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Taste and Touch as Means of Coercion in The Taming of the Shrew

Le goût et le toucher, moyens de coercition dans The Taming of the Shrew
Aurélie Griffin

Résumés

Dans The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina, la mégère éponyme, est immédiatement et sans surprise décrite comme colérique. Son prétendant puis mari Petruccio s’emploie donc à soumettre l’humeur présente en excès dans le corps de celle-ci, la colère, en la mêlant à son humeur complémentaire, la mélancolie. Il tente ainsi de créer un équilibre hypothétique des humeurs qui, en ramenant Katherina à la bonne santé, pourrait ainsi la rendre à la société en tant qu’épouse obéissante. Les méthodes de dressage qu’emploie Petruccio s’inspirent non seulement des manuels de fauconnerie, mais ressemblent également aux traitements proposés dans certains traités médicaux de l’époque, tels que la prédilection pour certains aliments ou au contraire leur rejet, selon qu’ils étaient censés entraîner des effets positifs ou négatifs sur les humeurs. Dans la scène 3 de l’acte quatre, Petruccio offre à Katherina de la nourriture et des vêtements qu’il lui retire à plusieurs reprises, et fait ainsi usage des sens les plus immédiats, le goût et le toucher, pour manipuler ses humeurs et la forcer à se soumettre. Mais le discours final de Katherina, qui vante les vertus de la femme soumise, met en question l’efficacité de ces méthodes et révèle par là-même la circulation des humeurs au sein de la pièce.

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  • 1 Alternatively spelt and pronounced “Petruchio”. This article uses the spelling of the Arden edition
  • 2 William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Barbara Hogdon, London, Bloomsbury, The Arden Sha (...)
  • 3 Ian Mclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A Study in the Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medical S (...)

1The Taming of the Shrew offers an extreme, yet telling example of the construction of gender in the early modern period. The main plot focuses on a fortune hunter, Petruccio,1 trying out various methods to “tame” the rich but unruly Katherina and turn her “from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates” (II. 1. 279-80).2 In other words, he seeks to contain her gender by changing her from the unruly shrew to the morally and socially acceptable obedient wife. Her behaviour is quickly associated with an excess of choler in her body, a diseased body in need of care. Indeed, one aspect of the taming process which seems to require closer examination is Petruccio’s use of two senses, taste and touch, in his attempt to restore the balance of Katherina’s humours and curb her excessive choler by mitigating it with melancholy. The play thus highlights the humoral definition of femininity Ian Mclean has exposed in his seminal study, and also illustrates how a female character resists that definition through metadramatic awareness and role-play.3

  • 4 See for instance Robert Jütte, A History of the Senses: From Antiquity to Cyber-Space, Cambridge, P (...)

2Taste and touch ranked rather low in the medical literature of the time since they were considered as the most “physical” of the senses.4 As such, they allowed closer contact between the outer world of family and society – specifically the husband – and the inner world of the body. Because of their heightened contiguity with the body, taste and touch were particularly associated with the sensuous creatures that women were thought to be at the time, while man was supposedly rational. For Petruccio, taste and touch thus become privileged means of pressure to change Katherina. His manipulation, or rather, manhandling, of them does not merely function as a method for taming her, but as the simulacron of a medical treatment designed to heal a diseased body and a diseased mind. In accordance with the Galenic doctrine which was still prevalent at the time, treating Katherina’s disease implied restoring the balance of her humours, which are presented in a more complex way than meets the eye in the play. Her shrewishness, which was first unsurprisingly associated with an excess of choler, is gradually revealed to be related to melancholy. Consequently, Petruccio attempts to influence both these humours, in particular in the central scene in which he orchestrates the frustration of his new wife by offering, then taking back both food and clothes (IV. 3). Finally, the way in which Katherina responds to this mock-treatment sheds new light on her final and controversial speech.

Katherina’s humours

3Long before Katherina’s first appearance, humours are brought to the fore in the Induction, when the tinker Christopher Sly is made to believe he is a lord, and a melancholic one too. The intertwined main plots – Katherina’s taming and her sister Bianca’s wooing – actually form a double play within the play performed for the benefit of Sly’s health:

  • 5 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., Induction 2, 125-132, p. 157-158.

Your honour’s players, hearing your amendment,
Are come to play a pleasant comedy;
For so your doctors hold it very meet,
Seeing too much sadness hath congealed your blood –
And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy –
Therefore you thought it good you hear a play
And frame your mind to mirth and merriment,
Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.
5

  • 6 Richard Hosley, “Was There a ‘Dramatic Epilogue’ to The Taming of the Shrew?”, Studies in English L (...)
  • 7 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., Induction 1, 1-13, p. 139-141.
  • 8 See for instance Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady: A Study of Melancholia in English Literatur (...)

4Much has been made of the metatheatrical relationship between the Induction and the rest of the play, but little, surprisingly, has been said of the humoral connection between them.6 Of course, Sly is hardly the melancholy type. If anything, his initial argument with the Hostess in which he refuses to pay her would rather suggest that he is prone to choler – or at the very least is so when inebriated.7 The suggestion that Sly is melancholy is as ludicrous as that he is a lord, all the more so as melancholy was a fashionable sign of class in Elizabethan times.8 Beyond echoing the classical purpose of the comedy, i.e. to purge and correct bad humours, the Induction also creates a pattern for Katherina’s taming: moving from an excess of choler to a mock-melancholy in order to reach a hypothetical balance of humours.

