Saturday, August 15, 2009

One drunkard loves another of the name...

Last night I was watching some old VHS tapes of 60's TV shows, and thinking about funny drunks. Drunks are ubiquitous in comedy, particularly older comedy that had to abide by censorship rules--when comedy has to be "clean," the authors have to come up with other kinds of subversive behavior. Drunks slur their words, trip over their feet, and have license to say stuff that polite sober people can't. Who could forget the Arthur movies, with Dudley Moore as the lovable, hapless, perpetually inebriated title character? Funny drunks are usually men, though--drunk women are either pathetic/tragic (When a Man Loves a Woman), or slutty/tragic (think Susan Hayward). Drinking and drunkenness can be both comic and tragic in Will's plays. Lower-class drunks, like Sly, make us laugh, while drunks like Falstaff (in the Henry plays and Merry Wives of Windsor) are at once funny and pathetic. Drink is, in the words of Macbeth's drunken Porter "a great equivocator"--both funny and not.

The thing is, drunks are rarely funny in real life. They're pathetic, scary, repulsive, or just plain sad. Unless you're drunk too, of course--which much of Will's audience probably was. Going to a play in Elizabethan England was like going to a sporting event these days--lots of rowdy, ale-soaked bodies looking to get away from their daily drudgery. And it's fun to see someone more wasted/clueless/humiliated than oneself--that's the premise behind a lot of reality TV programming, too.

Then as now, drink enabled people to violate boundaries and break rules. Made a pass at your secretary? Oops, the Christmas punch is to blame. Called your kid a loser? Sorry, Daddy imbibed a little too much last night. Broke your leg climbing the watertower? (Yeah, I knew someone who did that in college. But he was drunk, you know, so it was a great story a year later.) The kind of rules that are broken in Taming are different--they're the more impermeable boundaries of class and gender. Sly passes out drunk and wakes up in a dream--or rather a play, staged by his betters--in which he's a rich nobleman. He's then entertained with another play, in which a bitchy, domineering woman is put in her place. At the end, beggars are once again beggars, and Kate learns that a woman's place is under her husband's thumb. Or heel.

Or does she? Let's find out.


  1. I blended some of my thoughts from this blog on another post...but had to come back to this one. First, love the picture. It reminds me of a few parties I attended...only I was dancing on the table and hours later past out under it.

    Knowing that I must remain high on life, I still feel support for legalizing pot. The actions of a pothead have never mirrored an over least not in my view of things...just the heath issues along should be considered...oh well...

  2. I agree with that. I never heard of a pothead who beat someone else to death...mostly stoners just wreck their own lives through inaction...and, while it's sad, I believe everyone has a right to wreck their own life! But yeah, you know we're on the same page about alcohol. Makes for good theater, but not so entertaining in real life.