The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 64)
The Taming of the Shrew
For further information on the critical and stage history of The Taming of the Shrew, see SC, Volumes 55, 77, and 87.
While Elizabethan audiences likely viewed The Taming of the Shrew with amusement and approval, the story of the spirited, rebellious, and sharp-witted Katherina, whose father forces her into marriage with the exuberant and clever Petruchio, can be a bit problematic for modern audiences. The tactics by which Petruchio transforms Katherina's obstinacy into obedience are perhaps more offensive to today's spectators than they were to those of Shakespeare's time. The undercurrent of violence and cruelty in Petruchio's words and deeds has been condemned by some critics, while others attempt to clear his name by contending that Petruchio's character, and the play as a whole, must be understood within its contemporary context. Equally confounding to critics is Katherina's apparent submission to her husband in the play's final act. According to the views of some commentators, this obedient stance should be taken ironically, while others suggest that it should be read “straight,” and argue that a truly loving relationship between Katherina and Petruchio, in which she willingly and rightfully submits to him, has been founded. In addition to Katherina and Petruchio’s relationship, many critical analyses study the play's implications concerning patriarchal power structures and gender roles, the role of women in Elizabethan society, as well as cultural and marital conventions.
Many modern critical analyses of The Taming of the Shrew focus on issues of genre and structure, and provide a background for understanding the major critical issues of the play. Peter Saccio (1984) discusses the negative connotations generated by labeling the play as a farce. Saccio reviews the elements of the play which are indeed farcical, and provides a positive analysis of them. George Cheatham (1985) emphasizes the way in which this early play is similar to Shakespeare's later romantic comedies, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, particularly in its exploration of the idea of transformation. Other critics approach the play through an analysis of its unity. Margie Burns (1986) asserts that the play's unity is established through the frame created by Sly's disappearance in the first act, and the “disappearance” of the shrew in the final act. Michele Marrapodi (1999) finds unity in the Italian aspects of the play. While the subplot is known to be derived from an Italian source, the critic also links the Induction and the main plot to Italian origins. Marrapodi contends that the Induction is similar to Italian Renaissance models, and the main plot is Italian-inspired in its thematic development of the comedy of “classical intrigue.”
Many of the character analyses of The Taming of the Shrew are centered on Petruchio and his gift of rhetoric. Tita French Baumlin (1989) characterizes Petruchio as a “sophistic rhetorician,” demonstrating the way in which he uses hyperbole, linguistic “disguises,” and lies in order to produce a positive change in Katherina. Wayne A. Rebhorn (1995) studies both Petruchio's and Katherina’s use of rhetoric, asserting that The Taming of the Shrew serves as an analysis of Renaissance rhetoric and issues—including power, politics, and the shifting notions of gender distinctions. Marrion D. Perret (1983) focuses not on Petruchio's words, but his actions, and argues that Petruchio shows Katherina by example how a proper wife should behave by taking on those chores identified (according to contemporary conduct books) as “women's work.” Carolyn E. Brown (1995) suggests that Shakespeare relied on another Renaissance literary tradition—the “patient Griselda”—in addition to his utilization of the shrew tradition. Brown identifies the ways in which Petruchio and Katherina are like the lord and wife in the Griselda genre, explaining that in the “patient Griselda” tradition the wife is repeatedly “tested” by her husband, and continually and patiently submits to her husband's abusive treatment.
