The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 77)
The Taming of the Shrew
See also The Taming of the Shrew Criticism (Volume 55) and The Taming of the Shrew Criticism (Volume 87).
Categorized among the early Shakespearean comedies, The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1590-91) has become one of the playwright's most controversial works. While Elizabethan audiences may have viewed the piece with amusement and approval, the story of the spirited, rebellious, and sharp-witted Katherina (Kate), forced by her father to marry the equally exuberant and willful Petruchio, generally fails to correspond to a modern sensibility of the proper bond between husband and wife. The tactics by which Petruchio transforms Katherina's obstinacy into obedience, as well as the drama's undercurrent of violence and cruelty, are perceived by many critics as unsettling in a play principally concerned with marriage. Whereas nineteenth-century commentators dismissed the drama as a simple farce of little serious consequence, modern scholars find much in the play that merits serious study. Many critics have endeavored to explicate the troubling elements of the play, and are particularly interested in Katherina's apparent submission to her husband in the play's final act. Summarizing its enigmatic appeal, Oxford Shakespeare editor H. J. Oliver (1982) observes the ways in which Shakespeare transformed and improved upon his numerous sources for The Taming of the Shrew to fashion a piece that, despite certain limitations, fascinates with its intriguing subject: the clash of sexes.
Contemporary character-based studies of The Taming of the Shrew have almost invariably focused on the drama's central and dominating figures, Katherina and Petruchio. This volatile relationship is the subject of Ruth Nevo's (1980) appraisal, which emphasizes the dynamics of “sexual battle” that drive the play. Nevo dissects the fundamental subject of The Taming of the Shrew—locating a suitable mate for the “wild, intractable and shrewish daughter of Baptista”—and the conflict of wills that ensues. Analyzing Petruchio's verbal strategies in wooing and taming his wife, Nevo observes that Katherina largely responds to his cues, and suggests that the play steadily informs us that by its final act Kate is truly in love with her husband. Other critics have taken a wider, social view of Katherina's taming. Velvet D. Pearson (1990) sees the process of subduing Baptista's eldest daughter on stage as a barometer of changing social attitudes toward women from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, ranging from a traditional view of Katherina and Petruchio as two individuals learning to love one another to a more modern vision that champions Katherina's assertiveness and intellectual freedom. Harriet A. Deer (1991), while acknowledging that the play presents a strongly chauvinist subtext, argues that in The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare creatively undercut conventional stereotypes associated with the shrew and braggart figures, which provide the theatrical basis for Katherina's and Petruchio's characters, in order to reveal the deeply patriarchal suppositions of Elizabethan marriage.
Despite its potentially disturbing representation of gender conflict, The Taming of the Shrew continues to be one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies. Charles Isherwood's evaluates the 1999 Public Theater production staged in New York City's Central Park, directed by Mel Shapiro. Isherwood finds this performance, which primarily appealed to low humor with an unyielding silliness and multitude of crude jokes, an affront to the emotional complexities of Shakespeare's characters and story. While Isherwood admires Allison Janney's outstanding Katherina, he laments Shapiro's overall disregard for the emotional subtleties of the drama in favor of eye-catching comic additions. Similarly, Ben Brantley (1999) finds Richard Rees's 1999 Williamstown Theater Festival production of The Taming of the Shrew disappointing. For Brantley, one of the saving elements of this “fast, furious, and overstuffed interpretation” was Bebe Neuwirth's convincingly performed Katherina. Elysa Gardner (2000) praises director Victoria Liberatori's musically enhanced Taming of the Shrew set in a retro, 1970s style and performed by the Princeton Repertory Theater in 2000. Gardner contends that this seemingly odd setting offered an excellent commentary on the play by evoking the sexual revolution and the women's rights movement. Lastly, D. J. R. Bruckner (2001) comments on Liz Shipman's use of the critically contentious induction scene that opens The Taming of the Shrew in her 2001 production with the King County Shakespeare Company. Bruckner finds nearly all of Shipman's directorial interpretations beneficial to the drama and approves of the ensemble performance.
