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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
December 3, 2010

How to Handle a Woman 
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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How do you get to first base with the ladies? It may be easy if you're as dashing and dynamic as my old friend Taki. He is still handsome, athletic, fearless, and funny after all these years, and is married to one of the most beautiful women this side of Helen of Troy. But what about us ordinary mortals? Is there any hope for us?

Good news, guys! The encouraging answer is a resounding yes. The secrets of success with women are laid out clearly in an old play called RICHARD III.

It was originally published anonymously in 1597 and later ascribed to someone called "William Shakespeare" (not his real name). The title page read quaintly THE TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD THE THIRD, with the arresting subtitle "Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his innocent nephewes: his tyrannicall vsurpation: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death."

That gives you some idea of the plot, though I think it's a little judgmental and apt to prejudice the reader. It also leaves out Richard's winning ways with the fair sex.

In the second scene, Richard interrupts the funeral procession of King Henry VI to woo the mourning Lady Anne. Not only does this seem an inauspicious occasion to begin a courtship — so inauspicious that I wonder if even Taki could bring it off; but Richard himself has killed the deceased, as well as Lady Anne's late husband. So he has several strikes against him, apart from bad timing. In addition, he is an ugly hunchback.

Lady Anne serves notice that he's facing an uphill fight when she screams, "Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity!" At this point most men would take the hint. When she goes on to call Richard a devil, a toad, a diffused infection of a man, a hedgehog, a homicide, and a dissembler, and then spits in his face and tells him to hang himself, the warning signs are hard to miss.

For most of us, such expressions as "lump of foul deformity" (which I personally would reserve for someone like Franklin D. Roosevelt) are apt to touch secret insecurities. Coming from a woman we are attracted to, they may cause us to get discouraged, to sulk and brood, or to react defensively. This is especially true if we suspect there is a grain of truth in them. During my teens, I used to wilt every time a girl called me that — until I discovered Richard.

Richard is not one to be put off by a huffy reception. Maybe his disability has inured him to initial rejections by the fair sex. Or maybe he thinks that whatever her lips may call him, her eyes are saying, Yes, yes. Or maybe, in traditional masculine fashion, he reckons it's just the wrong time of the month with her. Whatever the reason, he hangs in there, ignoring the verbal abuse, pouring on the sweet-talk, and trusting that she just needs to be exposed to his finer qualities to see the sensitive human being behind the hump.

Richard replies to her insults by calling her "divine perfection of a woman." He explains that he killed her husband only "to help thee to a better husband" — himself. Her first reaction to this is to spit, naturally; but still, it's not a line she hears from all the guys.

Well, by now you've guessed the rest. If you've seen other plays by "Shakespeare," you'll recognize the formula: the guy who perseveres gets the girl. Petruchio needs determination to tame Kate the Shrew, Benedick has to put up with Beatrice's sharp tongue, and the sharp bantering leads to true love in the end. For a "Shakespeare" hero, being called a lump of foul deformity can be the beginning of a lasting relationship. =But only if he refuses to throw in the towel.=

Sure enough, the Lady Anne relents — cosi fan tutte — and winds up as Richard's queen. Bygones are bygones, and Richard gets on with the business of dealing with his nephews and other obstacles to success. The same determination that has conquered the Lady Anne serves him well in his other endeavors.

True, the marriage is somewhat troubled. But "Shakespeare" can take you only so far; he's good on wooing, but after the wedding vows, you're on your own. Marriage counseling is beyond his scope.

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Copyright © 2010 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was originally published by Griffin Internet Syndicate on January 17, 2006.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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