First Sight

Lynne Murray says:

One way I can tell when I am going through a rough patch is when I seize on a book, a poem or a film and read or watch it over and over. It’s like clutching and hugging the fuzz off a comforting stuffed animal.

The DVD I watched seven times in the seven days before I finally released it to my neighbor to watch in her turn and mail back to Netflix is the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold version of The Taming of the Shrew written by Sally Wainwright with the magnificent Shirley Henderson playing the shrew in question and Rufus Sewell (whom one commenter rightly referred to as “edible”) doing the taming.

Wainwright’s modern screenplay uses just a few of Shakespeare’s words, and brilliantly plays with sexual politics and half a dozen modern gender issues without ever losing sight of the humor, the fun or the heart.

Thanks to YouTube, the moment that struck me most seriously can be shared:

Shakespeare’s Shrew gets a bad rap for Petruchio’s “taming” method (not involving hitting, incidentally, and nearly identical to the fasting and gentling methods traditionally used in medieval times by falconers to tame hawks). Over the years I’ve read several authorities who remark that the play works best when Kate and Petruchio fall in love at first sight, and the rest of the play is negotiation.

Mark Van Doren puts it well in Shakespeare:

Our secret preoccupation as we watch “The Taming of the Shrew” consists of noting the stages by which both Petruchio and Katherine–both of them, for in spite of everything the business is mutual–surrender to the fact of their affection.
(p. 38)

Just for the record, I don’t agree with Christopher Marlowe when he says, “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?”

I think sometimes the “first sight” of someone as a possible lover comes when a twist in perception brings that out, not necessarily the first time one lays eyes on someone.

What haunted me even while I was clutching the teddy bear of a happy ending for characters I loved was the poignancy of that moment when two people recognize each other, body and soul as the person who “gets” them–the person they could know and love.

That moment takes on a different perspective with age, as love gives way to loss and yet the heart endures in the face of hopeless yearning as William Butler Yeats points out in “Memory.”

One had a lovely face,
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.

The little YouTube clip from Shrew above captivated me enough that I did something probably only dangerous for those of us susceptible to popular music, testosterone and green eyes and clicked on Rufus Sewell’s photomontage set to Jann Arden’s song “Thing for You.”

The Jann Arden song put me over the edge, and when the resulting rains cleared off, I realized that I had to write my way out of it.

What is the root of hopeless yearning? Not necessarily for the experience of heart-to-heart communication. Sometimes what we hopelessly yearn for is to conquer nameless sorrow and to resolve problems whose solve-by date is long expired or never could be set to begin with.

It’s part of the human condition. I actually loathe tear-jerking fiction of any sort. The YouTube click may or may not have been a mistake, but I realized I had an urgent need to find a joke in my whole week of reacting to The Taming of the Shrew.

Found it.

The sequel: Taming of the Shrew 2: Menopause.

If Sally Wainwright wrote it, I would watch it.