Thursday, March 24, 2011

X is for Xanthippe

Although Xanthippe ("zan-thip-ee") is not a character in The Taming of the Shrew, her name would have been familiar to members of audiences in Shakespeare’s time.  Shakespeare often mentioned well-known classical or folk characters in his plays, usually to make a point.  Sometimes the references are humorous, much in the same way that contemporary writers make jokes about celebrities.  Here, Xanthippe, the wife of the Greek philosopher Socrates, was legendary for her shrill and unpleasant temperament.  Petruchio, who is broke, tells his friend Hortensio that he is so desperate for cash that he would marry an ugly woman, an old woman, or even Xanthippe, the legendary shrew.  This line would probably have prompted a laugh from the Elizabethan play-goers.  This comedy offers a lot of clever repartee between Petruchio and his "shrew" Katharine, very similar to the banter of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.  Speaking of which, Elizabeth Taylor gave a memorable performance as Katharine with Richard Burton in a 1967 film version of the play.  (Don't forget to follow up with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" for more of Taylor and Burton.)

Signior Hortensio, ‘twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife,
As wealth is burden of my wooing dance,
Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love,
As old as Sibyl and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not, or not removes, at least,
Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas;
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.

The Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Scene ii

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