Numbers: Midpoint (Clothes DON’T make the man, after all)

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at The Taming of the Shrew.

If we take into account only the play proper (the Kate/Petruchio storyline), then the play has 2321 lines, which puts the midpoint at Act Three, Scene One, line 79, in which Bianca says, “Old fashions please me best.”  Not much to work with there.  I could understand–maybe–if one of the suitors said that line… under that condition, maybe the midpoint is a statement about the old, existing patriarchal view of women.  But it’s Bianca as speaker, so that’s a non-starter.  Even if we look 20 lines in either direction, there doesn’t seem to be a speech that encompasses any major theme of the play.

If we take the play in its entirety (counting the Christopher Sly Induction), then the play has 2598 lines, and the midpoint moves to Act Three, Scene Two, line 114.  Petruchio has arrived (late) for his own nuptials, dressed in the most ridiculous clothes.  When Baptista and Tranio do ridicule his outfit and try to get Petruchio to change clothes, he says:

Therefore ha' done with words;
To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
Could I repair what she will wear in me
As I can change these poor accoutrements,
'Twere well for Kate and better for myself.

— III.ii.114-118

This feels better, as it brings in a concept that will be played out more fully later in the play (clothing, and how it doesn’t represent the man [see also IV.iii.166-177]).  This passage also has a neat little bit of ambiguity (and possible double entendre) to it as well.  Petruchio says that it would be better for both Kate and himself if he could repair what Kate will wear out on him as easily as he could change the clothes he’s wearing.  What is it that Kate will be wearing out on Petruchio?  His patience?  His good will?  His love?  Or is it something more tangible, more physical?  Like his organ?

not his piano, my friends, or any other keyboard instrument… if you know what I mean… nudge, nudge, wink wink… say no more…

Thus, we have a midpoint passage that ties together a theme of outward appearance not reflecting the true nature (Petruchio looks like a clown but isn’t just as Kate appears to be a shrew but isn’t), plus has a little bit o’ the bawdy to reflect a play-wide tone of double entendre.

So this passage works.  But something still feels off to me.  It’s as if we have to work too hard, spin the text too much, to get it to work.  Is this because of the incomplete Induction?  Are there more interstitial pieces and a concluding piece that’s meant to push the midpoint later?

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a final conclusion to the framing device put the midpoint in the next scene at IV.i.76:  “By this reck’ning he is more shrew than she”?  But we’ll never know for certain.

For now, clothing NOT making the man (or woman) will have to do…

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