Representation of Clothing as a method to tackle the main issues in Taming of the Shrew
Through in-depth examination and analysis, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew have both controversial and debatable motifs. In this play, clothing is one of the most significant elements that has been repeatedly illustrated. In Act 4 Scene 3, Petruchio, Kate’s persistent fiancé and later on husband used clothing as a device to counteract her wife’s “shrewdness” and unpleasant behavior. Aside from the famous argument scene in Act 4 Scene 3, there are other instances in the play where clothing has been associated with ill-natured schemes. These events are deception of Christopher Sly and disguises performed by Lucentio, Tranio and Hortensio to win Bianca’s hand in marriage. In this essay, I would explore how clothing was exploited as a tool for deception, concealing someone’s true identity and mockery. I would also further discuss a literary analysis and include a cinematic interpretation of the certain passage (4.3.61-190).
At the beginning of the play, Induction Scene 1, Christopher Sly becomes the object of the Lord’s attention when he discovered him in a state of drunkenness; “What here? One dead, or drunk? See, doth he breathe? (1.28). In this scene, we do not know what the Lord’s intention was for approaching Sly, but he must have been appalled by his drunken appearance which prompted him to say, “Oh monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies” (1.30). He then hatched a deceptive plan to dress Sly as a noble man, “Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man” (1.32). In this moment, it is ambiguous to us the true motive of the Lord’s actions towards Sly’s noble transformation, however, it was apparent that clothing become a critical component to make Sly believe into a fake persona. Furthermore, he also commanded the page to pretend as Sly’s wife by dressing up as a lady; “Sirrah, go you to Barthol’mew my page, And dressed in all suits like a lady” (1.101-102). Clothing was regarded as an primary device not only to deceive Sly but also manipulate his weakened state; “Wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers…” (34-37). Back in Elizabethan period, low class citizens are prohibited from wearing clothes above their station through sumptuary laws . The main purposes of these laws were to protect English businesses from foreign traders and put a clear distinction between different social classes. The Lord’s attempt to dress Sly into a nobleman was a complete breach of this law and might have implicated him.
Clothing was used as a powerful garment to conceal someone’s true identity. Lucentio and Hortensio who were vying for Bianca’s attention had choosen to hide their true identity through the use of wardrobe to become her private tutors. The two suitors decided to impersonate an authorative figure that has a direct contact with Bianca because that’s the only way they can successfully woo her without her father’s disapproval. Bianca’s father, Baptista was determined to marry off Kate first that he prohibited Gremio and Hortensio from courting Bianca in these lines, “Gentlemen importune me no farther…” (1.1.48-54). Aside from Bianca’s two daring suitors, Lucentio’s personal servant Tranio was also entangled with the whole wooing scheme. For Lucentio to succeed in his plans, he ordered Tranio to take on his noble identity by putting on his raiment; “Tranio, at once Uncase thee. Take my colored hat and cloak” (1.1.200-201). The clothing given to Tranio in this scene was regarded as a representation of Lucentio’s status in society. By simply putting on Lucentio’s wardrobe, Tranio has immediately transformed from a lowly servant into a rich nobleman.
According to Susan Baker, the implementation of Elizabethan sumptuary laws and prohibition of “crossdressing reminds us that Renaissance clothing participated in an elaborate system of signifying rank, gender, occupation, allegiance (household)—in sum, one’s place in social order” (313). I agree on Baker’s statement here that clothing itself is in fact a symbol for individual’s hierarchal position in Shakespeare’s society. When Lucentio, Tranio and Hortensio embark to portray fake identities, their actions reflected upon the status of the clothes they wear. For instance, during a conversation with Baptista and Gremio, Tranio acted like he is actually Lucentio when he said; “I am my father’s heir and only son” (2.1.356). By proclaiming that he was Lucentio, Tranio had flawlessly transform into a noble man. Through this moment, we can see how significant and powerful clothing symbolizes in Shakespeare’s era.