  • 9 Thomas Elyot, The Castle of Helth, London, 1539, p. 2.
  • 10 I. Mclean, op. cit., p. 30.
  • 11 Coppélia Kahn, “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare’s Mirror of Marriage”, Modern Language Studies(...)
  • 12 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., I. 1. 55, p. 163.
  • 13 Ibid., I. 1. 57-8, p. 163.

5From the moment she appears on stage, Katherina is indeed depicted as choleric. In accordance with the “hot and drie” humour, “in whom fyre hath preeminence”, Katherina is repeatedly associated with heat and fire, has a “sharp” voice and a “wytte sharpe and quicke”, and is, of course, repeatedly angry.9 She thus immediately stands against the “classic” definition of women in ancient medicine as being “characterized by deprived, passive, and material traits, cold and moist dominant humours and a desire for completion by intercourse with the male”.10 On the contrary, these symptoms of choler are all characteristic of the shrew type, to which she immediately conforms with her first lines. For, as Coppélia Kahn pointed out, our perception of Katherina as a shrew is mediated by the male characters’ insistence that she is one, “focusing our attention on masculine behavior and attitudes which stereotype women as either desirable or rebellious and shrewish”.11 Katherina appears as a threat to the male character because her behaviour negates the medical and social stereotypes of femininity they are accustomed to. Katherina’s reply to Gremio shows the difficulty for women to eschew such stereotypes. Answering Gremio’s initial provocation (“She’s too rough for me”,12 echoing the “sharp” voice and wit of the choleric), she challenges her father openly and insults his guests: “I pray you sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me among these mates ?”.13 What is particularly threatening for the male characters, therefore, is her instant refusal to seek their companionship. Rather than adopting or affecting the meek silence expected of a maid, Katherina answers tit for tat, which signals the unruly behaviour that soon becomes synonymous with her. She interestingly offers a variation on Gremio’s tactile image (“rough”) that plays on both touch and taste, adumbrating the importance of those two senses in her progression.

  • 14 Ibid., I. 2. 253-4, p. 190.

6In the next scene, she arrives on stage with her sister, holding her hands behind her back and striking her, in an effort to make her confess which of her suitors she prefers. This scene visually transfers the contrast between the two sisters which is exposed from the beginning of the play, when Tranio introduces Baptista’s two daughters, “the one as famous for her scolding tongue / As the other for her beauteous modesty”.14 The relationship between the two sisters and indeed Katherina’s jealousy of her sister’s popularity with men, including their father, have been posited by critics such as Karen Newman as proto-psychological explanations for her shrewish behaviour:

  • 15 Ibid., II. 1. 31-36, p. 194. Karen Newman, “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare’s The Tamin (...)

What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband,
I must dance bare-foot on her wedding-day,
And for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep,
Till I find some occasion of revenge.
15

  • 16 Ibid., II. 1. 29, p. 194.
  • 17 T. Elyot, op. cit., p. 3.
  • 18 I. Mclean, op. cit., p. 41.
  • 19 Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of (...)

7This, and her earlier line “her silence flouts me, and I’ll be revenged”,16 implies that Katherina’s choler has an external cause, and is therefore more likely to be cured than if it were her intrinsic temperament. In this short speech, Katherina is revealed as a rounder character than her immediate casting as the stereotypical “scold” suggested. Furthermore, some symptoms were either common to choler and melancholy, or came close, for the two humours, one hot, one cold, were also dry. Among such common symptoms were leanness, lack of sleep, and strange dreams. Melancholics were even said to have long, fretting fits of anger.17 Furthermore, melancholy and some related afflictions were categorised as “hysterical illnesses” in the medical literature of the time.18 The threat of Katherina’s rebelliousness to the masculine social order could thus be curbed if her choleric state were transformed into melancholy. And although Katherina is instantaneously presented as a choleric shrew, there is room for ambiguity as far as her state is concerned. The doleful note in her short speech above may even suggest that her choler functions as a mask for her melancholy, or, as the last two lines indicate, that she can move from one to the other and back. Both humours were indeed intrinsically linked, as Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl remind us: “The black bile had long been considered a noxious degeneration of the yellow bile, or alternatively, of the blood”.19 Under certain circumstances – or provocations –, therefore, choler could turn into melancholy. Part of Petruccio’s strategy will therefore consist in allowing such an evolution to take place.

  • 20 On the hierarchy of the senses, the French physician André Du Laurens writes that “the sight and he (...)

8Indeed, Katherina’s susceptibility to external factors indicates that she is likely to be moved, one way or another, and to evolve as such external factors also evolve. In other words, her defining humour is transitory and accidental and can therefore be balanced if it is correctly treated, i.e. purged. This further implies that her choler is directly related to her senses, as it was initially through sight and hearing that she grasped her own status in the family. And if the disease was caused by her senses, the cure may come from them, too. The play will therefore hinge on the tamer’s attempt to play with Katherina’s senses so as to restore the balance of her humours. But rather than playing on sight and hearing, which had been considered as the most rational and spiritual senses since Aristotle, he uses a more direct, concrete approach which targets her more “physical” senses, i.e. taste and touch.20

Manhandling Taste and Touch

  • 21 A. Du Laurens, op. cit., p. 10.