Modern productions of The Taming of the Shrew are challenged by the brutish aspects of Petruchio's behavior, Kate's obedience (which modern audiences may find disappointing), and the dilemma of how to deal with Sly and the Induction. Geraldine Cousin (1986) compares two modern productions, finding that while the open-air performance of the Medieval Players offered an interesting experiment with sex reversals, it ultimately failed in its casting of Petruchio as a man, since the other major characters were played by the opposite sex (Katherina, for example, also was cast as a man). Cousin describes the Royal Shakespeare Company production as “admirable,” and praises the forthright portrayal of Petruchio's roughness. Peter J. Smith (1997) was pleased with the way Lindsay Posner's production did not attempt to avoid the play's treatment of domestic violence, but found fault with the production's failure to resolve the central difficulties of the play, and with Monica Dolan's “diminutive” portrayal of Katherina. William T. Liston (1997) discusses the uniqueness of the setting of Richard Rose's production, which takes place in New York's Little Italy in the 1960s. Characterizing the setting and other elements of the production as “gimmickry,” Liston comments that the play failed to “catch fire.” The reviewer for TCI (1998) describes Andrei Serban's production as a parable concerned with the taming of the beast that lives inside everyone. Serban succeeded, notes the critic, in creating an atmosphere in which the nature of personal identity is explored.
The play’s treatment of gender relations, marriage, and social conventions is examined in a variety of ways by modern critics. David Daniell (1984) analyzes what he sees as the very serious treatment of matrimony in The Taming of the Shrew. The play's theatricality emphasizes this treatment, Daniell explains, and demonstrates how Katherina enters further into a playworld as the play progresses, enacting a theatrical set piece at the play's end in which she describes her relationship with Petruchio in terms of an imaginary history play and civil war. In the end, Daniell states, the violence and rebellion are contained, and Katherina and Petruchio are able to be themselves, with all their contradictions intact. Many critics study the play's exploration of gender relations through the lens of Elizabethan culture and social conventions. Randall Martin (1991) urges that by understanding the contemporary context of The Taming of the Shrew we are better able to comprehend the play's handling of gender issues. Reading the play in this manner, the critic maintains, reveals that Petruchio's treatment of Kate reflects the conflicted Elizabethan views about the role of women in society. Martin explains that the play does not resolve the contradictory attitudes of its original audience, but rather documents and acknowledges them. Juliet Dusinberre (1993) examines Katherina's role in light of the fact that in Elizabethan times her part would have been played by a boy. In exploring the implications of this for Shakespeare's audiences, Dusinberre points out that as apprentices boy actors were in positions of dependency similar to that of women in Elizabethan society, yet in playing the role of an aristocratic woman, such as Katherina, or a mercantile woman, such as the Hostess, the boys would have experienced the feeling of possessing some social authority.
Unlike critics who approach the play in terms of the often conflicted relationships between men and women, Camille Wells Slights (see Further Reading) argues that the play is more fruitfully accessed through an examination of the conflict between civilized and uncivilized behavior. The critic contends that Katherina reacts to societal constraints with a self-defeating, antisocial behavior, rebelling against these constrictions by performing the stereotypical role of the shrew. However when Petruchio forces her into a new role, that of suffering victim, Katherina learns to shape her own identity instead of conforming to society's expectations. Slights stresses that Katherina's transformation and display of obedience to Petruchio is a victory, because Katherina becomes a civilized individual who understands that societal relationships are maintained through a balance of duty and privilege. In the end, Slights maintains, Katherina achieves—through public submission to Petruchio, and through a show of dominance over the Widow and Bianca—what she has wanted all along: a dominant position as a valued member of society. On the other hand, Laurie E. Maguire (1995), in analyzing the images of hunting, music, and taming, finds that the play's depiction of marriage demonstrates a broader skepticism regarding “so-called civilized behavior.”
Criticism: Overview And General Studies
SOURCE: “Shrewd and Kindly Farce,” in Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 37, 1984, pp. 33-40.
[In the essay below, Saccio examines the farcical nature of The Taming of the Shrew. After highlighting the negative ideas generally associated with farce, Saccio provides a positive appraisal of the farcical elements in the play and goes on to show how the play blends farce with romantic character development.]
