The Taming of the Shrew College Prep Studies

Historical Background

Although there has been much debate, Shakespeare is now believed to have composed The Taming of the Shrew between 1592 and 1594. Although a play named The Taming of A Shrew was published first in the so-called “bad quarto” of 1594, Shakespeare’s own version was not published until 1623 when the First Folio of his works was compiled. The pirated version is thought to be a fast transcription, not without some embellishment, of Shakespeare’s play as it was performed.

The first known performance of The Taming of the Shrew was held at Newington Butts on June 13, 1594 by Shakespeare’s own company, the Chamberlain’s Men. Shakespeare himself played the part of Vincentio (a confined role) alongside the very popular actor Richard Burbage, who played Lucentio. However, there is a reference (not a record) in the “bad quarto” to earlier performances by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men, a troop which disbanded in 1594 due to financial troubles.

The Newington Butts stage was located one mile south of London Bridge in one of the Liberties, so called because they lay outside of the city limits where strict municipal laws did not affect the theater. Londoners regularly traveled outside the city proper to see their favorite plays, except during plague years when the theaters were closed for the public’s safety. The Globe, Shakespeare’s famous playhouse, was likewise located in the Liberties. When it burned down, Shakespeare’s company was forced to move into London to Blackfriars and other playhouses.

The Taming of the Shrew enjoyed instant popularity. Its pirated copy was republished in 1596 and 1607. Shakespeare’s version of the play was even performed in the court of Charles I by the King’s Company on November 16, 1633 at St. James Palace.

It should be noted that all plays performed before 1642 required an all-male cast since women were not allowed on stage. Only after the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 were women permitted to act. In its first known performance, for example, the actors Alexander Cooke, Robert Goffe, and Samuel Gilburne played the parts of Katharina, Bianca, and the Widow respectively.

Shakespeare’s play has maintained its popularity right through to our own time, but not in its original form. Various playwrights have adapted Shrew to suit the taste of their times. The original play has been transformed from comedy into both farce and tragedy. This is not surprising since Shrew contains elements of each.

Three versions of the play have outstripped Shakespeare’s original in popularity. Its biggest success has been David Garrick’s adaptation titled Catharine and Petruchio, first staged in 1754 but running into the next century in over 300 performances. Garrick’s version employed only the main plot of Shakespeare’s play, as the title reflects, and it was used only as an afterpiece to a play that received first billing.

Another great success was John Lacy’s adaptation named Sauny the Scot, first performed in 1667 but published later in 1698. Lacy’s version omits the framing plot but stays close to Shakespeare’s original and the farcical nature of the character Grumio, Petruchio’s idiotic servant. Though this play also was copied and adapted, Shakespeare’s original, except for the Induction, has finally come back into vogue in this century. It has been filmed several times. Unfortunately for the dedicated student of Shakespeare, only one film version has ever employed the framing plot of Sly, and its availability is uncertain. It was directed by Henri Desfontaines for Eclipse Films, and released in the United States in 1911.

Currently, The Taming of the Shrew ranks alongside The Tempest in popularity, though several Shakespearean plays enjoy greater success, such as As You Like It, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth Night. Of course, Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear are performed far more than any of Shakespeare’s plays.

The Taming of the Shrew Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Warwickshire

*Warwickshire. County in England’s Midlands area, which contains William Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. The induction scenes, outside a tavern and within a nameless lord’s country house, contain specific references to actual villages such as Greet, Wincot, and Burton Heath. This landscape introduces contemporary sociopolitical issues such as enclosure (the tavern abuts the lord’s hunting preserve), vagrancy and sumptuary laws (for example, Sly’s list of jobs and his being jokingly dressed as a lord), and the economic tensions produced by changes in land use (Sly’s poverty contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the lord’s house—dogs, servants, food, and erotic art).

*Padua

*Padua. City in northeastern Italy, about twenty miles west of Venice. Shakespeare borrows this setting from the Italian source for his comedy, Ludovico Ariosto’s I suppositi, complete with disguises and clever manservants. As usual on the fluid, nonrepresentational Elizabethan stage, the action moves effortlessly, without the use of stage directions, from the first street scenes to the reception rooms, where Petruchio woos Kate, to the music room. The impression achieved is of a successful mercantile community, where personal wealth is measured in numbers of ships and household goods. The streets and houses near the home of Baptista Minola provide the fictional displacement from the England portrayed in the introduction, a displacement that parallels the thematic shifts from class anxieties to those of contemporary gender politics.

