Saturday, March 28, 2009

Adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew

In class on Thursday, we watched the BBC version of The Taming of the Shrew with a young John Cleese and, honestly, I couldn't understand it! I think I was the only one too, but for some reason my brain was NOT registering the language. I looked around the class to see if I was the only one... and I'm pretty sure that I was. 

Despite this minor obstacle, I noticed a couple of things that I definitely missed when I read the play. For example, there is a sexual tension between Kate and Petrucchio during their initial quick-witted exchange that passed me by. As much as Kate seems to loathe Petrucchio, she goes along with his game and welcomes the challenge. She even sits on his lap when he tells her to, something she could have easily avoided. The battle of wits that ensues is a play on traditional courtly love. Instead of idealizing and perfecting his love object in his own mind, Petrucchio blatantly lies to Kate, in order to both compliment her and to make fun of her:

“You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,

And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;

But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom

Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,”

This reminds me of the sonnets, where Shakespeare has blinded himself from the truth and writes lies (or poems) to idealize the love object. It is as if Petrucchio is prophesizing what Kate might one day become, just like what Shakespeare had written in the Young Man sonnets. We are aware that the truth will one day surface, however, and then we get something like Sonnet 130—“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”—when the truth can no longer be covered up. Eventually he will embrace the flaws, only to regret the fact that he has had to lie in the first place.

I also thought it was interesting in the movie that Kate was the one to walk in on Petrucchio when they first meet, because I always imagined Petrucchio walking in on Kate as if to start a fight—It kind of shows that Kate was looking for trouble. The manner in which Petrucchio is sitting, illustrates how he was obviously anticipating her. He predicts that waiting for Kate to initiate the conversation will give her a false sense of control, and it is an example of Petrucchio’s confidence, that he will tame her even before he meets her.

The most important thing that I got from watching the play, rather than from reading it, was that I realized the play is supposed to be a comedy. While reading, I found the play to be quite insulting and disturbing. Throughout the play, Petrucchio tortures and manipulates Kate into submission, essentially killing her spirit and making her into a Stepford Wife by the end. I got this impression simply from the words, but I got another feeling from the actors saying the same words. Petrucchio and Kate are flirting, and their initial exchange is sexually charged and very entertaining to watch. I missed from reading that these characters are supposed to be attracted to each other--otherwise I doubt that Kate would ever allow herself to become engaged. Her strange silence at the end of the Act, when Petrucchio announces their engagement, is explained.

10 Things I Hate About You is a modern day adaptation, or rather awesome 90's teenage version, of The Taming of the Shrew. Julia Stiles is Kat, Heath Ledger is Patrick, and it takes place in Padua High School!! Also, I may be alone here, but count along with me: "The-Tam-ing-of-the-Shrew" has the same number of syllables as "10-things-I-hate-about-you". Coincidence? You decide! 

Anyway, this version of the play is roughly the same as Shakespeare's original but it gave me a different perspective of the ending, which I had originally found so depressing. Kat's metamorphosis at the end is not so much that she has been tamed (accepted her social role as a submissive woman in a dominant man's world), but that she has fallen in love, thus making her softer and a much happier person. Here, her transformation is shown in the dramatic monologue:


I hate the way you talk to me

And the way you cut your hair.

I hate the way you drive my car.

I hate it when you stare.

I hate your big dumb combat boots

And the way you read my mind.

I hate you so much it makes me sick

It even makes me rhyme.

I hate it…

I hate the way you're always right.

I hate it when you lie.

I hate it when you make me laugh

Even worse when you make me cry.

I hate it when you're not around

And the fact that you didn't call.

But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you.

Not even close

Not even a little bit

Not even at all.

Watching this scene, a version of Katherina's final speech in Taming, with Kat finally showing honest emotion is very effective. It left me with a sense of empathy, something that was completely absent from my reading of the play. It's not disturbing that Kat has given in to Patrick's flaws and transgressions, it's sweet and endearing that she has forgiven him. The biggest thing that I missed from reading the play was the sense that these characters actually fell in love. Perhaps Katherina changes and becomes the "ideal love object" for Petrucchio because she loves him and wants to make him happy. It still leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but it's less disturbing if you stop looking at it from a completely century 21st point-of-view.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Role of the Shrew

How are the characters of Adriana and Luciana changed and developed in the characters of Katherina and Bianca?

In Comedy of Errors, Adriana is simply seen as an overtly jealous and unpleasant wife—the basic shrew. Her sister Luciana is the opposite of her: a younger woman who, although, never condones adulterous affairs on behalf of the husband, sees its inevitability and cannot argue against it. Unlike Adriana, Luciana recognizes the social role of the wife is to remain subjugated and to surrender certain rights of equality to the husband in exchange for love, only to be rewarded with extramarital practices, which the wife is expected to turn a blind eye towards. Adriana is defined as shrewish, not by her irrational demands or suspicions of her husband—Adriana’s distrustful nature about the fidelity of her husband is not outrageous or unjustified, because she has a right to be angry with her husband because he is cheating on her—but rather by her demand for equality. In Act II, Scene 2, Adriana’s inquiry, “How dearly would it touch thee to quick, Shouldst thou but hear I were licentious”, can be seen as a veiled threat to her husband. For his affair, she would return the favor and cheat on him. This threat is the prime example of Adriana’s shrewish behavior, not because she is irrational, but because she doesn’t recognize and therefore defies her social role, to be subservient to her husband, and never to question his superiority and the certain liberties he is granted. Instead of objecting to Antipholus’ affair, Luciana advises him to be ‘soft’ or ‘nice’ about it, and here is the prime example of why Luciana is the idealized wife, because she knows her place among men.