If Shakespeare's plays exemplify what humankind can achieve at its most vital, most thoughtful, and most sympathetic, not only a source of received wisdom but also a resource for those at odds with the received culture, The Taming of the Shrew remains an embarrassment to many who profess and call themselves Shakespearians.1 In our century a brisk revisionism has flourished. Two major series of scholiasts, the first generally modern and psychological, the second specifically feminist, have argued variously that the shrew never really was a shrew but a woman responding understandably to the abuse of a dreadful family, that she is not really tamed, and that her final speech on wifely obedience is a piece of extended irony that dupes perhaps Petruchio and certainly the other characters.2 Standing nearly alone in recent academic commentary, but supported by many theatrical productions, Robert Heilman has attempted to combat this taming of The Taming of the Shrew. Although...
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SOURCE: “Imagination, Madness, and Magic: The Taming of the Shrew as Romantic Comedy,” in Iowa State Journal of Research, Vol. 59, No. 3, February, 1985, pp. 221-32.
[In the essay below, Cheatham argues that The Taming of the Shrew is similar to Shakespeare's later romantic comedies, and demonstrates the ways in which the play, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, uses the metaphor of theatrical role-playing to explore the idea of transformation in general, and the transformational power of love in particular.]
The position of The Taming of the Shrew in Shakespeare's canon has been and remains uncertain. Well into the current century critics kept it distinct from the other comedies, terming it “ugly and barbarous,”1 for example, or “altogether disgusting to the modern sensibility.”2 Even contemporary critics have found the play difficult to place. As J. Dennis Huston complains, criticism of Shakespearean comedy has played a kind of shell game with The Shrew. Recent studies have shown, he says, that the play is neither happy, pastoral, nor festive comedy. Neither is it an early metadrama. Two recent studies of “early Shakespeare” even ignore the play.3 Critics have clearly had difficulty finding a critical niche to accommodate The Shrew. In one way, of course, such difficulty is good, for readers and auditors must...
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SOURCE: “The Ending of The Shrew,” in Shakespeare Studies, Vol. 18, 1986, pp. 41-64.
[In the following essay, Burns asserts that the play's unity is established through the frame created by Sly's disappearance in the first act, and the “disappearance” of the shrew in the final act.]
The central thematic and formal principle in The Taming of the Shrew is its conversion of oppositions into dialectics, so that initially adversarial relationships or hierarchies become vehicles of reciprocal exchange. This is accomplished in the relationship between Kate and Petruchio, in the relationship between the Induction and the main play, and ultimately in the relationship between the ending and the “missing” ending. All of these relationships are subsumed by the ending of the play.
The conclusion of Shrew poses two famous problems, the remarkable disappearance of Christopher Sly and the other Induction characters after Act I, and the ambiguity of Katherina's self-extinguishing speech in Act V (ii.136-79).1 At the beginning of the play, Sly disappears, to be replaced by Katherina the shrew; at the end of the play, Katherina the shrew disappears, to be replaced by someone evidently rather … sly.2 As this charming symmetry of beginning and end suggests, I think, the play coheres, without the addition of any supererogatory ending. I shall argue...
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SOURCE: “Crossdressing, New Comedy, and the Italianate Unity of The Taming of the Shrew,” in Shakespeare Yearbook, Vol. 10, 1999, pp. 333-58.
[In the following essay, Marrapodi links the Induction and the main plot to Italian origins. The critic contends that the Induction is similar to Italian Renaissance models, and the main plot is Italian-inspired in its thematic development of the comedy of “classical intrigue.”]
The three-part structure of The Taming of the Shrew—Induction, main plot and subplot—has been considered organically united by the themes of disguise and mistaken identity central to the subplot, which derives from George Gascoigne's adaptation (Supposes, 1566) of the prose and verse editions of Ariosto's I Suppositi (1509, 1532).1 Whereas the Italian origin is easily identifiable in the Tranio-Bianca-Lucentio plot, the other two parts of the play would not seem to offer sufficient elements to suggest precise Italian sources; hence the development, in the past, of a critical tradition which considered the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor to be Shakespeare's two most English comedies. Brian Morris, for example, views the Sly scenes in the light of the dramatist's life and does not recognize in the taming-plot any concrete form of narrative or thematic influence outside the background of national cultural practice: “The...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: “Petruchio: The Model Wife,” in Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 1983, pp. 223-35.
