Taming of the Shrew Commentary : Quick Hit

I did spend some time reading commentary for Taming of the Shrew.  Harold Bloom has wonderful collections of literary criticism over the centuries.  I am working through the 20th century at this point.  To me, the most surprising pieces were the two men written in the early 17th centuries, practically contemporaries of Shakespeare.  The men referred to Petruchio’s horrible treatment of Katherine in the “enhanced taming” techniques.  Even at the time of Shakespeare, men found the scenes uncomfortable.

I recently began to wonder if Shakespeare wants us to be uncomfortable in these scene; perhaps I am right.

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Taming of the Shrew: Induction

The Taming of the Shrew does not begin with the story of Katherine and Petruchio, or even with Katherine and her sister.  Instead, it begins with Christopher Sly, the tinker who passes out drunk and is made to believe he is a lord.  The manor stages The Taming of the Shrew for Christopher Sly, though he disappears after the Induction and never returns.  (The Taming of A Shrew, quite possibly the play Shakespeare used as his model, brings back Sly at the end.)

Why is the Induction in the play?  On the one hand, the Induction certainly highlights the farcical nature of the play.  Many people have pointed out that the Induction does not permit us to take the plot of Taming of the Shrew too seriously.  Taming of the Shrew is not only a play within a play, it is a practical joke.

The other aspect of the Induction that I find fascinating is the idea of a tinker becoming a Lord, even as a joke.  The more I think about this, the more this idea seems to relate to the central conflict between Katherine and Petruchio.

A central philosophical idea of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was the Great Chain of Being.  The Great Chain of Being classified all of creation, with God, of course, being at the top of the hierarchy as the creator.  The angels came next, followed by humans, animals, plants, and minerals.  Of course, each division had subdivisions and hierarchies.

In the human subdivision, the king was at the top, followed by nobles and commoners.  In a largely agrarian economy, it is perfectly logical that the king, the man with the largest land holdings, would be at the top of the hierarchy.  (Yes, he also had political power of course, but money didn’t hurt him either.)  Since the Great Chain of Being was set by God, the king is naturally superior to the noble, who is superior to the commoner.

In the Induction, the tinker has been promoted beyond his natural role.  It is essential to remember that, according to the Great Chain of Being, a person’s state in life, whether king, noble, or commoner, was assigned by God.  The commoner cannot become a nobleman any more than a bird can become a cat.  And yet, the noblemen try to convince the tinker that he is a lord.

This becomes far more intriguing when we consider the curious time in which Shakespeare lived.  Shakespeare lives at the end of the Renaissance and at the dawning of the age of mercantilism.  At this point in history, wealth is beginning to move out of the hands of the land owners and into the hands of the merchants and business owners, a trend which will only accelerate when the Industrial Revolution dawns a couple of hundred years later.  Added to mercantilism will be colonialism.  The Taming of the Shrew premiered contemporary to the failed British colony of Roanoke.  In less than 20 years time, the British will try again at Jamestown, and that colony will succeed.  It’s worth remembering that one of the purposes of colonies was to dump criminals and other undesirables.  Many of these undesirables will find ways to prosper and accumulate wealth.  Less than 200 years later, a bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor, grows up to be a hero and a scholar.  (Forgive the Hamilton reference.)  :)

Social mobility is becoming possible.

Shakespeare himself witnessed this first hand.  His father, John, was a glove maker who operated a successful business.  John was able to marry the daughter of a wealthy landowner, send his son to an excellent school, and was elected to several local public positions.  William would even purchase a coat of arms for his father.  Would this have even been possible in previous generations?  I am not sure.

With increased social mobility must have come increased anxiety about everyone’s place in the world.  Perhaps this is why Shakespeare tells the story of The Taming of the Shrew, and why he begins it with the induction.  Shakespeare tells the story of a woman who does not observe her proper role in society (to be chaste, silent, and obedient) at the same time when men are becoming less likely to observe their proper roles within society.  Social climbing was not always seen as a virtue, as Hamilton once again shows.🙂

Is it possible that Taming of the Shrew reflects a broader anxiety about societal roles rather than simply the roles of forceful women?  Petruchio, after all, does “come to wife it wealthily in Padua.”  And is Christopher Sly ever restored to his original state?  We all assume that he will return to his life as a tinker, but we do not know this for certain, Shakespeare does not tell us.

Of course, none of this even gets into the fact that, at this point in history, England is being governed very successfully by a woman, but that is a story for another time.