The characters of the outspoken shrew and the idealized subservient woman are changed and developed in The Taming of the Shrew with Katherina and Bianca, albeit with an interesting twist. The play starts off with Katherine taking up Adriana’s role as an unmarriageable shrew, one that insults men with her clever wit and refuses to conform to her social role—she wants equality, and as a result, she is discontent. Bianca echoes Luciana because she is easier to manage than her sister, and is much more desirable to men, evident by her suitors Gremio and Hortensio (a motivating force of the men in the play to marry these women, is that their family is wealthy and these men want a piece of the pie). Katherine’s role as shrew is explored, when Petruccio begins to “tame” her as he would an unruly horse or dog. Petruccio initially matches wits with Kate, neutralizing her attempts to belittle him with her intellectual language, and Katherine’s attempts to challenge his male dominance fails. Petruccio conditions Katherine by starving her, keeping her awake, and baiting her with clothes among other things, ultimately breaking her spirit. In exchange for her subservience, Kate is rewarded with love and affection by her husband. Kate goes along with this because she finds happiness in her conformity to her social role, so evidenced by the speech that culminates in the final act: “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,/Thy head, thy sovereign, on that cares for thee”.  Katherine’s reversal of character is quite disturbing to me, in the final invitation for Petruccio to stand on her hand—she has surrendered. In the end, Bianca is more of a shrew because she refuses to come when her eventual husband Lucentio calls for her. This is an interesting twist to the dynamic set up in the beginning of the play—Bianca becomes the shrew because she shows more authority in the relationship than Lucentio, which is bad according the social norms of the time, a sad fact that Katherine has learned and now lives by.

Sonnet Group Work #152

This is part of the group work we did in class a couple of weeks ago. My group focused on Sonnet #152. The reason why it is so dark is because Shakespeare is no longer dealing with courtly love poetry, and his love for the Dark Lady is the opposite of ideal. Because the love for the dark lady includes a sexual relationship, it is tainted and can not be considered love like in the Young Man sonnets, which had a clear barrier between the man and his love object. Here it is:

In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn,
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing,
In act thy bed-vow broke and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
But why of two oaths' breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjured most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee
And all my honest faith in thee is lost,
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
For I have sworn thee fair; more perjured I,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!

Language, Themes, Images

            -In the early Dark Lady sonnets, especially #130, Shakespeare is more honest: “My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun” is an example of how Shakespeare has stopped sugarcoating the flaws of his love object. It seems that in the Dark Lady sonnets, Shakespeare writes as if he is confessing, rather than idealizing.

            -Eventually, at #152, Shakespeare confesses that he lied, to himself and to everybody else, in order to idealize the Dark Lady: “To enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness, or made them swear against the thing they see”. Shakespeare flat out says that he was blinded in his descriptions of her, and that he is now a liar because of it.

            -Not only has Shakespeare lied, he is deeply regretful of having to lie in the first place: “For I have sworn thee fair—more perjured eye/To swear against the truth, so foul a lie”. In other words: I swore that you were perfect, and I have made myself a liar. The so-called truth is a lie.

            -According to Shakespeare, both he and his Dark Lady are liars. “Why of two oaths do I accuse thee,/ when I break twenty, I am perjured most/ For all my vows (poetry) are oaths to misuse (lie to) you”. They have both lied to each other and lied with each other, but Shakespeare more so, because he has documented his own lies through the previous sonnets.

            -Relating to #138, “Therefore I lie with her, and she with me”. Shakespeare accepts the fact that they both have lied. He has surrendered.


Love’s New Definition

            -Love is a binding contract—an oath—a promise. Love still remains a symbol of the Poem, and it is also known as a contract.

            -In relation to his object of love, Shakespeare is confronting the Dark Lady, as well as the Young Man who has not fulfilled his promises of perfection. Ultimately, the sonnet is lost as a love poem and becomes an insult.

Starting Late

I might be a bit behind when it comes to starting this blog, but that's the story of my life. This blog is a project for my Shakespearean Literature class, and so far we've covered the sonnets, Comedy of Errors, and we just started on Taming of the Shrew. Because this is already the 5th week of the semester, I don't think I'll try to play catch up, but I will insert completed work where I think it fits. 

Just a quick review: With the Young Man sonnets, everything was idealized and the language was very pretty and flowery. Here Shakespeare tended to turn a blind eye when describing his love object, as if he was trying to describe the beauty of the Sun by looking straight at it--some liberties are taken for the sake of love. As the sonnets progress, Shakespeare changes his tone and they become the Dark Lady sonnets, which I actually prefer, because they are more honest, damning, and embedded with double meanings (which can get frustrating, but at least they are not boring). By the time he gets to the final Dark Lady sonnet, #152, Shakespeare has stopped making traditional love poetry and has written a confession of regret for his love object who did not turn out to be so ideal. It is no doubt that Shakespeare realized it is blasphemy to create art--or poetry in this case--because it impossible to present the ideal object through nature into a profane world. Pure re-presentation is a privilege that only God is allowed.