Performance Journal, Taming of the Shrew

From WordNet (r) 1.7 : 

       n 1: the distinct personality of an individual regarded as a
            persisting entity: "you can lose your identity when you
            join the army" [syn: individuality]
       2: collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a
          thing is recognizable or known

Identity is a strange and wonderful thing. To judge by his plays - full of characters disguising themselves, exchanging roles, feigning madness, betraying all the aspects of their supposed true selves for one cause or another - Shakespeare must've been deeply concerned with identity, though I doubt he'd have put it that way. The Taming of the Shrew is loaded with this stuff. There's that never-resolved frame story with Christopher Sly and Co. Half of the major characters spend most of the play acting as someone else. Kate and Petruchio, meanwhile, engage in steady psychological warfare over Kate's actual identity. Maybe her entire personality doesn't wind up utterly broken and reshaped, but you could read it that way easily enough.

Which brings me to the scene we acted (loosely speaking) in class. I don't think any of us especially liked Kate's long winded Speech of Total Submission With Benefits. (I could easily be very, very wrong about that. For a certainty I know plenty of people who'd happily take it at face value as an irony-free statement of the ideal relationship.) We could probably have done a lot more there. Intensely sarcastic delivery, if nothing else. Attempting to hint that this is more acceptance of a contract or acknowledgment of an equally forceful personality than it is total capitulation, if we'd been more ambitious.

(That last, I think, is probably the most honest interpretation that audiences living in what we assume is a more enlightened age (or at least one with more equitable sexual conventions) are likely to find palatable. There's nothing here you can claim for feminism without a lot of intellectual waffling, but there's an argument that Shakespeare wasn't just being a total bastard to Kate, or turning her into a completely dimensionless stereotype of the dutiful wife. Even if this is a comedy full of goofy Renaissance archetypes.)

Trying to perform anything is a healthy reminder of just how much a script is only the skeleton of the beast that is an actual play. So much hinges on overall interpretation and the characterizations of individual actors that no two companies could possibly arrive at the same results. I remember high school one-acts, where I was a tech-geek too terrified to actually be on stage, and the way our final performances of a play always seemed so altered from the first ones as to be nearly unrecognizable. I suppose that in doing Shakespeare, there must be a great deal more pressure to be faithful to the text, and a pretty huge body of theatrical tradition to draw upon, but the process must still be essentially the same.

Given this, I'm sure there's a lot more we could have done to interpret our scene to reflect our ideas of the play.

Thing is, though, that for the half-dozen lines I was supposed to be Hortensio, I kind of quit being concerned with my own opinion, and started worrying about what Hortensio should be thinking. Which is why I started this off talking about identity in the first place. It's easy to see how the ideas of identity and place and role and so on become so huge a part of Shakespeare's storytelling. Changing identity is basically his trade, when you think about it. Acting is more than just saying some lines on stage. It involves living, even if just for a few moments, in someone else's identity. Shakespeare was an actor, a professional identity-shifter, in a society intensely conscious of one's social role and class and place as one's identity. That had to be a pretty revealing thing.

Which actually doesn't have much to do with what I was going to say, which was more along the lines of how actually getting in the head of one of these characters points up that a play like Taming of the Shrew has its own shape that we maybe shouldn't try to bend too much to make it acceptable to our tastes and beliefs instead of just being what it was in the context of its time and culture. Which is probably contradicting all kinds of things I said earlier.

I think I'm developing a real appreciation for why long-winded philosophers used to write drawn out dialogs instead of essays. Who needs consistency?

p1k3 / 2002 / 9 / 22 / taming