The Taming of the Shrew Essay - The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 55)

The Taming of the Shrew Literary Criticism (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

Barbara Freedman (essay date 1991)

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 theory, process experiences into polarities that offer an illusion of alternatives: nature/culture, passive/active, male/female, conscious/unconscious. Postmodern theorists explore how these binarisms are ideologically coercive systems that privilege and procure one term at the expense of the other and so function to repress a larger range of differences. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet explain what is at stake: “It is false [to say that] the binary machine only exists for reasons of convenience. It is said that ‘base two’ is the easiest. But in reality the binary machine is an important piece of the apparatuses of power.”2

Yet in seeking to escape binarisms, are we not also trapped within binarisms? How to intervene in the cultural reproduction of difference without being entangled in it? Any group previously defined by exclusion from and oppression by a social order faces the question of how to redefine itself without destroying itself. Should it celebrate the scorned values with which it has been identified, adopt the values of the prevailing order, or challenge an oppressive social structure with a more inclusive sense of difference? Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous would have feminists reverse the negative value assigned to woman and would locate her specificity in a multileveled libidinal energy shaped by female bodily drives that find their way into the style of feminist writings.3 But as Ann Rosalind Jones points out, celebrations of the feminine are problematic to the extent that they assume an essential feminine to be celebrated; as a result, “theories of féminité remain fixated within the metaphysical and psychoanalytic frameworks they attempt to dislodge.”4 Monique Wittig also blames the universalizing tendencies of néofeminité for fetishizing difference and so keeping us locked in an oppositional gender structure. But Wittig demands that we “dissociate ‘women’ (the class within which we fight) and ‘woman,’ the myth. For ‘woman’ … is only an imaginary formation, while ‘women’ is the product of a social relationship,” and so a group capable of effecting change.5

Other critics employ deconstructive strategies to define feminism in terms of an opposition to oppositions. Julia Kristeva argues that “the very dichotomy man/woman as an opposition between two rival entities may be understood as belonging to metaphysics.”6 In its place, she offers a model of pulsion between the semiotic (preoedipal, prelinguistic energy and desire) and the symbolic (made possible by the repression of the semiotic). To work from the semiotic is to adopt “a negative function: reject everything finite, definite, structured, loaded with meaning, in the existing state of society.” It is to work “on the side of the explosion of social codes: with revolutionary moments.”7 Like Kristeva, Shoshana Felman defines femininity as a “real otherness … [which] is uncanny in that it is not the opposite of masculinity but that which subverts the very opposition of masculinity and femininity.”8 The answer provided by avant-garde feminism, then, is that woman does not take (a) place but, rather, re-visions positionality itself.9 In what sense does a feminism so defined differ from deconstruction, which both acknowledges the symbolic and disrupts it from within, subverting positionality on a continuous basis? What is a position that denies its position?

Feminists who employ Lacanian methodology in turn find themselves framed by a discourse of castration and phallic signifiers which they may well not seek to reproduce. Whereas Lacan employs the term phallus to refer to sexual identity as fraudulent, he champions an equally implacable place for a theory of displacement couched in the terms of a phallocentric discourse. Gallop rightly acknowledges that “the penis is what men have and women do not; the phallus is the attribute of power which neither men nor women have. But as long as the attribute of power is a phallus which refers to and can be confused … with a penis, this confusion will support a structure in which it seems reasonable that men have power and women do not. And as long as psychoanalysts maintain the separability of ‘phallus’ from ‘penis,’ they can hold on to their ‘phallus’ in the belief that their discourse has no relation to sexual inequality, no relation to politics.”10 Teresa de Lauretis identifies the frame here, complaining that “while psychoanalysis recognizes the inherent bisexuality of the subject, for whom femininity and masculinity are not qualities or attributes but positions in the symbolic processes of (self)-representation, psychoanalysis is itself caught up in ‘the ideological assignation of discourse,’ the structures of representation, narrative, vision, and meaning it seeks to analyze, reveal, or bring to light.”11

Given the extent of feminist rethinkings of narrative and cinema, an exploration of how theater figures difference would seem long overdue.12 Laura Mulvey and Teresa de Lauretis have persuasively argued that the pleasure of traditional Western cinematic narratives is predicated upon coercive identifications with a position of male antagonism toward women.13 Since the male is traditionally envisioned as the bearer of the gaze and the woman as the fetishized object of the gaze, the staging of any spectacle is always already a matter of sexual difference. Since classical theater incorporates not only spectacle but narrative—so that the male is represented as an agent of change, the female as the passive object to be actively transformed by him—its action would also appear to reveal the work of gender ideology. Not only pleasure but plot is derived from male fantasies that depend on the scopic and narrative exploitation of woman. She is the linchpin in the system: her losses propel the relay of looks and her sins move the plot forward. If traditional Western theater as well as cinema relies on the fetishized spectacle of woman and the narrative of her domination and punishment, at stake is the potential of feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and theater to reflect and effect change—to insert a difference in our construction of the subject and so to make a difference.