Recent thematic criticism regarding The Taming of the Shrew has generally focused on two key topics: transformation and the socially dictated roles of women. Jeanne Addison Roberts (1983) explores the theme of metamorphosis in the play, beginning with its induction scene and the mock conversion of the drunken tinker Christopher Sly into a nobleman. Roberts goes on to study the pervasive imagery of transformation in the play, such as the emblematic transformation of a married couple into a single entity represented by a hermaphrodite, and the symbolic metamorphosis of humans into animals—particularly the association between woman and horse. Approaching the transformation theme from a sharply contrasting perspective, Barry Weller (1992) studies the problematic relationship between The Taming of the Shrew's induction and main plot. Noting that Christopher Sly's dream induction to the drama is rife with allusions to theatricality, Weller suggests that Katherina's ostensible metamorphosis from assertive shrew to servile wife, when viewed through this frame, should be regarded with at least a degree of skepticism. Shifting to issues of gender in The Taming of the Shrew, Erika Gottlieb (1986) considers Katherina's rebellious actions in the play as a kind of ideological assault on the Great Chain of Being, a traditional hierarchical structure that dominated early modern thinking. While Katherina rails against her social placement below man in this scheme, Gottlieb observes that Shakespeare's final statement on the matter remains ambivalent. Gary Schneider (2002) presents a feminist-materialist assessment of the social world depicted in The Taming of the Shrew. Schneider maintains that in the play, the theater becomes a site of “social control” where Katherina becomes the mouthpiece for patriarchal rhetoric. According to Schneider, Katherina's final speech is meant to act as a kind of sermon that encourages the female audience members to exhibit proper behavior.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Oliver, H. J. Introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare: “The Taming of the Shrew,” edited by H. J. Oliver, pp. 1-76. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
[In the following excerpted introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, Oliver surveys the play's sources, style, themes, structure, and characterization.]
THE STORY OF CHRISTOPHER SLY
No one source for the ‘Induction’ of The Taming of the Shrew has yet been found, and none need be sought: Shakespeare may well have first heard at his mother's knee some version of the universal tale of how a sleeper or drunken man, when he awoke to find himself dressed in fine clothes, was deceived into believing that he was really a lord, or of some such high rank, and that what he thought to be his memories of his earlier life were delusions. The form of the story most widely known today is that in The Arabian Nights, where the Caliph Haroun al Raschid plays the trick on Abu Hassan (and although The Arabian Nights as such was not known in Europe until the eighteenth century, it is perhaps worth recalling that the stories in it may have been collected as early as the fourteenth and in origin may go back many centuries before that).
Discussion of Shakespeare's acquiring of this fable was put on the wrong track years ago when Thomas Warton stated in his History of English Poetry...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Nevo, Ruth. “Kate of Kate Hall.” In Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew,” edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 29-39. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1980, Nevo designates the principal concern of The Taming of the Shrew as the “sexual battle,” and analyzes the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio.]
A more gentlemanly age than our own was embarrassed by The Shrew. G. B. Shaw announced it “altogether disgusting to the modern sensibility.” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch of the New Shakespeare judged it
primitive, somewhat brutal stuff and tiresome, if not positively offensive to any modern civilised man or modern woman, not an antiquary. … We do not and cannot, whether for better or worse, easily think of woman and her wedlock vow to obey quite in terms of a spaniel, a wife and a walnut tree—the more you whip 'em the better they be.
It will be noticed, however, that Q's access of gallantry causes him to overlook the fact that apart from the cuffings and beatings of saucy or clumsy zanni which is canonical in Italianate comedy, no one whips anyone in The Taming of the Shrew, violence being confined to Katherina who beats her sister Bianca and slaps Petruchio's face. Anne Barton has done...
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SOURCE: Pearson, Velvet D. “In Search of a Liberated Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 44, no. 4 (1990): 229-42.
[In the following essay, Pearson considers stage representations of The Taming of the Shrew as they reflect the changing social perceptions of women.]
From its first performance in about 1594 to the present day, productions of The Taming of the Shrew challenge actors and directors to provide the audience with a play that supplies entertainment rather than sketches a harsh portrait of Elizabethan patriarchal society. When faced with a “problem play” such as this one, theater companies often avoid the difficulties involved by ignoring the play entirely or substituting an altered version. David Garrick's shortened three-act play, Catherine and Petruchio replaced The Taming of the Shrew for almost one hundred years. With the exception of one three-day run of an operatic version, Garrick's play was the only version produced in England and America from 1754-1844 (Haring-Smith 16-18). This version eliminates the subplot about Bianca and her suitors as well as the Induction. Garrick cut out most of the pure comedic elements to make the play more farcical so that the characters of Catherine and Petruchio become more clearly motivated. Catherine plainly marries in order to tame Petruchio, but is beaten at her own...