*Petruchio’s farmhouse

*Petruchio’s farmhouse (peh-TREW-kee-oh). Near Verona, a city in northern Italy, forty miles west of Padua. Petruchio’s property, with its muddy roads and bustling servants, provides a material reality in contrast to Padua’s nondescript spaces. As signified by the names of the servants, Petruchio’s blunt masculinity is construed as characteristically English in contrast with the mannered Italians. Furthermore, Petruchio’s house functions as a site of transformations, where the pretensions of wealth and social behavior can be stripped away from Kate by Petruchio’s “taming.”

The Taming of the Shrew Modern Connections

Modern audiences are typically troubled by two problems in The Taming of the Shrew. The first is the problem of Christopher Sly's disappearance. Shakespeare sets up an elaborate frame story for presenting The Taming of the Shrew, but, then, seems to abandon the frame story, that of Christopher Sly, at the end. As part of the trick the lord and his servants are playing on Sly, the latter is positioned to watch the inset play (The Taming of the Shrew). Sly watches for a while but then becomes disinterested and is not heard from again. The audience fully expects that the joke on Sly will be revealed to him when he is forced to assume, once again, his real identity. When Shakespeare's play fails to supply this closure, the audience is somewhat disappointed.

A play contemporary with Shakespeare's, The Taming of a Shrew, does provide this closure, Sly critically commenting on the action of the inset play throughout and resuming his normal life at the end. The Taming of a Shrew is thought, alternatively, to be a source for or an imitation of Shakespeare's play. It is also conjectured that The Taming of a Shrew might be a bad quarto version of Shakespeare's play or a play relying on the same source as The Taming of the Shrew. Regardless of the exact relationship of the two plays, the overriding questions are these: might Shakespeare have written Sly into the ending of the play, that ending becoming lost somehow in the printing process, or does Shakespeare intentionally eliminate Sly before the ending for some other purpose? Since Shakespeare's Christopher Sly, unlike his counterpart in The Taming of a Shrew, never expresses much interest in the play, it is likely that Shakespeare never intended to resolve the Sly frame story. The transformation of Sly back to himself is left to the imagination of the audience, and, in doing so, the audience might well imagine the transformation of the one character in the inset play who is not returned to her ''true'' self. That character is, of course, Kate.

Perhaps more troublesome to modern audiences is the question of Kate's true identity. As we might imagine, many who read The Taming of the Shrew are disturbed by Petruchio's harsh treatment of Kate. Although Petruchio usually seems less harsh on stage than he does in the stark black and white of print—on stage the actors playing Kate and Petruchio often convey an affection that many believe exists between the two characters—he still humiliates and starves her, forcing her to agree with whatever nonsense he chooses to utter. It is somewhat unsettling to see Kate, a feisty and outspoken woman, reduced to a shell of her former self at the play's end, a kind of puppet whose only intent is to please her husband. But why should we imagine that Kate has changed completely and irreversibly when all the other characters give up the disguises for which they are ill-suited and resume their real identities?

Lucentio adopts the disguise of Cambio, a schoolmaster, and Bianca falls in love with him, prompting Hortensio to give up his own disguise as the music teacher, Litio. Hortensio expresses his disgust with Bianca for being attracted to such a base fellow, scorning her that' 'leaves a gentleman, / And makes a god of such a cullion" (IV.ii. 19-20). Lucentio must abandon that disguise and display the true worth of his birth in order to be accepted by Bianca's father, Baptista. In V.ii.65-70, Vincentio calls attention to Tranio's affected style of dress, absurd in that Vincentio knows him to be a servant of his son. The pedant, one who by definition is a stickler for petty detail, is patently inappropriate to play Vincentio, a father who should display love and concern for his son, emotions completely opposite to a pedant's passionless existence. Even Petruchio gives up his role of shrew tamer and resumes what the audience presumes to be his real identity of the witty, game-playing courtier. Yet, while each of these characters has only temporarily stepped outside of his natural and proper self, it seems as though by outward appearances that Kate changes completely, her outspoken, self-assertive nature lost and unrecoverable.

