Dame Janet on Petruchio's treatment of Kate
"he saw what was lurking underneath Kate’s prickly exterior and he dug it out with no hint of flaky post-Freudian tip-toeing through the tulips"
We had a brilliant question arising from our recent online session with Dame Janet Suzman, part of our Lockdown Taboo and You series, on Shakespeare and Manias. We very much wanted to share the question with you and Janet's reply. Not least because we are planning to do a read and share series on The Taming of the Shrew.
Q: What can you say about the mental manipulation that is used on Kate in The Taming of the Shrew?
A: Well, let’s remember this is a play and a comedy at that. And let’s also remember that Kate needs to be as young as possible so that she’s really a surly teenager and NOT a mature woman. I would call it physical manipulation that Petruchio embarks on to tame his recalcitrant young wife; starves her when she’s hungry, contradicts her when she’s bolshie, disappoints her retail therapy moment when she wants a pretty hat, and in the end makes her laugh by being so absurd as to call the moon the sun etc etc.
That sun/moon scene is central to the whole play as it is there that the penny drops for Kate when suddenly she realises she’s being teased into submission and common sense. In my view, what Petruchio is doing is trying to show to Kate that being agin the world is a hiding to nowhere - it’s so much nicer to be in a team, and have support, and to manage to love another without feeling diminished. That is surely the only way one can play that amazingly extreme speech on marriage that she has to negotiate at the end? Stop fighting everything, go with the flow, join forces, find common ground, make compromises - these are the things that make a life bearable. And possibly more fun. “Come on and kiss me, Kate” seems fun to me, and also tender.
Lauding submissive marriage as she does is said with tongue firmly in cheek; she has learned to love him. The other wives are at war with their husbands, quite possibly with some reason as the husbands seem a macho boring bunch. Petruchio is a guy you can laugh with. He saw what was lurking underneath Kate’s prickly exterior and he dug it out with no hint of flaky post-Freudian tip-toeing through the tulips. It’s always worth remembering that Shakespeare wrote long before Freud and Co. Quite an advanced view of men and women working together in an age when indeed a wife was merely someone’s property.
Anyway, I recommend reading the relationship between them as closer to taming a wild animal and not as a crime against a girl.
There will be other views of course, but mine is the best!
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