[In the essay that follows, Perret is concerned with the methods by which Petruchio “tames” Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, demonstrating that Petruchio teaches by example how a wife should behave by taking on the work traditionally assigned to women.]
The focus of recent critics of The Taming of the Shrew on Kate's role-playing1 is too limiting. On the one hand, the theatrical vocabulary encourages them to speak of Kate's transformation as though it were nothing more than an act;2 on the other, the narrow focus keeps them from recognizing the structural subtlety of the latter half of the play, the importance of Kate's seemingly redundant second capitulation, and the comic point of her famous lecture (V.ii.136-78),3 which is possible precisely because she takes the lecture's content seriously. We discover the complexity of this play when we shift our attention, correctively, from the playing of the shrew to the playing of the tamer and to the role he asks her to undertake. We find that Petruchio shows his imagination not only in the way he uses the time-tested persuasions of stick and carrot, but also in a daring new technique that would have been apparent to an audience familiar with the Elizabethan distribution of...
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SOURCE: “Petruchio the Sophist and Language as Creation in The Taming of the Shrew,” in Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 237-57.
[In the essay that follows, Baumlin views Petruchio as a sophistic rhetorician, and observes that Petruchio uses his rhetorical skill to engender a positive change in Katherina. This, Baumlin argues, supports the view that at this early point in Shakespeare's career, the playwright possessed an optimistic conception of language and its positive, transformational power.]
“Language most shows the man: speak, that I may see thee!”
Ben Jonson, Timber
Properly placed among his earliest dramatic works,1The Taming of the Shrew displays Shakespeare's most optimistic vision of the positive, creative powers of language. We find here none of the later plays' ambivalence toward the powers and moral complexities of language, for the characterization of Petruchio represents a paradigm of the sophistic rhetorician at a most successful and morally admirable stance: he uses the powerful tools of rhetorical arts to create for his bride a new reality grounded in play, self-respect, and love. His manipulation of Katherina—through outlandish hyperbole, linguistic “disguises,” and outright untruths—need not condemn Petruchio as a sophist in the typically pejorative sense of this...
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SOURCE: “Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew: ‘A Second Grissel’,” in Texas Studies in English Literature and Language, Vol. 37, No. 3, Fall, 1995, pp. 285-313.
[In the following essay, Brown reviews the ways in which Katherina and Petruchio differ from the traditional shrews and tamers depicted in medieval and Renaissance literature, advocating the idea that such differences are the result of Shakespeare's merging of these traditional roles with the “patient Griselda” genre of literature.]
Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew within the genre of shrew literature, popular in medieval and Renaissance times. Shrews appeared in almost every form of literature—written and oral—in these periods. And Shakespeare composes his play subtly enough that it can be read as written within the tradition, and he makes Katherine “spirited” enough that she can be read as a shrew, who finds a wise and courageous man with the skills to mold her into a peaceful, loving wife. Numerous critics have compellingly interpreted the play and the protagonists in these terms.1 But some critics contend that Shakespeare put his own special touch on the tradition, modifying it in some important ways. These critics see Katherine, for example, as not quite fitting the mold of the traditional shrew. Most traditional shrew literature panders to misogynistic portrayals of women and clearly...
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SOURCE: “Petruchio's ‘Rope Tricks’: The Taming of the Shrew and the Renaissance Discourse of Rhetoric,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 92, No. 3, February, 1995, pp. 294-327.
[In the essay below, Rebhorn assesses both Petruchio's and Katherina’s use of rhetoric, asserting that The Taming of the Shrew serves as an analysis of Renaissance rhetoric and issues—including power, politics, and gender relations.]
