The Wooing Scene

Every month, we like to take a look at one scene or speech in terms of scansion, and see how the meter gives clues to the director and actors for performance.  This month, let’s examine the wooing scene in The Taming of the Shrew–Act Two, Scene One, lines 169-281.

The scene begins with Petruchio outlining to us, the audience, his methodology for dealing with Kate: it’s “all opposites, all the time.”

PETRUCHIO
I will attend her here,
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail; why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale:
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash'd with dew:
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I'll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence:
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week:
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns and when be married.
But here she comes; and now, Petruchio, speak.

Throughout this section, save for the occasional trochee and spondee, Petruchio speaks in fairly regular blank verse.  He is relaxed and the meter flows easily.

[Enter KATE]
Good morrow, Kate; for that's your name, I hear.

In this opening line of the dialogue, the completely regular iambic pentameter stresses: MOR KATE THAT’S NAME HEAR.  That “Kate” is stressed is important; until this point in the play, she’s been called Katherine ten times (by everyone from Gremio, Hortensio, and Lucentio to her father Baptista).  Only family, only father Baptista and sister Bianca referred to her as “Kate” and even then only once each.  So it’s not without honesty that Kate responds,

KATE
Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing:
They call me Katherine that do talk of me.

Interesting her use of pronoun here: “that do talk” instead of “who do talk”… it seems if the speakers, who undoubtedly refer to her as a shrew, will not show her respect, she will not return any.

PETRUCHIO
You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,
And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation;
Hearing thy mildness praised in every town,
Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,
Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife.

Petruchio begins his antithetical line of rhetoric; if Kate prefers “Katherine,” then he’s going to make sure he uses only “Kate,” and more importantly, stress them all along the way:

 \   \   ~   \      ~   \   ~   \       ~    \
You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,
~   \  ~   \   ~   \   ~     \    ~    \
And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;
~   \     ~    \  -~-   \   ~     \  ~  \
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom
\   ~   \    \     ~  \ ~   \   ~  \
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
~   \   ~   \    \   \      ~    \   ~     \
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
\     ~  ~   \   \   ~   ~  \  ~ \  ~
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation;
KATE
Moved! In good time: let him that moved you hither
Remove you hence: I knew you at the first
You were a moveable.

Kate is obviously thrown off; the opening line of her response is filled with spondees; her stressed syllables (to use a line from another play) “doth protest too much”:

 \     \   \    \     \   \    ~   \     \   \  ~
Moved! in good time: let him that moved you hither
PETRUCHIO
Why, what's a moveable?
KATE
A join'd-stool.

Kate’s last line from her first speech is short (three feet: one troche, two iambs).  Petruchio’s response is also short (three feet: all iambs).  That being the case, one might be tempted to have Petruchio interrupt Kate, in an attempt to make it a single pentameter line.  But that doesn’t make any sense: how can Petruchio cut off Kate’s use of the term “moveable” to ask what a “moveable” is?  So these need to be short lines, with slight pauses between them.  Think of this as the first round of a heavyweight prizefight… these are two fighters feeling each other out.  But Kate is ready for him, and her retort makes for a quicker response to make the Petruchio\Kate combined dialogue a pentameter line.

PETRUCHIO
Thou hast hit it: come, sit on me.

His response is full of stresses (spondees), with a caesura (slight) pause where the colon is…

  \   \    \  \ __ \     \  ~   \
Thou hast hit it: come, sit on me

it might even give the actor a moment to take a seat himself, to offer Kate his lap.

KATE
Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
PETRUCHIO
Women are made to bear, and so are you.

Kate and Petruchio’s call-and-response are perfectly formed: Kate begins her mostly iambic line with a trochee; Petruchio responds in kind.

KATE
No such jade as you, if me you mean.
PETRUCHIO
Alas! good Kate, I will not burden thee;
For, knowing thee to be but young and light--
KATE
Too light for such a swain as you to catch;
And yet as heavy as my weight should be.

These next five lines get a good iambic pentameter rhythm going, allowing the speakers to get more flirtatious, literally: Petruchio’s “light” means “flirtatious” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]); and Kate’s “swain” means “lover” (OED).

PETRUCHIO
Should be! should--buzz!
KATE
Well ta'en, and like a buzzard.

Now that they’ve gotten into their rhythm, they’re able to take it to the next level: an antilabe, or shared line.  No pause, just a combined iambic pentameter line.

PETRUCHIO
O slow-wing'd turtle! shall a buzzard take thee?
KATE
Ay, for a turtle, as he takes a buzzard.
PETRUCHIO
Come, come, you wasp; i' faith, you are too angry.
KATE
If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
PETRUCHIO
My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
KATE
Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies,

The blank verse continues to reign supreme as they banter back and forth.  And then, as they reach a moment of more bodily, more bawdy, humor, we do get some slight pauses:

PETRUCHIO
Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?
In his tail.
KATE
In his tongue.
PETRUCHIO
Whose tongue?
KATE
Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.

You can almost hear the short, catch-breath pauses between the lines cues, to combine for a line.  It’s as if Shakespeare is forcing the actors to listen and THEN respond to each other, rather than just spouting rat-a-tat quips.

PETRUCHIO
What, with my tongue in your tail? nay, come again,
Good Kate; I am a gentleman.

The first line of the speech is less regular, more galloping (trochee, iamb, a slurred iamb, spondee, iamb).  The next line is short.  There’s a pause before and after Kate’s response: first, to think; then to strike.

KATE
That I'll try.
[She strikes him]
PETRUCHIO
I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again.

Petruchio’s response is a simple blank verse line; he’s not thrown off by her physical attack.  Kate’s following line is a short one.  It can be played with a pause before (fear of his reaction?) or after (waiting for Petruchio to understand the heraldic reference).

