The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 55)
The Taming of the Shrew
For more information on the critical and stage history of The Taming of the Shrew, see SC, volumes 55, 77, and 87.
Twentieth-century scholarship of The Taming of the Shrew has reflected the growing historiography of the Elizabethan period and an increased understanding of Elizabethan ideology and culture. Numerous scholars have compared The Taming of the Shrew to earlier, more traditional shrew-taming tales. Stephen Miller (1998), for example, compares Shakespeare's version to Peter Short's 1594 story, Taming of a Shrew. Scholars note that the ways in which Shakespeare adapted his play from the traditional shrew-taming genre reflect the changes that were occurring in Elizabethan society. Natasha Korda (1996) discusses the way in which Shakespeare's play reveals changes in the economy and the commodification of the family. Jonathan Hall (1995) discusses similar themes, stating that market changes lessened the family's role as a productive unit and created tensions regarding the nature of marriage. Hall argues that in the play Shakespeare explored the advantages and disadvantages of the emerging notion of romantic unions, and traditional, arranged unions. Karen Newman (1986) also critiques The Taming of the Shrew against the backdrop of Elizabethan society, focusing on the way in which the uneasiness of social change is reflected in the play. Katherine A. Sirluck (1991) argues that The Taming of the Shrew is a satire of the Elizabethan patriarchal order, which was in flux during Shakespeare’s time.
Much recent criticism of The Taming of the Shrew centers upon feminist ideology, conflicts in how to comprehend Shakespeare's original intent, and ways of interpreting the play in light of changing views on the roles of women and the nature of marriage. Critic Barbara Hodgdon maintains that the play has sparked remarkable consternation as a result of its Elizabethan patriarchal power structure which no longer corresponds with modern cultural gender ideology. She states, "Shrew's obsessive attempt to circumscribe woman's ‘place’ has especially fatal attractions for late-twentieth century feminist readers and spectators." Her sentiments echo other scholars who are in consensus that a modern reading of the play is fraught with interpretive difficulties. Points of contention are Petruchio's physical abuse of his servants and method for breaking Kate's spirit (through denial of food and sleep), and his reliance on psychological abuse to achieve complete domination. Most puzzling for academics, as well as theatre companies, is determining how to decode Kate's final speech in Act V, in which she states that a wife's role is to serve her husband. Critics note that many modern productions of the play emphasize an ironic tone in this final speech, as a means of creating rapport with a modern audience who rejects inequality between men and women. Dale G. Priest (1994) suggests that while the play does reaffirm the traditional patriarchal order, Kate benefits from her transformation from selfish and angry shrew to loving wife. Other scholars interpret Kate's final scene as evidence of a bond of equality and love between the couple; Kate is not subjugated, but empowered through her love and her winning of the love of Petruchio. George Walton Williams (1991) argues that Kate benefits from knowing her place within a power structure which functions for the good of all. However, Hall cautions that Kate cannot offer herself in a power structure in which she has no control over her identity. Increasingly, scholars such as Ann Thompson (1997) and Hall are praising The Taming of the Shrew for the questions which it raises about feminism and gender roles in our society.
Criticism: Feminist Criticism
SOURCE: “Taming Difference and The Taming of the Shrew: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Theater,” in Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy, Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 114-53.
[In the following excerpt, Freedman argues that Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a challenge to critics and audiences, contending that it is a “labyrinth” that does not easily lend itself to interpretation.]
This problem of dealing with difference without constituting an opposition may just be what feminism is all about (might even be what psychoanalysis is all about). Difference produces great anxiety. Polarization, which is a theatrical representation of difference, tames and binds that anxiety. The classic example is sexual difference which is represented as a polar opposition (active-passive, energy-matter—all polar oppositions share the trait of taming the anxiety that specific differences provoke).
—Jane Gallop, The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis
Jane Gallop correctly assesses the shared goals of feminism and psychoanalysis in the postmodernist enterprise: both are predicated upon subverting the structuration of difference as opposition.1 Structuralism and semiotics, the twin harbingers and now culprits of postmodern...
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SOURCE: “Katherina's Conversion in The Taming of the Shrew: A Theological Heuristic,” in Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Vol. XLVII, No. 1, Fall, 1994, pp. 31-40.
