Comedy in the world of Greek playwriting was considered a popular and influential form of theatre. In addition, Greek tragedy was also a popular form of genre for theatre, which mainly expressed scenarios or stories that end tragically mainly for the protagonist. In addition, Greek comedy is considered to be a public popular culture which in modern times, almost parallels the environment and atmosphere of a major football match. According to Aristotle, Catharsis was the purpose of a tragedy, which is said to cleanse the soul of emotions such as fear, guilt and pity which most people carry within themselves. Although these two genres express different aspects of life, satirical and tragic, both include aspects of the play in which the actions made were generally morally questioned by the public audience. In this essay, I will be critically analysing the ways the play creates an attachment to potentially unlikeable characters whilst pondering on the notion that protagonists from tragedy and comedy often undertake actions that are morally questionable. The play in which I am using for this analysis is “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare and the theorist I am using to support my argument is Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays.
In this essay I will analyse how The Taming of the Shrew uses the genres of comedy and tragedy to enhance the plot and to evoke the actions of the characters in which are questionable and unreasonable at times. Through this analysis, I will then provide evidence of the scenes in the play which express the above notions and then I will use my additional secondary sources and the work of my chosen theorist, Northrop Frye to provide argumentative evidence which supports my original argument which is that characters in comedic and tragic plays do things that are morally questionable.
“The story of Greek comedy is one of great popularity, creative energy and ferocious evolution, driven partly by competitive energies internal to the competition, partly, perhaps, by historical and cultural change in the period”. The above quotation is derived from a book by Ian Ruffel called The Edinburgh Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome. His quotation brings forth the idea of Greek comedy and its aspects of popularity which make assisted the audience to relate to the subject matter. In relation to comedy, The Taming of the Shrew is believed to be written between 1590 and 1592 and includes an induction in which a nobleman tricks a tinkerman named Christopher Sly into believing he is of nobility himself. In doing so, the nobleman gets trapped in Sly’s imagined world and gets into a competition for the hand of a woman who is the most loyal. At the end, the nobleman discovers that the most unattractive woman, Katherina is discovered to be the most loyal out of all her other competitors, including her sister and ends up marrying her.
In this play, Shakespeare delves into the theme of the interconnectivity between men and women. “There are two ways of developing the form of comedy: one. Is to throw the main emphasis on the blocking characters; the other is to throw it forward on the scenes of discovery and reconciliation. One is general tendency of comic irony, satire, realism, and studies of manners; the other is the tendency of Shakespearean and other types of romantic comedy. The technical hero and heroine are not often very interesting people”. (Frye, pp 166). The above quotation is derived from Norththrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. This quotation refers to the role and power that characters have in a work of literature. Specifically, in relation to The Taming of the Shrew, the characters are like gods to the reader and/ or audience but also are seen as superior in their own world even without considering their questionable actions. For example, the idea of making a comedic sport of an individual by tricking him to think that he is in much happier circumstance than he originally is in reality is not original. This is furthermore evident in the play in the Induction, Scene 1. “I know the boy will well usurp the grace, Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman. I long to hear him call the drunkard husband, and how my men will stay themselves from laughter. When they do homage to this simple peasant” (Induction. Act 1. 136-141). It expresses the Lord’s extravagant plan to turn Sly from a “swine” into a nobleman and also it expresses the notion that all actors, including Shakespeare, undergo transformations each time they set foot on a theatre stage. “The differences between the forms of Comedy and Tragedy may at times be explained as adaptations to the general characteristics of the respective genre, at others as survivals of ancient coexisting or alternative forms among which the respective genre has chosen differently”. The above quotation is from a book by Francisco Rodriguez Adrados called Festival, Comedy and Tragedy: The Greek Origins of Theatre. This quotation can be related to the Shakespearean play, The Taming of the Shrew as comedic plays adapt through time and through the versatility of the plot.
“Usually tragic plays focus on heroes, characters with a literary and mythological background who were often also the object of contemporary cult. The heroes of tragedy are made to act and suffer in ways thought to be paradigmatic of life and human behaviour in general”. The above quotation is derived from the book by Pantelis Michelakis named The Edinburgh Companion to Ancient Greece which focuses on Greek Tragedy. This quotation can be related to the play as it doesn’t have any mythological references but in fact, it is about the complications between a relationship between a man and a woman. “The relationship between Petruchio and Katherina is obviously the heart of the problem… critics have always found it difficult to decide how seriously we should view these particular. It is useful to remind ourselves, first, that “Petruchio is the hero of a farce, not of a romance. More accurately, perhaps, Petruchio is the primary male figure in a farce. We should view comic scenes as far as possible in the light of the common experiences of sixteenth century spectators; for one would assume that an author’s attempt to produce laughter would proceed along the lines of whatever were the age’s comic expectations and proclivity”. The above quotation is derived from an annotation of The Taming of the Shrew by Burton Raffel and Harold Bloom .This phrase expresses the importance and the complicate relationship between Petruchio and Katherina as Petruchio is willing to marry for money and manages to wrest payment from all three of Bianca’s suitors to cover his expenses. This particular imagery expresses the comic strategy that Shakespeare employs throughout the entirety of the play.
The notions of lustful desire and sexuality scratch the surface as for example in the passage “Tranio, since for the great desire I had/ To see fair Padua, nursery of arts, / I am arrived fore fruitful Lombardy, / The pleasant garden of great Italy” (Act 1. 1” 1 – 4). The first noun is “desire” which obviously expresses the sexual desire that will ensue and drive the action of courtship. Other key words such as “fruitful” and “garden” suggest procreation and sexual desire. Even though Lucentio has ambitions of education it is clear that his subconscious mind is filled with dirty desires. This is evident through the quickness of Lucentio’s actions to switch pursuits after seeing Bianca for a brief moment. In reference to the question, the object of the marriage market shows the views on gender and femininity. Therefore, it is morally questionable to test the binary and the performance of the ideal of womanhood. “You lie, in faith, for you are called plain Kate/ And bonny Kate and sometimes’ Kate the Curst’;/ But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom/ Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kae/ For dainties are all cates” ( Act 2. 1. 182 – 188). The above quotation from the play describes the degradation that Petruchio implies saying that she belongs to the lower category of society which reduces her to an object of exchange between men.
In conclusion, “In tragedy, of course, enmity almost always includes hatred; comedy is different, and one feels that the social judgement against the absurd is closer to the comic norm than the moral judgement against the wicked”. The above quotation from Northrop Frye expresses the differences between the genre’s especially within the environment of Greek theatre. It also relates to the unique and sometimes absurd actions that the characters are employed to carry out. The themes of those actions can be morally questionable however, the specific genre of the play has an enormous role in how that specific play is portrayed to the audience and/ or reader. The Taming of the Shrew is an excellent example of such uncommon actions and societal implications it expresses. Northrop Frye’s article the Anatomy of Criticism supports the question in hand and provides examples and supportive arguments into the differentiation between the genres of Tragedy and Comedy and how the plays evoke the notions the specific genres imply.