“As Willing as Bondage E’er of Freedom”

The Vindication of Willing Service in The Tempest
  • David Evett


The concept of volitional primacy provides a way to account for the verve and energy with which many Shakespearean persons carry on. It is not surprising, for the concept is fundamentally rhetorical: not so much the verb—serviam—as its intonation. It is also fundamentally theatrical. Lars Engle reminds us of the what-if procedures that generate theatrical plots. “What happens if the man who hates usury is obliged by circumstance to borrow money at interest? What if a black soldier marries a white lady?” (56). What if a subordinate acts (in a theatrical sense) as if his or her subordinated position was reached by conscious choice? In The Taming of the Shrew, Lucentio does exactly that—though only to selected audiences; in his whispered asides to Bianca, he retains his masterly identity. It is also true, however, and perhaps more deeply, that Petruchio in his sphere and Katherine in hers refuse to allow the customary patterns of society to determine their actions. Petruchio wills to reject the established interpretation of Katherine’s character and the established ways of courtship in order to achieve his ends; along the way he makes a mockery of wedding customs and other social niceties. From the beginning of the play Katherine opposes her will to that of her father, her sister, and her suitors, including Petruchio; her turnabout into a vigorous endorsement of traditional gender hierarchy at the end of the play, however discomfiting to moderns, continues the pattern, allowing her to astonish the male onlookers and silence the other women.


Domestic Servant Masterly Identity Wedding Custom Final Speech Courtly Servant 
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© David Evett 2005

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  • David Evett

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