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SOURCE: 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: Plenum Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Deer argues that through his characterization of Katherina and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare transcended the stock comic figures of shrew and braggart, and allowed an exploration of “the patriarchal assumptions that underlie Elizabethan marriage.”]
There is no question that The Taming of the Shrew incorporates spouse abuse. Its “knockabout” farce occurs chiefly at the expense of a wife who suffers verbal abuse, starvation, and material deprivation. Furthermore, the abusive husband seems to be more praised than blamed, for in the banquet scene with which the play closes, the wife appears to praise his right to control her and then to embrace dutiful obedience. Thus, the play seems to reinscribe many of the stereotypes that have been rejected by contemporary feminists. Whether one objects to the play's apparent condemnation of willful women or finds fault with its apparent praise of women who conform to men's rules for wifely conduct, The Taming of the Shrew seems to capitalize on the perception of women as marginal members of a hierarchical, masculine society. It therefore seems a potentially...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Isherwood, Charles. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. Variety 375, no. 8 (12 July 1999): 46.
[In the following review of director Mel Shapiro's production of The Taming of the Shrew for The Public Theater in New York City's Central Park, Isherwood laments that an overemphasis on low humor obscured the underlying complexities of Shakespeare's play.]
Silly accents and silly walks, funny hats and funny shoes, lewd jokes and rude jokes: The Public Theater's production of The Taming of the Shrew in Central Park is pretty hysterical, all right, but that is not meant kindly. As mindless summer movies sprawl across the country spreading either delirium or dismay, depending on one's taste for such as Adam Sandler, the Public Theater has come up with the theatrical alternative: the Bard as reinterpreted by the Three Stooges.
And just as moviegoers flocked to Big Daddy, the Central Park audience at the performance reviewed guffawed right along with Mel Shapiro's shamelessly broad take on the Bard's prototypical battle of the sexes. Let 'em laugh, but someone ought to disabuse them of the idea that what they're watching is actually the play Shakespeare wrote.
Shakespeare was, of course, an aficionado of low humor, and Taming of the Shrew, an early comedy and not among his finest, has more than enough: from the drunken exploits of duped...
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SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “Shakespeare's Hostilities of Courtship, Italian Style.” New York Times (15 July 1999): E1, E5.
[In the following review of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Roger Rees in 1999 for the Williamstown Theater Festival, Brantley deems Rees's style excessive in its additions and interpolations, but uncovers several positive elements in the production, including Bebe Neuwirth's convincing Katherina.]
American cinema audiences of the 1950's and 60's were thrilled to the marrow when Italian movies demonstrated that you didn't have to make nice to make love. Sniping, scrapping and thumb-bitting as foreplay? How exotic, how earthy, how passionate it all seemed when Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastrolani, or Anna Magnanl and anyone, were butting heads.
Marriage Italian Style, the name of the most legendary Loren-Mastroianni collaboration, might as well be the subtitle of the fast, furious and overstuffed interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew that runs at the Williamstown Theater Festival through Sunday.
Directed by Roger Rees, who plays Petruchio to Bebe Neuwirth's Kate, this very animated production of Shakespeare's prickly comedy of courtship reinvents Renaissance Padua as a cartoon version of the world of De Sica and Fellini. Neil Patel's eye-popping set is Pop neo-realist, with clotheslines festooned with soccer jerseys and...
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SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. Spectator 283, no. 8935 (6 November 1999): 66, 68.
[In the following excerpted review, Morley describes a traveling production of The Taming of the Shrew directed by Lindsay Posner in 1999 as “noisily simplistic but generally joyous.”]
Of all the other major Shakespeares, it is now The Merchant of Venice, on account of its anti-Semitism, and The Taming of the Shrew, on account of its male chauvinist piggery, which always cause the most difficulty to politically correct directors and audiences alike. Brave, therefore, of the RSC at home to make a radical new staging by Lindsay Posner of the Shrew their regional tour for 2000: after this week's opening at the Barbican Pit it goes to Stratford for Christmas and then sets off around Ellesmere Port, Middlesbrough, Ollerton, Braintree, Penzance, Ebbw Vale, Barnsley, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Littleport and Barrow-in-Furness through June of next year, playing not in conventional theatres but in sports arenas, schools, leisure centres and even church halls.
So the production has to be very flexible, minimally scenic and designed to appeal to audiences who seldom or never get to see Shakespeare locally; it also has to work with a cast of relative unknowns willing to spend the next six months on the road in often uncongenial surroundings. Given all...
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SOURCE: Klein, Alvin. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. New York Times (6 August 2000): WC12.
