The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 87)
The Taming of the Shrew
For further information on the critical and stage history of The Taming of the Shrew, see SC, Volumes 9, 12, 31, 55, 64, and 77.
The Taming of the Shrew was likely written in the early 1590s, although estimates have ranged from the late 1580s to 1600. No specific source has been identified for the play. Scholars once believed the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew (1594) to be the source, but most critics now regard the anonymous piece as a “bad” quarto, likely an erroneous and possibly pirated version of the play known today. The premise of The Taming of the Shrew was apparently appropriate material for comedy during Shakespeare's time, but most modern audiences find the notion of Petruchio “taming” his spirited wife Katherina (Kate) neither amusing nor acceptable. Katherina, forced by her father to marry Petruchio, is subjected to a variety of disciplinary tactics considered demeaning and cruel by most playgoers today. Commentators are particularly interested in Katherina's submission at play's end, which so offends modern beliefs on gender equality that sexual politics often become the focus of critical concern.
One of Petruchio's taming techniques involves control of Katherina's access to food. Brian Morris (1981) notes that: “Katherina is denied her bridal dinner (III.ii), starved at Petruchio's house (IV.i), mocked with the promise of food by Grumio (IV.iii), and not finally satisfied until Lucentio's banquet in V.ii.” Joseph Candido (1990) also highlights the emphasis on eating and drinking throughout the play, describing the deprivation of food as an essential part of the taming process and Petruchio's refusal to partake in his and Katherina's wedding feast as a marker of his own social iconoclasm. Another means of subduing Katherina employed by her husband involves the dispute over her wardrobe. Margaret Rose Jaster (2001) discusses Petruchio's control over Katherina's apparel, commenting that although critics and audiences often consider the dialogue in these scenes to be harmless banter, the exchanges are not as benign as they may seem, since clothing is so closely associated with identity—both personal and social. “Although Petruchio employs less physical abuse than traditional tamers, we cannot blithely disregard any attempts by one party to control another's identity through this most intimate device,” maintains Jaster.
Frances E. Dolan (see Further Reading) surveys the critical controversy surrounding the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio, contending that even “in its own time the play was one text among many in heated debates about women's status, marriage, and domesticity.” Modern critics and audiences alike are inclined to consider Petruchio's behavior harsh, domineering, and offensive rather than amusing and romantic. Some scholars, however, have attempted to recast Petruchio's behavior into more acceptable categories for contemporary audiences. Morris, for example, considers Petruchio's role as that of a teacher, rather than a tamer; he acknowledges that education “is a means of reducing the individual to social conformity through the imparting of approved knowledge and acceptable skills,” but contends that it is also “designed to liberate and bring to full fruition the innate capabilities of the pupil.” Similarly, many scholars have reinterpreted Katherina's submission as ironic and refuse to accept her final speech as a sincere expression of her willing subordination. Some critics, according to Dolan, “argue that Katharina goes so far in her insistence on women's subjugation that she offers a critique of Petruchio's goals and desires.” Others take a lighter view, arguing that her servility is a joke shared by Katherina and her husband at the expense of the other couples; such an interpretation suggests not only a happy ending for the romantic comedy, but casts the couple in the roles of romantic hero and heroine. Winfried Schleiner (1977), however, resists interpretations that posit Katherina as a romantic heroine in the same vein as Rosalind of As You Like It. According to Schleiner, the language of Katherina's submission at the end of the play is “based on a social order so natural and commonplace to the playwright and his audience that the presence of romance is ruled out.”
