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April Fools

It's a cruel joke. It's a cruel joke and, more interestingly, it is a very trivial joke that does nothing to progress or enhance the plot of The Taming of the Shrew. It is strange and disturbing.

After finishing The Taming of the Shrew, I closed the book and reflected over the ending, the plot, the characters, the strange love triangles and squares and pentagons, the twisted gender messages, the anger a feminist would feel upon completion. It wasn't until I was looking over the play to write this blog that I even remembered the beginning of it all; a drunken poor man, a rich man in need of amusement, and a traveling troop of thespians.

And I thought to myself: Why does the play heralded by the intro in my book as showing "Shakespeare's comic genius at its best" need this absurd and irrelevant beginning? Shakespeare has many "play within a play" incidences in his works- Hamlet and Midsummer for example. A well placed troop of thespians always just happens to be "trooping" through when the play’s real main characters are in need of it. In both cases, the play is clearly a play (the main actors on stage along with the audience see it for what it is- a play within the play) and it exists to further the main plot in some way, no matter how trivially.

In this case, however, the two plots barely touch, and it is the play within the play that the audience becomes lost in, forgetting the outer frame of "Lord" Sly and his faking servants. The play doesn't even officially begin until this "induction" is over.

My question is: why this? It is a cruel, cruel joke. To take a drunken man off the streets and convince him he is rich, he was crazy, that all these beautiful things are his...I would label that as the cruelest kind of joke, with the rich the joker and the poor playing the fool. "What a joke, that his dirty, poor, slovenly man could possibly possess all these beautiful things I do!" It shows egotism in the rich man, only referred to as "Lord," that is in one breath amusing and the other appalling. It is amusing because the audience, members of “reality,? are able to feel that they are somehow "in" on this joke. They came to see the play, "The Taming of the Shrew," and just happen to stumble in upon this hilarity. They are on the right side of the joke, able to enjoy in the poor man's confusion. If actually played out the joke could be devastating, but the audience--while being drawn in as part of the joke--are still half aware that this isn’t reality and that they aren't really laughing at this poor man; they are just laughing at a play.

My question is- was it necessary? Was it funny? With such a rich plot, with such rich characters, with such wild stage action and under currents, was this cruel intro relevant to the show or was it just another opportunity for Shakespeare to get in some of his wit? I don't feel it created a more intricate layering of plots that was helpful or amusing or intertwining or augmenting to the main plot. Rather, I felt it drew away from the wit in "real" story.

Comments

To answer your first question, no I don't think it was necessary because I've acted in this play in Middle School and I've seen the play a couple of times and this is the first time I was even aware of this intro part. As for was it funny? I personally found it amusing. Yes, it was a cruel joke but sometimes the cruelest jokes can be the most amusing if it is done right, and considering this was happening in a play and not in real life I think the audience would take it for what it is, a joke. However, I don't think this intro was put in just for Shakespeare to amuse himself. I personally find it useful in two aspects. First of all, it helps the poor audience members connect to the play more. Sly represents the poor audience members and here Sly feels like a lord, and because he is a lord he get to watch this play.So the poor people in the audience feel like the are privelged to watch this play and they get these false sense of feeling like lords themselves. It's kind of like when we watch movies today and we see a really ordinary guy has a really beautiful girl fall in love with him. Now even though we know it's not real, every ordinary guy in the audience all of a sudden feels like they could also get the really beautiful girl. The second thing I think this story outside the real story helps with is the traveling time between acts. If this play were real, it would take a very long time to travel from Verona to Padua, and they make this trip a couple of times. So rather than just having a big chunk of time go play inbetween acts Shakespeare can insert in the other story as a filler. This makes it easier for the audience to understand that there is some sort of break inbetween these acts which we don't see and I think it makes the play run a little smoother

I believe that the joke was cruel to a certain point and that although it wasn't nessary for the play it played a key role in bringing in the audience. The joke itself is cruel in the way that you should not go out of your way to trick someone but it is also funny because they are messing with a drunk person. Also the joke itself isn't harmful in a way that the drunk might die. By using this character Shakespear I believe brings his poor audience into the play. They can relate to this man because they themselves are bringing at the time. Shakespear was a writer trying to make money and one way to keep making money is to relate to your audience so they will want to see more. He caters to the rich and poor alike. The more his audience can relate to the story the more they will apperciate it. I think it also sets a mood for the story. It gets everything going with a laugh and makes everyone lite hearted. By starting with this it almost lets everyone settle in for the rest of the play.
However I don't believe it is needed in the play. You could take it out and it wouldn't really affect the story all that much. I just think that Shakespear was trying to set a mood and bring his audience in with this scene. Is the joke a big part no but it allows for a good laugh and might have even brought in more money for Shakespear when his audience went home and told their friends about this cruel joke.