The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.065 Thursday, 14 February 2019
Date: February 13, 2019 at 5:34:51 PM EST
Subject: RE: SHAKSPER: Anger
I was pleased to read the full article by Laura Kolb on Shrew and MM. It is a very good article, showing how a structure of feeling (in this case, a structure of anger) can move from Shakespeare to the present day, in a way which illuminates both. However, my initial criticism, based on a reading of only a part of the article, remains. Katherine is NOT an example of the exchange of women, as canonically defined by Gayle Rubin. Nor is she an example of a “market” in women for sexual purposes, or for financial purposes either. Having apparently solved the problem of Kate, on Petrucchio’s word, Baptista asks his other daughter’s suitors to assure a “dower.” Not a dowry, which Baptista would have had to pay to one of his daughter’s husbands, but a “dower,” which Bianca’s husband would have to pay. Such a dower would be a grant of wealth, whether in cash or in property, that the woman would receive on the occasion of her husband’s death.
In other words, although there is a debate in this play about how much Baptista would provide for a “dowry” to Petruchio, there is also a debate how much Bianca would receive as a “dower.” Women are NOT being bought and sold. They are entering into a system of symbolic exchange where their marriages are meant to assure the preservation of capital, whether in the case of marriage Petrucchio’s marriage to Katherine, or in Bianca’s marriage to Lucentio, which is to say whether in the case of a dowry or a dower.
Let us note too that we are talking about the preservation of capital in an era of what Marx called “primitive accumulation.” There is no open market in women in this era, if ever there has been one. There is something that hardly represents a market in our sense of the word. And there is no “market” in women. Instead, there are relations of status and capital where, if Baptista’s remarks are taken at face value – and why shouldn’t they be? – capital and dignity are meant to be negotiated along with such incalculable functions as desire and propriety. Kate is NOT sold. And Bianca is NOT exchanged for profit.
Professor of English Literature