But of the five senses there are two altogether necessary and required, to cause the being and life simply: and that the three other serve onely for a happy being and life. Those without which one can not be, are taste and touching. Touching (if we will give credit to naturall Philosophers) is as the foundation of livelihood (I will use this word, because it expresseth the thing very excellently). The taste serveth for the preservation of life. The sight, hearing and smelling serve but for the living pleasantly. For the creature may continue to be without them.21

  • 22 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., IV. 1. 197-8, p. 252. The quote is reproduced below. See also Barbara Hog (...)
  • 23 Emily A. Detmer, “Civilizing Subordination: Domestic Violation and The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakes (...)

9So André du Laurens tells us. It is probably more common sense than philosophical doctrine which prompts Petruccio to starve Katherina, deprive her of sleep, and refuse her the sumptuous clothing he flaunts her with, but du Laurens’s definition of taste and touch as conditions for survival still sheds light on Petruccio’s methods. These specifically consist in creating wants – in both senses –, only to deprive her of what she now deems essential: food and drink of course, but also clothes (both his and hers), and a husband at the altar, however adamantly she had refused him at first. Compared to some of the shrew-taming techniques used in folktales and other plays, which involve heavy beating or the application of a salted horsehide over her body, Petruccio’s methods have been called kinder, as he puts it himself.22 They have also been called mental torture.23 In the terms of early modern medicine, however, they show a very concrete attempt to grapple with her humours.

  • 24 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., II. 1. 259, p. 209, and 290-291, p. 211.

10The taming begins with the wooing, when Petruccio pesters Katherina with hyperbolic, ironic praise (II. 1), and continues with their farcical wedding, when the bridegroom turns up late, wearing fantastic apparel, and carries away his bride before the banquet (III. 2). Katherina believes or fears Petruccio to be mad throughout these initial stages. She first makes fun of him, calling him a “fool”, a “half lunatic” and a “madcap ruffian”,24 then dreads the damage done to her reputation:

  • 25 Ibid., III. 2. 8-20, p. 225-226.

No shame but mine. I must forsooth be forced
To give my hand opposed against my heart
Unto a mad-brain rudesby full of spleen,
Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure.
I told you, he was a frantic fool,
Hiding his bitter jests in blunt behaviour,
And to be noted for a merry man,
He’ll woo a thousand, point the day of marriage,
Make feast, invite friends, and proclaim the banns,
Yet never means to wed where he hath wooed.
Now must the world point at poor Katherine
And say, ‘Lo, there is mad Petruccio’s wife,
If it would please him come and marry her.’
25

  • 26 Ibid., IV. 1. 65-76, p. 244.
  • 27 “If feare and sadness doe continew long, it is a sign of melancholie”, Hippocrates, The whole aphor (...)
  • 28 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, II. 2. 207-208, in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Joh (...)

11The humiliation is part of a rationally devised strategy to bring the shrew down from her high horse – both in the figurative and in the proper sense, as Katherina falls off her horse, in the mud, with the horse on top of her, as Petruccio takes her back home.26 Not content with wooing her pride, Petruccio knowingly plays on the fear of madness Katherina reveals in her speech, continually baffling her with his unexpected and disproportionate reactions. Alternating between choler and melancholy, he, in effect, blows hot and cold. What was jest in courtship becomes a threat as soon as they are bound. Playing on what she considers to be his defining humour – melancholy –, Petruccio accordingly, albeit temporarily, succeeds in silencing her anger. In turn, he manages to instill in her two of the main characteristics of melancholy, i.e. fear and sadness, which had defined the disease since Hippocrates’ Aphorism 23.27 As with Hamlet, “there is method” in his “madness”, as his performance of insanity forms a part of his taming strategy, which is confirmed when he and Katherina begin their married life.28

  • 29 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 1. 144, p. 249.
  • 30 See for instance Nicolas Coeffeteau, A Table of Humane Passions, trans. Edward Grimeston, London, 1 (...)

12By leaving the wedding party at the earliest opportunity, Petruccio makes sure to whet his new wife’s appetite, who has just had a particularly trying journey. He even pointedly draws the audience’s attention to her hunger by referring directly to her body : “Come, sit down, Kate, I know you have a stomach”29 – not only hinting at her pride, but also at the seat of her dominant humour, since choler was located in the gall bladder.30 As soon as mutton is brought to the table, he sends it away:

  • 31 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 1. 159-164, p. 250.

I tell thee Kate, ʼtwas dried and burned away,
And I forbid you to touch it;
For it engenders choler, planteth anger,
And better ʼtwere that both of us did fast,
Since, of ourselves, ourselves are choleric,
And feed with such o’er-roasted flesh.
31

  • 32 Camille Wells Slights, “The Raw and the Cooked in The Taming of the Shrew”, The Journal of English (...)

