Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All That Glisters is Not Gold

This play is much more difficult for me to follow than the previous plays we have read. I feel like the play jumps around from scene to scene really rapidly making it a tad confusing. The blatant anti-Semitism that is seen in this play is a bit disarming, however it is still an interesting read. Shakespeare clearly went into this knowing that a Jew was seen as less than human at the time and used that as a jumping off point for the comedy effect. Knowing some background on the Jews in Englang at the time has been helpful in the justification of the Jewish slander involved in the Merchant of Venice. Shylock is portrayed as a horrible and kniving character and I personally dont care for him, however, I dont think that my dislike is based anything on his Jewish-ness. I can see how people could use it against him in the play though.

The other plot that includes Portia is interesting to me as well, she strikes me as a bored princess. The game used in gaining her hand seems to concern her very little. I am interested to see how the rest of this subplot is handled.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ambiguity in Taming

It was really interesting in class today to have deeper discussion about Katherine's taming. I liked the idea that the play was based on a (silly and laughable) man's ideal. I like to think that the comedy came from Katherine's wit, intelligence, and sarcasm and not from the rituals that Petruccio uses for the "taming." I like to picture Katherine in complete control of the situation; but perhaps it is sadly true that she was brainwashed. The speculations about this play are really fascinating and I am glad that it is ambiguously open ended. Comedy has certainly changed a lot socially and culturally for us today; maybe not necessarily in a good way, but still the change makes it more difficult for us to understand exactly where Shakespeare is coming from. All the angles my classmates offered got me thinking about other alternatives and it is fun and frustrating all at the same time that there is no clear answer. But, I suppose, such is life.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"tell these headstrong women what duty they do owe their lords"

In Act V Scene 2 Katherine displays the paradigm of the "tamed wife" in her final speech. She seems to have come a full one-eighty from the beginning of the play. Katherine now appears to live to serve "thy lord, thy king, thy governor." While these statements may seem near-blasphemy for the Katherine from Act I, I think there is victory for the shrew in the end as well.

Katherine's speech has always been in verse, but in the beginning of the play she spoke with a quick wit to say things like "asses are made to bear, and so are you." Now her poetry is smooth and docile, much like the ideal woman is believed to be by the men in the play. Strong feminists will ooze disappointment that Katherine now claims that "thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, they head, thy sovereign." These are such womanly statements made by Katherine, who was so independent and outspoken in the beginning. People may attack this speech as being a disgrace to her earlier vents of defiance and independence; however, I do not see it this way. I am no supporter of being a passive and obedient woman. I believe that Katherine sought a voice; that she longed to be vouched for, to be listened to, and to be heeded. All that being said, in the end, Katherine gets her say. The floor is opened up for her to say what she will. I think she is happy with that freedom of voice. Maybe when someone gave her a chance, she said what she really wanted to say the whole time and it was completely unexpected. Or perhaps she said what Petruccio wanted to hear in gratitude of him giving her a chance to have her voice heard.

When she had everyone's full attention, I think that Katherine wished to share what she learned. In seeming the submissive and obedient wife, she got her voice and maybe even had a chance to share with the class what she ascertained from experience. In lines 174 to 180 Katherine admits to her pride by saying, "my mind hath been as big as one of yours" but then also admits that her pride and strong will did not get her very far, because people started to ignore her when she nagged. She points out that her efforts to rebel and be listened to were "but straws" and that in the end it was best to "vail your stomachs, for it is no boot." Katherine learned that she had more power in (the appearance of) obedience because then she had a voice to use. I think she was well aware that she would have to use it wisely and perhaps say what she wanted very subtly, but at least she was given the best gift, the gift of voice.

As we discussed in class, power resides in voice and I honestly believe that Katherine was not cheated and tricked into being tamed. I think she got exactly what she wanted even though it meant that the men got what they wanted as well. Shakespeare cleverly gives the woman the power in the end, and she used her power for the good of her husband. Although some may find it irksome that Petruccio got his way, is it always so bad to have a day without strife in a marriage? Especially if everyone wins.

A Disturbing Cruel Joke about a Beaten and Tortured Wife

"A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Cursed Wife" made me want to hurl. I could of course see the connections between this poem and Taming of the Shrew, however this poem was much darker and disturbing to me. The play allowed some imagination of a humorous concept, no part of this poem struck me as funny. The parents set a horrible and sad example for their two daughters. There was no teamwork in that relationship, and while I understand that the concept of "team" probably didn't extend to matrimony, I saw only unhappiness there. I also found myself not appreciating the clear favoritism of Father and youngest daughter, and Mother with eldest. The father, who apparently is suffering from a wife who "would take him on the cheeke, or put him to other payne" feels strong dislike for his oldest daughter "and of her would fayne be rid." I hope any daughter reading this feels embarassed for this dad and perhaps a little nausea is fitting as well.