Modern interpretations of the play which argue against Kate's complete transformation do so believing that Elizabethan audiences would have applauded Petruchio's taming of Kate and his making of her something she is not by nature. Although it is true that Elizabethan audiences would have found the topic of silencing women in public more humorous than we tend to do nowadays, both Elizabethan and modern audiences might be expected to imagine a life after the play for both Sly and Kate. Perhaps Kate has not been tamed anymore than Sly has become a lord, Lucentio a schoolmaster, Tranio his master, or the pedant Lucentio's father, Vincentio. After all, if the men believe Petruchio when he overcomes Kate's early protests by saying "Tis bargain'd 'twixt us twain, being alone, / That she shall still be curst in company" (II.i.304-05), why should the audience believe those same men when they celebrate Kate's display of the "properly" (by Elizabethan standards) subservient attitude at the end of the play? Kate might be deceiving them in the same way Petruchio has done.

The Taming of the Shrew may inspire modern readers to recall times when they, like many of the characters in the play, have taken on roles themselves, hiding their true identities, in order to achieve certain goals (romantic or otherwise). How often do people pretend to be something they aren't in order to get something they want, or think they want.

The Taming of the Shrew Media Adaptations

Kiss Me Kate. MGM, 1953.
Film version of the 1948 Cole Porter musical based on The Taming of the Shrew. Two divorced actors can't separate their real lives from their stage lives after they are engaged to play Katherina and Petruchio in a production of Shakespeare's play. Distributed by MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Facets Multimedia, Inc. 110 minutes.

Kiss Me Petrucho, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1982. Documentary on the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of The Taming of the Shrew. Distributed by Films Inc. Video, Professional Media Service Corp., 58 minutes.

The Taming of the Shrew. Pickford Corporation, Elton Corporation, United Artists, 1929, re-edited 1966. Earliest film version, an early talkie featuring the only pairing of real-life couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Distributed by Nostalgia Family Video, Critics' Choice Video. 66 minutes.

The Taming of the Shrew. Columbia, 1967.
A lavish screen version, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and directed by Franco Zeffirelh. Distributed by Columbia Tristar Home Video, The Video Catalog, PBS Video. 122 minutes.

The Taming of the Shrew. International Film Bureau, 1974. Presents two scenes from the play: Petruchio vows to marry Katherina, and he begins the process of "taming" her. Distributed by International Film Bureau, Inc. 13 minutes.

The Taming of the Shrew. NET, 1980.
Performance by the American Conservatory Theatre at the Geary Theatre in San Francisco. Distributed by WNET/Thirteen Non-Broadcast. 120 minutes.

The Taming of the Shrew. Cedric Messina, Dr. Jonathan Miller, BBC, 1981.
Stars John Cleese and Sarah Badel. Distributed by Ambrose Video Publishing, Inc. 127 minutes.

The Taming of the Shrew Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bevington, David ed., The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Third Edition. Glenview, IL, 1980. [1]

Further Reading
Baldwin, T. W. The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearean Company. Princeton, 1927. [1]

Berek, Peter. “Text, Gender, and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew.” In “Bad” Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. by Maurice Charney, 91-104. London, 1988. [1]

Boose, Lynda E. “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991) 179-213. [3]

Fineman, Joel. “The Turn of the Shrew.” In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. by Patricia Parker, et al, 138-59. New York, 1985. [4]

Haring-Smith, Tori. From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of “The Taming of the Shrew,” 1594-1983 (Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies, 16). Westport, CT, 1985. [1]

Hodgdon, Barbara. “Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 107 (1992) 538-53. [4]

Holderness, Graham. “Production, Reproduction, Performance: Marxism, History, Theatre.” In Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism and the Renaissance, ed. by Francis Barker, et al, 153-78. Manchester, 1991. [3]

Howard, Jean. “Women as Spectators, Spectacles, and Paying Customers.” In Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. by Kastan and Stallybrass, 68-74. New York, 1991. [1] A longer version of this article entitled “Scripts and/versus Playhouses: Ideological Production and the Renaissance Public Stage,” appears in Renaissance Drama 20 (1989) 31-49. [3]

Howard-Hill, T. H., ed. The Taming of the Shrew: A Concordance to the Text of the First Folio (The Oxford Shakespeare Concordances). Oxford, 1969. [1]

Huston, J. Dennis. “‘To make a puppet’: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Studies 9 (1976) 73-87. [1]

Levine, Laura. “Men in Women’s Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization from 1579 to 1642.” Criticism 28 (1986) 121-43. [1]