Shortly after Petruchio's first appearance in The Taming of the Shrew, he vows to court Katherine despite her reputation as a shrew “renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue.”1 His servant Grumio immediately boasts on behalf of his master that all her efforts will be in vain: “She may perhaps call him half a score of knaves or so: why that's nothing; an he begin once, he'll rail in his rope tricks. I'll tell you what, sir, an she stand him but a little, he will throw a figure in her face, and so disfigure her with it, that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat” (1.2.109-14). This passage contains a textual crux, the phrase “rope tricks,” that editors have frequently emended to “rhetricks” in order to do justice both to the idea of Petruchio's railing and to the subsequent reference to “figure.” In recent years, however, scholars have found a number of reasons to leave the phrase alone, offering a variety of interpretations to...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: “The Touring of the Shrew,” in New Theatre Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 7, August, 1986, pp. 275-81.
[In the review below, Cousin examines two productions of The Taming of the Shrew. The critic maintains that although The Medieval Players' production raised interesting questions concerning gender roles, it failed to take the sex-reversal experiment far enough, and describes the Royal Shakespeare Company production as “sombre,” praising the production’s unflinching portrayal of Petruchio's “unpleasant” side.]
During 1985, it was possible to see, as I did, two productions of The Taming of the Shrew performed in non-conventional playing spaces. On one of the few sunny afternoons of the summer, I saw an open-air performance by the Medieval Players in the New College cloisters, Oxford; then in December the RSC Nat West touring version came to the Whitbread Flowers Warehouse, Stratford. I found a good deal to admire and enjoy about both productions, but certain decisions which the Medieval Players took with regard to casting led me to speculate on the problems which the play presents for a contemporary audience. The RSC touring version seemed to me to demonstrate one very effective way of confronting these problems and of finding acceptable solutions to them.
The basic difficulty of the play is of course its attitude to women. Petruchio's treatment of Kate is bad...
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SOURCE: A review of The Taming of the Shrew, in Cahiers Élisabéthains, Vol. 52, October, 1997, pp. 122-24.
[In the review below, Liston comments on the unique setting of director Richard Rose’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, adding that the two actors playing Katherina and Petruchio, while “very good actors,” were not well suited for these roles. Liston contends that as a whole, the production failed to spark enthusiasm.]
The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Richard Rose, sets and lights by Graeme Thomson, costumes by Charlotte Dean, Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario, 10 June 1997, two hours fifty-five minutes.
The Taming of the Shrew is so popular, despite its apparently politically incorrect message, that it frequently gets some kind of updating to make the production stand out from others. For the Stratford Festival Theatre's 1997 production director Richard Rose, omitting the Christopher Sly plot, set the play in New York's Little Italy (or Little Padua) in the 1960s, evoked first by a banner picturing the Statue of Liberty (while a ship's horn sounded), and then by about six lighted mini-buildings carried in on poles—the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, for example. (Camelot opened the Festival Theatre after extensive refurbishing over the winter, so spectacle seemed to be prominent in designers' minds.) Tranio...
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SOURCE: A review of The Taming of the Shrew, in Cahiers Élisabéthains, Vol. 57, April, 1997, pp. 120-21.
[In the following review, Smith praises the way in which Lindsay Posner's production of The Taming of the Shrew was not afraid to depict the play's dark elements, such as domestic violence. Additionally, Smith notes that the play's central problem remained unresolved, and that Sly's closing of the play made the ending seem “futile” and “empty.”]
The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Lindsay Posner for the RSC, The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 23 December 1999, front stalls.
While Lindsay Posner's Shrew never sought to avoid the darker tones and the horror of domestic violence, it nonetheless, in its final scene, attempted to ingratiate itself romantically with its audience. This of course is an awkward balancing act and Posner, despite some interesting local readings never succeeded in resolving the central difficulties of this most awkward of comedies. One reason for this was the sheer brutality of Stuart McQuarrie's Petruchio. He assaulted, kicked, pinched and twisted the ears of his feeble servants. Having knocked Grumio to the ground in I.2, he set about stomping on him including a running kick between the legs. He roughly tousled the tailor's hair and towered threateningly over the haberdasher. Monica Dolan's diminutive Katherine was...