Modern stagings of The Taming of the Shrew reflect the problematic nature of the play's central premise, often taking unusual casting and staging approaches in an effort to recapture the play's comic elements. Ann Blake (2002) claims that although the work was frequently produced in the twentieth century, “it was rarely staged straight.” Recent unconventional productions include the Yale Repertory Theatre's use of an all-male cast in 2003. Wayne and Dorothy Cook (2003) comment on director Mark Lamos's attempt to “recapture the original vigor of the play,” an attempt that was unfortunately, according to the critics, “thwarted by a cast of mediocre players.” Similarly, in the 2003 Shakespeare's Globe Theatre production, director Barry Kyle attempted to move the audience beyond the usual preoccupation with sexual politics by featuring an all-female cast. Kyle left the company during rehearsals, however, and was replaced by Phyllida Lloyd, who put together a production “that relishes the broad comedy of the play,” according to reviewer Sarah Hemming (2003). “Rather than struggle with this troublesome piece,” claims Hemming, “the girls' strategy is to have fun with it.” In another gender-bending production, the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company cast women in the men's roles (and vice versa) in an attempt to restore the comic tone of the work. Kristina Mannion (see Further Reading) reports that the result of this interpretation was “delightfully comical” as “women step in to portray the major male characters with all the swaggering gusto this often testosterone-fueled script calls for.” Laurel Graeber (2002) reviews a more conventionally cast production directed Stephen Burdman for the New York Classical Theater. Graeber notes that Garth T. Mark's tenderhearted Petruchio “makes you forget about sexism and just revel in the fun.” However, such attempts to appease the egalitarian sensibilities of modern audiences are not always successful. Toby Young (2004) criticizes Gregory Doran's politically correct 2004 production as a “touchy-feely, sentimental interpretation.” According to Young, “Doran has got round the usual objection to the play, namely that it is unabashedly misogynistic, by presenting it as a touching love story in which two social misfits, each nursing a cluster of psychological wounds, find salvation in each other's arms.”
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Morris, Brian, ed. Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, pp. 1-149. London: Methuen, 1981.
[In the following excerpt from the introduction to the Arden edition, Morris provides an overview of the structure and themes of The Taming of the Shrew.]
The history of the text through its various adaptations is important because it focuses critical attention on what successive generations of actors and dramatists considered essentially dramatic in it. Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio dominated this transmission, suggesting that in the theatrical structure the taming plot makes the play's most powerful dramatic statement. It is, after all, The Taming of the Shrew, not Lucentio and Bianca, or Sly's Dream.
As we have seen, Garrick stitched together the large set pieces of the taming plot: the bargain between Petruchio and Baptista, the lute-breaking, the wooing, the wedding, the reception at Petruchio's house, the Tailor and Haberdasher scene, the sun and moon scene, and the last part of the final scene in which Petruchio displays his wife's obedience and makes his peace with her. A radical selection, made for purely theatrical purposes, it nevertheless lays bare one of the basic structures and rhythmic patterns of Shakespeare's play, and the enchaînement of the scenes isolates the...
(The entire section is 19362 words.)
Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Schleiner, Winfried. “Deromanticizing the Shrew: Notes on Teaching Shakespeare in a ‘Women in Literature’ Course.” In Teaching Shakespeare, edited by Walter Edens, Christopher Durer, Walter Eggers, Duncan Harris, Keith Hull, pp. 79-92. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.
[In the following essay, Schleiner examines the characterization of Katherina from a feminist perspective.]
The new discipline of women's studies brings home more clearly than many others that history is part of what we are. While Renaissance literature is apparently becoming more and more remote to undergraduates—a recent poetry anthology entitled Ancients and Moderns1 begins with John Donne—the relevance of Shakespeare in a “women in literature” course will go undisputed. More importantly, consideration of his plays from this perspective is, as one might expect, an undertaking that provides both intellectual and existential stimulation.
Attention to Shakespeare's female characters is of course not new. Looking through Robert C. Steemsma's (by now dated) bibliography of Shakespeare and women,2 one might feel the despair that Virginia Woolf experienced as she consulted the British Museum's catalogue entry on women and wondered: “How shall I ever find the grains of truth embedded in this mass of paper?”3 But most of these works have only...
(The entire section is 4428 words.)
SOURCE: Jaster, Margaret Rose. “Controlling Clothes, Manipulating Mates: Petruchio's Griselda.” Shakespeare Studies 29 (2001): 93-108.
[In the following essay, Jaster explores Shakespeare's use of apparel in The Taming of the Shrew as a marker of personal identity, manipulated by Petruchio as a means of controlling Katherina.]
One of the most hilarious—or hideous—scenes in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew occurs in act 4, when Petruchio, with the aid of Grumio and Hortensio, symbolically addresses Katherina in apparel he chooses for her. Throughout the scene, Petruchio in effect undresses his new wife by contradicting enough of her sartorial desires to the delight of the assembled males, and to Katherina's manifest discomfort. Editors and playgoers have usually relished the banter among the men and Katherina's resultant frustration; they have often been relieved that Petruchio chooses to tame his new wife in so innocuous a manner.1
But apparel is too potent a tool in any power dynamic to dismiss its manipulation as a benign taming game. In early modern England, as today, any contention about apparel raises issues of personal and social identity. Although Petruchio employs less physical abuse than traditional tamers, we cannot blithely disregard any attempts by one party to control another's identity through this most intimate device, even if those...
