Thursday, April 14, 2011

Petruchio as Troping Turd: A Scatological Exchange in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

KATHARINE: ... I knew you at the first
You were a movable.

PETRUCHIO:           Why, what's a movable?

KATHARINE: A joint stool.

             --William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew (2.1; 196-7)

Here's my crappy interpretation of this rather curious exchange. On the surface of their first verbal slugfest, Katharine tropes Petruchio as a piece of court furniture, an inhuman object meant to be used by his betters, a ducal footstool. Her word 'movable' is from the French meuble, furniture, but it also signifies a bowel movement, a loose stool. This then becomes the joint stool (or 'join'd stool' in a variant reading), both a product of the woodworker's art and a turd with a turn in it. This surreal hinged turd might also be described as 'articulated' both in the sense of 'jointed' and in that of 'given clear and effective utterance.' The highly articulate Petruchio, then, becomes a jointed, movable piece of shit capable of clever and spontaneous linguistic tropes. And since the word trope is derived from the Greek word for 'turn,' we can clearly see that Katherine has within the space of two lines spoken figurative rings around Petruchio, troping him as a troping turd.

Note how different this Katherine is from the defeated speaker of the play's final scene, a misogynistic denouement that might be redeemed for comedy by a production that foregrounds the play's oddly broken 'frame' (a Brechtian production) or by an actress capable of playing the monologue with sly sarcasm. As written, the tamed Kate is a figure of near-tragic banality.


Joe Miller said...

Kate's easily the hottest female Shakespeare ever cooked up. Where'd all the women go who would gladly deck you in the face?

Lucas said...

"A figure of tragic banality." Kate is in love and so is Petruchio. You sit in condemnation of older conceptions of marriage, and so find the play at odds with itself. I don't deny that she speaks her final speach with some irony, but the play (and most audiences of the play) is perfectly content with itself.