[In the following essay, Priest discusses the conversion of Kate, and draws parallels between Petruchio—who transforms the unworthy, thus freeing and enriching them—and Christ.]
What has happened to Katherina in Act V of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew? The most conservative possible reading of the play finds in the five words of its title the literal and formulaic answer to the question: Katherine the Kite, the wild and willful animal, has been domesticated, subdued, tamed. Even revisionist and deconstructionist critics have trouble refashioning the conclusion into a version that does not, finally, reassert the patriarchal order made explicit in Kate's final speech.1 “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,” she says to the disobedient wives; “Such duty as the subject owes the prince, / Even such a woman oweth to her husband” (V.ii.146, 155-56). Her lecture clearly reflects and reinforces not only the chain of authority at the center of the Elizabethan world picture, but the Pauline theology so often cited to sustain it as well. In this essay I wish to argue, however, for an ambivalent and parallel reading of Kate's experience, a reading that illustrates a paradox found...
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SOURCE: “Feminism and Theater in The Taming of the Shrew,” in Shakespeare in Theory: The Postmodern Academy and the Early Modern Theater, The University of Michigan Press, 1997, pp. 51-62.
[In the excerpt below, Bretzius surveys the reactions of postwar feminist critics to The Taming of the Shrew.]
Whether Kate's final lord-of-creation moral in The Taming of the Shrew is tongue-in-cheek (the so-called revisionist school) or foot-in-mouth (the corresponding antirevisionist school) depends in part on the half-framed, and even half-tamed, nature of her story. For the play that Christopher Sly watches from the vantage of his unfinished Induction, The Taming of the Shrew, already represents a version, a gigantic “suppose,” of the parallel play he acts both out and in, from Petruchio's triumphant “Come, Kate, we’ll to bed” (5.2.184) and Sly's benighted “Madam, undress you, and come now to bed” (Ind.2.117) to the page boy's “My husband and my lord, my lord and husband” (Ind.2.106) and Kate's “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper” (5.2.146).1 Whether such echoes add to the play's patriarchal merriment or undercut that moral is less clear, even if other such parallels are drawn—for example, Sly's “do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now” (Ind.2.69) and Kate “as one new risen from a dream” (4.1.186); the horses, hawks, hounds, hunt, help,...
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SOURCE: “Feminist Theory and the Editing of Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew Revisited,” in The Margins of the Text, edited by D. C. Greetham, The University of Michigan Press, 1997, pp. 83-103.
[In the essay below, Thompson discusses recent reactions from feminist critics to The Taming of the Shrew.]
In the second half of 1992 I committed myself to two developments in my career that seemed to some of my friends incompatible. I went as visiting professor to the Center for Women's Studies at the University of Cincinnati for three months to teach a graduate course in Feminist Theory, and I signed a contract to become joint General Editor (with Richard Proudfoot) of the new Arden Shakespeare series, Arden 3. Women's Studies are still, even in the United States, a marginal, controversial area, existing precariously within academic institutions and vulnerable to financial cutbacks. Shakespeare Studies are at the center of English Studies, arguably one of the more conservative disciplines.
Insofar as the academic study of “English” has begun to change, with pressure from various quarters to enlarge the canon of texts, women's writing is seen as a direct threat to Shakespeare—for example, in the debate about “political correctness” in the teaching of English that followed the publication of a survey of English degree syllabi in British Polytechnics and Colleges of...
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Criticism: Power And Identity
SOURCE: “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew,” in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter, 1986, pp. 86-100.
[In the following essay, Newman analyzes gender and power roles in The Taming of the Shrew against the backdrop of Elizabethan culture.]
Wetherden, Suffolk. Plough Monday, 1604. A drunken tanner, Nicholas Rosyer, staggers home from the alehouse. On arriving at his door, he is greeted by his wife with “dronken dogg, pisspott and other unseemly names.” When Rosyer tried to come to bed to her, she “still raged against him and badd him out dronken dogg dronken pisspott.” She struck him several times, clawed his face and arms, spit at him and beat him out of bed. Rosyer retreated, returned to the alehouse, and drank until he could hardly stand up. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Quarry and others met and “agreed amongest themselfs that the said Thomas Quarry who dwelt at the next howse … should … ryde abowt the towne upon a cowlestaff whereby not onley the woman which had offended might be shunned for her misdemeanors towards her husband but other women also by her shame might be admonished to offence in like sort.”1 Domestic violence, far from being contained in the family, spills out into the neighborhood, and the response of the community is an “old country ceremony used in merriment upon such...
