Society’s perception of what love is and how it should relate to relationships has been skewed into the area of fantasy and wishful thinking for many centuries, and art has always sought to satirize and critique this. For instance, while they may have been both written over 300 years apart, the classic Shakespearian comedy “Taming of the Shrew” and the 1977 Woody Allen movie “Annie Hall”, both examine to some extent the expectations of relationships and how those expectations can either tear relationships apart or bond the couple in question tighter together. Through their combined commentary, “Shrew” and “Annie Hall”, both in their similar and different approaches to tackling the nebulous theme of love, create stunning and contemporary insights on the predetermined expectations of relationships, how society has taught us they should be, how they actually are, and what they mean for both of the people involved.
Expectation is a broad term, so before we begin to compare and contrast these two pieces of media, we need to solidify what both are trying to say about the subject of expectation. “Shrew” was written during a time where men were expected to hold control over a marriage while the woman wasn’t so much as a person as a medal. She was a way to either show off prideful arrogance or attain money and land. This is reflected in the play. The two sisters: Bianca and Kate, aren’t so much courted because of love as they were because of interior motives from the suitors. The reader doesn’t so much see Bianca is being courted by her three suitors Gremio, Hortensio and Lucentio pursue Bianca because they love her as much as her land-renowned beauty is something to be won. The pitifulness of this venture is reflected in the play’s own genre, the comedic nature of the play is a way to reflect just how silly the whole situation is: that Bianca’s suitors disguise themselves as other people to win her love, or rely on dirty tricks so they can be the one’s to inherit Bianca’s wealth and land. It makes it all the more ironic and satisfying when the one who Bianca marries at the end of the play is Lucentio, the one suitor who impersonates a man(the literature teacher Cambio) who does not have money or family renowned to offer in exchange to Bianca’s father Baptista for Bianca’s hand.
As for Kate, her objectification is a little more obvious. Her suitor Petruchio only seeks to woo her initially for the money from her father, who in turn is also actively using Kate as a literal roadblock in order to get her married, not allowing for the more desirable Bianca to be married until Kate is first engaged. It’s in this sexist expectation of the time period that the play finds its most potent point, however. This is where the critique of the expectation of love is found in “Shrew”. The last scene of the play is a narratively integral culmination of the satire that Shakespeare has been building up until that point, and while it is true that the finale of “Shrew” is extremely interpretive, for the purpose of this paper, we will interpret it as it relates to the theme.
“To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?”
-Kate(Act V, Sc 2)
Kate’s passionate monologue at the end of the play is essentially complete contradiction of how she has acted throughout the entirety of “Shrew”. What she is saying here is contrary to her beliefs about the relationship dynamics between man and wife should work, and neither is she simply repeating hammered in ideals from her newlywed Petruchio. Petruchio after all, has been one of the less misogynist people we’ve met in the play, since he’s mostly just here for the money and doesn’t directly give Kate power over the marriage, but not exactly taking it away from her either. Rather, his aptitude to leave her to fend for herself during their honeymoon suggests that he completely understands Kate’s strength and will, but just needs to show her that such an attitude will only drive people away, so she best calm a bit. So, if not Petruchio to who Kate delivers this speech, then who? The answer, as well as who Shakespeare was mocking in “Shrew”, is simply the audience, and by extension the reader. Though it could be read one way or another, “Shrew”could be regarded as a biting commentary on the unequal gender-dynamics of the time, playing up the stupidness of it for laughs, before ending it with a speech that can easily be seen as completely false given what the audience have seen throughout the play. And, just to spit in the face of those who may be taking the speech seriously, Shakespeare has given the most important, longest and most thematically significant speech, the last grand monologue before the curtain drops… to a woman. It’s a combination of thematic comedy and tonal identity, that shows just how much expectations towards marriage have changed during the centuries. It ends the play on a note saying that while society may still hold these sexist expectations, Kate and Petruchio know it not to be true, though that won’t stop them from holding a mutual understanding of how they’re being perceived by other, and exploiting that expectation to win the bet of the play’s last scene.