13There are several points worth noticing here. First, this is the second time since they were married (and the second time in a single day) that Petruccio has deprived Katherina of food, and the instance will soon be repeated. Second, this passage interestingly combines the inferior senses of taste and touch with the humour that he finds dominating in both his and her bodies, i.e. choler. Contrary to what has been suggested earlier, Petruccio affirms that Katherina is of a choleric disposition, not that her choler has extrinsic reasons for it. The kinship he establishes between their temperaments may be important to assess Katherina’s evolution, as will be shown later. It is also striking that he takes this opportunity to exercise his authority by directly forbidding her to do something, with the implicit justification that he is acting for her own benefit. Moreover, the refusal to let Katherina enjoy food that has been (over-)cooked may be an indication of her belonging to an “uncivilised” group of society and a spur for her to adopt a more socially acceptable behaviour, as Camille Wells Slights has shown, in the wake of Lévi-Strauss’ sociological distinction between the raw and the cooked.32

14Petruccio, therefore, devises a method of his own which makes him part tamer, part doctor:

  • 33 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 1. 179-198, p. 251-252.

My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call;
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites,
That bate, and beat, and will not be obedient.
She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not.
As with the meat, some undeserved fault
I’ll find about the making of the bed,

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
33

  • 34 See Barbara Hogdon’s introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., p. 55-56; Dennis S. Brooks, (...)

15In keeping her awake and hungry, Petruccio indeed follows the recommendations of falconry manuals, as several critics have noted.34 Although animals were thought to have humours too, the shift from “falcon” and “haggard” to “wife” at the end of the speech suggests that the roles of tamer and doctor are superimposed. It also reveals that an evolution has already taken place which allowed Katherina to move from her initial identification as a shrew to more noble animals, and paves the way for a re-humanisation that is synonymous with a return within the bounds of society as a “wife”. What is at stake is Katherina’s animal spirits, or rather, how to tame the animal in her to reach her soul.

16The connection between the humours and the soul is a complex, indirect one, but one which starts with the senses, as Nicolas Coeffeteau explains:

  • 35 N. Coeffeteau, op. cit., p. 15-17.

The objects of the senses strike first upon the imagination, and then this power having taken the knowledge of them, conceives them as good or bad, as pleasing or troublesome, or importune: then afterwards propounds them as clothed with those qualities to the creature, which apprehending them under this last consideration excites the concupiscible, or irascible power of the soule, and induceth them to imbrace or flye them, and by the impression of its motion, agitates the spirits which we call Vitall, the which going from the heart, disperse themselves throughout the whole body, and at the same instant the blood derives from the liver, participating in this agitation, flowes throughout the veynes, and casts it selfe over all the other parts of the body: So as the heart and the liver being thus troubled in their naturall dispositions, the wholle body feeles itselfe mooved, not onely inwardly, but also outwardly, according to the nature of that passion which doth trouble it. Finally, there riseth no passion in the soule, which leaveth not some visible trace of her agitation, upon the body of man.35

  • 36 Farah Karim-Cooper, “The Sensory Body in Shakespeare’s Theatres”, in Annette Kern Stähler, Beatrix (...)

17The senses were thus the starting point of a journey inwards to the heart and from there, to the soul. They were the point of contact from the outer world to an inner one. Of all the senses, touch was particularly helpful in that regard since it was both active and passive.36 Petruccio plays on both dimensions as he prevents Katherina from touching food and clothes, and substitutes his own touch instead. As his wife, she cannot resist his touching her, which is hinted at in his resolution to keep her awake at night. He thus replaces the active by the passive touch, which symbolises Katherina’s incipient submission.

  • 37 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 3. 19, 22; “too hot”, IV. 3. 25, p. 261-262.
  • 38 Ibid., IV. 3. 17-30, p. 261-262.
  • 39 R. Jütte, op. cit., p. 60.
  • 40 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 3. 32, p. 262.

18Not content with controlling her sense of touch, he also works on her sense of taste. In IV. 3, Petruccio’s servant Grumio, following his master’s instructions, repeatedly offers Katherina food which he instantly takes away for being “too choleric”.37 The more he wavers, the readier she is to lower her expectations, from “a neat’s calf foot” to “a fat tripe” to the more enticing “beef and mustard”, but first without the mustard and then without the beef.38 Petruccio thus continues his sadistic game by increasing her hunger, fuelling her desires by denying them. In doing so, he also numbs her taste, as she is ready to eat anything: the necessity to eat takes over the ability to distinguish the specific tastes of the food. Since taste, like touch, is an immediate sense,39 Petruccio’s attempt to manipulate it – by feeding her “with the very name of meat”40 – signifies his direct handling of her insides, as if he were trying to touch the humours themselves. Sexual penetration is thus transposed into a metaphorical, humoral form of rape as Petruccio imposes force inside his new wife’s body to change the outward symptoms derived from her supposed medical disorder.

  • 41 Ibid., IV. 3. 36-8, p. 262.
  • 42 See for instance T. Elyot, op. cit., p. 12-24.
  • 43 Ibid., p. 2-3.
  • 44 Aristotle, Historia Animalium IX. I, quoted by Ian Mclean, in op. cit., p. 42.

