Watching live theater offers opportunities to view characters caught in webs of life experience. Enjoyment depends on both intimacy and distance. We can engage with the characters intimately – loving, hating, fearing or pitying – yet choose to keep them distant from our lives. It’s just a play, a nice story. Or we can stand back and open ourselves to reflection. By seeing ourselves in others, we cultivate awareness about our own behavior.
Shakespeare’s classic comedy The Taming of the Shrew, now playing at Blackfriars Playhouse, opened me to my inner shrew. She’s mean, cranky and impossible to please. “Did you get out on the wrong side of the bed?” my mother used to ask some mornings during my teen years.
In the play, Katherina – Kate – is the Shrew, that is, until she is married to Petruchio. He gives her several doses of her own medicine and kills her with kindness, as if to say, “Nothing is good enough for you, my sweet. I wouldn’t think of giving you anything that doesn’t completely satisfy you.” Of course, nothing satisfies Kate, an uncomfortable truth she finally sees.
Women might chafe at Kate’s monologue, particularly this part:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy 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 wondered, though, if this isn’t exactly how I treat God, my LORD and Creator of everything. To Him, I can be disobedient, unloving and ungrateful – a shrew.
Kate’s monologue continues:
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.
I highly recommend the American Shakespeare Center’s The Taming of the Shrew. It’s a fine production, an enjoyable play and an opportunity to tame a shrew.