[In the following review of The Taming of the Shrew at the Boscobel Restoration in 2000, Klein praises Nick Mangano's production, which focuses on a very human battle of the sexes, and lauds the excellent performances of Kurt Rhoades and Nance Williamson as Petruchio and Katherina.]
After the jubilant opening-night performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the Boscobel Restoration here, one woman, holding her daughter by the hand, promised to take her to the Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate. This is a sweet idea. It is provocative, too.
Practically speaking, members of the Shrew ensemble can get to Broadway in their own good time. But can the Broadway cast be bused to Boscobel? Do performance times conflict? Or dark nights coincide? I would gladly coordinate the trip: I will even drive the bus. Can an extra performance be squeezed in one fine morning? Better still, can the engagement be extended for a very long time? Must winter come?
Given the obviously contagious delirium of Nick Mangano's staging, it is hard to get a grip on a real world when such a wildly romantic and intrinsically harmonious and sane one has been conjured up by lovers, lunatics and magicians of theater.
Since it has become fashionable to regard...
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SOURCE: Gardner, Elysa. “Princeton Shrew Is a Groovy Kind of Love.” USA Today (15 August 2000): D4.
[In the following review, Gardner comments on the retro, 1970s styling and music of Victoria Liberatori's staging of The Taming of the Shrew with the Princeton Repertory Theatre in 2000. Gardner contends that this seemingly odd setting offered an excellent commentary on the play by evoking the sexual revolution and the women's rights movement.]
Months after a Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate cleaned up at the Tonys, the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival has put a new musical spin on The Taming of the Shrew. And it's a way groovy one.
For this new Shrew—which will be performed Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through Aug. 27, outdoors at Petoranello Gardens—company artistic director Victoria Liberatori enlisted composer Galt MacDermot, best known for scoring the classic hippie musical Hair, to write incidental music.
Quirky as it might seem, Liberatori's choice was actually quite practical. For one thing, MacDermot is no stranger to the Bard: the Canadian-born tunesmith won a Tony for his musical adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1972, and he has since provided music for several of Joseph Papp's productions of Shakespeare plays.
Perhaps more to the point, the Princeton Rep's...
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SOURCE: Bruckner, D. J. R. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. New York Times (23 June 2001): B8.
[In the following review of Liz Shipman's 2001 staging of The Taming of the Shrew, Bruckner finds nearly all of Shipman's directorial interpretations beneficial to the drama and approves of the ensemble performance.]
In the Kings County Shakespeare Company's Taming of the Shrew under Liz Shipman's direction, it is the play that is disciplined into civility, with only a slight misstep. Ms. Shipman uses part of Shakespeare's opening scene that is routinely ignored in modern productions. But instead of making the play a stunt by amateur performers to confuse an addled sot, she has a lush reel from the street into the theater where the actors talk him into taking the role of Petruchio. It seems to me this diminishes the distancing effect Shakespeare intended by making Shrew a play within a play.
She also uses fragments from a 1594 play of uncertain authorship called The Taming of a Shrew, but without much changing Shakespeare's text. She makes Katherine a less strident shrew than she is usually portrayed and Petruchio a less hectoring coach of manners. This slight muting does not dull the edge of their verbal combat, but it does make the fumbling rivalry of the three suitors of Bianca and the rascally disorder of the many servants in the play more insistently...
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SOURCE: Roberts, Jeanne Addison. “Horses and Hermaphrodites: Metamorphosis in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Quarterly 34, no. 2 (summer 1983): 159-71.
[In the following essay, Roberts examines the theme of metamorphosis in The Taming of the Shrew, which is suggested by imagery of literal transformation in the play.]
The relationship between the world of nature and the world of human beings is always of special interest in Shakespeare's plays; and in discussing the “romantic” comedies critics since Northrop Frye have routinely noted the alternation in settings between the “normal world” and the “green world of romance.”1 Just as routinely they have excluded The Taming of the Shrew from discussions of “romantic” comedy on the grounds of its “realism” and its farcical qualities.2 I should like to suggest that important elements of romance do in fact lie under the surface of this play and that an appreciation of these elements helps to illuminate its picture of the interaction of natural and human worlds. Some of the links between the worlds are supplied by Ovid.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Shakespeare was well-versed in Ovid and that Ovidian literature shaped and permeated his writing. In the playwright's early works Ovid's influence is manifest especially in Venus and...