19Katherina’s answer to his greeting is therefore extremely telling of the humoral transformation he purports to achieve in her: “How fares my Kate? What, sweeting, all amort?” / “Faith, as cold as can be”.41 Denying her choleric, or indeed any food at all, has been successful: it has – at least temporarily – increased melancholy in her body. The drastic diet Petruccio enforces on his wife actually is an extreme, parodic versions of some of the remedies suggested by early modern physicians to regulate their dominant humours. Avoiding or favouring some foods were, together with purgation and blood-letting, among the prominent treatments.42 Moreover, among the symptoms of melancholy were difficulties eating and sleeping43 – both of which Petruccio achieves in his wife by force. His strategy to balance her choler involves the performative and coercive creation of melancholy in her body. Katherina’s resilience belies the early modern commonplace according to which “the female is softer in character, is the sooner tamed”.44 The more she resists, the more pointed and precise Petruccio’s supposed remedies become.

20The irony of the situation is emphasised by the fact that Petruccio appears on stage with Hortensio carrying meat, which symbolically associates him and food. Not only is the husband in charge of providing nourishment, as Katherina reminds the wedding guests in the last scene, but he literally is the food. His presence must substitute for the little meat she manages to devour, while Petruccio instructs Hortensio to eat as much as he can. She must metaphorically consume him to become his wife, as he now embodies both her senses of taste and touch. Nowhere is this transformation more visible than in the ending of the play.

The final scene or the ambiguous celebration of taste and touch

  • 45 John Bean, “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew”, in The Woman’s (...)

21In the play’s controversial ending, the shrew is miraculously transformed into a submissive housewife, and gives her newly married sister and a widow a lesson about the virtues of female obedience. Whether or not this speech is to be taken at face value remains debated by – to use John Bean’s distinction – the “revisionists”, who understand it as ironic, and the “anti-revisionists”, who see it as the culmination of the farce in the play.45 The enigmatic dimension of the ending, however, contributes to its interest, as it qualifies the play’s comedic structure, formally providing resolution while weakening it from the inside. The ending participates in the Shrew’s playing with generic categories, and therefore may not need to be settled once and for all, one way or another. Yet the role of taste and touch in this scene, and in Petruccio’s manipulation of Katherina’s humours may help us garner a better understanding of the ending and of the play as a whole.

  • 46 An illustration is provided in Barbara Hogdon’s introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., (...)
  • 47 Ibid., V. 2. 9, 182, p. 292, p. 304.

22The scene takes place during Bianca and Hortensio’s wedding banquet, which mirrors the feast Katherina and Petruccio missed after their own wedding. Despite the familial link, their presence is one of the many ironies of the scene: they are present at Bianca’s banquet but missed their own; they celebrate her wedding, and indeed marriage in general, during a feast while their own marriage runs on food deprivation; the scene as a whole, with its explicit references to food and drink, may even be reminiscent of the Wedding at Cana – a 1887 staging by Augustin Daly even recreated Veronese’s painting in the backdrop.46 Instead of Christ transforming the water into wine, the miracle would be Katherina’s conversion. Food and drink are indeed central in the scene, which begins and ends with references to the stomach,47 which, as we have seen, is not only the seat of pride, but the seat of the humours. The scene, therefore, perfectly ties in with the play’s earlier concerns for taste, touch and the humours.

  • 48 Ibid., V. 2. 153-4, p. 302.
  • 49 Ibid., V. 2. 150-1, p. 302.
  • 50 Ibid., V. 2. 12, p. 292.

23The centrality of food in Petruccio and Katherina’s relationship, which is the only marriage we have witnessed so far, implies, as the feast seems to confirm, that marriage is achieved – consumed – through food. This is also what Katherina affirms when she says that the husband is “one that cares for thee, / And for thy maintenance”, which can only seem ironic after we have seen her being starved by Petruccio.48 Meanwhile, the undeserving wife remains untouched as “none so dry or thirsty / Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it”.49 The association of food and touch, taste and marriage remains, but possibly with a hint of a threat here: if the husband is food and can refuse his wife sustenance, she is “drink”, and can, by her shrewish behaviour, endanger her husband’s survival as well. In this regard, Petruccio’s remark at the beginning of the scene, “Nothing but sit and sit, and eat and eat”,50 may express his disgust with marriage beyond his probable boredom with social conventions. The food consumed at the feast is obviously too much for his stomach, as the repetitions show, and the treatment he has imposed upon his wife may begin to backfire on him.

  • 51 Ibid., IV. 1. 76, p. 244.

24Earlier on, Petruccio had suggested a kinship between he and his wife’s temperaments. He asserts that both are of a choleric disposition (IV. 1), and his steward Curtis indicates that “By his reckoning he is more shrew than she”.51 His treatment of Katherina’s humours may be an attempt to cure himself in the process; he may be trying to regulate his own choler by marrying Katherina. She may, therefore, be regarded as a pharmakon, a remedy that could quickly turn into a poison, or the other way around, but at any rate one which must be touched and tasted to be effective.

  • 52 R. Jütte, op. cit., p. 65.
  • 53 See Jan Harold Bruvand, “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 17 (...)
  • 54 Natasha Korda, “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare (...)

25In this medical context, the importance of taste and touch in the play can be explained by their immediacy. Contrary to sight and hearing, taste and touch were immediate senses which established direct contact between subject and object.52 In the case of husband and wife, they might tend towards a form of union, which is hinted at in two eloquent gestures Katherina makes at the end of the play. Like the shrews of folklore, she throws her cap and offers to lay her hand under her husband’s foot, signifying her submission while the contact of hand and foot suggests a form of total union between husband and wife.53 Although this “final gesture of obedience” may, as Natasha Korda has demonstrated, “signal Katherina’s readiness to assume an active managerial role in domestic affairs”, it remains “peculiarly self-effacing”.54 This “effacing” or silencing of the self is achieved through touch, in the context of a banquet which celebrates taste. By laying her hand under Petruccio’s foot, Katherina deliberately emphasises her submission by performing the passivity of her touch in an almost grotesque manner.