Mikesell, Margaret. “‘Love wrought these miracles’: Marriage and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew.” Renaissance Drama 20 (1990) 141-67. [1]

Moison, Thomas. “‘Knock me here soundly’: Comic Misprision and Class Consciousness in Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991) 276-90. See esp. 276-82. [2]

Newman, Karen. “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.” English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986) 86-100. [3]

Orgell, Stephen. “Nobody’s Perfect: Or Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women?” The South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989) 7-29. [1]

Perret, Marion D. “Petruchio: The Model Wife.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 23 (1983) 223-35. [1]

Sirluck, Katherine A. “Patriarchy, Pedagogy, and the Divided Self in The Taming of the Shrew.” University of Toronto Quarterly 60 (1990-91) 417-34. [3]

Traub, Valerie. “The (In)significance of ‘lesbian’ desire in early modern England.” In Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. by Susan Zimmerman, 150-69. New York, 1992. [3]

Weller, Barry. “Induction and Inference: Theatre, Transformation, and the Construction of Identity in The Taming of the Shrew.” In Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature, ed. by David Quint, et al, 297-329. Binghamton, 1992. [1]

Wells, Stanley and Gary Taylor. “No Shrew, a Shrew, and the Shrew: Internal Revision in The Taming of the Shrew.” In Shakespeare: Text, Language, Criticism, ed. by Bernhard Fabian, et al, 351-70. New York, 1987. [1]

Wentersdorf, Karl P. “The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew: A Reconsideration.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 18 (1978) 201-15. [1]

Literary Commentary
Berry, Ralph. "The Rules of the Game." In Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form, pp. 54-71. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Argues that while The Taming of the Shrew may be, in essence, a "brutal sex farce," it is also a subtle portrayal of two people coming to terms on the rules of the games played between men and women.

Boose, Linda "The Taming of the Shrew, Good Husbandry, and Enclosure." Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, edited by Russ McDonald, pp. 193-225. Ithaca Cornell, 1994.
Relates the play's treatment of social and sexual hierarchy to socioeconomic changes and class conflict in early modern England.

Bradbrook, Muriel C. "Dramatic Role as Social Image: A Study of The Taming of the Shrew." Shakespeare Jahrbuch 94, (1958): 132-50.
Examines Shakespeare's adaptation of the traditional roles associated with characters in earlier treatments of the shrew story, focusing in particular on his development of the characters of Katherina and Petruchio.

Brooks, Charles. "Shakespeare's Romantic Shrews." Shakespeare Quarterly 11, No. 3 (Summer, 1960): 351-6. Compares Katherina and Bianca with other Shakespearean female characters.

Coghill, Nevil. "The Basis of Shakespearian Comedy." Essays and Studies 3 (1950): 1-28.
One of the first essays to argue that Katherina, not Petruchio, is the one who succeeds in mastering "the art of practice of matrimony."

Dusinberre, Juliet. "The Taming of the Shrew: Women, Acting, and Power." Studies in the Literary Imagination 26, No. 1 (Spring, 1993): 67-84.
Points out ways in which the play calls attention to the Elizabethan practice of using boy actors in female roles and examines the effect of this practice on the play's portrayal of gender relations.

Duthie, George Ian. "Shakespeare and the Order-Disorder Antithesis" and "Comedy." Shakespeare, pp. 39-56, 57-88. London- Hutchinson's University Library, 1951. Interprets The Taming of the Shrew in terms of Elizabethan notions of a divinely ordered hierarchy of creation.

Greer, Germaine. "The Middle-Class Myth of Love and Marriage." The Female Eunuch, pp. 195-215. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
Briefly discusses The Taming of the Shrew in the context of changing ideas about the nature of marriage in late sixteenth-century England.

Heffernan, Carol F. "The Taming of the Shrew: The Bourgeoisie in Love." Essays in Literature 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1985): 3-14.
Analyzes the play's portrayal of the values of the emergent middle class and its critique of the materialistic nature of Elizabethan marriage arrangements.

Heilman, Robert B. "The 'Taming' Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew." Modern Language Quarterly 27, No. 2 (June, 1966): 147-61.
Argues against twentieth-century interpretations of The Shrew that turn this "free-swinging farce" into "a brittlely ironic comic drama."