(The entire section is 6176 words.)
SOURCE: Maurer, Margaret. “Constering Bianca: The Taming of the Shrew and The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed.” In Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, edited by John Pitcher, pp. 186-206. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Maurer explores emendations in Shakespeare's play that substantially alter the characterization of Bianca, resulting in a less complex character than the playwright originally intended.]
Ovidius Naso was the man. And why indeed “Naso,” but for smelling out the odoriferous flowers of fancy, the jerks of invention? Imitari is nothing: so doth the hound his master, the ape his keeper, the tired horse his rider.
—Love's Labor's Lost, 4.2.123-27
The early seventeenth-century sequel to Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew is the return, not of the shrew, but of her little sister Bianca. In The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed, it is Byancha who instigates Petruchio's new wife Maria's defiance; and it is Byancha and Tranio who manage the intrigue, parallel to the one they inhabit in the Shakespearean play, that prevents the marriage of Maria's sister Livia to old man Moroso, her father's choice for her.1 Yet while Byancha is a principal character in The Woman's Prize, her importance in perceiving...
(The entire section is 8845 words.)
Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Graeber, Laurel. “Kiss Him, Kate.” New York Times (16 August 2002): E35.
[In the following review, Graeber praises director Stephen Burdman's energetic 2002 New York Classical Theater production of The Taming of the Shrew in Central Park, New York.]
New York Classical Theater may inspire you to add to the list of things you normally take to an outdoor performance in Central Park. As well as blankets and mosquito repellent, its productions call for sneakers, or at least comfortable shoes.
That's because the theater treats Shakespeare as a movable feast. Having performed Twelfth Night this summer, it is now offering The Taming of the Shrew. All the park's a stage, so to speak, and though the play takes place within three blocks of 97th Street and Central Park West, spectators get a workout running after the actors.
This slightly abridged production (105 minutes), fast-moving in all senses, is a delight for families. No one has to—or can—sit still, and if a child grows restless, it's possible to escape discreetly. Like Petruchio, however, I'll make a risky wager and bet that no one will. Directed by Stephen Burdman, the production makes the most of the play's physical comedy, with lots of tumbling in the dust and mingling with the audience, not to mention a Petruchio who arrives for his wedding in a red jock strap worn over green...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
SOURCE: Cook, Wayne and Dorothy. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare Bulletin 21, no. 2 (spring/summer 2003): 22-3.
[In the following review, the Cooks contend that director Mark Lamos's 2003 Yale Repertory Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew was disappointing, caused in part by the mediocre performances by the all-male cast.]
Mark Lamos' production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Yale Repertory Theatre was disappointing. His intention, expressed in pre-production interviews, was to recapture the original vigor of the play. It was thwarted by a cast of mediocre players, by allowing horseplay to eclipse the energy of the language, and by naturalistic scenes that descended into the squalor of a filthy tenement kitchen. And, in this all-male, Latino version, attention was often drawn to men playing women. However, except for the best scene of the evening, with a gay tailor, there was little or no South Beach camp. This restraint was, unfortunately, lost in the employment of farce.
Scenic designer Leiko Fuseya's brightly colored set conveyed both the street and indoors. Material poverty was offset by attitude, evident in boisterous sound and movement, as well as in day-glo hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple. The many entrances blurred outside and inside; exterior walls were decorated with pictures, mostly religious. A central balcony, with a...
(The entire section is 1149 words.)
SOURCE: Neill, Heather. “Shrewd Changes.” Times Educational Supplement, no. 4538 (27 June 2003): 26.
[In the following preview of The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe in London, Neill explains director Barry Kyle's decision to use an all-female cast in his production.]
That most problematic of Shakespeare's plays for feminists is about to be performed by an all-female cast, with Kathryn Hunter as Kate and Janet McTeer as Petrucchio. Director Barry Kyle says that, in any case, to see the play in terms of simple sexual politics misses the point.
Katherine's speech of submission at the end of the play, the “destination” speech to which everything appears to lead, seems to suggest that a happy woman is one who has found the right man, but, says Kyle, “it is also about the master/servant relationship and there are master/servant relationships all over The Taming of the Shrew, often with people acting in their opposite roles”.
