Saturday, August 15, 2009
She is intolerable curst....
Maybe it's my age, but I've always thought that Liz Taylor is the quintessential Kate. Beautiful, imperious (a fancy word for bitchy), much married...because of course Kate and Petruccio would have divorced eventually, at least in the modern world. A few years later and she'd be nagging the hell out of him, he'd be running off to get drunk with his buddies, and then Kate and the pool boy would have a meeting of the minds. Or maybe she'd take over managing the money, make a few prescient investments, and dump him for someone richer. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Although Kate and Petruccio are the characters we remember, the play starts out quite differently. It is, in fact, a play within a play...the most famous part of the play is actually a play put on for a beggar, Christopher Sly, who's been convinced by some bored noblemen that he's actually a lord himself. It's a mean trick, really, because eventually he'll have to go back to his indigent alcoholic reality...but it makes for good comedy in the meantime. Let's take a look at what happens in the two "Inductions" that precede the actual "Taming."
This is the very beginning of the play, the first thing the audience sees. And what they see is a drunken beggar having a raucous argument with the hostess of an English country tavern. It's the sort of place where the classes mix--rather like the theater, in those days. The hostess is angry because Sly broke some glasses, and won't pay for them--she threatens him with the stocks. Sly curses the hostess, calling her a "baggage" (a term I've always kind of liked, I confess. It refers to lower-class women who are, as they used to say, "no better than they ought to be," i.e., of dubious morals), and asserts his noble pedigree--his family came over with "Richard the Conqueror," he claims, although the Conqueror was called William, as any school child would know. Sly eventually passes out, and a nobleman rides in with his fellow huntsman. They see the sleeping bum, and decide to have some fun with him:
"Sirs, I will practise on this drunken man.
What think you: if he were conveyed to bed,
Wrapped up in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes--
Would not the beggar then forget himself?"
They decide to carry him to the nobleman's house, put him in a fancy bedchamber, and get a boy to play his wife. Boys always played women's roles in those days, as you probably remember. So when he wakes up, Sly is convinced that he's a rich aristocrat with fawning servants, lush accommodations, and a lovely (!) wife. It's really cruel, but terribly funny, because of course he doesn't really know how to behave and makes an utter fool of himself. Gee, does this sound familiar? People taken out of their usual environment/culture/class so that we can have fun laughing at their missteps? That's right--this is Early Modern Reality TV! Or Reality Theater. As nauseating as many of us find those horrible dating/dysfunctional family/freaky D-list celeb shows, I bet Will would have loved them.