The Shrew Stops the Sun

Fie, fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow and dart not scornful glances from those eyes to wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.  It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads, confounds thy fame as thirlwinds shake fair buds, and in no sense is meet or amiable.  A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereeft of beauty, and while it is so , none so dry or thirsty will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign—one that care for thee, and for thy maintenance commits his body to painful labor both by sea and land, to watch the night in storms, the day in cold, whilst thou li’st 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 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.

Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, unapt to toil and trouble in the world, but that our soft conditions and our hearts should well agree with our external parts?  Come, come, you froward and unable worms, my mind hath been as big as one of yours, my heart as great, my reason haply more, to bandy word for word and frown for frown.  But now I see our lances are but straws, our strngth as weak, our weakness past compare, that seeming to be most which we indeed least are.

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot, and place your hands below your husband’s foot, in token of which duty, if he please, my hand is ready, may it do him ease.

Watching The Taming of the Shrew this past weekend at the Shakespeare Tavern reminded me how much there is in a word!  The text of Kate’s final speech does seem at once glorious and distasteful to the modern female mind.  But watching it on stage, with the gesture at the speech’s close, it transcends the battle of the sexes and ends for a moment in the kind of sweet reconciliation all humanity craves with itself.

As Kate places her hand palm-down on the stage, gazes up with confidence into her husband’s eye: he melts.  Falling on his knees beside her, he gently, swiftly lifts the hand and kisses it.  With a wink of sarcasm in his eye, he cries: “Why, there’s a wench!” Then, in utmost solemnity, as if like Davy Jones his heart was beating free of its cage and bare to the knife’s edge, he asks: “Come on, and kiss me, Kate.”

And that’s the power of a woman.  That is the bond of love at the heart of our human longings.  To be the weaker in body, and yet the stronger in sway; to be vulnerable and find that vulnerability met with an even greater bending, yielding, rolling over and over as if waves too strong to stand against are reverberating unceasingly from out our simple hearts.

C.S. Lewis has spoken of the “eroticism of obedience.”  I think he hit the mark—the kind of laying down of oneself in awe of something greater.  The beauty of loving is the undulating rhythm of mutual adoration—Kate lays down her hand, Petruchio lifts it; Petruchio lays down his heart, Kate meets its elevated wish.  One of Lewis’ characters described his thought of possessing beauty and fire in  marrying his wife as ridiculous: ridiculous as trying to “buy a sunset by purchasing the field from which you saw it.”  No human can ever be tamed just as the sun can never be purchased for the price of a field.  And yet, the voluntary submission of a living soul to another living soul is powerful enough to stop the sun in the sky.

Swallow_the_Sun_by_synax444

courtesy synax444

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