Joel L. Schindlbeck (Baptista / Lord in the Induction / Haberdasher / Widow)
In the beginning of my acting process, I’m asking myself the question, “Why is my character saying these lines.” That question could keep me busy for weeks, and often it does. Using it as a battery for my rehearsal time, I march through the scenes, exploring and discovering exactly why the words are coming out of my mouth. But we’re a little under two weeks from opening the play. My use of these question has near run it’s course and so, we venture to the next question.
“Why is this character in the play?”
Luckily, to spur the creative mind, the answer is not simply, as in the case of Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew, “Because without this character, Katherina and Bianca would have never been born.” Yes, that is certainly a true statement, but couldn’t the play then have gotten along just as well without Baptista actually being around? We don’t see the birth of Katherina and Bianca, so obviously Shakespeare choose to not delve into the importance of birth and parenting.
“Why is my character in the play NOW?”
I believe that Baptista is the world of the play. He has created the rules of engagement for his daughters, he has set the bar for the courtiers and he referees the entire process along the way as a means of not only controlling the future of his family, but also establishing the base moral code for how his family WILL create their future. He is the thread on which the plot builds as a candle builds from being dipped into melted wax. Every act, every scene, every interiour French scene brings another aspect of life choices made by characters which alters the world of the play, putting on another dipping layer of wax for the final candle.
*We first see Baptista quieting the suitors and reminding them of the marriage rules that he has set forth for his daughters.
*Immediately, the suitors plot means of cheating the rules in order to achieve the desired end.
*This drives them to seek out a suitor for Katherina.
*This drives Petruchio to decide to woo the wild beast that is Katherina.
*This drives a formal engagement, through lies and deception of the rules, between Katherine and Petruchio.
*This frees up Bianca to be married.
(Except, as we lovingly see from any comic farce on life and love…not playing by the rules requires people to be on their toes and create diversionary tactics in order to by them time to achieve their ends without disrupting the world and rules set out for them. I mean, wouldn’t it completely have been simpler if the suitors simply hired true instructors to teach Bianca, hired Petruchio to win Katherina and then wait patiently as Baptista assesses their true dowries and makes the choice he intended to make. I’m digressing, but the point remains that Baptista has created the world of the play at the beginning, not necessarily a fair world, but the rules nonetheless. Without these rules, the following four acts wouldn’t need to happen.)
So, there’s a beginning answer to the question. Baptista serves as the world of the play, or keeping my simile, the wick of the play. But then what? I mean, all of that could be delivered in one speech and I could go to the bar while everyone else plays around for two hours and meets me there after the audience leaves.
This is where Baptista, as the world, must respond and/or change the world to match new realities that occur. He is the reactionary character. Not only is he the common foil to most characters’ ruses, but he is also the person responsible for seeing that progress has happened according to his rules and setting forth the next step of the world.
Using a similar example as above:
*Baptista’s Rule: Bianca may not marry until Katherina does.
*Petruchio will marry Katherina.
*Baptista, satisfied, allows for the suitors’ assets to be analyzed. Bringing his next rule…
*Lucentio (Tranio is disguise) may marry Bianca is his father promises the dowry even in the case of Lucentio’s death.
Thus: THE DIRECTION OF ACTION IN THE PLAY CHANGES WITH NEW RULES!
We have been whipped up in the courting of Katherina in order to complete the first milestone of the play. That being over, we now get TWO PLAYS to watch: The Taming of Katherina via Petruchio AND The Cozening of Baptista via Tranio’s lies of the Pedant being Vincentio (Lucentio’s Father.)
Having decided this, my next question is more meta-theatrical: Is a reactionary character a form of audience surrogate? I’m still working on it. Come find out.