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My First Experience With Taming of the Shrew

When I was in college, I took two classes on Shakespeare; one devoted to Tragedies and the other devoted to Comedies.  In the Comedies class, we met each Friday in the black box theater to read and act out Taming of the Shrew.  It was an awkward time, since many members of the class were not theater students and since we didn’t always have time to read ahead, it could be difficult to read and rehearse at the same time.  Perhaps this experience played into my opinion of Taming of the Shrew.

At first, I did enjoy the story, which is very straight forward.  A man has a beautiful daughter named Bianca, and all the men in Padua wish to marry her.  However, her father will not allow her to marry until her older sister, Katherine is married.  Since Katherine is a shrew, none of the men wish to marry her.  Into this mess comes Pertruchio, a man who is looking for a wealthy woman to marry.  He hears of Katherine’s family wealth and decides to marry her, regardless of her reputation.  I loved the confrontation/meeting between Katherine and Petruchio.  The scene sizzles and sparkles with energy and wit, far and above all other scenes in the play.  I got to read that scene and it was a hoot.

However, the play soon takes a darker turn when Petruchio begins taming Kate.  He takes her away from her family, confiscates her fine clothes and possessions, starves her, and deprives her of sleep.  Is this domestic abuse?  I am choosing to call it “enhanced taming techniques.”  At this point, my opinion of the play began to shift, irreparably.  The Taming of the Shrew left me angry and sad.

I was angry because Shakespeare, overall, loves women.  It may not show in every single moment of every single play (the character of Hamlet is particularly misogynistic, though the play is not), but Shakespeare has a respect and affection for women that is found in few other male writers of any time period.  The very first Shakespeare play I ever read was Much Ado About Nothing, another play which portrays a “merry war” between the sexes.  Beatrice is a truly remarkable woman, fiercely intelligent and very much Benedict’s equal.  Hero, her cousin, is a far more traditional woman (she even faints!) but she is still able to stand up for herself.  When the priest questions Hero about her purported lack of chastity and her supposed lover, she responds as follows:

They know that do accuse me; I know none:
If I know more of any man alive
Than that which maiden modesty doth warrant,
Let all my sins lack mercy! O my father,
Prove you that any man with me conversed
At hours unmeet, or that I yesternight
Maintain’d the change of words with any creature,
Refuse me, hate me, torture me to death!

That summer, I went on to read Othello, which contains Emilia’s famous speech about infidelity in women.

But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

I could easily go on, but by the time I got to college, I had learned to love Shakespeare and his women.

That’s why Taming of the Shrew inspired such anger.  How was it possible, I thought, that the man who wrote Katherine would go on to write Beatrice, Emilia, Helena, Juliet, Rosalind, Viola, Portia, Lady Macbeth, Regan, Goneril, Paulina, Hermione, Cleopatra, Volumnia, Helena, the Countess, Isabella, and Miranda?  The mind boggles.

At the same time, the play also made me sad.

It made me sad because of the scene in which Petruchio meets Katherine.  As I said before, the scene sizzles and sparkles with wit, humor, and sexual energy.  It reminds me of a skit from the Daily Show in 2013.  John Oliver was subbing for Jon Stewart and he showed footage of a heated exchange between member of Congress and a witness.  After the exchange was over, John Oliver said, “Oh, you know those two are going to fuck like rabbits later on.”  That’s how I felt when I read the duet (and in a way, it really is a duet) between Katherine and Petruchio.  In the way they match wits, the way they trade barbs, the audience senses that they are very well matched.  Sadly, this is pushed aside in the end of the play.  During my time in college, I described Kate at the end of the play as a Stepford Wife, even agreeing with her husband that the sun was now the moon and that old men were now little children.  Perhaps this is unfair, but there is an element of heartbreak in this turn of events.  I cannot imagine Orlando demanding such absolute power over Rosalind, or Benedict ever exerting such power of Beatrice.

Needless to say, I have not read or seen the play since then, though I did very much enjoy Shakespeare Uncovered’s analysis of Taming of the Shrew.  I am curious to see if performances of the play will change my attitude.

I do not expect that Taming of the Shrew will ever be one of my favorite plays, even if I could accpet the story.  The writing is too rough, unpolished, and simple.  Shakespeare was young when he wrote it (this is possibly his first play) so he had not yet mastered and harnessed his unsurpassed gifts as a writer.  I can sense the potential and promise in the text.  The text is a harbinger of greatness to come, though the writing is by no means great.