Another way that clothing was illustrated in Taming of the Shrew was through Petruchio’s mockery of Kate in Act 4 Scene 3 with the presence of the Tailor, Haberdasher, Grumio and Hortensio. In the midst of male spectators, Petruchio resorted to insult Kate through the use of clothing to negate her ill-tempered or “shrewish” behaviour. Margaret Jaster commented on this saying; “Alone in the presences of these males, Katherina must endure slurs to her social position and her chastity” (102). Petruchio not only humiliated her in front of his male colleagues but also mock her by saying “A velvet dish. Fie, fie, ‘tis lewd and filthy….” (4.3.65-67). Margaret Jaster also said that, “Petruchio taunts Katherina with food words as well as sexual innuendoes” (102). She further emphasized that “linking the image of sex and food reminds Katherina and the audience in his role as a husband, Petruchio controls the necessities of Katherina’s life” (103). After the couples heated argument, Petruchio then cunningly used a clothing analogy to calm her wife down; “What is the jay more precious than the lark …” (4.3.169-175). He then asserted to Kate that physical garment does not define an individual’s character; “Even in these honest habiliments …” (4.3.164-166). In this scene, Margaret Jaster commented that “Petruchio’s insistence on humble apparel at this point is yet another blow at the social status of Katherina and her family” (104). In the end, Petruchio had succeeded in his plan in controlling her wife’s rebellious behaviour by employing clothing as a weapon to negate her.
Further literary analysis of the tailor scene in Act 4 Scene 3 revealed that the tenor of discourse between Kate and Petruchio was blank verse where every line is composed of 10 syllables. However, there were certain parts in the passage where Petruchio’s lines showed moments of tumbling and truncation. For example, after Kate’s response (lines 69-70) of liking the hat despite of Petruchio’s criticism, we will notice that Petruchio’s response got shorten in line 72. Margaret Rose Jaster commented on this line in her article saying that “Petruchio’s play on Katherina’s words slights her social position and intimates that she thwarts her master with her supposed recalcitrance” (103). Another instance where Petruchio’s lines did not adhere to the 10-syllabic rule was found in line 106 where there’s 13 syllables in that specific line. It was also observed in the passage that the dialogue among Petruchio, Grumio and the Tailor did not follow the standard 10-syllable line order. This was apparent in beginning of line 129 till 159 where the number of syllables are varied in each line.
Another form of literary elements that was incorporated in the Tailor scene passage include word repetitions and use of figurative language or tropes. Most of these literary components usually appeared in Petruchio’s lines. One of the repetitive techniques that was used was Anaphora where same words are used at the beginning of every clauses. This technique was observed in Petruchio’s part in lines 88-89, 107-108 and 113. In addition, the use of Epizeuxis was also detected in some of Petruchio’s lines where he repeatedly said the word “fie” (65,157) .
He also employed the use of figurative language such as metaphor in lines (166-67), (169-71) and onomatopoeia in line 90. In terms of narrative point of view, both Petruchio and Kate’s dialogue is said in first and second person whereas the Tailor, Grumio, and Hortensio used variation of first, second, and third person pronouns.
The structure of the choosen passage in Act 4 Scene 3 could be compared with the structure of the play as a whole where it includes Prologue, Conflict, Rising Action and Denouement. In the passage, we can consider the entrance of the Tailor and Haberdasher as the Prologue and then the Conflict would be the hat argument between Petruchio and Kate. The Rising Action would be the intense dialogue of Petruchio about Kate’s gown in lines 106-113. Then the Denouement would culminate upon the exit of the Tailor then followed by Petruchio and Kate’s conversation in lines 163-189. When it comes to the movement of the passage it can be described as circular since at the beginning of the Tailor scene we are confronted with Petruchio and Kate’s hat argument (64-85) and then at the end of the passage (184-189) we are once again going back to the two characters to witness their reconciliation. The passage movement could also be iterative in the sense that it involves Petruchio’s repetitive complaints of certain pieces of clothing.
To visually understand the Tailor scene in Act 4 Scene 3, I would discuss a visual analysis on the movie The Taming of the Shrew that was released in 1967 starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The scenes that I have choosen appeared in this timeframe (1:28:17 to 32:10). In the movie, the Tailor scene begins where the camera shows Petruchio holding Kate’s right arm while Kate is holding a letter about her sister’s wedding. In this moment, although Kate’s body is facing the audience, her eye contact is fixed on Petruchio. Meanwhile, Petruchio’s body position is facing towards Kate while he’s informing her about the Tailor’s arrival. In terms of the background scenery, there were 2 servants on the left corner and a dish cabinet in the center implying that they are in a living room. Moving on, Petruchio then grabbed Kate’s right arm leading her to the room where the Tailor was.
