Friday, January 13, 2012

The Patient Grissill

No bones about it--I really effing hate this play. It is the worst. THE WORST, I tell you.

It tells the old folk tale (retold by Chaucer) of a low-born woman named Grissel (or Grissill, or Griselda) who marries a nobleman. This guy loves her . . . ohhhh, he loves her soooo much . . . but he just can't shake the temptation to test her. So he tests her for obedience and loyalty. And boy, does she ever come through. He kicks her family back to their hovel, sends her there to join them, declares that he hates her, takes the children that she has borne him and tells her they're dead, and then 12 YEARS LATER tells her he's marrying again, a younger woman, and that she must be the new wife's bridesmaid. Only after Grissel comes through these tests with flying colors does the douch . . . sorry, the duke, ahem, finally tell her that he's only been testing her for over a decade, that the "new wife" is actually her daughter who is really alive, that he only loves Grissel, and that he's taking her back as his real wife, because she's proven that she's patient and obedient.

Now, up to the end, I can sort of get it. You get thrown out of your house, your all-powerful husband takes everything from you and you can't do anything about it, sure, there are SOME people in the world who would say, "What's the use complaining?", put on a happy/patient/constipated face, and keep gathering rocks or whatever it is you do for fun, when you're not doing your real job gathering dried cow turds for a living. And when he shows up 12 years later and says, "Hey, come do some demeaning work for me and my new wife because I like to humiliate you," you duck your head, say "Yes, gov'nuh" and get to scrubbing that new bidet or whatever, because honestly, he's a duke and will probably kill you and feed you to his prize hogs otherwise.

But THEN, when he says, "Just joking!" and "I really love you; let's be husband and wife again!" and you don't immediately paint your face like a Viking berserker and burn down his castle and then scrape up all the ashes and dump them in a slime-pit that you then use as a privy, you are just going too far. TOO FAR.

What made me doubly mad when reading this play was that somebody had written in it already, and had written stupid stuff like "good speech" and "nice plot" and even "Cinderella story." I started erasing this guy's (gotta be a guy) marginalia, which I never do because everyone deserves to have their experience of the book preserved, but after a while I stopped erasing it and started writing back. Under "Cinderella" I wrote, "Oh yes, she's so lucky," and under "duty" I wrote "dumbness." Whoever that reader was can go sit in the ashy slime-pit privy for a while.

And the detestable duke (actually the Marquis in this play) says that he "tride my Grissils patience when twas greene, like a young osier, and I moulded it like waxe to all impressions: married men that long to tame their wives must curbe them in, before they need a bridle, then they'll proove all Grissils full of patience, full of love." So he's even taking CREDIT for Grissel's patience, claiming that he moulded it.

There might be some counterpoint to the Grissel plot, however slight. The duke's sister, Julia, is very anti-marriage. Some gallants court her and she roundly rejects them all, citing marriage as a prison and Grissel's treatment in particular as loathsome. A comic Welsh character, Sir Owen ap Meredith, is courting a woman named Gwenthyan, who (rightly and Wife-of-Bath-ly) values honesty, virtue, love, and particularly having her own will in marriage. But in the end, Gwenthyan gives into Sir Owen, saying that she has only been testing him as the duke had tested Grissel, and that now "sir Owen shal be her head." Julia, who advises Sir Owen in his conduct with his wife to "weare a velvet hand, leaden eares, and no tongue" is advised by Gwenthyan (and urged by the gallants) to let go of her distaste for love and get married. The only capitulation is that Gwenthyan does end the speech saying "tis not fi[t] that poore womens should be kept alwaies under," though, and some nod is made towards Julia's life choices as well, as the duke says that Gwenthyan speaks for the "froward wives" and Julia for the "maides."

On the whole, though, this play is more rage-inducing than A Winter's Tale and that's saying something.

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