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Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Related: theatre - "high" culture

Contemporaries: Cervantes - Hendrik Goltzius - Elizabeth Bathory - Caravaggio - Robert Fludd - Rubens - Jacques Callot - Artemisia Gentileschi - René Descartes

Although theater is now a highbrow form, this was not so until the nineteenth century. --Fringe and Fortune (1996) - Wesley Monroe, Jr., page 73

Historian Lawrence Levine articulated Shakespeare's popularity shift this way:

“By the turn of the nineteenth century, Shakespeare had been converted from a popular playwright whose dramas were the property of all those who flocked to see them, into a sacred author who had to be protected from ignorant audiences and overbearing actors threatening the integrity of his creations." --Lawrence Levine

Elizabeth Taylor as Catharina in
Taming of the Shrew (1594) - William Shakespeare


William Shakespeare (April 1564; baptised April 26, 1564; – April 23, 1616 (O.S.), May 3, 1616 (N.S.)) has a reputation as the greatest of all writers in the English language and one of the greatest playwrights in the world.

His ability to capture and convey the most profound aspects of human nature is regarded by many as unequalled, and the English Renaissance has often been called "the age of Shakespeare".

He was among the few playwrights who have excelled in both tragedy and comedy and several of his plays contain songs that are among the finest lyric poems in English. He also wrote 154 sonnets, two narrative poems, and a handful of shorter poems. Shakespeare wrote his works between 1588 and 1616, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are often uncertain.

His prolific output is especially impressive in light of the fact that he lived only 52 years. Shakespeare's influence on the English-speaking world shows in the widespread use of quotations from Shakespearean plays (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Shakespeare), the titles of works based on Shakespearean phrases, and the many adaptations of his plays. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare [Apr 2005]

Citizen Kane: Cinema's Shakespeare

Sight & Sound editor Nick James, who, interestingly enough, doesn't have Kane in his own Top 10, commented this week that Kane is now 'established as cinema's Shakespeare'. This is a telling remark, even if it was just a soundbite. It indicates where these latest lists are coming from and why they are so frustrating for younger critics. The lists judge cinema as literature. The critics' list, certainly, reads like a reading-list Oxbridge students get sent before their first term. Don't even come here, says such a list, unless you've read all these. La Règle du jeu is your Flaubert, Vertigo D.H. Lawrence - ooh, they let us do Lawrence in the second year! - and Murnau's Sunrise, that's definitely Beowulf . --http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4479519,00.html [Oct 2004]

Cult of authorship

One of Shakespeare's strengths, Honan argues persuasively, was his ability to annihilate himself in his plays, or at least vividly imagine life from other perspectives--a talent manifested in his fully-formed female characters. He's not afraid to point out that Shakespeare had bad days; pasteboard figures spout clunky lines in some of his plays. Interestingly, the cult of authorship hadn't fully flowered in Shakespeare's time. Many plays evolved in rehearsals and performances, in give-and-take with actors and audiences, as rock songs often do nowadays. Playwrights of Shakespeare's time copied each other's ideas and rummaged through the past for inspiration, much like today's Hollywood screenwriters. Shakespeare: A Life reminds us that great art can be made amidst the hurly-burly of deadlines and commerce. --Dave Luhrssen http://www.shepherd-express.com/shepherd/20/18/night_and_day/books.html [Dec 2004]

In an article titled "The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism," Crimp explained how Levine had undermined a Modernist cult of authorship by demonstrating that images are as much found as made, and not found in nature but in other images. Even photographs, Crimp argued, are not about reality, but are about ideas, an unending chain of idealizing desires. Like Newhall, he too used a comparison of the Neils with ancient Greek sculpture, but for a different purpose: --http://www.ipce.info/library_3/files/higonnet_text.htm [Dec 2004]

Taming of the Shrew (1594) - William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy by William Shakespeare. It was one of his earlier plays, probably penned in 1594.

There are many interpretations of The Taming of the Shrew. Viewed from a modern feminist perspective, the play seems at first to be undeniably misogynistic, and the ending in particular offends. However, modern critics respond that Petruchio suffers as much as Kate in order to tame her - he does not eat in order to starve her, he acts like a fool in order to make her seem foolish too, and he stays up all night in order to keep her from sleeping. Kate's hysterical violence seems to require Petruchio's severe methods in order to render her a fit member of society. Many point to this as an indication that the play is not as male-oriented as it at first seems.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Taming_of_the_Shrew#Analysis [Apr 2005]

The Masochist in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: Helena Depersonalized

Mini-essay written by Elizabeth Brunner, 1995, for English 339 at Cal Poly under Professor Steven Marx

At age sixteen, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the irrational pursuit of Donny Evans, swim team captain and country club lifeguard. I did his homework, cleaned his room, mailed him poems, and offered as much flesh as I dared. If the suburbs can create such sexual angst, imagine the lust stirred by moonlight, fairies, and a warm midsummer night. In Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, Helena represents the frenzy of young love when fueled by rejection and driven to masochistic extremes.

As the lovers sink deeper into the fantasy world of starlit woods, the Greek virtue of moderation disappears. Emotions intensify to a melodramatic pitch. Helena, in particular, plunges to a primitive and desperate level of passion. She pleads for attention from the "hardhearted adamant" Demetrius (II. i. 195). Teenage vulnerability, virginal desire, and an adolescent crush combine with the romance of an unobtainable object. Demetrius' hostility only strengthens Helena's willingness to degrade herself.

