Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.


Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members present Ake, Bornemann, Fallon, Friedman, Hopkinson, Ingersoll, Lehmann, Madeira, O' Malley, Peck, Pickering, Pope, Schmalzbach, Warden.

Mr. Ake said a few eloquent words on behalf of his friend Michael Mabry, whom he proposed for membership in the Society. Mr. Mabry was elected by unanimous vote of the members present.

Members were reminded that two Shakspere productions can now be seen in town: Macbeth at the Shakespeare Festival theater at 21st and Sansom Streets (until April 13) and Twelfth Night at the Arden Theatre on Second Street next to Christ Church (also until April 13). Forthcoming: the Lantern Theater, in the alley next to St. Stephen's Church on Tenth Street just south of Market, will stage The Tempest from March 28 thru May 4. The Shakspere Festival and Lantern tickets are usually inexpensive. All these theaters draw on the the same pool of very talented local actors who have made careers here recently (the Arden also imports occasionally'usually terrific people).

The Dean announced that at our next meeting on March 19, we will discuss which plays of the Bard we will read at next season's meetings. Members on the secretary 's email list now have a memorandum of plays not read within the past eight years, with dates when each play was the last read. For members who cannot receive email, your scribe will add that Winter's Tale was last read in 1989, Romeo and Troilus in 1991 and As You Like It and Macbeth in 1992. Among minor plays: Timon 1953, Cymbeline 1962, All's Well 1975.

We began reading The Taming of the Shrew in the middle of Act Two, Scene One, Kate and Petruchio's first scene together. The Vice Dean commented that we begin to see here Petruchio's strategies for taming Kate, which is various. First he "establishes control" by calling her over and over by her familiar nickname, despite her prim but vigorous demand that he call her Katharine. He physically manhandles her, too, as he does later as well; meanwhile, he repeats a series of harsh judgments he has heard about her character, loudly proclaiming that in fact, she is lovable, sweet, companionable.

Members wondered whether Petruchio's motives for pursuing Kate were exclusively mercenary. He boasts to his listeners at one point about the enormous riches that his father has left him. Is he primarily drawn to the task of wooing Kate by the psychological challenge, the test of his virile prowess in conquering such a famous vixen? The Vice Dean pointed to the bizarre, embarrassingly ugly and even tattered costume that Petruchio wears on his wedding day (Act Three, Scene Two) as evidence that he means to humiliate the proud Kate, another of his strategies for taming her. He refers to her as "my goods, my chattels," reminding us that in Shakspere's day, an Englishwoman usually had to give up all of her property to her husband when she married, and she was expected to obey him in all things. He will not allow Kate to stay for the wedding feast, despite her temper tantrum: "Nay, look not big, nor stamp nor stare nor fret;/I will be master of what is my own."

In Act Four, Scene One, we see Petruchio "wearing Kate down," as the Vice Dean commented: he allows her no food on the long trip to his estate; he makes sure that she is dumped in the mud with her horse on top of her; he again refuses her food at his house, on the the pretext that the cook has burnt the joint, and he keeps her up all night, not in marriage-night frolicking but by repeated temper tantrums of his own. At the scene's the end, Petruchio makes his only speak directly to the the audience, calling her a falcon who can only be tamed by strong measures, and declaring, "And thus I'll cure her mad and headstrong humor./ He that knows better how to shame a shrew,/ Now let him speak, it is a charity to shew." Her disease, an imbalance of the humor, must be cured by drastic doctoring to make her fit to live with, a woman he can love.

Mr. Bartlett has just sent the Secretary a statement of the admissions committee's recommendations, to form the basis of discussion among the members. The Secretary will pass this information along to members very shortly.


Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary

Originally published: Thursday, January 31, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019