Annie Hall, on the other hand, takes on an expectation much more relevant to modern society and marriage as a whole, and the whole affair is decidedly much less upbeat than the comedic “Shrew”. Tackling the modern expectations of how relationships should be right now rather than the sexist ideals of Shakespeare’s time, Annie Hall questions whether happiness necessarily constitutes whether two people are in love. In the modern day world, happiness for both parties is in any expectation for marriage or relationship, but Annie Hall directly challenges this notion.
In this quiet scene in a bookstore, the protagonist of Annie Hall: Alvy, a neurotic comedian, explains his philosophy of life to the titular female lead. According to Alvy, in life, you’re either horrible or miserable. If you’re horrible you’re either terminally ill of psychically disabled, so if you’re neither of those things, you should be grateful to be miserable. It’s an extremely negative outlook on life as a whole, and while it’s one that only Alvy seems to hold in the movie, it’s an outlook that the movie seems to want to transfer to the audience. Life is a miserable experience, and so by extension, are relationships. But just because life and relationships are horrible, that doesn’t mean they still don’t hold some kind of value.
The conclusion of both media pieces ultimately hinges on whether the couples of “Shrew” and “Annie Hall” reject or deny the expectations about love and marriage that have till that point driven the narrative. In “Shrew”, both Petruchio and Kate have defied the sexist expectations of the time, and as a result, while they may not be in love with one another depending on how the dialogue is interpreted, they are certainly both are happy at the end of the play. They hold each-other in a certain amount of respect, and the reader can gather that their relationship, even if it was not romantic, still persevered long after the last scene.
“Come, Kate, we’ll go to bed.
We three are married, but you two are sped.
[To Lucentio] ‘Twas I won the wager, though you
hit the white,
And being a winner, God give you good night”
-Petruchio(Act V, Sc 2)
In this quote, Petruchio lays out why exactly he thinks he is the “winner” at the end of the play. Though Lucentio has won the jewel of the play: Bianca, the ultimate symbol of purity and “victory” throughout the plan, Petruchio knows that his relationship, built on a bedrock of mutual understanding rather than the sneaky underhand tactics that Lucentio stooped too, will ultimately prove more sustainable. This again, is shown by Shakespeare in the play. When the men make a bet to see which of their wives will come first when called, it is only Kate who comes to Petruchio, and not only that, but drags the non-obedient Bianca by the ear along with her. This could be seen as Kate being fully indoctrinated into the gender politics of the time, but more likely, it’s to show that the woman and men who built their marriages on the norm, and by extension, expectations of the time will not have a healthy, mutually respected relationship.
On the other half of the coin, Annie Hall shows how relationship dynamics falter when both sides of the relationships believe wholeheartedly in the romantic expectations of the time, which is in this case, that love equals happiness. Building up to the finale, Alvy and Annie have broken up and reconciled multiple times, but now that he’s about to lose Annie perhaps for good to a handsome music producer, Alvy flies to California to get her back. His attempt utterly fails, even an attempted marriage proposal, and he flies back to New York. The film closes on a slight fast-forward to chance meeting Alvy and Annie have back in New York, and it’s Alvy’s closing narration over this final scene that truly ties the thematic core of this piece together.
As the ending credits start to roll, Alvy describes an old joke he once heard. In the joke, the narrator tells a doctor that his brother believes that he is a chicken, and when the doctor asks the narrator why he doesn’t turn his brother in, the narrator says that he “needs the eggs”, which strikes a chord with Alvy about his experience with relationships. In Alvy’s opinion, while relationships may be chaotic and stupid and miserable, everyone still puts up with them because they “need the eggs”. This is a direct parallel to the film’s thematic message about happiness in relationships. While modern day expectations say that relationships should be happy, Annie Hall says that they are in reality, well… chaotic, stupid and miserable. But despite that, relationships still “give eggs”, that human connection that we call love, and the hurt is worth it. The ending of Annie Hall shows what happens when expectation about relationships get in the way of actual relationships, that that human connection crumbles.
Both “Shrew” and Annie Hall are critics of relationship expectations in terms of the time period they were both created. While they go about it different ways, both pieces of media agree that these expectations that society create around the concept of relationships destroy those same relationships. Proper relationships can only work if both parties look past the expectations created by society, and see their human connection for what they are eggs that worth harvesting despite the nasty stuff around them.