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Simone Biles and the Appeal of Gymnastics

Just before the last Olympics, I wrote several articles about The Problem of Gymnastics.  The articles dealt with the numerous injuries that seem to plague the gymnasts.  The very real danger that the gymnasts face makes it difficult for me to love the sport unconditionally.

And yet, I have always felt drawn to the sport, ever since I was a girl, though I fortunately never took a class.  After all, gymnastics was one of the only sports that girls were allowed to like.  (Figure skating was the other.)  Why does gymnastics appeal to me?

I think part of this has to do with the possibility of having a different relationship with the body.

I say this cautiously because I am well aware of the history of the pressure that female gymnasts feel about their bodies.  Gymnasts have died from eating disorders.  Even so, I still see, in gymnastics, the possibility for girls and women to develop a different relationship with their bodies.

What kind of relationship?

Dr. Caroline Heldman hints at this relationship in a TED talk I stumbled upon a few years.


At the end of the talk, she says, “We raise our little boys to view their bodies as tools they use to master their environment.  We raise our little girls to view their bodies as projects to constantly be improved.  What if women started to view their bodies as tools to master their environment?  As tools to get you from one place to the next?  As these amazing vehicles to move through the world in a new way?”  I see her point.

Granted, men throughout history have also had “body projects.”  However, their projects are not the same as the “body projects” of women.  Men’s “body projects” have the benefit of improving the function of the body, not purely the consumption of the body by others.  There is a very important distinction between practicing fighting techniques to become stronger for war and the foot binding tradition of China.


Of course, problematic ideas are not isolated to imperial China.  Aristotle also hypothesized that women were misbegotten men.  His view would be passed down to St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote as follows in his Summa Theologica:

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production ofwoman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2)  ST Part 1, Question 92, Reply to First Objection

Note that the Philosopher that he mentions is, of course, Aristotle.

This way of thinking continues on into almost our own time.  A few years ago I read a biography of the Grand Duchesses of Russia, as well as their parents and brother.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, a doctor gave advice to Tsarina Alexandra, who had given birth to four girls and desperately needed an heir to the Russian throne.  He explained that unripe eggs bring forth girls, and that ripe eggs bring forth girls.  In his hypothesis, we have the echoes of Aristotle’s idea of women as misbegotten.

A few years ago I found myself listening to a podcast called “Feminist Mormon Housewives.”  (Full Disclosure:  I am neither Mormon nor a Housewife.)  In one of the episodes, the host, Lindsey, described how a friend confided in her that she had been raped.  When the host found that difficult to believe, her friend countered, “Lindsey, Women are made to be raped.  Our bodies are made to be raped.”  Lindsey replied, “Well, yes, that’s true.”  Lindsey went on to say that she had internalized this message for some time.  She stated that “For a time I thought, ‘God must think that we are less, because He made our bodies less.  He made women not only to experience these things, but to deserve those things.”

I think about Lindsey’s belief about women’s bodies being “less”, and Aristotle and Aquinas’ view of women as defective.   And I can’t help but wonder.  Do you think Simone Biles believes that women’s bodies are “less” or “misbegotten and defective?”


Fuck no.  :)

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Summer of the Shrew

Ok, I am late in announcing this, but I am doing a mini Summer of Taming of the Shrew.  I was inspired by a rather shallow reflection I read recently about the play.

So, just as I did a few years ago, I will be reading literary criticism of Taming of the Shrew and watching several productions of the play and reviewing them on my blog.  I may even throw in “Ten Things I Hate About You,” just because I haven’t seen the movie since high school.

Since I am working full time now, I cannot do the in depth discussions that I did three years ago, but I will do the best I can.

So, let the summer of the Shrew begin!

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2016 NBA Championships: Clevelanders are Somebody Again!

Those of you who read my blog a few years ago know that I haven’t always been charitable towards LeBron.  Ok, I basically said that he was worse than Hitler and Satan.  (LeBron, I’m sorry.)  But last year, when Cleveland lost the championship to the Warriors, I was able to forgive him.  I saw a picture of him walking off the court after the game.  He was crestfallen, struggling to hold back tears.  In that moment, I could feel just an ounce of the burden that LeBron must have felt to bring a championship to Cleveland.  Dear God, it was heavy.  (Hell, I wanted to run away to Miami too.)  I have no doubt that Atlas would feel for him.