Lucentio, suitor to Bianca, Kate's younger sister, appears as a tutor, Cambio, while his servant Tranio poses as Lucentio. Besides, this is a play within a play, performed to drunken Christopher Sly who is treated like a lord while the lord behaves like a servant. In other words, this is often a topsy-turvy world. “Disguise is a big part of the play. To a degree Katherine and Petrucchio are in disguise, playing...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
SOURCE: Hemming, Sarah. “Girls Know How to Have Fun with Shakespeare.” Financial Times (23 August 2003): 8.
[In the following review of Phyllida Lloyd's 2003 Globe Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew, Hemming contends that while Lloyd's all-female production “sacrifices subtlety and depth,” it “relishes the broad comedy of the play.”]
It was perhaps asking too much of fate to put a man at the helm of the Globe's all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's notorious, apparently misogynist comedy. At all events, it was not to be. The original director, Barry Kyle, departed during rehearsals, and Phyllida Lloyd stepped in to try to tame The Shrew.
And what a play for the all-woman company to choose. This is the comedy that has the wayward Kate so brought to heel by the domineering Petruchio that she urges others of her sex to place their hands beneath their husbands' boots—a sentiment that would make even the most faint-hearted feminist burn holes in her spouse's smalls.
Rather than struggle with this troublesome piece, however, the girls' strategy is to have fun with it. Striding about the stage in doublet and hose, the cast adopts its male personas with relish, slapping each other on the back, drumming the table and lounging with their legs apart—in short, enjoying all the laddish behaviour that would...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
SOURCE: Young, Toby. “A Couple of Misfits.” Spectator 294, no. 9156 (31 January 2004): 65.
[In the following excerpt, a comparative review of Gregory Doran's productions of The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher's sequel, The Tamer Tamed, Young criticizes the director's politically correct interpretations.]
Why is it that Shakespeare, above all playwrights, is constantly harnessed to the holy cows of the day? In the eyes of most directors, his plays aren't the repositories of universal truths, but simply a means to communicate their Most Cherished and Deeply Held Beliefs, i.e., the fashionable cant of the moment. Thus, last year Nicholas Hytner gave us an anti-war Henry V and now Gregory Doran brings us a touchy-feely, sentimental interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew. What's next? A version of Titus Andronicus designed to promote peace, love and understanding?
In fairness to Gregory Doran, he's probably the greatest Shakespearean director working today. I adored his Much Ado About Nothing. I'm looking forward to his All's Well That Ends Well and I'm seriously considering making a trip to Stratford to see his Othello, which promises to be one of the highlights of the RSC's new season. Unlike so many other contemporary Shakespeare directors—Edward Hall, for instance—he has a gift for making the plays accessible...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
SOURCE: Candido, Joseph. “The Starving of the Shrew.” Colby Quarterly 26, no. 2 (June 1990): 96-111.
[In the following essay, Candido examines motifs of eating and drinking in The Taming of the Shrew.]
… it is clear that newly caught shrews always eat about their own weight of food daily. … What is astonishing is that the shrew should require so much food of such high energy content. … their physiology is adjusted for a rapid turnover of energy, and when supplied with excess food, they are unable to ‘change gear’, but continue to burn up energy as they did when it was necessary to search for food. Whenever awake they will be either feeding, burrowing, or rushing about poking their noses into everything.1
There is a lot of eating and drinking in The Taming of the Shrew. One may be justly accused of rhetorical impertinence for saying that the play is marbled with such concerns; yet the fact remains that everywhere we look someone is either talking about food or getting ready to eat or drink. Rabbits stuffed with parsley (IV.iv.100), doughy cake (I.i.108; V.i.132), sweet hazelnuts (II.i.252), porridge bowls (IV.iii.64)—these and other such commonplace allusions dot the rhetorical landscape of Shakespeare's Padua and, as so much else in the play proper, direct us back to the English countryside of the Induction and the person...
(The entire section is 8551 words.)
SOURCE: Hodgdon, Barbara. “Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life.” PMLA 107, no. 3 (May 1992): 538-53.
[In the following essay, Hodgdon discusses notions of sexual differences and gender roles in The Taming of the Shrew.]
