Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.16 (William Shakespeare)

The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare, William
The Taming of the Shrew

This play holds a strange place in my memory. I am familiar with it. I know the story. I know it so well in fact that it feels as if I have read it or seen it performed -- or, more likely, seen it adapted on film -- yet I have no memory of ever having read it or seen it performed or watched it on the large or small screen. And yet I must have. The familiarity is so strong. And yet. And yet. And yet.

I had quite a day on Wednesday. My colleague at the Beinecke, Tim Young, invited me to the Academy of American Arts and Letters induction ceremony. We took the train down to the city and had lunch with a literary agent I had worked with on Babel. We ate at a lovely French bistro in the West Village. I ate fish & chips.

Afterwards, Tim and I walked the length of the High Line, the breathtaking pedestrian path that runs along a set of old rail tracks on a raised bed a story above the ground. It's kind of liking walking through an architectural Disneyland. Everything is sculpted just so and along the way you can see recent buildings by all your favorite architectural rock stars, some of them in the distance, others abutting the path itself. There's even a small amphitheater directly over 10th Ave. It's not built for performance, though, but so pedestrian can stop to look through a framed opening at the passing cars below. A kind of reality TV without the TV.

We took a cab up to the Academy. There's actually an academy, by which I mean a large, stone, neoclassical building. It's on 155th and Broadway, at the border between Harlem and Washington Heights. Who knew such a place existed outside of its name?

The ceremony took place in a small white theater that seats about 500 people.  Members of the academy and the honorees sit on the stage, facing out towards the audience. Before the ceremony begins, a photographer shout orders from the balcony and then takes a group portrait of those on stage.

It's quite something to see so many artistic superstars on one stage. And there was actually one "real" star up there with them -- Meryl Streep! She sat next to Chuck Close, who gave the keynote. They seemed to be friends, as after he spoke she helped him unwrap a throat lozenge and fed it to him.

Let's see, who else was there? Paul Auster and Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen and Kara Walker and Steve Reich and John Zorn and Garrison Keillor and so on and so on. The highlight, however, was Pete Seeger, who received an award.

Rather than thank the audience, the 93-year-old folk singer and activist legend stood up and led the whole room in a singalong. Watching Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen sing along to "Turn, Turn, Turn," with John Zorn sitting behind them not singing, was itself worth the whole trip.

And then we shared a cab with poet J.D. McClatchy down to Grand Central and headed back home on the train.

from The Taming of the Shrew

Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready; may it do him ease.

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