Friday, August 28, 2009

Sleep-deprived Shrews and Scurrilous Knaves


There was an article in the paper today about the CIA's use of sleep deprivation at Guantanamo Bay. Apparently they kept one prisoner awake for six straight days by chaining his arms over his head and jerking the chain whenever he nodded off. According to medical experts, sleep deprivation for more than 48 hours has been known to produce hallucinations, reduce resistance to pain, and make people suggestible. After several sleepless nights, one might easily be convinced that the moon is the sun, or vice versa. This is torture, and it's a part of the play that I find really disturbing.

Maybe it's because I've had a sleep-deprived life myself, owing to chronic insomnia that has, on a few occasions, resulted in world-altering exhaustion. When you've been sleepless for several days, you enter another dimension. You're awake, you see and experience things, but there's a thin veil of delirium over everything. And let's not even talk about mood swings. Not eating for a day or two isn't a big deal, and not getting a new dress certainly isn't--but not being allowed to sleep? I would never, ever forgive someone who kept me awake just to satisfy some primitive need for sexual dominance. That's one for the "hate" list.

What I can't help liking, however, is this insult that Petruccio hurls at the tailor who made Kate's dress. The poor guy insists that he made the dress to Petruccio's specifications, but P. is determined that Kate not have it. In keeping with his strategy (of forcing Kate to empathize with the victims of his tirades), he turns his wrath on the innocent tailor:

....Thou liest, thou thread, thou thimble,
Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail,
Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket, thou.
....
Away, thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant...

I love the way he uses the language of sewing, "tailoring" his insult to suit its object. And notice how the epithets get smaller--yard, three-quarter, half, quarter, nail (a sixteenth of a yard), then flea, nit. There's an aggressive sexual undercurrent, as usual when "length" comes up in a comic context.

There's a cool site where you can see a lot of Will's wonderful insults, or make up your own by selecting from three columns of words. So if you want, you can call someone a "droning, dead-bolted dewberry," or an "odiferous whoreson devil-monk"--the possibilities are endless. The address is: www.pangloss.com/seidel/Shaker/. Check it out.

Next, I promise to get serious with Act 4.

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