Upon My Life, I Am a Lord Indeed

The Taming of the Shrew, Induction

As I write this, I am riding the Metrolink back home from a trip to the USC medical campus to see a display on Shakespeare and the four humors before it closes.

For the measly sum of only $10, I was able to ride the rails and buses of Los Angeles, allowing me to shop for Shakespeare in one of the last great used bookshops, buy the best garlic bagels in Southern California, walk by Olvera Street and catch the exhibit before heading back.

I learned lots about the humors from a decidedly medical point of view and was surprised to see The Taming of the Shrew given as an example of choleric – being all hot and bothered. (More on that later.)

I thought all those rides would provide a great opportunity to read the play and post a bunch, but it turns out I’m confounded at the getgo by the strange introduction and need to write my thoughts out before moving on.

First off, why is the dammed thing even here? The BBC saw fit to delete it from their well-regarded filmed series of all the Bard’s works. But on what grounds?

Seems to me that’s the easy way out of a perplexing conundrum that Shakespeare purposely set up. For to read the text literally, Taming is not the “real” play but rather a play within a play – and a production put on for a prank no less.

In the preface, we meet Sly (hmm…), a drunkard who passes out after engaging in a disagreement with a bar wench. A bored Lord saunters by and decides to have a bit of fun.

He takes the boozer home under orders to treat him as regal upon waking, to convince him that his former wastrel life was but a dream.

At the risk of writing the longest post of the year, this reminds me of a story Mr. DuPratt used to tell us in high school about his favorite writer, Ambrose Bierce.

Bierce, he said, was fascinated by the idea that a person could become anybody he or she wished by leaving town and changing identities. Who we are is just a custom, a habit as easily cast off as a snake’s skin. It happens all the time in witness protection programs.

But if that’s the case, what is real about who we are? Not only is this important for understanding the introduction, but I will argue that it matters when attempting to understand the nature of Kate’s “shrewishness” and love as well.

I’ll leave it at this for now. But shame on the BBC for assuming they could just lop off the inconvenient bits and carry on. Shakespeare included the sly introduction for a reason!

And that’s because the nature of reality and identity are inseperably linked within this play.


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