Shakespeare's Staging
The Taming of the Shrew
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Friday, 22 April 2005 06:17


The Taming of the Shrew: Ada Rehan as Katherine does not look like a victim. Courtesy of the Hampden-Booth Library, New York.


In modern times, like The Merchant of Venice, this play has proved one of the most controversial and censured of any by Shakespeare, because critics have chosen to read it in the light of present-day perspectives. Feminists have chosen it to exemplify the vices of male patriarchy, even though most of Shakespeare's comedies illustrate the virtues of female initiative via such examples as Rosalind and Marina, not to mention Katherine of Aragon. Like Orlando, Katherina Minola starts in a condition of violent, even suicidal resentment at the neglect of her talents. She alone in the play specifically strikes others on several occasions (5.3.33). The Induction of the original script stresses that Katherina would be played by a boy actor, as the youthful Olivier confirmed (5.1.1), so anyway no direct female physical abuse could occur. However, having already outwitted Petruchio at his own game in 4.5—the famous "sun is moon" scene (as demonstrated brilliantly by Elizabeth Taylor in Zeffirelli's film; see 9.2.28)—in the last scene of the play Katherina has learned how to dominate a whole assembled society (as in 2.4.18) in a way impossible for them to resist. In view of current censures, it is ironic that this is one of Shakespeare's most popular scripts, as seen in the success of Zeffirelli's film, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, which cleverly blends the drunken Sly with the cynical Petruchio to create a plausibly clumsy maverick. Indeed, the play, like Coriolanus, investigates the dangers from mistreated talents. It was written for audiences including many bold women (no doubt including a very assertive queen); England in Shakespeare's time was already known as a "paradise for women" because of their freedom to appear unescorted in public places such as theatres. As in his other "problem plays", Shakespeare was writing provocatively to excite such people in the spirit of Ibsen's A Doll's House, not to mention G. B. Shaw's version in Pygmalion. It is true that over the years some naïve Petruchios have rescripted the play to validate their own misogyny (2.4.17; 3.3.20), but the original text never justifies their whips and brutality. Instead, it assumes from the start of their relationship a mutual interest between two non-conforming personalities, as convincingly established in the Burton/Taylor reading and others (5.3.32). At least Victorian and Edwardian Katherinas (3.3.21, 3.3.22, 3.3.23) were able to establish her verve and attractiveness. Ⓒ HMR


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The Taming of the Shrew at Talkin' Broadway.


The Taming of the Shrew: John Drew (1853-1927) as Petruchio. This is about as macho as you can get in this role, with the whip and the phallic sword. Compare this sexist view of the play to the post-feminist reading discussed below.

From Chad Jones in "Theater Dogs: Bay Area Backstage":

Review of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Shana Cooper, California Shakespeare Theater, Bruns Amphitheater, September 21 to October 16, 2011: Cal Shakes' Shrew anything but tame

"...The trajectory of Kate and Petruchio's love story—and that's really what it is here—is clear from the first time they see each other, and each, almost in spite of themselves, likes what they see. Erica Sullivan and Slate Holmgren have red-hot chemistry from the very first, and they're so good together you really do want them together. Kate's got emotional troubles and Petruchio's actually terrified by her, a state incompatible with his alpha-male bravado. But they both dive in, each a little crazed and carried away until they reach an understanding about how deeply they are willing to invest in their union and in each other. The taming here is mutual, and in the end it isn't taming so much as maturing. Theirs will not be a shallow marriage of arrangement, though that's how it begins. Unlike Bianca's meet-cute relationship with her groom, Kate and Petruchio will likely still love one another tomorrow."

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