The Shrew

Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew', was first published in 1623. It's thought to have been based on an earlier, 16th century play. Today, although still a favourite classic, the idea would be considered unacceptably condescending towards women in general, and even more so to those who assume professional and ministerial positions of responsibility. As if women of character should, in any case, be subject to such harsh, 'husbandry discipline' in order to become 'worthy wives'.

Already too much of today's world advocates 'religious' radicalism, a senseless regression and imposition of barbaric, pre-medieval values. Thus women subject to such regimes are deprived of the freedom and opportunities they should otherwise enjoy, which wastefully include governmental  responsibilities they would also be fully capable of assuming.

There is therefore comfort in the thought that even in 14th century England, after centuries of religious antifeminism, authors such as Chaucer (1343-1400) with his 'The Wife of Bath', for example, revealed the ecclesiastical hypocrisy of the time, and obviously defended such women with the valid and amusing argument he wrote for her, which included biblical references.

We also note that although God ignored the argument and spirit of Noah's wife (in 'Noah's Flood' ca. 1475/1575), he never punished her, and when she was finally dragged aboard the ark, Noah gave her full credit for her character, if not for her principles.

Such respect and admiration of feminine spirit, beauty and character, is prodigiously expressed and eternally conveyed by Shakespeare (1564-1616). But then of course England was ruled by a queen, Henry the eighth's daughter, Elizabeth I.

There is noblesse and generosity, as well as something that has to be tongue in cheek, in Katherine's final speech, considering that Petruccio's incoherent behaviour and unkindness hardly deserved such devoted obedience and admirable loyalty.

Perhaps it could also serve as a reminder, that behind great men, (though they be rare) there are often even greater women.
'Fie, fie, unknit that threat'ning, unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
They head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband,
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms,
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vale your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.'

'Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.'
They kiss.
The less significant, more earthly shrew (animal) is one of the smallest mammals existing. As well as being ferociously territorial, it has a voracious appetite and must eat 80-90% of its own body weight each day. But in keeping with the shrew's size, and especially as it takes a fair amount of cheek to follow up lines of Shakespeare with such a doggerel poem, the font size of the following (for all ages that goes with the above illustration from the 'animal series') is reduced so as to be relatively inconspicuous.

Old Mother Shrew
Made a very fine stew
Of earthworms, flies
And wood-lice.

In neat earthenware
She presented the fare
And made everything
Tasteful and nice.

She thus became vexed
Peeved and perplexed
               When she realised                
The family was late

And no shrew was less tame
When they finally came,
And no shrew's nest
Was in a worst state.

Old Mother Shrew
Caused a hullabaloo
And the dinner was hurled
Out the door.

(But before they arrived
She had shrewdly contrived
To eat all that she could,
And more). 


La vieille musaraigne
Prenait beaucoup de peine
A préparer un dîner

En faïence de terre
Elle mettait des vers
Des poux, des mouches
Et des herbes

Elle était donc vexée
Déçue et perplexée
Quand la famille n'arriva
Que tard

Et peu apprivoisée
Lorsqu'ils fussent arrivés
La pauvre, elle en avait

Avec hargneuse harangue
La mère musaraigne
Leur jeta le dîner

(Mais avant leur arrivée
Elle eût quand même décidé
De manger autant qu'elle pouvait
Et plus).

Source- 'The Oxford Shakespeare'.  Intro text, image and doggerel © Mirino (PW).
October, 2010

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