Back in my first experience with Shakespeare, I was lucky enough to have as my guide, Bill Lindquist, a fearless teacher who was more than willing to go that extra unexpurgated mile for us students and show the bawdiness behind the Bard. So if last month’s play came down on the bloody side of the “sex and violence” equation, then The Taming of the Shrew definitely falls (or maybe that’s “stands up”) under the sticky sweet side.
So if you (or your inner 14 year-old boy) need some guiding to the naughty bits, walk this way:
As noted before, the paintings the lord and his servants provide (or offer to provide) to the newly awakened Christopher Sly provide a number of mythic allusions to sex: “wanton” (Ind.ii.50) and “she was beguiled and surprised // As lively painted as the deed were done” (Ind.ii.53-54). Doing the “deed,” indeed.
And the proto-porno (and the arrival of his long-lost [to memory] wife) do the trick: within moments of seeing her, he is demanding, “Madam, undress you and come now to bed” (Ind.ii.115). When she begs off, citing physician’s concerns, she asks if that reason will “stand for (her) excuse” (Ind.ii.122). Poor Sly… he’s all riled up with no one to… er, well, you know: “Ay, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long” (Ind.ii.123, emphasis mine).
Later, when Grumio explains to Hortensio that Petruchio’s friend doesn’t have to worry about the shrewishness of Kate, he says,
I'll tell you what, sir: an she stand him but a little, he will throw a figure in her face, and so disfigure her with it that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat.
One way of reading this has to do with Petruchio’s rhetorical skills (his “rope tricks” [I.ii.111], as Grumio calls them), and how if Kate understands (“stands”) him at all, then he will throw a “figure” (a rhetorical flourish, if you will) in her face, and so “disfigure” or confuse her that she won’t know what to do and will thus be forced into compliance. That would be the clean way. The bawdy way… well, let’s just say that “stand” no long refers to Kate’s understanding of Petruchio, but her “stand”-ing up of a certain part of Petruchio’s anatomy, and that the “figure” he’ll throw in her face isn’t rhetorical at all… though the result will be the same: Kate’s complete compliance.
I’m going to leave the bawdiness of the “wooing” sequence itself for our scene-specific discussion of that dialogue later in the month, but suffice to say “Kates,” “bear(-ing),” “light,” “tongue(s)” and “tail(s),” and “combless cock” all have double meanings.
When Petruchio and Kate are on their way back to Padua for Bianca’s wedding (and Kate has begun to comply), under orders from Petruchio, she undertakes the greeting of an old man (who just happens to be Vincentio, father to Lucentio… who happens to be Bianca’s groom-to-be), referring to him as “Young budding virgin” (IV.v.36), and noting that “Happier (is) the man whom favorable stars // Allots (her, him, whatever) for his lovely bedfellow” (IV.v.39-40). These flirtatious musings garner Kate the title of “merry mistress” (IV.v.52)… much better than “shrew.”
When Petruchio, Kate and Vincentio, arrive in Padua, there ensues the inevitable confused wackiness as real Vincentio comes into contact with faux Vincentio, leading to this exchange:
Art thou his father?
Ay, sir; so his mother says, if I may believe her.
This exchange is about the parentage of Lucentio, but it’s also about the chastity of his mother… a rather insulting response by the faux father.
During the play’s closing wedding banquet, Petruchio has a small verbal skirmish with Hortensio’s new bride, the “widow,” who proclaims her understanding of Petruchio’s jests with “Thus I conceive by him” (V.ii.22). Her conception in her mind is purely cognitive, but Petruchio makes it bawdy when he asks Hortensio, “Conceive by me? How likes Hortensio that?” (V.ii.23). Here, Petruchio makes the conception one of procreation, one through sex.
Finally, in that same final banquet scene:
How likes Gremio these quick-witted folks?
Believe me, sir, they butt together well.
Head and butt! An hasty-witted body
Would say your head and butt were head and horn.
Beyond the most simplistic bawdiness (the Beavis and Butthead-worthy, ‘heh heh, she said “butt“‘), the reference by Bianca to “head and horn” points to the concept of cuckoldry (when a man has been betrayed by an unfaithful wife, he was said to have grown horns)… not exactly the kind of statement we’d expect from the nice, non-shrewish Bianca (but then again, I never really certain that she wasn’t the shrew all along).
Like devil worship in heavy metal, bawdiness is there in The Taming of the Shrew… you just have to look for it…
did I miss any? let me know!