Then a jump cut occurred where the scene moves forward to the room showing the tailor, haberdasher and their assistants in a busy atmosphere. Suddenly the scene changes again showing a surprised Kate entering the door first which was then followed by Petruchio. She dropped the letter on the floor and covered her mouth with her hands while looking shocked at the scenario that she had seen. Kate’s position here is facing towards the room where the tailors are. Then a jump cut scene followed where it showed a room where the tailors and assistants are bowing down. The camera’s focus went back to Kate, then we see Petruchio and Grumio’s entrance at the door. In this moment, Kate touches Petruchio’s left arm and then he steps forward and said the lines “come tailor” (61-62). The scene again goes back to show the Tailor and hatmaker quickly grabbing their stuff and then the camera went back to Petruchio, Kate and Grumio walking closer at the center of the room. We are then showed a close up shot of the hat maker facing the audience and another tailor behind him. In this scene, the hatmaker said exactly the same textual lines (63) that was in the play.
Then the camera changes showing the hatmaker holding the hat in front of Kate and Petruchio while Grumio and another servant were looking behind the back. Still at the same scene where the characters are looking at the hat, Petruchio started saying bad remarks about the hat while Kate looks adoringly at the hat with her hands clasp together. Kate then immediately grabs the cap while her back faces the camera and then she returns to face the hatmaker. Then suddenly Petruchio grabs the cap away from her and said; “fie, fie, velvet dish ‘tis lewd” (65). The camera then went back to show Kate and Tailor’s shock faces while they were saying the word “lewd” in a high tone voice in unison. The camera switch back again to Petruchio saying his lines found in 66-68 while Grumio sort of agreeing at the back. Petruchio then throw the cap at the hat maker while Kate and the rest are showing a shocked facial expression.
In continuation, the camera shows Kate grabbing the hat from the tailor while saying the word “I’ll have no bigger” (69) in a high-pitched voice and then the camera follows her walking towards the mirror. She then removes her headdress and tries on the cap. The camera then focuses on Petruchio and moves along with him while walking towards Kate. Petruchio then removes the hat from Kate’s head and said; “When you are gentle, you shall have one too” (71-72). The scene then changes to focus Kate with her hair down looking dismayed then suddenly she angrily responded to Petruchio by saying; “Why, sir, I trust I may have leave speak” (73-74). She is saying this line while Petruchio is unshown in the camera. While she’s continuing to argue, the camera changes direction to show Petruchio taking a sword from a wall and then the focus goes back to her still talking and the camera moves along with her while moving closer to Petruchio. Right after that, her position is now facing the audience while Grumio suddenly appears behind her back along with the tailors seen in the background. The camera then moves back and forth between Petruchio and Kate until we get to the part where Petruchio strikes the sword down on the table with the breaking sound in the background. Kate then looked shocked and covered her mouth with her hands while the hatmaker fainted and was carried away by Grumio and the two other assistants. Then the other servant closes the door upon their exit.
Afterward, the camera focuses on Petruchio’s smiling face. He then sits back on a chair and ask the tailor to uncover the gown that was right beside him. The tailor hurriedly comes closer and uncovered the gown. The camera then showed Kate’s expressionless face and then returns back to Petruchio where he stands up while the tailor was looking happily at the gown. Petruchio then started touching the gown and criticize it by saying “Oh, mercy, God, what masking stuff is here?” (87-92). Meanwhile the tailor stands behind the gown saying his lines in 94-95. Then we move on to the scene where Petruchio starts ripping off the gown violently. The camera then goes back to Kate showing her horrified face and then goes back to Petruchio still ripping the gown and then go back again to Kate focusing on her dismayed expression. A Lap Dissolve then occur when Kate’s face fades out. The next scenes revealed a cluttered room focusing on the gown on the left corner then the camera starts moving on the right side showing Kate sitting on the corner feeling sad about the horrid situation. Then suddenly Petruchio appeared and starts to console her and says lines in 163-176. At the end of his speech he then called Grumio and starts miming a sewing action to hint Grumio to call back the tailor. Then he exits the room while saying to Kate the words “therefore frolic” (176).
In comparison to the play, the movie was consistent on using the original text, however some of the lines in the play were omitted which was probably due to time frame set up for the movie. Another observation was that Hortensio’s part was cut out, but overall the movie delivered an excellent portrayal of the original scenes in the play.
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