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4 thoughts on “General Discussion

  1. A point on The Taming of the Shrew.

    I think there is a secret in The Taming of The Shrew. There is something very controversial and it is hiding in plain sight.

    Why is Katherine treated in such a brutal sexist way, not just by Petruchio, but by the author? It’s not just that she is forced to do what she is told, she is made to say she believes whatever Petruchio tells her. She has to say the sun is the moon and vice versa as Petruchio demands. This feels like the destruction of a human spirit. It’s un-Shakespearian.

    I believe the answer is right in front of us, but the critics seems to have missed it. A pointer to what’s really going on can be found looking at some Elizabethan history. Tudor governments from Henry VIII used a legal instrument called the Oath of Supremacy. Here is the Elizabethan text of the Oath, published in 1559, 5 years before the birth year of Shakespeare in 1564). Anyone taking public office had to swear to it. This would have been an abomination for catholics. I wonder if Shakespeare’s father, John, had to sign it?

    “I , do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the Queen’s Highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her Highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm”

    People had to conform in word and deed. However – I believe this part is crucial – there was at least some freedom of thought, because as The Queen said “I do not make windows into men’s souls”.

    The heart of Catholic England was the north. Shakespeare’s family, and many of its network of contacts, were Catholics. I do not know that W Shakespeare was a practicing Catholic, but I think his father may have been.
    So, Catholics were forced to say they believed something they didn’t, just like Katherine.

    What we have in the Taming of the Shew seems a metaphor for this Catholic repression, sufficiently disguised that Shakespeare could get away with putting it on the stage.

    I wonder if this might also explain the slightly unfinished opening framing device with Christopher Sly – it allows Shakespeare to distance himself from these ideas by making them a play within a play. The intro feels to me like an afterthought. Could this have been added later because it started to look like the material was too hot to handle?

    We might see Katherine’s treatment as in line with how women were treated in Shakespeare’s day, but that jars with what we find elsewhere in Shakespeare’s plays – powerful and independent women, e.g. Tamora, Queen Margaret (Henry VI), Lady McB, Emilia (Mrs Iago). This list of powerful Shakespearean women is what first gave me a clue that we should not take the treatment of Katherine at face value.

    With this interpretation, The Taming is no longer an uncomfortable puzzle. Rather than being put off by the brutal sexism, we should marvel at the clever, subversive message.

    I see echos of this in works of later centuries. Political suppression didn’t go away. I am reminded of Winston Smith in 1984 being forced through torture to assent to untruths. Interestingly not a complete parallel of The Taming, because in all likelihood, Katherine does not believe what she says, and we are given no reason to think she does, while in contrast, Winston Smith has been crushed and brainwashed. I am reminded also of the 1942 French classic film Les Visiteurs du Soir, where a character is turned to stone by a devil, but the heart still beats – the frustrated devil exclaims “Il bat! Il bat!” (pronunciation roughly, “Eel Bah, eel bah”) “It is still beating!”, and we feel the heart of France under the Nazis. It’s not an exact parallel because though she was tough Elizabeth wasn’t Hitler or Big Brother. Under her, real creative people could flourish, despite censorship, if they reasonably conformed. Not so under Hitler.


  2. Interesting theory, as always Michael, but I’m reluctant to stretch our re-interpretations too far. I suspect Shakespeare himself was a bit misogynistic, possibly a bit resentful of his older, bossy wife, and quite enjoyed having a laugh at domineering women, possibly but only very indirectly with Queen Bess in mind. I suspect the humour would have gone down well with his audience, presumably his prime concern, not our C21st approval. In short, I think we should treat the play as a revealing, sometimes amusing (about the fathers), example of its times and a very different morality to our own.


  3. I think I can start a comment on another matter but using reply – even though this is not a reply to the previous topic. It’s a new one.

    So…It seems to me that the princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost is a reflection of Queen Elizabeth. When not a reflection of the wife of Henry IV of France, also an educated princesses? Well for one reason Shakespeare saw E1 and so had a life model. There are all kinds of parallels in my mind. One is the incident when the princess hears her father has died and has to suddenly return to court as queen. The parallel incident in the life of Elizabeth took place at Hatfield House. It was there she received news that her half sister Mary had died, and that she was now queen.

    Since our meeting I discovered another Shakespeare fan who made the same observation years ago, though unknown to me. He has much better reasons for believing it than me. His name is Stewart Trotter.


  4. A visit to the Battle of Barnet

    In September 2021 I went on a trip to a location featured in Henry VI part 3 – Barnet, as in the Battle of.

    The scene is about ten minutes walk north of High Barnet, last stop on the Northern Line.

    The area suddenly becomes more countrified. Walking, rather than driving (I’ve driven through there many times and noticed nothing) you see maps and signs describing the battle. The centre of Barnet has pubs that feel like old coaching inns with their gates big enough to accommodate a coach and horses. That road through Barnet (The A1000 or Great North Road) feels old. Just by the battle scene is a branch off that old road leading to St Albans, another of the Henry VI locations.

    Since there about 25,000 men in the battle, it must have covered a big area. I could imagine it would have been in many surrounding fields at once.

    I stopped in at a 13th century church – it there at the time. I wonder if any of the participants in the battle visited it?

    So easy to live were we do and miss all this because when we travel we tend to be led on to the nearby big roads like the M1, A1 and M25.

    The Great North Road leads on to Hatfield. I suppose that Elizabeth came south down it from Hatfield house where she learned that she had become Queen.


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