Shakespeare chooses language of pain and humiliation to express Helena's longing. Cruelty increases her sexual need: "The more you beat me, I will fawn on you" (II. i. 203). The anquish of unreturned love seems worse than a physical blow. With self esteem shattered, Helena will accept any affirmation of her existence in the shadow of vibrant Hermia. Lynn Chancer explains the psychological dynamic: "the masochist keeps searching, hoping, pursuing, looking outward toward the sadist for the approval and recognition she or he would dearly love to feel from within" (Chancer 66). Without a strong ego, Helena accepts any response from Demetrius and clings to his expressed hatred.

Helena cries, "Use me but as your Spaniel, spurn me, strike me,/ Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,/ Unworthy as I am, to follow you" (II. i. 205-6). Helena offers herself as household pet and whipping post. She exchanges dignity for the chance to trot after Demetrius like an eager puppy. Her proposal comes strikingly close to modern sado-masochistic pornography. Sexologist G.W. Levi Kamel describes the S&M game of "kennel discipline" with submissives "licking the master's boots, being led around on a leash, wearing a dog collar, and even being forced to eat from a dog bowl ..." (Kamel 165). Already reduced to chasing her loved one through the forest, Helena's romantic aspirations become distorted: "What worser place can I beg in your love ­/ And yet a place of high respect with me ­/ Than to be uséd as you use your dog?" (II. i. 208-210).

Helena's desire to be a domesticated animal contrasts with Bottom's transformation into an ass. Although Bottom never consents to Puck's magical intervention, the donkey head gives him temporary command over fairy slaves. Helena seeks only to be the unwanted dog on the opposite end of the power scale. The encyclopedic guide to S&M practices, Different Loving, interprets, "If submissives relish the feeling of giving up control, the person who enjoys depersonalization fantasies takes this powerlessness further. He experiences the most radical transformation possible: He becomes less than human, even nonhuman" (Brame 152). Helena would sacrifice her identity just to be in the presence of Demetrius. Her perversion of love backfires; Demetrius remains sickened by her image.

Magical flowers eventually save Helena from the end of a leash. Ironically, the barking of hounds accompanies Demetrius' proclamation of love. Although merriment ends the play, I'm left wondering about the prospects for happiness between a needy, submissive woman and a husband seduced by poppy juice. Shakespeare's allusion to masochistic images requires healing beyond Puck's capacity.

Works Cited

Brame, Gloria G., William D Brame, and Jon Jacobs. Different Loving: An Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. New York: Villard Books, 1993.

Chancer, Lynn S. Sadomasochism in Everyday Life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1992.

Kamel, G.W. Levi. "Leathersex: Meaningful Aspects of Gay Sadomasochism." S and M: Studies in Sado-masochism. Ed. Thomas Weinberg and G. W. Levi Kamel. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983.

--http://members.tripod.com/~ElizBrunner/Scholar/MidsummerMasochist.html [May 2004]

Patterns of Sadomasochism and Fashion-fetishism in The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew (1967) - Franco Zeffirelli [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

by Nina Taunton (Brunel University College, London)

Michel Foucault, in an interview for Advocate, had this to say about SM:

The idea that S&M is related to a deep violence, that S&M practice is a way of liberating this violence, this aggression, is stupid. We know very well that what all those people are doing is not aggressive; they are inventing new possibilities of pleasure with strange parts of their body - through the eroticisation of the body. I think it's a kind of creation, a creative enterprise, which has as one of its main features what I call the desexualisation of pleasure ... The possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures is something that is important. For instance, if you look at the traditional constructions of pleasure, you see that bodily pleasure, or pleasures of the flesh, are always drinking, eating and fucking. And that seems to be the limit of our understanding of our body, our pleasures.

One can say that S&M is the eroticisation of power, the eroticisation of strategic relations ... the S&M game is very interesting because it is a strategic relation, because it is always fluid. Of course there are roles, but everyone knows very well that those roles can be reversed. Sometimes the scene begins with the master and slave, and at the end the slave has become the master. Or, even when the roles are stabilised, you know very well that it is always a game; either the rules are transgressed, or there is an agreement, either explicit or tacit, that makes them aware of certain boundaries. This strategic game as a source of bodily pleasure is very interesting.2

In this paper I want to address the application of these notions to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew by examining the Kate/Petruchio story in terms of the creative eroticising and empowering of the body in S&M through games, strategies and role reversals. There is no room here to incorporate discussion of the Sly frame, important though it is in the setting up of the two central questions posed by the play: has it encouraged misogyny? Does it sanction male brutality? This paper broaches these questions by relating them to certain patterns of dominance and submission in several key parts of the play, and proceeds by exploring the implications of their existence in Kate's relationships with all her family - with her father and sister as well as her husband-to-be. I want to argue that once identified, the patterns, practices and rituals of S&M work to perform several textual functions. In the first instance, the specific area of human relations that has its origins and emergence in sadomasochistic practices in the play will be shown to facilitate the harmonious resolution generically required of it. Secondly, this set of practices provides the main female character with options about her role as submissive in the kind of coupling that expands the boundaries of self-knowledge rather than closing them off. This side-steps the issue of categorising the play as farce rather than comedy in order to account for its unacceptable elements - the argument being that since farce has more to do with the mechanics of staging and the exploitation of social types rather than with development of character, the issue of misogyny is irrelevant.3 And finally an SM reading helps to offset the problem of construing Kate as victim in the final 'submission' speech and thus provides an alternative to some feminists' objections to the play,4 as well as an alternative to subsequent attempts to deal with these objections by rather tortuously rendering this speech as ironic, insincere, tongue-in-cheek.5 --http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic96/taunton/8_96.html [Apr 2005]

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