When Kate delineates a wife's duties to “her loving lord” within a hierarchical configuration of marriage, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew ends in a “frenzy of the social” (cf. Comolli 121), putting on offer an image of “woman” that the play's male characters use as a means of speaking to one another about themselves. As one among many texts, nondramatic as well as dramatic, that participate in a conversation about the organization of sexual difference in early modern England,1Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew] demonstrates precisely the “fine surge of historical intelligibility” that Roland Barthes attributes to Sade's writing (Sade/Fourier/Loyola 10). Today, the anxiety over gender roles and attributes that characterized Shrew's original historical moment is once again the focus of intense cultural negotiation. Given the increasing difficulty of standing outside the containments and contradictions of representation and history, Shrew's obsessive attempt to circumscribe woman's “place” has especially fatal attractions for late-twentieth-century feminist readers and spectators....
(The entire section is 9772 words.)
SOURCE: Blake, Ann. “The Taming of the Shrew: Making Fun of Katherine.” Cambridge Quarterly 31, no. 3 (2002): 237-52.
[In the following essay, Blake argues that the critical reputation of The Taming of the Shrew has suffered because its comedic elements have often been considered farcical.]
In The Sense of Humor Stephen Potter remembers in his youth discovering his ‘first free contemporary’ laugh in Shakespeare. This was when the ‘Hotspur humour’ plays on ‘the humourless Glendower’:
I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Why, so can I, or so can any man,
But will they come when you do call for them?
(1 Henry IV III. i. 52-4)1
Potter's reaction to Hotspur's quip, or to others like it, is no doubt a common experience of early theatre-going. I remember how it amused me, as did another rather less witty ‘contemporary’ put-down when I first saw The Taming of the Shrew. This was what Lucentio said to his rival Hortensio, then disguised as a music master, as he tried to get him out of the way of his own wooing of Bianca: ‘Spit in the hole, man, and tune again’ (III. i. 38). And from that same production I also remember Hortensio coming on with the lute not so much on his head as round his neck, like a wooden ruff....
(The entire section is 6640 words.)
SOURCE: Halio, Jay L. “The Induction as Clue in The Taming of the Shrew.” In “A Certain Text”: Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton, edited by Linda Anderson and Janis Lull, pp. 94-106. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Halio explains that the prologue to The Taming of the Shrew provides insight for a proper interpretation of the work as a whole.]
When in his otherwise excellent television production of The Taming of the Shrew for “The Shakespeare Plays,” the BBC producer, Jonathan Miller, decided to omit the induction, he erred. Although the induction in Shakespeare's play is only a part-frame, unlike its counterpart in The Taming of a Shrew (the quarto printed in 1594, about which more later), it provides an important clue to how we should understand the main action of the play proper, as close analysis of the induction and the Katherine-Petruccio plot reveals.1
The induction opens as Christopher Sly, drunk, is thrown out of a tavern for refusing to pay for breaking some glasses. As the Hostess goes to call the headborough, or parish officer, Sly falls asleep. Horns sound, and a lord enters from hunting, but Sly does not awaken; he sleeps right through the entrance of the lord and his huntsmen. When the unnamed lord catches sight of the beggar, he...
(The entire section is 5640 words.)
Andresen-Thom, Martha. “Shrew-taming and Other Rituals of Aggression: Baiting and Bonding on the Stage and in the Wild.” Women's Studies 9, no. 2 (1982): 121-43.
Discusses the reception of The Taming of the Shrew among modern students and audiences in an era of post-feminism.
Barnett, Louise K. “Ovid and The Taming of the Shrew.” Ball State University Forum 20, no. 3 (summer 1979): 16-22.
Maintains that the influence of Ovid's writings on The Taming of the Shrew has been overlooked by many critics.
Cioni, Fernando. “Shakespeare's Italian Intertexts: The Taming of the/a Shrew.” In Shakespeare and Intertextuality: The Transition of Cultures Between Italy and England in the Early Modern Period, edited by Michele Marrapodi, pp. 149-61. Rome, Italy: Bulzoni Editore, 2000.
Examines the relationship between Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the anonymous 1594 quarto titled The Taming of a Shrew, and Plautus's Mostellaria.
Cooper, Marilyn M. “Implicature, Convention, and The Taming of the Shrew.” Poetics 10 (1981): 1-14.
Explores the verbal performances of the characters in The Taming of the Shrew based on the theories of philosopher Paul Grice.
(The entire section is 607 words.)