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SOURCE: “Patriarchy, Pedagogy, and the Divided Self in The Taming of the Shrew,” in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4, Summer, 1991, pp. 417-34.
[In the following essay, Sirluck argues that The Taming of the Shrew satirizes Elizabethan patriarchal society.]
Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew has been read and directed in a variety of ways. It has been seen as a rollicking comic flyting match between a resourceful suitor and a dangerous man-hater.1 Some productions have encouraged the idea that Katharina secretly longs for a man too strong for her, one who can awaken her true feminine nature. A more contemporary form of this view has recently been championed by Ralph Berry, who perceives Katharina's reluctance in marrying Petruchio as merely ‘ostensible,’ and sees a romantic ‘union of hearts and minds,’ once negotiations ‘between the principals’ have been completed in a spirit of ‘robust materialism.’2 Feminists like Juliet Dusinberre are ready to accord Shakespeare a trans-patriarchal perspective.3 Others present the play as a brutally frank celebration of patriarchal power, or as a despairing recognition of the same.4 I would like to consider the play as a study in analogical power relations, wrought within the dramatic conventions of comedy, which themselves culminate in marriage, as the ideologically...
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SOURCE: “Kate and Petruchio: Strength and Love,” in English Language Notes, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, September, 1991, pp. 18-24.
[In the essay below, Williams examines the representation of equality in marriage in Shakespeare’s later plays and suggests a reinterpretation of the power relation between Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.]
Much has been written lately, and very properly written, on the difficulty these days of reading Kate's speech of final acceptance in The Taming of the Shrew, V.ii.136-79; examination of two passages in Shakespeare's canon that, I believe, have not previously been cited in this connection, may offer some useful commentary.
Modern critics reveal their discomfort with Kate's speech, and modern productions avoid or contravert its evident hierarchical system; but there can be little doubt that the system to which Kate alludes was one that Shakespeare had absorbed into his thinking. He accepted the standard philosophy of his time, the systematic ordering of the cosmos in all aspects, including the relationships between husbands and wives. He mentions it several times.1 The domestic ordering is manifest in Comedy of Errors, II.i.16-25; and the universal scale is displayed in Merchant of Venice, V.i.58-65, in Henry V, I.ii.183-213, and most specifically in Troilus and Cressida, I.iii.78-137. That he thinks...
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SOURCE: “Ideology and Resistance in The Taming of the Shrew,” in Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-State, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995, pp. 151-69.
[In the excerpt below, Hall discusses Petruchio's manipulation of Kate's self-identity.]
We have already considered the first of Shakespeare's comedies to make a major use of the traditional comic “wooing debate.” In the discussion of Love's Labour's Lost in Chapter 5, I was concerned to relate the euphoric pleasures of wit in that comedy with the underlying political anxieties of the culture of the court, namely its need to reaffirm a commitment to the patriarchal order against the proliferation of signs that it also depends upon. Wit, as a seductive power operating through language, is the site of deep anxieties over the loss of a center, of the self or of the realm.
In the two chapters of this section, I turn to the other two comedies in which sexual attraction is expressed through the traditional comic wooing debate, but intensified now into a bid for mastery on the terrain of the subjectivity of the other. The anxiety, which operates throughout the Taming of the Shrew (1584), does not enter into the representation of the dominant male character, however. It is analyzed here rather as an Althusserian “absent cause” of audience pleasure. But that pleasure is still...
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Criticism: Text And Sources
SOURCE: “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew,” in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 2, Summer, 1996, pp. 110-31.
[In the essay below, Korda examines the theme of domestic economy in The Taming of the Shrew, arguing that Elizabethan society's “cultural anxiety surrounding the housewife's new managerial role with respect to household cates … prompted Shakespeare to write a new kind of shrew-taming narrative.”]
