about Sly's two dreams or fantasies (87-8).
15Jean E. Howard makes the comment about "dangerous matters" in TS in the critical introduction to Taming of the Shrew, The Norton Shakespeare, general editor Stephen Greenblatt (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997) 139.
16Fletcher makes the point of mutual equality and obedience four times in the play. When Petruchio insists on Maria's "due obedience," she verbally points at the word "obedience" and says,
That bare word
Shall cost you many a pound more, build on't;
Tell me of due obedience? what's a husband?
What are we married for, to carry sumpters?
Are we not one peece with you, and as worthy
Our own intentions, as you yours? (3.394-100)
The other instances are their reconciliation at 5.4.52-54 and the Epilogue.
17In The Woman's Prize, John Fletcher picks up on Biondello's "He's left me here behind to expound the meaning or moral of his signs and tokens" (4.4.78-79). When Maria dresses herself as a prostitute, Fletcher's Petruchio asks about here intention:
What will your beauty doe, if I forsake you?
Do you deal by signes, and tokens? as I ghesse then,
You'l walke abroad, this Sommer, and catch Captaines,
Or hire a peece of holy ground i'th Suburbs,
And keepe a neast of Nuns? (4.5.70-74 italics mine)
Petruchio asks Maria if her new, painted beauty betokens a future career as a prostitute in the suburbs of London. Fletcher's use of Shakespeare's "signs and tokens" tells us only that Fletcher saw Shakespeare's phrase as useful enough to borrow, but there is no way to ascertain from Fletcher's context what if anything he interpreted from it, as allegorical pointer or otherwise.
18Baxter Hathaway discusses the Ariosto-Tasso wars over realistic versus fantastic imitation in Chapter 2 of Marvels and Commonplaces: Renaissance Literary Criticism (New York: Random House, 1968), particularly pages 44-51. See also Baxter Hathaway, The Age of Criticism: The Late Renaissance in Italy (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1962; Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1972). The Taming of the Shrew, one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, raises questions about what Sidney calls the "eikastike, which some learned have defined [as], 'figuring forth good things,'" and the "phantastike, which doth contrariwise infect the fancy with unworthy objects" (125). The basic contrast Sidney is making is imitation that is grounded in nature (facts), comprehended by reason, and "cleared by faith" (99) versus fantasy (or fancy), apprehended by the imagination as a dream or mad conceit, having no relation to reality. Following the Italian literary theorist Scaliger (Poetices, 1.1.5-6), Sidney in The Apology speaks of the poet as "maker" (99), who by imitating nature invents "another nature," one "not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but ranging only within the zodiac of his own wit" (100). The world of nature "is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden" (100). Sidney's idea of mimesis or imitation is not just a mirror up to nature. It involves an "Idea or fore-conceit" (101) in the poet's mind. This "second nature" will be a true "speaking picture" if the mind of the poet be cleared by "a divine breath" (101). The mind thus "cleared by faith" (99) is our "erected wit," which stands against our "infected will," a reminder of our fallen state: "Since our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching it" (101). The "right poets" are those who "most properly do imitate to teach and delight" by representing "what may be and should be" (102), in order to move us "to virtue" (123). Geoffrey Shepherd glosses these terms as follows: "25f. eikastike, 'imitative.' phantastike, 'fanciful,' imaginary' (here with derogatory sense). The terms are presumably Greek feminine adjectives agreeing with Poesy. The distinction was made by Plato in the Sophist (235) between the art of making likenesses and the art of making appearances or the phantastic, and he concludes (266ff.) that this art of the phantastic is unworthy and indeed harmful," in Sir Philip Sidney, The Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1963) 202.
19We can find the positive "fantastic" in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the late romance plays. The negative "fantastic," particularly the projection of sexual anxiety, can be seen in Much Ado About Nothing (in the Don John-Claudio-Hero plot) and Othello. Unlike Ben Jonson, Shakespeare wrote no prefaces to his plays to explain his own poetic theory, but it is possible to show within the plays themselves that Shakespeare has such a theory. Although plays are not essays, and we can never be entirely sure where Shakespeare stands in relation to his characters' comments on poetic theory, it is possible to say what he was interested in. Theories of fanatasy and reality and their relation to poetic imitation can be found in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet. In Hamlet at the beginning of Act 3, scene 2, Hamlet instructs the players in mimetic art:
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this specialHamlet's speech on proper imitation repeats Aristotle in the Poetics and Horace in the Ars Poetica, as well as Sidney in the Apology. Proper mimesis is grounded in the imitation of nature, to show the image of true virtue as well as what ought to be scorned, by mirroring the figures and impressions of the times. In Act 5, scene 1 of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus offers a critique of "shaping fantasies":
observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything
so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and
now, was and is to hold as 't were the mirror up to nature, to show virtue
her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time
his form and pressure. (3.2.17-24).
I never may believe
These antique fables nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. (5.1.2-17)
Of course, Theseus himself is just such an "airy nothing," shaped by Shakespeare's "seething brain," and, as Hippolyta points out, there is something beyond Theseus' comprehension. The fact that the young lovers' have been "transfigured so together" is more than just "fancy's images"; rather, it is something "strange and admirable" (5.1.24-27). This particular fantasy is benevolent, and to underestimateit is to fail to apprehend some basic truth about the human mind. The human capacity for fantasy, whether good or bad, is as much a reality as any fact of nature that Theseus is able to comprehend.
20Cavell says of the grounds for our conventions, "I may take the occasion to throw myself back upon my culture, and ask why we do what we do, judge as we judge, how we arrived at these crossroads. What is the natural ground of our conventions, to what are they in service?" (The Claim of Reason 125).
21"Visual" pictures in words that merely reflect the external reality versus "verbal" pictures in words that reflect the inner, often tortured, and fantastic vision of the speaker is the subject of Joel Fineman's book on the divided self in Shakespeare's sonnets, Shakespeare's Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
22Petruchio's insistence that the moon is out is a metadramatic move on Shakespeare's part. At the Globe Theater, plays were performed during the day. If the play insisted it was night, the audience was supposed to go along with the fantasy, but the playgoers knew, of course, that, in the real world, it was daytime. This bit of pointing at the play itself as fantasy should remind us once again that Shakespeare's project in the play is investigating both the idea of fantasy in general and of the fantasy of male superiority in particular.
23In a reversal of Petruchio's treatment of Kate, the women in Fletcher's The Woman's Prize deny sex to the men.
24I owe this insight to Stanley Cavell, who says of such delayed representation or revelation that it is "Shakespeare's way of presenting in the closing image of a play something denied our sight from the beginning. Every melodramatic tableau may be seen as the reaction to a deferred revelation" (Disowning Knowledge 190).
25In regard to the consistently base motivation of Kate, Anne Barton observes that "Northrop Frye once remarked that the Katherina of Act I is not really dissimilar from the Katherina of Act V: at the beginning of the comedy she is persecuting her sister Bianca, and at the end she is engaged in the same activity--except that now she has learned how to do it with social approval on her side" (107).
26As Cavell says of drama in general and Shakespeare in particular, "The medium is one which keeps all significance continuously before our senses, so that when it comes over us that we have missed it, this discovery will reveal our ignorance to have been willful, complicitous, a refusal to see" (Disowning Knowledge 85). To measure ourselves by what we have missed but now see is to acknowledge in ourselves a moral ignorance of which we were previously unaware. This self-blindness (in The Claim of Reason Cavell calls it "soul-blindness" ) is disspelled by audience anagnorisis or self-revelation in what I see as an allegory of reading.