By Miranda W.
The transformation of Pygmalion’s beloved statue in Ovid’s Metamorphoses influences transformation in Renaissance literature and drama. One example is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which draws from this classical myth via Petruchio’s transformation of Kate. Barbara Roche Rico stresses that Shakespeare “uses the myth to expose and to examine the issue of artistic control in its public and private forms.[ …] While Pygmalion carves and pampers his image, Petruchio asserts control over Kate, until she is carved and molded into shape” (288). Both the myth and the play pay particular attention to the treatment of the woman by the man, or to the creation by the artist. Yet Pygmalion praises his statue while Petruchio torments Kate. Petruchio, like Pygmalion, is not satisfied with Nature’s creation of women and therefore seeks to create his own: “Of such proportion, shape, and grace as nature never gave/Nor can to any woman give” (Ovid X. 266-267). Rico shows the relation to the Renaissance, saying that, “in one sense the Pygmalion myth would seem to embody the ideal of Renaissance poetics, dramatizing both the artist’s wish to move his audience and his desire to create a world more perfect than Nature’s own” (286). Just as paintings often depicted men as fearful of women during the Renaissance, Pygmalion predated their concerns. For this reason Taming was “darkened by its medieval precursors, tales of seduction and idolatry, allegories about the threat of women and of art” (287).
While Pygmalion’s statue transforms into a live woman, Kate’s transformation is more psychological and temperamental. Even so, in each tale a man causes a woman to change one form for another. Lise Pederson says that both The Taming of the Shrew and Pygmalion contain the act of when “a man accepts the task of transforming a woman from one kind of person to another” (33). The differences are in the methods of how the woman is transformed. Pygmalion prays to the goddess Venus to turn his love into a real human being, while Petruchio takes the “taming” of Kate violently into his own hands.
Paul Barolsky brings in the tale of Narcissus to relate to Pygmalion, recognizing both as figures artists: “Although their stories end differently, with Narcissus’s love unrequited and Pygmalion’s realized, this difference should not obscure our understanding that both fables are tales of how the artist falls in love with his own creation, as Ovid metamorphoses one tale into the other” (453). While Pygmalion does not find a woman beautiful enough to satisfy him, and sculpts the woman of his dreams, Kate is a woman that no man wants because of her shrewd ways. Petruchio doesn’t fall in love with Kate the way Pygmalion falls in love with his statue, but both women transform into the women that the men desire.
The comical Taming of the Shrew image (above) shows the man’s power over the woman’s transformation; he hauls her over his shoulder while her mouth is wide open in protest. The bright costumes insist the situation is comical and does not show the “threat of women”. Representations of transformation continue from Ovid, to Shakespeare, to drama and literature today.
Image: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Carmel Shakespeare Festival, October 2003. Wikimedia Commons (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/taming_of_the_shrew)
Barolsky, Paul. “As in Ovid, so in Renaissance Art.” RSA (summer 1998): 451-74.
Pederson, Lise. “Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew vs. Shaw’s Pygmalion: Male Chauvinism vs. Women’s Lib?” (UPenn Press, 1974).
Rico, Barbara Roche. “From Speechless Dialect to Prosperous Art: Shakespeare’s Recasting of the Pygmalion Image.” (University of California Press, 1985).