Commentary on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew has frequently noted that the play's novel taming strategy marks a departure from traditional shrew-taming tales. Unlike his predecessors, Petruchio does not use force to tame Kate; he does not simply beat his wife into submission.1 Little attention has been paid, however, to the historical implications of the play's unorthodox methodology, which is conceived in specifically economic terms: “I am he am born to tame you, Kate,” Petruchio summarily declares, “And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates” (2.1.269-71).2 Petruchio likens Kate's planned domestication to a domestication of the emergent commodity form itself, whose name parallels the naming of the shrew. The Oxford English Dictionary defines cates as “provisions or victuals bought (as distinguished from, and usually more delicate or dainty...
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SOURCE: “Kate, Bianca, Ruth, and Sarah: Playing the Woman's Part in The Taming of the Shrew,” in Shakespeare's Sweet Thunder: Essays on the Early Comedies, edited by Michael J. Collins, University of Delaware Press, 1997, pp. 176-215.
[In the following excerpt, Rutter provides an overview of twentieth-century performances of The Taming of the Shrew,discussing the effects of feminist theory on the interpretations.]
Mess. Your honor's players, hearing your amendment, Are come to play a pleasant comedy. … Sly. Is not a comonty a Christmas gambold, or a tumbling-trick? Page. No, my good lord, it is more pleasing stuff. Sly. What, household stuff? Page. It is a kind of history.
(Ind. 2.129-30 and 137-41)
Like Polonius trying to pin down the play at Elsinore, The Taming of the Shrew makes several stabs at fixing its own genre. But while the self-appointed master of the Danish revels has a clear political interest in mastering those revels (since to contain a play inside a genre is in some way to authorize its reception and to limit the audience's options for interpreting it), Shrew's indecisiveness seems innocent of politics. Maybe the play doesn’t know what to make of itself. Maybe it needs to wait and see what the audience will make of it.
Now, The Murder of Gonzago plays a joke on the censor (“Have you heard the...
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SOURCE: “The Taming of the Shrew and the Theories; or, ‘Though this be badness, yet there is method in ’t,’” in Textual Formations and Reformations, edited by Laurie E. Maguire and Thomas L. Berger, University of Delaware Press, 1998, pp. 251-63.
[In the following essay, Miller compares Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with the 1594 version of Taming of a Shrew written by Peter Short. Miller argues that while Shakespeare's version is superior literature, the other version deserves study.]
Arguably the most persistent and difficult of the textual questions relating to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, first published in the Shakespeare folio of 1623, is the question of its relationship to The Taming of a Shrew, printed twenty-nine years earlier in 1594 by Peter Short. During the twentieth century critics have found it difficult to agree upon a theory to account for the variation between the two versions. The “bad quarto” theory, which at first seemed to offer an easy answer, in fact created a knotted debate. Perhaps rather surprisingly, given the seriousness with which critics developing the New Bibliography approached textual theory, they allowed the prejudicial overtones of their term “bad quarto” (surely influenced by the vivid adjectives of that famous sentence by Heminge and Condell: “stolne,” “surreptitious,” “maimed,”...
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Andreson-Thom, Martha. “Shrew-taming and Other Rituals of Aggression: Baiting and Bonding on the Stage and in the Wild.” Women's Studies 9 (1982): 121-43.
Discusses reconciling The Taming of the Shrew with modern feminist ideology, and the context in which the play was written.
Bamber, Linda. “Sexism and the Battle of Sexes in The Taming of the Shrew.” In “The Taming of the Shrew”: With New and Updated Critical Essays and a Revised Bibliography, pp. 163-8. Edited by Robert B. Heilman. New York: Signet Classic, 1998.
Argues that The Taming of the Shrewis a sexist play which differs from Shakespeare's other works.
Bean, John C. “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.” In The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, pp. 65-78. Edited by Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980.
Argues that The Taming of the Shrewshifts from farce to romantic comedy, and that “Kate, in discovering love through the discovery of her own identity, becomes something more than the fabliau stereotype of the shrew turned household drudge.”
Brown, Carolyn E. “Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew: ‘A Second Grissel’.” Texas...
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