  • 55 Farah Karim-Cooper, The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismem (...)
  • 56 K. Newman, art. cit., p. 96, p. 98-99; see Joan Riviere, “Womanliness as a Masquerade”, in The Inne (...)
  • 57 F. Karim-Cooper, op. cit., p. 2.

26The spectacular nature of her gesture and the context in which she gives her speech (her jealousy for her sister may be worth remembering here), however, invite us to question her demonstration. Moreover, if, as Farah Karim-Cooper writes, the palm of the hand was considered as “a microcosm of the self” in the early modern period, as the recipient of people’s secrets, it also remains to be seen if Katherina is putting the palm or the back of her hand first.55 If her palm touches the ground, her gesture could work as a form of symbolic closure: by putting the palm of her hand against the ground, she closes her heart and mind to him. She is ready to act the farce he demands, to humiliate her sister at her wedding, just as she was at hers. She thus seems to enact a new farce, but her speech remains a performance which does not compromise her integrity, in a form of “female masquerade” or “mimeticism” by which she would only verbally conform to her husband’s expectations, as Karen Newman has shown.56 If the words do sound convincing, the gesture of the hand belies it, and even limits the passive touch she cannot fully avoid. This is not to say that Katherina’s final speech does not represent her submission, but one that is not so “willing”, as Karim-Cooper writes, as mocking.57 By offering a formal, yet ultimately inconclusive conclusion to the play, Shakespeare displays the contradictions of a society in which women could only negotiate a degree of autonomy by becoming actresses, performing male expectations either before (as Bianca) or after marriage (as Katherina), increasing the risks of mental and humoral disorders linked to choler and melancholy in particular. One of the disturbing features of this play is its oscillation between types (the shrew, the gentlewoman) and characterisation, interrogating the very possibility of freeing oneself from socially constructed gender roles.

27And let us not forget how the play started, with Christopher Sly being tricked into believing he is a lord, and granted a pageboy for a wife – which mirrors the cross-dressing actor playing Katherina. Even if the framing device is not completed in the playtext, and Sly does not return, the induction still raises questions about the referential nature of the play within the play, and in turn about Katherina’s speech, which is also performed for an on-stage audience. As Michael Shapiro writes:

  • 58 M. Shapiro, art. cit., p. 230.

[…] the text, as originally played with male actors in female roles, provides a metatheatrical frame, a perspective for reading Kate’s evident submission as the final incarnation of an elaborately but transparently constructed ideal of upperclass femininity: that is to say, a doubly theatrical replication of a socially generated role.58

28The play thus ultimately invites us to question “Katherina”, to view the part as “the role of woman” rather than as the role of a woman, which parallels the move from the indefinite to the definite article between the Quarto and the Folio versions.

29Finally, the connection between the induction and Katherina’s final speech highlights the circulation of humours within the various metatheatrical levels of the play. Since the main plot was acted to cure Sly’s imagined melancholy, and the shrew seems to have been cured of her excessive choler by melancholy, her final apparition may signify a restored balance not only in hers or her husband’s body, but in the body of the play as a whole. Just like Petruccio’s taming methods, Katherina’s speech functions as medicine to cure the play of its humoral disorder. The play thus overturns the classical function of the comedy, purging itself of its excessive humours rather than the audience, and thereby leaving the spectators to take care of themselves. Using taste and touch, i.e. the two senses that were least solicited by theatrical performance, as remedies, effectively pushed the audience out of the metatheatrical frame and rendered both Katherina and the ending of the play all the more puzzling.

30In a medical treatise published in Venice in 1538, the humanist physician Antonio Musa Brasavola recounts his encounter with an old apothecary whose conjugal experience anticipates Petruccio’s:

  • 59 Antonio Musa Brasavola, Examen omnium syroporum, Venice, Officina di San Bernardino, 1538, 1r-3v, q (...)

Old apothecary.
When I married, I firmly decided that she was going to say yes to all that I said, and do all that I wanted, whether sane or insane.
Brasavola.
What an amazing and brutal folly!

Old apothecary.
Once in a while I would order her to do, or agree to, something that was obviously crazy, to try her obedience and submission, so that she’d get used to obey my every word.
Brasavola.
O most idiot of all idiots! So you wanted not a wife but a fawning parasite who always said yes to all you said. And tell me, did she obey you in everything eventually?
Old apothecary.
No. I have never been able, either by threats or blows, to make her do my bidding. There has always been an incessant war between me and this horrendous beast

Brasavola.
But who is the horrendous beast, she or yourself?
59

  • 60 See for instance Ronda Arab, Michelle M. Dowd and Adam Zucker (eds.), Historical Affects and the Ea (...)

