Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Mattress Tests Of Lords and Tinkers, Shrews and Peas

'The Princess And The Pea' by Louise Montillio
A passage from the ballad-folktale "Lord For A Day" caught our eye this week and, though it's not meant to be an important part of the text, it got us thinking about mattresses and peas; that is, tests of nobility or worthiness. Here is the passage, with a little context:
... the Khalif went in to the women of the palace, who came to him, and he said to them, "Whenas yonder sleeper awaketh tomorrow... say to him "Thou art the Khalif." ...
Then the rest of the women of the palace came all to him and lifted him into a sitting posture, when he found himself upon a couch, stuffed all with floss-silk and raised a cubit's height from the ground*. 
*That is, a mattress eighteen inches thick.
So in this tale, a man sitting on a pile of mattresses, or a very high mattress, is supposed to be 'proof' of royalty? (Even if, in this case, it's set up falsely.)

Where is the next step of proof with the 'pea'? Why is it girls in tales always have to provide the pudding whereas men just get to eat it?

In The Real Princess, the bedraggled girl is immediately assumed to be falsifying her identity, to be common, and must prove she is royal - at physical cost to herself. In Lord For A Day, the ruse is getting a beggar to believe he is rich, then not, then rich again by turns. He is released from this weird torment because he makes the nobleman laugh. Despite being the butt of the joke, he ends up wealthier than he ever was and becomes a part of the noble's household. In The Real Princess, she is "black and blue" before she is accepted to be the person she says, and actually, is - a princess. She is "tamed" before being able to resume her station and be eligible for a new one (royal bride). The man is "freed" before bring raised to his.

Taming of the Shrew by Willy Pogany
Interesting that the Lord For A Day tale/ballad is considered one of the folkloric sources for The Taming of the Shrew. All of the other folktales that this play of Shakespeare's is based on are difficult to read because they are so very cruel; actively, sometimes viciously, stripping a woman of all individuality, autonomy and agency (not dissimilar to what happened to the Real Princess, by some interpretations). Why Lord For A Day, came back around to be used as commentary on suppressing the rights of a potential wife, is worth considering all by itself. The contrast between a man and a woman being raised/accepted in their station, gives great pause for thought, especially as Shakespeare uses a good part of Lord for A Day at the opening of Shrew; a direct set-up for the plot to come.

It's also interesting that most readings of Katherine have her as "feisty" (a word which in essence means the weaker, underdog naturally fights against convention and against the odds), even bawdy, and Hans Andersen's tale of the rain-soaked princess can also be read as feisty and (very) bawdy too.

An interesting note on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew:
Stephen Roy Miller argues that “Shakespeare was not adapting the folktale straightforwardly, but ironically” (1998, 14). He points to the changes that make Petruchio less of a violent ogre than the folktale husband, and concludes that “Shakespeare overwrites the ‘old testament’ of Type 901 with the ‘new testament’ of domestic relations,” a humanist emphasis on eschewing domestic physical abuse (Miller 1998, 14). Shakespeare alters the traditional shrew-taming tale, like and through Katherine (and Petruchio, who is constantly performing as tamer), by following it closely and overenthusiastically, caricaturing it. (Extract from paper by Charlotte Artese 2009, quoting Miller, The Taming of a Shrew: The 1594 Quarto, 1998)
Petruccios Hochzeit (Petruccio's Wedding) by Carl Gehrts
Given the connections between ShrewReal Princess and the folktale sources for Shrew, and the fact that Shakespeare is generally thought to be running social commentary on old and new relations between men and women by use of parody and exaggeration, it makes us wonder if Andersen was making (subconscious?) reference to this story group Shakespeare's play used in Taming of the Shrew, to do his own form of 'story taming'? Or, was he, in complete contrast, making his own caricature of these still entrenched conventions in society, having his own commentary safely hidden within a 'proper' tale of correctness and the required fragility of noblewomen?

We never made a connection between The Taming of the Shrew and the Princess and the Pea before. Now we cannot disconnect them.

Note: We are currently reading Shakespeare and the Folktale: An Anthology of Stories by Charlotte Artese. We hope to put up a review of the whole anthology soon, but at this moment we can tell you that this is a very interesting read so far and great food for thought. Obviously, Andersen's The Real Princess a.k.a. The Princess and the Pea, was written many years after Shakespeare's time and has no bearing on the Bard's writing. The speculation above came out of reading the book below (and a little further afield) and wondering if Shakespeare, in turn, had an influence on Andersen for the famous mattress tale. The two short extracts below sum up extremely well what we are enjoying about this book and why it's worth a read for people who love fairy tales and folklore - even if you're a little rusty on your Shakespeare.

From Charlotte Artese's Shakespeare and the Folktale: An Anthology Of Stories:
Folktales often served as common ground in Shakespeare’s theater. The playwright and some members of his audience would have read literary versions of a play’s folktale source, and those who could not read might have heard those tales told. In our own culture, when a movie or television show (or short story or novel) adapts a fairy tale, the creator knows the expectations the audience will bring, and the audience knows that the creator knows. The audience waits to see how this version of a well-known story will conform to tradition and how it will vary. Will Red Riding Hood fall in love with the wolf? Will the evil fairy repent and rescue Sleeping Beauty? When we learn the folktale traditions that Shakespeare adapts, we can join this interplay between playwright and audience. 
Belsey+ concludes that the resemblances between Shakespeare’s plays and folk narratives help to explain Shakespeare’s place at the center of the Western literary canon. By absorbing the narrative traditions on which Shakespeare drew, we may peer into the heart of what makes him great: a profound connection to his audiences through the centuries and around the world.
+Catherine Belsey (author of Why Shakespeare? 2007), quoted in Artese's introduction to the volume.

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