University of Virginia Library

In Act 4 of The Taming of the Shrew Petruccio orders a tailor and a haberdasher to present their commissioned clothing designs—designs which Petruccio will ultimately deny Katherine. The haberdasher displays his cap, is insulted by Petruccio, and departs (TLN 2045-70; 4.3.62-85).[1] The tailor then presents his gown, a "loose bodied gowne" with trunk sleeves "curiously cut" (TLN 2117, 2126) which Petruccio also criticises and rejects. Petruccio's sartorial criticisms include a perplexing simile:

Whats this? a sleeue? 'tis like demi cannon,
What, vp and downe caru'd like an apple Tart?
Heers snip, and nip, and cut, and slish and slash,
Like to a Censor in a barbers shoppe: (TLN 2073-76)
Editors from Rowe on have accepted the orthographic alteration of "Censor" to "censer," a noun which "is usually explained as 'fumigator.'. . . though OED gives no examples of this, quoting this line from Shr. under Censer, sb. 11.b and stating 'commentators are not agreed as to what exactly is referred to.'"[2] Despite the uncertainty, "censer" appears to gain additional weight from Doll Tearsheet's insult to the beadle in 2 Henry 4, "thou thin man in a Censor" (TLN 3190); this line also requires the sense of "censer," although, as Brian Morris points out, "neither [use] sheds light on the other."[3] Ann Thompson admits that "[t]he use of such objects in barbers' shops is not supported by any other contemporary reference," but concludes plausibly that it was "presumably important to sweeten the air" since barbers' shops "were used for minor surgery as well as hairdressing."[4] Most editors concur. Thus, "censer" has made its way into almost all modern-spelling editions of The Taming of the Shrew.

The Oxford Complete Works is the first edition to tackle the problem by emendation rather than rationalisation. The editors offer scissor for Censor, an attractive emendation which can be defended on grounds of logic, at least initially. On closer scrutiny however, the Oxford emendation cannot


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be right, because it offers the wrong kind of noun. The sleeve is like a demi- cannon, like a tart, like a specific object that is big, carved, and cut and slashed; my reading would therefore disallow the meaning "cut and slashed as if by scissors" to favour the meaning "like an object which has itself been cut and slashed."[5]

I suggest that the original reading was cittern (or a spelling variant of that noun). Cittern (a musical instrument with a grotesquely carved neck) makes good sense in the context, is used elsewhere by Shakespeare and at least ten of his contemporaries in similarly derogatory contexts, and can be amply documented as a standard item in barbers' shops. I begin by considering the cittern, its association with barbers' shops, and the metaphoric insults which arise from the instrument's engraved neck: having established the appropriateness of the cittern metaphor to Petruccio's sartorial criticism, I defend the need for emendation by considering the nature and rate of compositor B's typesetting errors in F Shrew.