31This dialogue, which is strongly redolent of the patient Griselda legend, is taken by Gianna Pomata as an illustration of the “querelle des femmes” in early modern medicine. By expanding on this motif, the play could thus reflect the ongoing querelle by satirising both the would-be physician / husband and his shrewd, rather than shrew, wife. Instead of settling the medical and social debate, and while the woman question would continue to animate the cultural life of Europe for the better part of a century, Shakespeare turns the tables around by allowing Katherina agency through theatrical means. As she resists both the discourses of choler and melancholy, she is free to reinvent herself through masks of her own choosing. Katherina thus reflects the incipient evolution of early modern drama away from humoral types towards more complex characters who exemplify deeper constructions of interiority.60

32Having landed a rich but choleric shrew for a wife, Petruccio strives to balance her humours by manipulating taste and touch. He thereby deconstructs the shrew and constructs the wife, making her conform to the times’ patriarchal discourse she so forcefully enacts at the end of the play. Using the senses that ranked lowest in the classical hierarchy, but that were also the most indispensable, he purports to get direct contact with her humours to change her from the inside(s). In doing so, he strives to reach the core of her identity, but the open ending may suggest that there is no such core beyond the performance of the moment. Katherina may act the wife as convincingly as she acts the shrew, thus emphasising the performance of gender to which Shakespeare so persistently returns in his comedies. That the play should retain enough ambiguity to still cause debate among scholars today adds a final touch to Shakespeare’s sense of irony.

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Notes

1 Alternatively spelt and pronounced “Petruchio”. This article uses the spelling of the Arden edition.

2 William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Barbara Hogdon, London, Bloomsbury, The Arden Shakespeare, 2010, p. 211. All references are to this edition.

3 Ian Mclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A Study in the Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medical Science in European Intellectual Life, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980.

4 See for instance Robert Jütte, A History of the Senses: From Antiquity to Cyber-Space, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2005, p. 62-71.

5 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., Induction 2, 125-132, p. 157-158.

6 Richard Hosley, “Was There a ‘Dramatic Epilogue’ to The Taming of the Shrew?”, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 1.2, Spring 1961, p. 17-34; Sears Jayne, “The Dreaming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 17.1, Winter 1966, p. 41-56; Karl P. Wensterdorf, “The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew: A Reconsideration”, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 18.2, Spring 1978, p. 201-215; Michael Shapiro, “Framing the Taming: Metatheatrical Awareness of Female Impersonation in The Taming of the Shrew”, The Yearbook of English Studies, 23, 1993, p. 143-166, reproduced in The Taming of the Shrew: Critical Essays, ed. Dana E. Aspinall, New York, Routledge, 2002, p. 210-235.

7 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., Induction 1, 1-13, p. 139-141.

8 See for instance Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady: A Study of Melancholia in English Literature from 1580 to 1642, East Lansing, Michigan College Press, 1951, p. 74, p. 180-184; Juliana Schiesari, The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1992, p. 7.

9 Thomas Elyot, The Castle of Helth, London, 1539, p. 2.

10 I. Mclean, op. cit., p. 30.

11 Coppélia Kahn, “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare’s Mirror of Marriage”, Modern Language Studies, 5.1, Spring 1975, p. 88-102, here p. 92.

12 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., I. 1. 55, p. 163.

13 Ibid., I. 1. 57-8, p. 163.

14 Ibid., I. 2. 253-4, p. 190.

15 Ibid., II. 1. 31-36, p. 194. Karen Newman, “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew”, English Literary Renaissance, 16.1, Winter 1986, p. 86-100, here p. 93-94.

16 Ibid., II. 1. 29, p. 194.

17 T. Elyot, op. cit., p. 3.

18 I. Mclean, op. cit., p. 41.

19 Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion and Art, Nedeln (Liechstenstein), Klaus Reprint, 1979, 1964, p. 14.

20 On the hierarchy of the senses, the French physician André Du Laurens writes that “the sight and hearing serve more for the benefit of the soule then of the body; the taste and touching more for the body then the soule; the smelling for both the twaine indifferently, refreshing and purging the spirits, which are the principall instruments of the soulle”, in A Discourse of the Preservation of Sight, trans. Richard Surphlet, London, 1599, p. 10. See also R. Jütte, op. cit., p. 61-64.

21 A. Du Laurens, op. cit., p. 10.

22 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., IV. 1. 197-8, p. 252. The quote is reproduced below. See also Barbara Hogdon’s introduction, in op. cit., p. 43.

23 Emily A. Detmer, “Civilizing Subordination: Domestic Violation and The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 48.3, Fall 1997, p. 273-294.

24 W. Shakespeare, op. cit., II. 1. 259, p. 209, and 290-291, p. 211.

25 Ibid., III. 2. 8-20, p. 225-226.

26 Ibid., IV. 1. 65-76, p. 244.

27 “If feare and sadness doe continew long, it is a sign of melancholie”, Hippocrates, The whole aphorismes of great Hippocrates, London, 1610, p. 116. A Latin version had been published in 1567: Hippocratis coi omnis medicinae parentis Aphorismi versibus scripti, London, 1567.

28 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, II. 2. 207-208, in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, Oxford, Clarendon, 2005 1986, p. 694.

29 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 1. 144, p. 249.

30 See for instance Nicolas Coeffeteau, A Table of Humane Passions, trans. Edward Grimeston, London, 1621, p. 22.

31 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 1. 159-164, p. 250.