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SOURCE: Gottlieb, Erika. “‘I Will Be Free’: Shakespeare's Ambivalence to Katherina's Challenge of the Great Chain of Being.” In Essays on Shakespeare in Honour of A. A. Ansari, edited by T. R. Sharma, pp. 88-116. Meerut, India: Shalabh Book House, 1986.
[In the following essay, Gottlieb contends that The Taming of the Shrew should not be viewed as a farce with a determinate happy ending, but rather that the play demonstrates Shakespeare's ambivalence to feminine assertions of independence from authoritarian, hierarchical tradition.]
In spite of the great number of its critics and the wide range of critical directions, most commentators on The Taming of the Shrew insist on reading it as a comedy with a wholeheartedly happy ending. In contrast to this assertion, I suggest that The Taming of the Shrew represents one of the earliest examples of Shakespeare's ambivalence towards the dilemma of individual freedom and equality as inspired by the emerging new consciousness of the Renaissance, and opposed to the well-tried ideas of dependence and obedience to authority posited by the conservative, medieval tradition.
To respond to this dilemma, Shakespeare also presses into service the current romantic code of gentlemanly behaviour and courtly love as a buttress to the central ideological edifice, that of the Great Chain of Being. To illustrate this ambivalence, I...
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SOURCE: Weller, Barry. “Induction and Inference: Theater, Transformation, and the Construction of Identity in The Taming of the Shrew.” In Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature in Honor of Thomas M. Green, edited by David Quint et al., pp. 297-329. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1992.
[In the following essay, Weller examines Shakespeare's sources for The Taming of the Shrew, traces affinities between the play's induction scene and main plot, and highlights the play's themes of theatricality, shifting identity, and metamorphosis.]
The title of The Taming of the Shrew both announces its major action and points to its concern with the shaping, or reshaping, of identity. This concern is echoed, repeated with a difference, and qualified in the subplot and induction of the comedy. The paradoxes of Katherina's conversion, of the shrew's “metamorphosis” into a wife, can best, perhaps only, be understood in the context of Bianca's tutelage and courtship and of Christopher Sly's transportation into another reality, framed for his reception. The play—or certain performances of the play—may tease, even encourage, the audience to draw inferences about Katherina's formation of a new identity, but when the entire text of the play is performed, its subsidiary actions, with their abortive, incomplete, or explicitly theatrical...
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SOURCE: Schneider, Gary. “The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42, no. 2 (spring 2002): 235-58.
[In the following essay, Schneider presents a feminist-materialist assessment of the social world depicted in The Taming of the Shrew, and maintains that in the play, the theater becomes a site of “social control” where Katherina becomes the mouthpiece for patriarchal rhetoric.]
Relatively late in the action of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (1592), Tranio tells the pedant of a fictional private quarrel that has been made public, and is, therefore, a potential threat to the pedant's safety in the city of Padua:
'Tis death for anyone in Mantua To come to Padua. Know you not the cause? Your ships are stayed at Venice, and the Duke, For private quarrel 'twixt your Duke and him, Hath published and proclaimed it openly. 'Tis marvel, but that you are but newly come, You might have heard it else proclaimed about.(1)
Tranio's “warning” marshals several pertinent implications of the interrelationship between the public and the private: there is a manifest danger when the private becomes public; private actions (the two dukes' personal quarrel) inform public life; and the dynamic interaction between ostensibly separate spheres creates a politicization of the private. In early modern England a...
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Brooks, Charles. “Shakespeare's Romantic Shrews.” Shakespeare Quarterly 11, no. 3 (summer 1960): 351-56.
Suggests that Kate is based on the same notions of feminine nature as Shakespeare's more immediately sympathetic comic heroines, and that she possesses a keen wit, a passionate nature, and a strength of will that audiences admire.
Christensen, Ann C. “Petruchio's House in Postwar Suburbia: Reinventing the Domestic Woman (Again).” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 17, no. 1 (fall 1997): 28-42.
Considers mid-twentieth-century adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, including Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate and Franco Zeffirelli's 1966 film version of the play, as they depict new definitions of domesticity in the postwar era.
Culpeper, Jonathan. “A Cognitive Approach to Characterization: Katherina in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.” Language and Literature 9, no. 4 (November 2000): 291-316.
Probes the nuances of Kate's character in The Taming of the Shrew through the application of contemporary social and cognitive psychology, arguing that she does not represent a reductively schematic shrew figure.
Dolan, Frances E. Introduction to “The Taming of the Shrew”: Texts and Contexts, edited by Frances E. Dolan,...
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