KATE
So may you lose your arms:
If you strike me, you are no gentleman;
And if no gentleman, why then no arms.
PETRUCHIO
A herald, Kate? O, put me in thy books!

More iambic lines… they’re on a roll.

KATE
What is your crest? a coxcomb?

A short line: trochee / iamb / iamb / stressed half foot.  Pause… letting Petruchio catch up.

PETRUCHIO
A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen.
KATE
No cock of mine; you crow too like a craven.
PETRUCHIO
Nay, come, Kate, come; you must not look so sour.
KATE
It is my fashion, when I see a crab.
PETRUCHIO
Why, here's no crab; and therefore look not sour.

Once Petruchio catches on, he doesn’t miss a beat, and we’re back to iambic pentameter.

KATE
There is, there is.

Kate gives out another short line; a pause.

PETRUCHIO
Then show it me.
KATE
Had I a glass, I would.

Kate completes his line in another antilabe; she tops him rhetorically again.  But then we’re back to short lines, with pauses:

PETRUCHIO
What, you mean my face?
KATE
Well aim'd of such a young one.
PETRUCHIO
Now, by Saint George, I am too young for you.
KATE
Yet you are wither'd.
PETRUCHIO
'Tis with cares.
KATE
I care not.

Why the broken rhythm?  Is it because Petruchio is much older and thus Kate’s rhetoric becomes cruel?  Because Petruchio is having trouble keeping up (Kate is besting him)?  I’m not sure, but something is going on here, and it’s up to the director and the actors to bring it to the surface.

PETRUCHIO
Nay, hear you, Kate: in sooth you scape not so.
KATE
I chafe you, if I tarry: let me go.

Here, it’s not the scansion that makes the difference; it’s simply the diction that gives the actors the stage direction that Petruchio physically keeps Kete from leaving (either by holdng her, or blocking her exit).  Petruchio then begins a long, uninterrupted speech of almost regular blank verse:

PETRUCHIO
No, not a whit: I find you passing gentle.
'Twas told me you were rough and coy and sullen,
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou are pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous,
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers:
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk,
But thou with mildness entertain'st thy wooers,
With gentle conference, soft and affable.
Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O slanderous world! Kate like the hazel-twig
Is straight and slender and as brown in hue
As hazel nuts and sweeter than the kernels.
O, let me see thee walk: thou dost not halt.

It’s straightforward.  Why do we suddenly get a 15 line speech, when since the opening longer speeches by Petruchio, we haven’t had a speech longer than three lines.  Is this because Kate CANNOT speak?  Is Petruchio covering her mouth?  If it’s all presented from the “all opposites, all the time” methodology, then we also get a casting suggestion: Kate should not be overly skinny (“straight and slender”) or dark in complexion (“brown in hue”)… she’s voluptuous, and white (like the Elizabethen ideal of beauty).

KATE
Go, fool, and whom thou keep'st command.

When Kate does finally break through to speech again, it’s s short line (only four feet).

PETRUCHIO
Did ever Dian so become a grove
As Kate this chamber with her princely gait?
O, be thou Dian, and let her be Kate;
And then let Kate be chaste and Dian sportful!

Back to regular blank verse; Petruchio is back on his game.  And even Kate notices:

KATE
Where did you study all this goodly speech?
PETRUCHIO
It is extempore, from my mother-wit.
KATE
A witty mother! witless else her son.

And we’re back to line-by-line banter…. right up to the final pairing of short lines.

PETRUCHIO
Am I not wise?
KATE
Yes; keep you warm.

Again, seemingly unsure.  Tentative.  Filled with pauses.  Right up to the final piece of bawdy:

PETRUCHIO
Marry, so I mean, sweet Katharina, in thy bed:
And therefore, setting all this chat aside,
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife; your dowry 'greed on;
And, Will you, nill you, I will marry you.
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.

And here we get another long, uninterrupted speech.  Only this one is not regular blank verse:

 \-     ~ ~  \      \    \   ~-    \   \   \
Marry, so I mean, sweet Katharine, in thy bed:
~    \   ~     \  ~    \   \    \   ~ \
And therefore, setting all this chat aside,
\  ~    \    \      ~    \  ~   \    ~  \  ~
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
~   \    \    \  ~  \     ~    \ ~     \   ~ \
That you shall be my wife; your dowry 'greed upon;
~    \    ~    \    ~   \  \   \   ~  \
And, Will you, nill you, I will marry you.
~    \    \ ~  ~  \  ~    \   ~    \
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
~    \   ~   \        \  ~ ~  \   ~   \  ~
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
~   \   ~    \    ~   \    ~  \     ~   \
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
~   \    ~  \  ~    ~  \  \   ~   \
Thou must be married to no man but me;
~  \ ~   \ ~   \    ~  \    ~   \
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
~    \    ~    \  ~  \    \    ~ ~  \
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
~  \  ~ \  ~  \  ~   \    ~    \
Conformable as other household Kates.

The speech is filled with trochees, spondees, long lines, and — in the last three lines — great alliteration.  Is the reason the meter is all over the place because he’s physically struggling with Kate?  Petruchio gets to hammer home four more “Kate”s (and tosses in another hard ‘c’… “conformable” for good measure), before finishing the speech with two almost regular iambic pentameter lines:
Here comes your father: never make denial;
I must and will have Katherine to my wife.

It’s back to regular rhythm as he brings his argument to a close.  He “MUST and WILL have”  [and here’s the punch-line] “KATHerine” [he gives her what she wanted at the beginning of the scene, her full name] for “(his) WIFE” (II.i.281, iambic stresses mine).  Petruchio has told Kate near the beginning of scene that he is “moved to woo (Kate) for (his) wife” (II.i.195); now he ends the scene having won the wooing battle.

The battle is over… let the (taming) war of attrition begin!

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