We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.
I continue my journal entries about our time away in a restored Victorian house near Glimmerglass opera theatre and Cooperstown, New York. The weather is clearing and sun coming out in fitful but strong gleams. So today (thank you Tom) we will set off once again to Cooperstown, this time to find a good bookstore and explore the center of this small city. Tonight we go to see Bellini’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: I Capuleti e i Montecchi. As tomorrow is our one night with no opera, we will spend much of the day at the Arkell Museum, which we’ve discovered (via the Glimmerglass book and internet access) is a large splendid permanent exhibition place. It features American art, particularly Wyeth, and there is a large show of Winslow Homer on right now (watercolors). And in the evening our one meal out, via the landlord’s advice a nearby Italian restaurant: an old 19th century house (Richfield Springs, the town we are in was a spa) turned into a sort of palazzo-cum restaurant.
To day I want to talk about Cole Porter’s Kiss me Kate, book by Bella Spewak, directed by Paulus at Glimmerglass last night. I enjoyed it: it was very well done and was consciously meant to be great fun. It also had some revealing elements (the sort not openly discussed usually) not in Shakespeare.
The scenes dramatized strong violence in a contained way—continually. In the lecture beforehand (this are marvelous, by a young woman voice coach), the lecturer told us early versions of the musical (perhaps the movie too) toned down or eliminated altogether Kate’s “I Hate Men”; if so, I, for one, would have found this Petrurchio’s outright violence to Kate hard to take: he spanks her so hard she can’t sit down; in the production, it was presented as justifiable revenge. But her “Hate” is not directed at anyone; she hurls a whip but not at any particular man. She throws a knife at the penis of a male doll. Hers is a rousing song, which includes lines like how sex is great, but afterwards the man is free, and women get stuck with the baby. The lecturer said this was thought very controversial to sing! Common sense known to all?
The musical had many vignettes of different kinds of love relationships and the Bianca character was revealing in her overt hypocrisies: the very young actress doing it (just 20 or so) was superb as a dancer and comedienne. As with Shakspeare’s Bianco (only more explicitly) her love of reading is shown as pious tripe, here made improbable (in Shakespeare she likes her tutor). I really enjoyed her long song and dance number “Oh, I’m always true to you, darling, in my fashion, I’m always true to you, darling, in my way”: the vignettes pictured by the lyrics are about how she has sex with men who offer wealth, glamor, connections, fun.
Biana/Lois Lane (Courtney Romano) and Lucentio/Bill Calhoun (David Larsen)
Still she does love her Lucentio and if only he would “behave” would be his “slave” too. He grudingly (in this still) accepts this situation.
Others included quarrelling numbers between Kate and Petruchio, haunting love music echoed by each, but also songs about betrayal and vexed competition. This competition was about how a year ago they were divorced and how she wants to be treated as a leading independent actress, and he wants to be free to do what he wants (not necessarily sexual) with her following him about. Will she chose her new rich Southern gentleman (and be bored to death with respectability and loneliness in a vast house) or fun being Petruchio (Graham’s partner on his terms).
Only one haunting song was about love as such (the sort that dominate in the modern My Fair Lady as in “I’ve Grown Accustomed to your Face”); most of the pieces were ironic and except for “I Hate Men” and “I’m always true to you, darling, in my fashion” addressed to men. For example, “Brush up your Shakespeare” brought down the house as the two male comedian-gangsters were very good, but the song was all about domination and advice to me: “Brush up your Shakespeare and they’ll all kowtow” is the refrain.
Curiously (or maybe revealingly of the 1940s), explicit sex was evaded. Three years ago at Kennedy Center the RSC did Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Fletcher’s Tamer Tamed . The way Kate tames Petruchio (in this 1611 Part Two) is to herself deny him sex, and get the other women to join in. Hardly any violence in the Fletcher play though; rather maneuvring trickery by all. Yes Porter wrote a song where Petruchio remembers having women in all Italian ports while he goes to bed after he has married Kate and brought her home and bullied (starved), and hit her and thrown her about. He is going to sleep alone as she won’t let him in. But really the sex here is added: it’s stage business. We see her shut the door and we see him making his bed. In the story he wins by domineering and her sudden unexplained caving in. The submissive speech in Shakespeare is made shorter, but the sentiments left intact. Women applauded “I hate men” and I heard afterwards behind me one man reacting uncomfortabley to “I hate men” with a “I hate women too” (jocularly said natch), but there wa no applause or any overt reaction to the submissive speech, only relief (a little later) when after the mildest memory of Bianca being indignant (in Shakespeare she protests and shows she won’t imitate Kate), we move into the final brief number, “KIss Me Kate.”
This musical is an instance of what Jeanine Basinger talks about in her A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women (1930s to 80s): she argues that movies made visible to women as a group, made conversible to their minds, how they felt about how their societies treated them, and offered advice on what to do about this. Although written by a basically gay man (Porter was married but until paralyzed had many affairs with men) and a Jewish woman songwriter and now directed by a woman, this musical spoke only twice for women. The rest of it was speaking to men.
Shakespeare’s frame is so often omitted and was omitted here. Christopher Sly half-drunk sits down to watch a group of very artificial comedia del arte performers. So in Shakespeare the whole thing is displaced as exaggeration and caricature. The text is corrupt as we lack the closing frame which in the opening is prepared for. I have seen The Taming of the Shrew done in these Italian costumes. The emphasis in Shakespeare is not violence, but money. Shakespeare’s Petruchio has come to wive it weathily in Padua. Gremio and his sidekick are there for money, only they are not willing to take Kate: they prefer Bianca who seems more compliant but the father says the older daughter must be married first. Thus they help Petruchio. The comic dialogues are about contradictions in logic and perception of the world, and if sexual relationships and love as a topic are there, it’s by implication and much more in the Bianca story. It’s Fletcher who makes love relationships central and presents sex as the very thing men and women are fighting about: on what terms it will be had by both.
This modern musical has injected a contemporary debate about how far women should be independent of men not in Shakespeare. What strikes me as important today is the overt violence—partly because in the Giulio Cesare in Egitto, we saw the same extra violence inflicted on the Cornelia character, a virtuous widow with only a son (played overtly by a young woman as a woman & terrorist) to protect her.
Now off to lunch and the Cooperstown bookstore with the Admiral and Yvette (who has torn herself away from the Olympics and her blanket on the couch, it being cool here in NY).
Posted by: Jim
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