The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

I am sure I have read this play before, because I have some vague memory of it; but I don’t know when. My reread is inspired by the Houston Shakespeare Festival: I’m going to go see both this, and Othello, in the next week. Fellow Houstonians, don’t miss this event! These two plays are both showing 4-5 times, in the next 8 days or so, at Miller Outdoor Theatre. For FREE. It’s an awesome summer tradition; I’ve been attending the Shakespeare Fest every summer since I was small. Don’t think I’m going to find time to reread Othello, sadly.

So. The Taming of the Shrew is not one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays (and was rather hard to find at Half Price Books. Lots of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream. Thus my very sweet, but visually unstimulating, little Yale Shakespeare blue cloth-bound hardback, pictured), but I think it’s a nice little romp. It’s a comedy involving two sisters: Bianca, the younger, has several suitors; she is attractive and admired. Her older sister Katherina, however, is very difficult, sharp-tongued, scolding, and generally unattractive to prospective suitors. Their father Baptista forbids any suitors to Bianca until such time as Katherina is married. I’m not entirely clear on whether it was his express intention or not, but the result of this is that Bianca’s suitors set out looking for a husband for Katherina, aka the shrew. They find a willing suitor, Petruchio, who feels that Kate’s wealth is worth the fight, and he has a plan. Thus the title: Petruchio sets out to tame the shrew, using such ugly, abusive, domineering, insane behavior that she gives up being “shrewish” and submits to his every desire, agreeing with any crazy thing he says. (The sun is the moon. An old man is a beautiful young maiden. Yes, husband, anything you say.) Petruchio weds, and tames, Kate; sundry other characters wed too. Lucentio marries Bianca, and Hortensio marries a widow (also for her money). The three new husbands make a bet on their wives, as to who can be shown to be most obedient. Petruchio’s reformed shrew wins him the bet, and she ends the play with a speech arguing that a woman should serve and obey her “lord” (husband).

There has been much controversy over this play, pretty much since it was born, regarding gender/marital roles, misogyny, feminism. I’m a bit inclined to agree with the camp that says Shakespeare was actually on the women’s side and was being instructively tongue-in-cheek, but mostly I’m willing to sit back and hear what you think; I don’t find it entirely clear what Shakespeare had in mind, from this distance. (I never did finish Fraser’s Young Shakespeare and thus have not started his Shakespeare: The Later Years. I found the writing awfully dry. If I ever finish these, or find a more palatable biography, perhaps I’ll take a stab at pretending I know what he had in mind. Until then, I am agnostic on this point.) At any rate, it’s an interesting study. Yes, Petruchio’s treatment of Kate is offensive; yes, her final speech makes me shiver. But she wasn’t a respectably independent woman early on; she was just kind of bitchy. Neither of them is sympathetic. So, it’s not as clear-cut as, Petruchio destroys Kate’s fine and virtous strong-woman spirit, or anything.

At any rate, I’m almost certain the upcoming performance will be the first time I’ve seen this play onstage, and I look forward to seeing how the Festival handles the political problems of The Taming of the Shrew. You can expect to see my write-up of the show soon.

Anybody read this play? How do you react to the chauvinism?

7 Responses

  1. I’m with you; I think Shakespeare was on the women’s side. But who knows – we may be projecting what we want to think. I actually love this play and I loved the modern adaptation, the movie Ten Things I Hate About You.

  2. Well, it will be interesting to see how it’s handled in performance next week. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it performed before. Glad to have your vote registered. :) And I’ve never seen that movie…

  3. [...] admire, study, and act this play today, what, 4 centuries after its creation. I read this, like The Taming of the Shrew, years ago, but I needed the refresher for the performance I’m going to see [...]

  4. [...] this production on 8/7 with Husband and another couple. (And I reviewed the written play recently, here.) It was a good time! For one thing, I remembered my spectacles this time, so I could see the [...]

  5. [...] The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare [...]

  6. [...] or strange responses. Today, when asked what the last book I read was, I answered truthfully: The Taming of the Shrew. I was rewarded with deep, uncontrollable belly laughter as the patron stumbled out wiping his [...]

  7. [...] The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare [...]

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