Jayne, Sears. "The Dreaming of 'The Shrew'." Shakespeare Quarterly 17, No. 1 (Winter, 1966): 41-56.
Regards the dramatic events of The Taming of the Shrew from Act I, scene ii, onwards as Sly's wish-fulfilling dream.

Leggatt, Alexander. "The Taming of the Shrew." In Shakespeare's Comedy of Love, 41-62. London: Methuen, 1974.
Notes that although Petruchio appears to challenge orthodox notions of propriety with his eccentric behavior, he ultimately teacnes Katherina to appreciate social amenities and to value "peace ... and love, and quiet life" (V, ii, 108). In addition, the critic calls attention to the many images drawn from sport, especially such blood sports as "hunting and hawking," associated with Petruchio's taming of Katherina.

Mack, Maynard. "Engagement and Detachment in Shakespeare's Plays." Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardm Craig, edited by Richard Hosley, pp. 275-96. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962.

Newman, Karen. "Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew." English Literary Renaissance 16, No. 1 (Winter, 1986): 86-100.
Argues that by emphasizing its own theatricality, The Taming of the Shrew undermines Elizabethan social and gender roles by revealing them to be artificial.

Novy, Marianne L. "Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew," in English Literary Renaissance 9, No. 2 (Spring, 1979): 264-80.
Examines the relationship between game-playing and the play's reaffirmation of male authority in the play.

Ranald, Margaret Loftus. "The Performance of Feminism in The Taming of the Shrew." Theatre Research International, n.s. 19, No. 3 (Fall, 1994): 214-25.
Provides a brief review of the play's performance history, focusing in particular in how the relationship between Katherine and Petruchio has been portrayed.

Shapiro, Michael. "Framing the Taming: Metatheatrical Awareness of Female Impersonation in The Taming of the Shrew." The Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993): 143-66.
Looks at how the Elizabethan use of boy actors in female roles might have affected audience perception of the play's female characters.

Shaw, Bernard. "Chin Chon Chino." The Saturday Review 84, No. 2193 (November 6, 1987): 488-90.
Praises the play as a "realistic comedy" but finds the final scene deplorable.

Traversi, Derek. "'The Taming of the Shrew.'" William Shakespeare: The Early Comedies, pp. 14-22. London: The British Council, 1960.
Maintains that The Taming of the Shrew defends the view that male domination of women is ordained by nature.

Ulrici, Hermann. "Criticisms of Shakspeare's Drama: 'Much Ado about Nothing'—'Taming of the Shrew'." Shakspeare's Dramatic Art: And His Relation to Calderon and Goethe, translated by A. J. W. Morrison, pp. 289-99. London: Chapman Brothers, 1839. Notes relationships between the Induction and the
main body of the play.

Webster, Margaret. "The Early Plays." Shakespeare without Tears, pp. 135-58. New York: Whittlesey House, 1942.
Sees the play as depicting an ideal couple's negotiation of a "marriage of true minds."

West, Michael. "The Folk Background of Petruchio's Wooing Dance: Male Supremacy in 'The Taming of the Shrew.'" Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews 7 (1974): 65-73.
Examines similarities between the play and folk traditions of courtship in arguing that the principal source of the play's "imaginative appeal" is its lusty depiction of the rites of sexual initiation.

The Taming of the Shrew Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”: Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Not for the faint-hearted, this collection of essays is useful for indicating the trends of modern scholarship regarding the play. It contains a number of essays utilizing modern critical perspectives such as feminism and deconstruction.

Greenfield, Thelma N. “The Transformation of Christopher Sly.” Philological Quarterly 33 (1954): 34-42. Greenfield argues that the importance of the Christopher Sly framing device lies in its establishment of the juxtaposition between reality and appearance evident also through the main action of the play.

Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare in Performance: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1989. Holderness examines four different productions of the play, including the 1966 Franco Zeffirelli movie and the 1980 television adaptation starring John Cleese. The book is valuable in that it stresses the importance of the performance of Shakespeare’s works.

Huston, J. Dennis. “‘To Make a Puppet’: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Studies 9 (1967): 73-88. Huston asserts that Shakespeare repeatedly shocks the audience by presenting a series of false starts (that of Christopher Sly being the first). This reflects Katharina’s experience as she is tamed by Petruchio.

Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. This is where all studies of Shakespeare should begin. It includes excellent chapters introducing the poet’s biography, conventions and beliefs of Elizabethan England, and reviews of scholarship in the field.