We expect a lot from sports and from our athletes.  This is not purely a Cleveland or American problem.  I have no doubt that the Brazilian soccer players of the 2014 World Cup are doomed to suffer a fate worse than death as a result of a semi-final match that was less a soccer match than a re-enactment of the infamous Red Wedding.  Sports are central to our identity, our pride.

Cleveland has had little in the way of pride over the past 52 years.  That’s putting it mildly.  For decades, Cleveland has been known as “the mistake on the lake.”  When I meet strangers from other cities and I tell them I’m from Cleveland, their first question will be , “So how did the river catch on fire?”  I remember seeing a clip of Steve Martin in the eighties asking how to prevent people from fighting over Poland .  He answered, “He’s going to name it Cleveland, because no one will ever want to go there.”   Our factories closed, jobs dried up, and in the early 2000’s Cleveland was declared the poorest city in the country.  It is because of this that most Clevelanders are grateful that New Jersey exists.

Sports have not made this reality any easier.


Cleveland had not won a major championship since 1964.  1964.  Think about that.  Cleveland had not won a championship since Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) had just been re-elected.  Gas was 25 cents a gallon.  The Feminine Mystique had just been published, Bewitched was on TV, the Civil Rights Act had just been passed, and man had not yet walked on the moon.  That’s a long time.

Worse, there had been heartbreaks along the way.  Red Right 88.  The Drive.  The Fumble.  The Shot.  Jose Mesa.  Those of you who have seen Believeland are familiar with these dreadful events from the past.  For me, Jose Mesa is the one I remember, and like any good Clevelander, I am still mad.  (See the guys above.)  These events were a kind of local Stations of the Cross, a Way of Sorrows upon which every Clevelander would meditate.

That all changed on June 19th.

On June 19th, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA Championships.  I have to be honest, I did not see this coming.  Even I, a non-basketball fan, knew that Golden State had a truly historic season and were one of the all time great teams.  When we were down 3-1, I knew, I knew, it was over.

Fortunately, I was wrong.


Over the past few years, I have read a few articles that eloquently, and movingly describe what a championship of any kind means for Cleveland.

For me, it is quite simple.   We are somebody again.

I saw an speech by Bernhard Schlink, a German writer, who described a moment during the 2006 World Cup.  He was watching the game in a bar when the German team scored.  A middle aged man in the bar shouted.  He did not shout “Yes!”  or “Goal!”  Rather, he shouted, “We are somebody again!”  For him, sports eased the burden of his country’s history and gave him a place in the world.

I feel the same way.

I almost wrote an article about LeBron, the Cavs, and Cleveland last year that would have argued that, championship or now championship, the C-L-E was doing great and we did not need a championship.  Our city is being rebuilt, people are flocking downtown, we have fantastic hospitals and an exceptional arts scene.  Even so, I’m glad I didn’t get the chance to write it, because it would have been bullshit.  We are doing great, but we absolutely needed a championship.

And now, we are somebody again.  Just a few days ago, the Chicago Tribune wrote an article about the Cleveland Renaissance and all of the wonderful places in Cleveland.  All of those places existed well before the championship, but the Chicago Tribune never wrote articles about that.  They may have written them during the forthcoming Republican National Convention, but considering that the Republicans have seen fit to nominate a dictatorial, racist, orange blob, they may have been distracted.  (Of all the political conventions in all the world, Cleveland has to get this one.)

But now, the Chicago Tribune will write articles about the wonderful things of Cleveland, because we won.

We can hold our heads up high and once again be proud to be Clevelanders.

We are somebody again, because we are the champions.



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CIFF Film Reviews: My Internship in Canada

My Internship in Canada is a French Canadian film about a minister of Parliament who suddenly finds himself the deciding vote for war and decides to consult his constituents.  Unfortunately for him, his constituency is just as divided as his own family.  Some are pacifists who are opposed to all military action.  Others feel that the war would be good for manufacturing.  The minister can also advance is career by supporting the war, so he must weigh his personal ambitions as well.

The film is called My Internship in Canada because the Minister has an intern from Haiti.  He skypes to his family and friends in Haiti to give them the ins and outs of a political structure.  One of the minor Haitian characters is his mother, who is the proverbial worrywart, but very funny.

Overall, My Internship in Canada was a very funny, lighthearted film about a man who finds himself in the center of a political firestorm.  The film also has a lot of local color, between the French Canadians and the aboriginal peoples of Quebec.

Rating : Excellent

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