Rhyming (I’m not so sure about this play, Part Two)

In The Taming of the Shrew, nearly 4% of all lines (nearly 5% of poetic lines) are part of rhyming couplets.  Now this is MUCH less than our first comedy (The Comedy of Errors which had over 20% rhymed couplets of all lines, 23% of all poetic lines), and while it’s expected to have more rhymed lines than our first tragedy (Titus Andronicus), it’s surprising that it has so fewer more rhyming couplets than last month’s play (which had just under 2.5% of both total and poetic lines).

As we discussed near the beginning of this endeavor, there are a number of reasons for using rhyme:

  • singling out an entire body or block of content
  • singling out a couplet of content (for emphasis, particularly at the end of a speech)
  • content from outside the play itself–poems, songs, even entire plays that are performed within the context of the scene
  • portrayal of other worldly-entities
  • rhyme AS answer

Let’s take a look at how rhyme is used in this play…

In nearly fifteen cases, the rhyming couplets are used to cap either speeches or scenes themselves:

  • Induction.i (spleen / extremes)
  • I.ii (“so” / “benvenuto”)
  • III.i (“ranging” / “changing”)
  • IV.i (“shrew” / “show” [one of the many awkward “non-rhymes” to modern ears, and almost all of them rhymed to “shrew”])
  • IV.ii (“you” / “you”)
  • IV.iv (“her” / “her”)
  • IV.v (“froward” / “toward”)
  • V.i (“Kate” / “late”)
  • V.ii (“please” / “ease” // “Kate” / “ha’t” // “toward” / “froward” // “bed” / “sped” // “white” / “night” // “shrew” / “so”)

But in nearly twice that amount, the rhymes are used as answers:

  • I.ii (Grumio’s asides answer and comment upon Gremio’s statements: (“what a thing it is” / “what an ass it is” [I.ii.157-158] // “my deeds shall prove” / “his bags shall prove” [I.ii.174-175] // “he win her” / “a good dinner” [I.ii.214-215])
  • I.ii (the suitors answer one another)
  • II.i (Petruchio answers Kate “Asses are made to bear, and so are you” / “Women are made to bear, and so are you” (202-203); Kate answers Petruchio “A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen” / “No cock of mine, you crow too like a craven” (230-231))
  • II.i (again, the suitors answer one another)
  • IV.ii (Lucentio flirtingly answers Bianca “And may you prove, sir, master of your art” / “While you, sweet dear, prove mistress of my heart” [9-10])
  • IV.iii (Petruchio answer Kate “Belike you mean to make a puppet of me” / “Why, true, he means to make a puppet of thee” [103-104])
  • IV.v (Kate answers Petruchio “I say it is the moon that shines so bright” / “I know it is the sun that shines so bright” [4-5])
  • V.i (Kate answers Petruchio “Why, then let’s home again.  Come, sirrah, let’s away.” / “Nay, I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee, love, stay.” [4-5])

What’s interesting is that in Act Five, Scene Two, the play’s closing scene, many rhymes are used by characters in instances that seem like they should be answers, but they’re not. Here, almost none of the “answer” rhymes are conventional; they tend to be agreements, more than refutations.  It’s as if the argument is over, the war has been decided, and now there’s only commentary.

In fact, many of the rhyming uses throughout the play are cases of simple wordplay, with no deeper meaning, no great significance.  In a way, it doesn’t feel right, it almost seems not completely well-thought-out.

But more on that tomorrow.

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