The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew
Schneider, Gary, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Relatively late in the action of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (1592), Tranio tells the pedant of a fictional private quarrel that has been made public, and is, therefore, a potential threat to the pedant's safety in the city of Padua:
'Tis death for anyone in Mantua To come to Padua. Know you not the cause? Your ships are stayed at Venice, and the Duke, For private quarrel 'twixt your Duke and him, Hath published and proclaimed it openly. 'Tis marvel, but that you are but newly come, You might have heard it else proclaimed about. (1)
Tranio's "warning" marshals several pertinent implications of the interrelationship between the public and the private: there is a manifest danger when the private becomes public; private actions (the two dukes' personal quarrel) inform public life; and the dynamic interaction between ostensibly separate spheres creates a politicization of the private. In early modern England a theoretical distinction between the public and private spheres existed-one which imagined them as wholly distinct and self-contained; in practice, however, there was a dynamic relationship between the spheres--one which has potential repercussions for the citizenry, as the danger to the pedant suggests. One ignorant of the proclamation, that is, of the "publicizing" of the restrictions, might face serious consequences.
A few studies have investigated the meaning and function of the public and the private in Shrew, but these studies examine only tangentially the public and private dichotomy as it functions in the play, typically as a self-evident binary. (3) The interrelationship of the spheres is extremely complex, and the early modern perception of them exceedingly ambiguous. I begin this study, then, by examining the specific emphases, associations, and resonances of the private and the public. I continue by investigating the "publicizing" of Kate, and consider the relationship between marriage, social customs, public ritual, and shame. I observe the play's consequent movement to the private, and take up an investigation of the maneuvering of the principles of asceticism and civility. Finally, I mark the return to the public as a spatial reorientation that is energized by the performative, by the metatheatrical, and which serves as a consolidation of the civilizing process.
Publicizing has a similar role in controlling aberrant women. For a woman to be publicized means to be confronted with the social role appropriate to her gender and class--one which is informed by patriarchy and its soci al, economic, and political imperatives. The bulk of The Taming of the Shrew, in fact, bears on the publicizing of Kate. This publicizing effort is enacted by public ceremony and social ritual that, in the play, frequently revolve around marriage customs. In addition to weddings, other social customs also inform the publicizing of Kate, much in the same manner as public shaming rituals such as skimmington, bridling, and cucking threaten Kate as an aberrant, uncontrollable woman. (2) In essence, The Taming of the Shrew presents a temporal process of taming that is also spatially oriented: on one hand, the processes, actions, and manipulations that publicize Kate in Padua and that are designed to tame shrewishness are intertwined with producing public shame; on the other hand, as evidenced by the spatial movement of Petruccio and Kate to Petruccio's country house, privacy and privation also mediate shrew taming.
THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE
Jurgen Habermas states that, although there was a distinction between publicus and privatus, "an opposition between the public and private spheres on the ancient (or the modern) model did not exist." (4) There was an emerging, but by no means clear, distinction between public and private in the Renaissance. Habermas locates a nascent distinction in the movement from feudalism to a centralized monarchy, which culminated in a relatively well-defined dichotomy late in the seventeenth century. (5) Since the emergence of the modern state engendered the division of the public and the private, it is no surprise that the private was largely informed by political processes. The interrelationship between private and public spheres was embodied, for instance, in the commonplace that the household was a "little commonwealth." (6)
Whereas in practice a strict division between the spheres was not viable, the theoretical speculations of Renaissance thinkers frequently sustained a rigorous separation between private and public based on a very broad spatial demarcation: the walled, enclosed space (such as the individual household or the monastery) on the one hand, and the outside-the-enclosed-space on the other. (7) The strict, theoretical dichotomy through which early modern England negotiated the public and the private is exemplified by treatises such as Sir John Harington's The Prayse of Private Life (probably composed between 1603 and 1605). Such rather philosophical treatises tend to idealize the private life as utterly non-political. The Prayse of Private Life, for instance, sharply divides the public (politics, business, the city) from the private (religious contemplation, solitude, the country). (8) It is clear that when Harington writes of the private life, he means a life of solitude. The movement of Harington's thesis is toward an ethic of asceticism, expressed, for instance, in chapter 18: "For ["beholdinge the face of God"] is the ende of our desires and wishing... Instead of temporall fastinge, there is celestial feastinge. In supplie of povertie there is true riches. For rural silence there is heavenly musicke." (9) The private man "eateth moderately" whereas the public man consumes "all sortes of delicates to please the taste"; the private man lives in a hermitage, a "house ... made of claye, the walles cleane, and poorely cladd," while the public man lives surrounded with "Dogges, Men, Familiers and Flatterers." (10) The virtues of silence, temperance, and chastity should be rigorously engaged if one is to live the private life.
However, theoretical treatises such as the Prayse, those that rigidly demarcate public and private, often betray a slippage in conceiving the spheres. Harington amends, for instance, his construction of solitude to include friends in order to comprehend agape or charity: "And what can be more pleasinge to God then to healpe other Men." (11) Revising an earlier, stricter assertion, Harington backtracks: "I said the concourse of men, not accesse of frendes shoulde be shunned." (12) As Harington's revisions suggest, it is exceedingly difficult to separate the private from the social in practice. An even more startling elision of public and private occurs some sixty years later in another theoretical treatise. George Mackenzie, in A Moral Essay, Preferring Solitude to Publick Employment (1665), uses a distinctly social metaphor to describe a private space: The world is a Comedy, where every man acts that part which providence hath assigned him; and as it is esteemed more noble to look on then to act, so really, I know no securer box, from which to behold it, then a safe solitude, and it is easier to feel then to express the pleasure which may be taken in standing aloof, and in contemplating the reelings of the multitude, the excentric motions of great men." (13) Contemplation and solitude are located within the public realm (the theater) in Mackenzie's treatise. Mackenzie reserves for himself a privileged position as observer somehow existing outside of society while "passively" observing it.
The merging of the public and private in Mackenzie's and Harington's commentary is also evident in Shrew. Such an elision is part and parcel of the structure and function of the dominant ideology. In other words, the private is informed by the ascendant ideology even as that ideology separates itself from the private sphere in order to control it (yet without appearing to control it). The rules of civility, those which were brought to bear on the private life, clearly constitute instances of the politicization of the private. Hence, the ideological overlay of civility on the private life also informs the dynamic between public and private. Jacques Revel, for instance, maintains that the "sixteenth century was a time of intense effort to control social intercourse through rules of civility... Behavior was judged by the group. The rules of civility were in one sense a technique for limiting or even negating private life." (14) Considering the association between women and the private sphere (as "household Kates ," for instance) these prescriptions produced terrific pressures for women to behave in accordance with specified social norms. Thus, the interrelationship of public and private, and the subsequent pressure toward civility that was generated around (aberrant) women, inform The Taming of the Shrew to a great extent. In Shrew what appears to be private is, in fact, frequently a function of the public. In Renaissance England, private problems arose and were dealt with in a public manner. Lynda Boose, Karen Newman, David Underdown, and others have described the public punishment of private behavior, those public shaming rituals such as cucking, carting, and the skimmington. Kate's taming is likewise engineered within the public and private spheres; but, whereas Kate …
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Publication information: Article title: The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew. Contributors: Schneider, Gary - Author. Journal title: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Volume: 42. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2002. Page number: 235+. © 1999 Rice University. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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