A happy coincidence: The kids arrived at the Elizabethan age in history just as we finished up testing. We’ve been reading excerpts from sonnets and plays all week, and tonight we’re planning a feast and a viewing of “Love’s Labors Lost”.
I picked up “Taming of the Shrew” this morning, as we were discussing the romantic comedies. I never realized that the play was one of Shakespeare’s “play within the plays”. It begins a drunken beggar being kicked out of the ale house, and protesting the treatment, claiming ancient family ties to “Richard the Conqueror”. A Great Lord finds a drunken beggar (Christopher Sly) unconscious in front of an ale house, and decides to play a trick on him. The beggar is brought into that Master’s house, washed, clothed in fine garments, surrounded with beauty and a sumptuous feast. When he awakes, he is told that he is no beggar–but a Lord who has forgotten his place for these many years. A page is pressed into service as the man’s wife, and Christopher Sly is taught to call her Madam, as befits a lady.
I imagine any good Protestant of Shakespeare’s day quickly picked up on the allegory. I’m a fool to have missed it for so many years.In the play, an unruly woman is “tamed” into submission to her new husband. In her final soliloquy, she calls her husband a prince, deserving of her respect and honor. I imagine Shakespeare wrote the prelude after the rest of the play, as a caution to any man who would take the Shrew’s message with any boastful swagger or the wife who says, “my husband is no prince”.
We are all utter beggars to God’s unmerited, undeserved favor. Our false boasts in the flesh do little to improve our sorry estate. Each is lifted from the ash heap only by God’s great mercy. We are called by new names. We are seated at a banqueting table we did not earn. Unlike the jest that starts the Shrew, this is no temporary trick, but the former is the shadow, the jest, the vain trifle, and this is the eternal reality.
How many homes would be improved by this simple resting in the vast mercy of God? There is no keeping of points when both parties owe such great a debt. No tit for tat. How many marriages saved by the acknowledgement of the third party to the marriage, the Great Lord who lifts the underserved? There is only reasonable service. Our submission to each other is a reasonable act of service to the Lord who loved us when we were utterly unlovable.