32 Camille Wells Slights, “The Raw and the Cooked in The Taming of the Shrew”, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 88.2, April 1989, p. 168-189, here p. 185-186. See Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, trans. John Weightman and Doreen Weightman, New York, Harper and Row, 1964.

33 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 1. 179-198, p. 251-252.

34 See Barbara Hogdon’s introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., p. 55-56; Dennis S. Brooks, “‘To Show Scorn her Own Image’: The Varieties of Education in The Taming of the Shrew”, Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 48.1, 1994, p. 7-32, here p. 19-22; Patricia B. Philippy, “‘Loytering in Love’: Ovid’s Heroides, Hospitality and education in The Taming of the Shrew”, Criticism, 40.1, Winter 1998, p. 27-53, here p. 44-47; Margaret Loftus Ranald, “The Manning of the Haggard; or, The Taming of the Shrew”, Essays in Literature, 1, 1974, p. 149-165; Karl P. Wensterdorf, “The Authenticity of The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 5.1, Jan. 1954, p. 11-32, here p. 30-31.

35 N. Coeffeteau, op. cit., p. 15-17.

36 Farah Karim-Cooper, “The Sensory Body in Shakespeare’s Theatres”, in Annette Kern Stähler, Beatrix Busse and Wietse de Boer (eds.), The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern England, Leiden, Brill, 2016, p. 269-285, here p. 273. See also Martin Grunwald (ed.), Human Haptic Perception: Basics and Application, Basel, Springer, 2008, p. 207-208.

37 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 3. 19, 22; “too hot”, IV. 3. 25, p. 261-262.

38 Ibid., IV. 3. 17-30, p. 261-262.

39 R. Jütte, op. cit., p. 60.

40 W. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., IV. 3. 32, p. 262.

41 Ibid., IV. 3. 36-8, p. 262.

42 See for instance T. Elyot, op. cit., p. 12-24.

43 Ibid., p. 2-3.

44 Aristotle, Historia Animalium IX. I, quoted by Ian Mclean, in op. cit., p. 42.

45 John Bean, “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew”, in The Woman’s Part: Femininist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Green and Carol Thomas Neely, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1983, p. 65.

46 An illustration is provided in Barbara Hogdon’s introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, op. cit., p. 87.

47 Ibid., V. 2. 9, 182, p. 292, p. 304.

48 Ibid., V. 2. 153-4, p. 302.

49 Ibid., V. 2. 150-1, p. 302.

50 Ibid., V. 2. 12, p. 292.

51 Ibid., IV. 1. 76, p. 244.

52 R. Jütte, op. cit., p. 65.

53 See Jan Harold Bruvand, “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 17.4, Autumn 1966, p. 345-359.

54 Natasha Korda, “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 47.2, Summer 1996, p. 109-131, here p. 128.

55 Farah Karim-Cooper, The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment, London, Bloomsbury, 2016, p. 2.

56 K. Newman, art. cit., p. 96, p. 98-99; see Joan Riviere, “Womanliness as a Masquerade”, in The Inner World and Joan Riviere: Collected Papers 1920-1958, ed. Athol Hughes, London, Karnac Books, 1991 1928, p. 90-102, and Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter and Carolyn Burke, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1985 Paris, 1977, p. 150-152.

57 F. Karim-Cooper, op. cit., p. 2.

58 M. Shapiro, art. cit., p. 230.

59 Antonio Musa Brasavola, Examen omnium syroporum, Venice, Officina di San Bernardino, 1538, 1r-3v, quoted and translated by Gianna Pomata, “Was there a Querelle des Femmes in early modern medicine?”, Arenal, 20.2, Jul.-Dec. 2013, p. 313-341, here p. 315.

60 See for instance Ronda Arab, Michelle M. Dowd and Adam Zucker (eds.), Historical Affects and the Early Modern Theater, New York, Routledge, 2015; Francis Barker, The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1995; Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Early Modern Drama, New York, London, Routledge, 1985; Barbara Hogdon, “Early Modern Subjects, Shakespearean Performances, and (Post-)Modern Spectators”, Critical Survey, 9.3, 1997, p. 1-10; David Houston Wood, Time, Narrative and Emotion in Early Modern England, New York, London, Routledge, 2016, p. 1-36, 77-136; Laurie Johnson, John Sutton and Evelyn Tribble (eds.), Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre: The Early Modern Body-Mind, New York, London, Routledge, 2014; Richard Meek and Erin Sullivan, The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2015; Gisèle Venet, “Shakespeare – des humeurs aux passions”, Études Épistémè, 1, 2002, p. 85-104.

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Aurélie Griffin, « Taste and Touch as Means of Coercion in The Taming of the Shrew », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 34 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 février 2019, consulté le 17 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/3410 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.3410

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Auteur

Aurélie Griffin

Aurélie Griffin is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern English Literature and Translation at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. Her Ph.D dissertation, which was supervised by Line Cottegnies at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, was awarded the First Prize for a dissertation from the Gender Institute – CNRS in 2014. A revised version entitled La Muse de l’humeur noire. Urania de Lady Mary Wroth: une poétique de la mélancolie was published with Classiques Garnier in 2018. She has written various articles on Lady Mary Wroth, Sir Philip Sidney and Shakespeare. Her research interests include pastoral and melancholy, material culture and the development of early modern women’s writing.

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