Taming of the Shrew
He said. She said. The never ending battle of the sexes has always made for popular entertainment and is usually the central conflict to any story. Just who's point of view is right? Following a long line of "taming" plays, the story of an 'out of control' woman or wife being brought into domestic line was quite popular both before and after Shakespeare's time. In this respect, 'Shrew' follows this formulaic structure, however, with Shakespeare's usual spin, nothing is quite as it seems. This is true in the very nature of the structure of the play itself as the familiar story of the Shrewish Kate being tamed by the fortune hunting Pertuchio is not the play itself but a play with the actual play. The poor man and ever drunk tinker Christopher Sly has stumbled upon a country Lord's house and passed out due to excessive drink. Having some fun, the Lord dresses Sly up as a Lord and has a traveling group of players enact the main 'Shrew' play for him. Acting in way as Chorus, the Induction scenes that feature Sly are an old device that present the action of the comedy that you are about to see as farcical and unreal. Sometimes seen as a light and slapstick farce, a testament male cruelty to women, the champion of modern feminism writers, a vehicle for virtuoso husband/wife teams, or just a really great night at the theater, The Taming of the Shrew has just about something for everyone.
As the play first appeared in print in the 1623 First Folio
Christopher Sly is duped into believing that he is a country Lord watching a play about a shrewish woman being tamed. These scenes, comic gems in their own right, set up the rather unreal and farcical tone for the rest of play, but is not followed up on after the story of Kate and Petruchio has finished. This strange discrepancy in the text has many productions simply dispensing with the Induction altogether. A quarto that appeared in 1594 called "The Taming of A Shrew" follows a very similar story line and concludes the Sly story as well. While some productions have included this as the 'missing' scene for the play, 'A Shrew' seems to be a pirated edition of Shakespeare's play. Though a pirated edition, whether 'A Shrew' shows a modification thrown on by another person or an earlier version of Shakespeare's play is not known.
The play with a play begins with the young and idealistic student Lucentio arriving in Padua with his trusty servant and friend Tranio. The two observe a spectacle as a rich townsman Baptista Minola is besieged by his older daughter Katherina who is railing against her father entertaining suitors for her younger sister Bianca. Baptista insists that his older daughter must be married before the younger and neither the two suitors, Hortensio and Gremio nor eligible man in Padua want to go anywhere near Kate. The two suitors decide to join forces and get Kate hitched so they can have a shot a Bianca. However, Lucentio has fallen madly in love with Bianca and decides he has to get near Bianca to make his move. He decides to disguise himself as a tutor and have Tranio pass himself off as Lucentio. Petruchio, a young man from Verona arrives with his quick witted side kick Grumio to see their friend Hortensio. Petruchio announces that he comes to wife in Padua if the prospect be rich and it doesn't matter what else she be. Hortensio seizing upon the opportunity turns Petruchio on to Kate. Hortensio then disguises himself as musical tutor to get close to Bianca as well. The introduction of the "educational tutors" and wooing of 'sweet' Bianca makes up the comic subplot as one suitor tries to comically one up the other. Meanwhile, the headstrong central couple lock horns from the start.
Though Taming of the Shrew as it has come down to us didn't appear in a quarto version in Shakespeare's lifetime, odd quartos did appear after the publication of the First Folio. A quarto of The Taming of A Shrew which appears to be a pirated edition of the play appeared in 1593, shortly after Shakespeare's play was written.
Below, a quarto version from the 1630's.
Petruchio, tries to domineer in the beginning, and blusters his way to the altar but falls short of giving Kate a proper wedding, proper clothes, food, sleep and lodging, all in an attempt to give her a taste of her own shrewish medicine. The treatment wears Kate down but also shows her how hurtful her behavior has been. While she maintains her same temperament and spirit, she follows Petruchio's lead as she finally sees some caring enough to show her that constant railing only leads to constant misery. The play's ends with Lucentio winning Bianca and Hortensio winning a widow who has pursued him, but have they won the real Shrew's? Daddy's little girl Bianca and the widow command their new husbands like servants while Kate and Petruchio have a more amicable relationship. Kate's final speech shows the error of the women's one-sided behavior and shows the former shrew to be the only happily married woman.
Taming of the Shrew is perhaps Shakespeare's first controversial play and while it has more resonance in today's post-feminist world, it has been thought provoking from the start. Kate maintains her fiery spirit even after seeing the error of her ways, while similar stories of the period have the wife whipped into submission and instead of using violence to subdue the Shrew, Petruchio kills her with kindness. It made such an impression in Shakespeare's day that his own protégé, John Fletcher, wrote a sequel called The Tamer Tamed where Petruchio remarries and get a taste of his own taming medicine. While the "sequel" is a great play in its own right, Fletcher seems to have missed the point of the original. Kate never needed to be tamed only loved and found that with the one person who didn't put up with her crap, Petruchio. Railing against her clueless father, spoiled baby sister, and opportunistic suitors was her only way of expressing her self.
Based in part on Lodovico Ariosto's I Suppositi, earlier 'taming story' traditions and Roman comedies, 'Shrew' is one of Shakespeare's most popular, often performed and filmed plays from Franco Zefferelli's classic production featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to the teen adaptation of the 10 Things I Hate About You. Like most Shakespeare plays that fuel controversy both sides claim the play and the playwright as supporting their view. Some see Kate as loosing her individuality and submitting to a violent male and others see her as maintaining her dignity while winning the better marriage. Both positions are ultimately true as with similar controversial plays like The Merchant of Venice, cannot show a protagonist overcoming adversity if there that adversity is not shown as well and dealt with. And like 'Merchant', 'Shrew' cannot be produced today without a director wondering how they should handle Kate's supposedly submissive speech. However, again to take anything in Shakespeare at face value is to miss the point. Kate acquiesces rather than submits and tries to impart to the head strong women that acting like a shrew gets you nothing but a lonely marriage. Partner instead with your husbands who also do their part and enjoy the fruits of your labor together. Though told through the lens of the time period's simple social conventions, it's message is always for each member of the household to do their part and only then is true domestic bliss achieved. Whether biting social commentary, a hilarious romp filled with great characters and comic bits, or consideration as a candidate for the lost Shakespeare play Love's Labours Wonne, Shrew has something that appeals to everyone and is today one of the mainstays of most theatrical groups.
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