Today’s Royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William has been the happiest of occasions. In both real life and fiction weddings symbolise harmony, and the marriage of the main characters, usually following a troubled courtship, is a satisfying end to any play or novel.
The two Kates who marry during Shakespeare’s plays have very different stories. Princess Katherine is the Princess of France who is married to the victorious Henry V at the end of the play of the same name. She has no choice but to accept this diplomatic marriage, but Shakespeare writes a wonderfully charming wooing scene to allow the play to close on a celebratory note. None but a killjoy would try to turn Kate into merely an unwilling pawn in the political game even if that was the historical reality.
The second Kate is the shrew in The Taming of the Shrew. Here, it’s not the courtship, but the marriage, that Shakespeare puts under the microscope. This Kate has a nightmare nuptial. Not only is she forced to marry a man she doesn’t love, who we know to be after her money, but her groom takes the opportunity of the wedding itself to humiliate his bride. The wedding day, of course, should be the bride’s big day, but Petruchio is firstly late, then turns up dressed outrageously. During the wedding itself he behaves in a way which might be acceptable at the stag party, but not on the day itself. To cap it all, he carts Kate away before the reception.
I vividly remember the way in which this scene was staged in the 1978 RSC modern-dress production directed by Michael Bogdanov. Paola Dionisotti, as Kate, wore a conventional wedding dress, and was kept waiting by Jonathan Pryce as Petruchio who took every opportunity he could to live up to Shakespeare’s description. It was a very Shakespearian moment, hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. We find the methods Petruchio uses to tame his shrew unacceptable today, but we may concentrate too much on them rather than recognising that Shakespeare is asking questions about what marriage is really about, and how two very different people make a life together.
Perhaps it’s because weddings in Shakespeare’s plays so often end in disaster that the belief began that Shakespeare’s own marriage was unhappy. There’s little evidence either way, but according to historian Mairi Macdonald, the second best bed that Shakespeare’s widow was left in his will really doesn’t indicate anything about their relationship. Germaine Greer, in her book Shakespeare’s Wife, suggests that Anne Hathaway had a far more positive role in Shakespeare’s life than has been supposed.
We all wish the newlyweds every happiness, and that they manage to escape the tribulations of some of Shakespeare’s married couples.
Yes absolutely we all fervently hope it has a happy ending.
Mairi is quite right about the second best bed which was probably their marriage bed and may even have been a Hathaway family heirloom which had to return to the Hathaway family.
Well done on your first blog.
The historical Princess Katherine, Catherine of Valois, may have spent her life ruled by the machinations of men’s politics but the Dictionary of National Biography does say that “Henry V was …..so smitten with Catherine that he was prepared to marry her at no cost to her relatives” so perhaps their relationship was more than just a political match. Although Henry V’s son by her, Henry VI, had no children and a catastrophic reign, it could be said that Catherine had the last word as, by her son Edmund from her second morganatic marriage to Owen Tudor, she became the ancestor of the Tudor dynasty.
Gosh, Jo, thanks ever so much for filling in all this great detail, brilliant! I had no idea that Henry V really did love Katherine, makes it all the more appropriate.
Thank you! Please keep coming back!