‘Misrule’ and ‘Flyting’: the language of inversion in William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew
This essay aims to analyze some specific aspects of the relationship between Shakespeare’s comedic language and the popular culture of the English Renaissance, starting from the application and redefinition of Bakhtin’s interpretative paradigm of the Carnival. Though not identical to the French and European Carnival, many Medieval popular festivities in England were characterized by a similar world-upside-down logic. For example, the election of a Lord of Misrule – linked to a very popular collective festivity – was responsible for a parodic reorganization of the ‘real life’, in which the King – at least for one day – belonged to the lowest rank of the population and was given the power of mocking and ridiculing any member of the community, including the most authoritative ones.
When the disintegration of the Medieval communal world reaches its highpoint in the sixteenth century, under the weight of the economy of enclosures, the new mercantilism and the move from country to city, the motif of the inversion of roles becomes central throughout the Elizabethan theater, and in particular in Shakespeare’s drama, in which it is used to problematize and re-conceptualize a world challenged by an unprecedented social mobility.
Significant, in this sense, appears to be The Taming of the Shrew, in which the trope of the inversion is shaped as a 'reverse inversion', a dramatic device that reinterprets the Misrule of tradition through: 1) metatheatrical devices; 2) language games, such as flyting); 3) the questioning of social and gender roles. This paper focuses specifically on these aspects of the play.
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