Shrewridden

In Brief

In Scylla and Charybdis, prompted by John Eglinton, Stephen associates Shakespeare’s unhappy wedlock with Socrates’ marriage to “A shrew” named "Xanthippe," and in Circe he adds a third great man to the club: "We have shrewridden Shakespeare and henpecked Socrates. Even the allwisest Stagyrite was bitted, bridled and mounted by a light of love.” Shakespeare allegedly hated his wife, Anne Hathaway. Socrates was hated by Xanthippe. As for Aristotle (the “Stagyrite”), Stephen is referring to a Renaissance-era misogynistic woodcut that shows Aristotle ridden like a horse by his lover Herpyllis.

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Socrates, according to the Symposium of his student Xenophon, held that “woman’s nature is nowise inferior to man’s” and that women should receive the same education as men—a radical view in ancient Athens. But in this work Antisthenes records the view that Xanthippe, Socrates’ much younger wife, was “of all the wives that are, indeed that ever will be, I imagine, the most shrewish.” Antisthenes asks Socrates why he does not teach his own wife, to which Socrates replies: "Well now, I will tell you. I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: 'None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me,' he says; 'the horse for me to own must show some spirit': in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else." Antisthenes comments: "To wit, if he can tame this shrew, he can tame all others" (all passages translated by H. G. Dakyns).

Aristotle held a more unpleasant view of women than Socrates. He believed that some humans were born to be slaves and some to be rulers. Women were born slaves (though superior to barbarians) because, according to sentences quoted by Fred Miller in an article on Aristotle's political theory in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the male is by nature more capable of leadership than the female” and “females require male supervision.” As perhaps befits this harsh opinion, Antisthenes' image of Socrates taming and riding a shrew was reversed in an early 16th century representation of Aristotle by the Strasbourg painter Hans Baldung, who was known for antifeminist views.

Contrary to the spirit of Baldung's image, and to the way in which Shakespeare treated his wife in his will, there is evidence that Aristotle was kindly disposed to the women in his life. "Antiquity mentions," says Stephen in Scylla and Charybdis, that when dying he "frees and endows his slaves, pays tribute to his elders, wills to be laid in earth near the bones of his dead wife and bids his friends be kind to an old mistress (don't forget Nell Gwynn Herpyllis) and let her live in his villa." Gifford notes that the ancient authority is "Diogenes Laertius (fl. third century B.C.), who reports in his Lives of the Philosophers that Aristotle's will freed and endowed some of his slaves, commissioned a statue of his mother, and directed that he be buried with his wife, Pythias, and that his concubine, Herpyllis (apocryphal?) was to be allowed to live out her life in one of his houses."

Xanthippe is mentioned in The Taming of the Shrew: Petruchio goes on and on about how he would marry anyone for her money, even one “shrewd / As Socrates’ Xanthippe or a worse” (1.2.71-72). Shakespeare's own wife was thought to be a shrew by one eminent scholar in Joyce’s day. In The Man Shakespeare and His Tragic Life Story (1909), Frank Harris argues that Shakespeare had a “loathing for his wife [that] was measureless.” He observes that Anne gave birth to their first child, Susanna Shakespeare, a mere six months after their wedding, and that Shakespeare was granted two marriage certificates in 1582, one to an Anne Whately and the other to Anne Hathaway. Harris argues that these are two different people and that Shakespeare had his heart set on marrying Whately but was stymied when Hathaway’s relatives forced him to marry the then-three months pregnant Hathaway. (Others believe that Whately and Hathaway are, in fact, the same person. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (2001) notes that Whately is “almost certainly the result of clerical error,” and that Harris “became a popular sensation by interpreting the plays as the intimate autobiography of a turbulent soul.”)

Harris muses that “if Shakespeare had married Anne Whately he might never have gone to London or written a play,” and it seems that Stephen too may be associating the intellectual work of some great thinkers with their marital troubles. When Lynch mocks him in Circe for talking of philosophy in an infamous red-light district, Stephen answers him by saying that three of the most brilliant men of western culture were bitted, bridled, mounted, and ridden by a "light of love"—a sexually desirable but difficult woman.

When Eglinton challenges him in Scylla and Charybdis to say "What useful discovery did Socrates learn from Xanthippe?," Stephen replies, "Dialectic." Shortly later, he imagines Shakespeare trudging off to London with a grievance that was personal, but not sexual: "Is Katharine the shrew illfavoured? Hortensio calls her young and beautiful. Do you think the writer of Antony and Cleopatra, a passionate pilgrim, had his eyes in the back of his head that he chose the ugliest doxy in all Warwickshire to lie withal? Good: he left her and gained the world of men."

Andy Han 2018
Xanthippe Empties the Chamberpot over the Head of Socrates, engraved print in the emblem book Emblemata Horatiana, Imaginibus In Aes Incisis Atque Latino, Germanico, Gallico Et Belgico Carmine Illustrata by Otho Vaenius (1607). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Aristotle and Phyllis, 1513 woodblock print by Hans Baldung held in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum and in the Louvre. Source: Wikimedia Commons.