The marriage between the young man and the oldest daughter clearly will not have a good outcome. The father issues a warning about loving his shrew of a daughter, and oh by the way, don't piss off my wife. This message cannot forshadow good things. Instead of working things out like competent sharing adults, they beat each other up. It really concerns me that the first reaction of the couple is violence, much like Katherine and Petruccio. Was violence always an answer in early modern England? How were there functional families? Abuse is a horrible addictive chain that only breeds resentment and further violence. That is no environment to raise a familiy in. Furthermore, this "Jest" laughs at the fact that "with Byrchen roddes well beate shall she be." Not only is she beaten but her husband binds her "in Morels salte skin" to literally rub salt in her fresh wounds to torture her. This "taming" can only lead to more distrust and spawns fear and a life of acting to avoid pain.

The horribleness of this "Jest" makes my skin crawl because no matter how awful and nagging a woman may be, physical abuse can never, ever, ever be justified. Maybe it is easier for me to smile at the comedy in Taming of the Shrew because it is less graphically violent. I also feel that Katherine is given some voice, and I choose to believe she was tamed because she wanted to openly love someone, not because Petruccio beat it out of her. I am probably just delusional, but nonetheless I find it more difficult to tolerate "A Merry Jest" than The Taming of the Shrew.

"Kiss Me Kate"

The cliched phrase quoted above has been used to haunt me and taunt me since I was four years old. I was unfortunate enough to share the name with "Kate" of Taming of the Shrew. I have many mixed feelings about the relationship between Katherine and Petruccio. For all intensive purposes of enjoying the text, I am glad that the two of them end up happily kissing the night away. However, I must admit that in this (my second reading of the play) my attention was drawn to harsh taming rituals performed to bend a woman -- specifically Katherine -- to a man's -- specifically Petruccio's -- will. There is all sorts of unfairness here, but of course times were different and humor and relationships were dealt with in ways entirely foreign to us millennials. I almost feel guilty for finding some instances humorous, and for being glad that Katherine ends up with a nicer disposition. I feel like I am not being enough of a feminist. But is it wrong for me to be happy and rejoice with Petruccio as he announces, "and being a winner, God give you good night." I am happy for the couple. Is that wrong? Should I worry more about the injustices Kate suffered? probably. Should I be concerned that Petruccio tortured her? probably. But can't I also see how Katherine was just being plain bitchy sometimes? definitely. Certainly there are issues here, but for the sake of literature, I am reveling in my pretense of seeing this as pure inane comedy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Is it your will to make a stale of me amongst these mates?"

I find Katherine to be a really incredibly complex and interesting character. Is she just like every girl who is burdened by the "perfect younger sibling?" Or is she a violent character driven by an evil will? It is so hard to tell, but perhaps sometimes against my better judgment, I really really like Katherine and feel sympathy for her. I am such a headstrong loudmouth in my moments, and I cannot imagine being unable to voice anything. I get so offended when I am not being taken seriously. I love her display of witty banter and the connection she has with Petruccio even though he is a cocky (ahem), ridiculous display of masculinity. The clip of the movie we watched in class today was an interesting take on the first scene with Katherine and Petruccio. I can see how maybe she is a little pleased with the attention, but I really do think she is upset about being forced into a marriage. Petruccio twisted the scene around to make it seem like she wanted it in front of Baptista ("She hung about my neck, and kiss on kiss..."). That would make me SO angry; and it would be worse that no one believed me.

I hope to further understand Kate and I hope that she does not disappoint me in being "tamed."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"action might become them better"

The last segment of the Rape of Lucrece contains many important elements to be considered. Lucrece speaks to opportunity, time, and shame. These things she blames for what happened to her. She wanted to feel more justified in her anger and questioned causes and reasons. She accused opportunity of letting Tarquin in and blames shame for making her feel honor-bound. And time she blames for existing and taking away youth and innocence. She then considers a painting of the war at Troy. Lucrece makes various connections with that battle scene and her own circumstance. She feels complete agony and bears all the burdens of the rape, which in her society would not be more socially harmful to her than her husband, Collatine. She likens herself to Hecuba, Priam's vife, the queen of Troy. In the painting she is ugly and painstricken in compassion for all the harm that has come to her dear husband. Lucrece sympathizes with this woman and speaks of how unfair it is that she has no voice. Shakespear may be toeing the line of what was culturally acceptable by showing sympathy to women in forced silence. Lucrece also likens "perjured Sinon" to Tarquin by noting how kind and well seeming he looks. There are endless connections between the painting and the rape. It is so fascinating to me the underlying cultural markers Shakespeare leaves.