Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find The Taming of the Shrew to be terribly funny or particularly good. It was a play about demeaning and gaslighting women into subservience, dressed up as a lighthearted farce. In a word, offensive. This is not to say that I was raging up and down my room, shouting at a long-dead Elizabethan playwright for subjecting me to outdated comedic sensibilities. Instead, I was disappointed. Disappointed that this guy I’m coming to deeply respect wasted my time with this play. From the strange Induction to the bad sexual politics, there was more to dislike than to enjoy.
As a bona fide dum-dum, I have largely steered clear of any secondary texts relating to Shakespeare’s work, but I did come across an odd defense of Shrew from none other than the famed critic Harold Bloom. He eschewed what he termed feminist readings of the play and instead argued that Petruchio and Katharina have the best marriage in all of Shakespearean drama, with the possible exception of the MacBeths. That doesn’t feel right, but I’m willing to hear him out. He says:
“Since Kate and Petruchio are social equals, their own dislocation may be their shared, quite violent forms of expression, which Petruchio “cures” in Kate at the high cost of augmenting his own boisterousness to an extreme where it hardly can be distinguished from a paranoid mania. Who cures, and who is cured, remains a disturbing matter in this marriage, which doubtless will maintain itself against a cowed world by a common front of formidable pugnacity…”–Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (pp. 28-9)
Mr. Bloom even goes on to say we all know couples like Kate and Petruchio… I can’t say as I do, Harry.
Bloom’s argument is that Petruchio has had to suffer as much as Katharina in his own way. Because breaking the will of a woman is hard work, we should sympathize with Petruchio as much as Katharina. No, I can’t get behind that one. Bloom even gets a little testy with the play’s detractors, saying, “One would have to be tone deaf (or ideologically crazed) not to hear… [this] music of marriage at its happiest.” I mean, did we just read the same play? I may not have the ear of a Harold Bloom, but the “happiness” Petruchio and Katharina display is the overexuberance of a couple trying to fake it ’til they make it.
Whatever my differences with Harold Bloom, I maintain this play is not for me. In fact, as I’ve indicated in previous entries, I don’t think Shakespeare’s comedies are really my bag. This is not to say that I won’t continue to give them a fair shake, but I really don’t want another play that relies on violence against the oppressed or the exploitation of women for laughs. I mean, that stuff can be in there, but it just can’t be the central funny business of the comedy.