Although it is not possible to determine the dates of composition of William Shakespeare’s plays with absolute certainty, it is generally agreed that the early comedy The Taming of the Shrew was probably written after The Two Gentlemen of Verona (pr. c. 1594-1595) and before A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1600). Even at this early date, Shakespeare shows himself to be a master of plot construction. Disregarding the classical unity of action, which forbade subplots, for a more enlightened concept of unity, Shakespeare creates two distinct lines of action, each derived from a different source, and integrates them into a unified dramatic whole. A single source for the main plot of Petruchio’s taming of Katharina has not been found.
Misogynistic stories abounded in Shakespeare’s time, stories of men exercising their “rightful” dominance over women. One in particular, a ballad titled A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife, Lapped in Morel’s Skin (printed c. 1550), tells the story of a shrewish wife who is beaten bloody by her husband and then wrapped in the salted skin of a plow horse named Morel. Like Kate, this wife has a younger sister who is the favorite of their father. If Shakespeare used this ballad as a source for the main plot of this play, it is obvious that he toned it down greatly, substituting psychological tactics for physical brutality. Nevertheless, some stage versions of...
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