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SOURCE: “Bring on the Shrews,” in TCI: The Business of Entertainment, Technology, and Design, Vol. 32, No. 5, May, 1998, pp. 11-13.
[In the following review, the critic characterizes Andreai Serban's production of The Taming of the Shrew as a parable concerned with taming the beast in all of us.]
Across a gray floor in front of a gray fire curtain, a mummy hobbles to Cole Porter's “I Hate Men,” and Christopher Sly falls asleep on a heart-shaped pillow that also looks like a breast with nipples.
Away with the curtain! A bright yellow 40′ truck spans the back of the thrust stage; red lettering on the trailer announces the American Repertory Theatre. The front lifts, revealing ART actors, clowns, and acrobats, to present The Taming of the Shrew. And Andrei Serban's production is off and flying.
From here, scenic designer Christine Jones works in primary colors, creating a set that goes beyond her research on carnivals and circuses and constantly surprises. Below the gray floor throw is a bright yellow gym mat, 20′ x 20′, onto which the company tumbles and jumps. When the back of the truck comes off, lighting designer Michael Chybowski changes colors below and behind, keeping them bold and bright, sometimes patterning square and rectangular surfaces with bright circles.
“Serban wanted a simple design that could become just...
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SOURCE: “The Good Marriage of Katherine and Petruchio,” in Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 37, 1984, pp. 23-31.
[In the essay that follows, Daniell contends that The Taming of the Shrew takes marriage quite seriously, and in that sense it is a true Shakespearean marriage play. Daniell studies the play's views on marriage through an analysis of the theatricality in the play, and finds that by the play’s end the violence and rebellion are contained, and Katherina and Petruchio are able to be themselves, with all their contradictions intact.]
Nowadays, The Taming of the Shrew is taken in its entirety, without mutilation, crude business with whips (imported by Kemble) or announcements of the embarrassing incompetence of the prentice Shakespeare. It is winning increasing praise, for the structure of its interlocking parts among other things, and is becoming understood as a fast-moving play about various kinds of romance and fulfilment in marriage.1
Problems remain, of course, particularly with Katherine's final speech: modern solutions making it a statement of contemporary doctrine, or of male fantasy, or of almost unbelievably sustained irony, do not any of them seem to suggest that there is much for Katherine and Petruchio to look forward to in marriage. The speech is a disappointment after the tender moment of ‘Nay, I will give thee a kiss’ (5.1.133) which...
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SOURCE: “The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or Outside the Joke?” in “Bad” Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, edited by Maurice Charney, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988, pp. 105-19.
[In the essay that follows, Garner maintains that whether people view The Taming of the Shrew as a “good” or “bad” play depends on where they see themselves in terms of the play's central joke, which Garner describes as one directed against women and written to entertain a misogynist audience.]
If you had grown up hearing that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language (or at least one of the two or three greatest) and that he is a “universal” poet, who speaks across time and national (even cultural) boundaries, you—especially if you were a woman student—would be shocked to study him in a college or university in the 1980s and to read The Taming of the Shrew for the first time. My own students—particularly my women students, though sometimes the men in my classes as well—often exclaim in dismay, “I can't believe Shakespeare wrote this!” A graduate student, rereading the play with only a faded memory of having read it before, commented that it was commonly her experience now to read something that she had once enjoyed only to find it disappointing. That was what happened when she read Taming of the Shrew, and it gave her...
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SOURCE: “Kates for the Table and Kates of the Mind: A Social Metaphor in The Taming of the Shrew,” in English Studies in Canada, Vol. 17, No. 1, March, 1991, pp. 1-20.
[In the essay below, Martin proposes an examination of The Taming of the Shrew based on an understanding of the play's contemporary context, arguing that such a reading reveals that Petruchio's treatment of Katherina reflects the conflicted ideas held by the Elizabethans about the “nature of women.”]
The vigour of recent critical debate over Petruchio's treatment of Katherine has turned The Taming of the Shrew into the first of Shakespeare's problem comedies. Traditionally it has been staged as a whip-cracking farce in which Katherine's need for reform is taken for granted and Petruchio's strategy of giving her more than a taste of her own medicine is seen as justified and reasonable. Any anxiety audiences might feel about the harshness of Petruchio's methods is allegedly relieved by the play's conventional slapstick context, which presupposes characters of limited human sensitivities who are insulated from experiencing “real” pain, thus making compassion for Katherine's ordeal unnecessary.1 This easygoing and still prevalent view of the play has been increasingly challenged, however, by critics and productions reinterpreting it as a vexatious social comedy. They...
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SOURCE: “The Taming of the Shrew: Women, Acting, and Power,” in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1993, pp. 67-84.
[In the essay below, Dusinberre reexamines Katherina's role in light of the fact that in the original performances of The Taming of the Shrew Katherina would have been played by a young male actor. Dusinberre explores the ways in which the audience's perceptions of the power relations in the play would have been affected by this knowledge, and notes that the boys, like women in Elizabethan society, were in positions of dependency.]
The opening of The Taming of the Shrew is strikingly different from that of the related play The Taming of a Shrew in offering the audience in the first ten lines a battle between the sexes. The Beggar, who calls himself Christopher Sly, threatens to “pheeze” the Hostess who throws him out of her inn, not just for drunkenness, but for not paying for broken glasses. Threatening Sly with the stocks, the Hostess exits, determining to send for the constable. In A Shrew, the innkeeper is a Tapster, and Slie's offence simply inebriation. Shakespeare's Sly defies the Hostess in a strange little speech: “Ile not budge an inch boy. Let him come, and kindly.” He has in the course of eleven lines quoted Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and challenged her abuse of him as a rogue: “Y'are a baggage, the Slies are...
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SOURCE: “Cultural Control in The Taming of the Shrew,” in Renaissance Drama, Vol. 26, 1995, pp. 83-104.
[In the essay below, Maguire analyzes the three forms of cultural control found in The Taming of the Shrew: the hunt, music, and marriage.]
To say that Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is a play about taming is to state the obvious: the “wooing” of Katherine by Petruccio, perhaps more than any other main plot in Shakespeare, dominates performance and criticism of the play. But taming can take many forms, and I want to argue that The Taming of the Shrew is imbued with three forms of cultural control: the hunt, music, and marriage. These variations on a theme are linked subtly but crucially by the central image of music, and are introduced through the cynegetic motif that occupies the play's first two scenes.
The Taming of the Shrew opens with Christopher Sly, “old Sly's son of Burton Heath, by birth a pedlar, by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bearherd, and now by present profession a tinker” (Ind.2.17-20). Further demoted by drink from tinker to “swine,” the sleeping Sly is discovered by a creature from the opposite end of the social hierarchy, a Lord, who is abroad with his men enjoying that activity of the allegedly civilized classes: the hunt.
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Brooks, Dennis S. “‘To show scorn her own image’: The Varieties of Education in The Taming of the Shrew.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 48, No. 1 (1994): 7-32.
Argues that the various themes, anomalies, and plots in The Taming of the Shrew are united by the play's concern with the Renaissance debate regarding education. Brooks notes that to Renaissance theorists education was a complicated socialization process.
Candido, Joseph. “The Starving of the Shrew.” Colby Quarterly 26, No. 2 (June 1990): 96-111.
Examines the play's focus on eating and drinking, observing that allusions to the food and drink of Shakespeare's England emphasize the importance of the Induction and the character of Christopher Sly, and inform the play's treatment of such issues as marriage.
Deer, Harriet A. “Untyping Stereotypes: The Taming of the Shrew.” In The Aching Hearth: Family Violence in Life and Literature, edited by Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker, pp. 63-78. New York: Insight Books, 1991.
Considers the relationship between theatrical conventions and social values explored in The Taming of the Shrew, suggesting that just as the Renaissance actor/playwright grappled with transforming popular plots and characters into new dramas with...
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