The question that arises when we return to Gallop's statement is why she refers to polarization as “a theatrical representation of difference.” Whereas the relationship of ideology and genre is hardly Gallop's subject, the identification of theater with a defensive, ideologically complicit ordering of difference constitutes a serious challenge to those for whom theater offers a model of epistemological inquiry. Is theater the guarantor of polarities—part and parcel of the great semiological myth of the versus—or, as Roland Barthes contends, designed to subvert this myth?14 Is deconstruction the enemy of theater or its double? Are deconstructive techniques that function to unsteady such rigid oppositions theatrical? Are feminism and psychoanalysis theatrical when they stage these oppositions or when they subvert them?


Given its overtly misogynistic subject matter, its narrative of the domination and punishment of woman, its specular fascination with the image of woman, The Taming of the Shrew would seem to confirm rather than to challenge the feminist critique of theater. Yet what fascinates me about the work is its marked resistance to enclosure; whereas the play exhibits all the major strategies of gender ideology I have described, it also problematizes feminist readings. In its concern with avoiding entrapment, in its use of theatricality to subvert a spectator consciousness, The Taming of the Shrew displaces any stable relation of the spectator to the play.

The Taming of the Shrew appears to tame the critic more than the shrew. Its ability to contain us is vividly evidenced both in its onstage containment of an audience and in its success in engaging critics in debate. Whether Kate is a shrew or merely a misunderstood young woman, whether Petruchio is a bully or a philosopher, whether the play upholds or undermines degree, is farce or philosophical comedy, should be staged with or without its Induction—all are matters of heated debate in Shakespearean scholarship. For those critics who take Kate's final speech and Petruchio's bullying at face value, the characters are rather stereotypical, the moral is clearly in favor of male supremacy, and the genre is closer to farce.15 Others read the characters as more realistic, the genre as closer to comedy, and the argument as an ironic, if veiled, attack on a doctrine of male superiority.16 Whether they write about plot, characters, argument, genre, or structure, critics routinely adopt one of two diametrically opposed positions on this play.

Perhaps the most famous critical controversy regards the argument or moral of the play. For most critics, The Taming of the Shrew upholds faith in an intrinsic hierarchical order, or great chain of being, and simply must be read historically to be read correctly. For others, the play attacks this belief in degree by exposing social roles as theatrical rather than natural. Whereas there are many sly approaches to this controversy, there is no certain way out of it. If The Taming of the Shrew upholds an inherent hierarchical order, then why does Shakespeare end the play with Tranio still a servant? In Shakespeare's source play—Ariosto's Supposes—the same character (Dulypo) discovers his aristocratic birth, which “explains” why he could mimic his master so successfully. Why would Shakespeare delete this twist unless his purpose was to question “right supremacy”? And yet if this was indeed his intent, then why did he conclude the play with a speech in favor of an intrinsic hierarchical order?

Similar contradictions abound when we try to decipher Petruchio's character. Does he really prize riches above all—“I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua” (1.2.75-76)—or the philosophic mind—“For ’tis the mind that makes the body rich” (4.3.172)? Is he a chauvinist—“Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life, / An aweful rule, and right supremacy” (5.2.108-9)—or is he mocking Paduan marriage rituals—“She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house, / … My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing” (3.2.230-32)? Is he simply a fool—“Why, give him gold enough, and marry him to a puppet or an aglet-baby. … Why, nothing comes amiss, so money comes withal” (1.2.78-82)—or is he a trickster figure—“I say it is the moon” (4.5.4)? If he is a strong master, why can’t he once get his servant Grumio to obey him? If he is only role playing and so mimicking Kate's tantrums, then why does he throw a tantrum in the streets with Grumio before he has even met Kate? Is he from the country or the city? Rich or poor? A gentleman or a self-made man?

Not only is the basic action of the play under suspicion (has a shrew been tamed?), but the characters are as well (is there a shrew; is there a tamer?), and these suspicions result in controversies over genre that have led critics to devalue the play. E. M. W. Tillyard summarizes the problem: “A Mark Van Doren finds the play quite satisfactory as a hearty farce, a Hardin Craig as a comedy where the farcical elements are remotely vestigial and need not trouble us. For myself, I can neither ignore nor reconcile the two elements and am forced to conclude that the play fails in so far as it misses such a reconciliation.”17 M. R. Ridley suggests that if the play were farce, “our subtler feelings would lie contentedly quiescent. … But Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, cannot restrain his hand from making Petruchio more of a man, and Kate more of a woman, than from the artistic point of view was wise.”18 John Bean repeats this complaint, concluding that “this uneasy mixture of romance and farce suggests that Shakespeare's own sense of purpose is unclear, that he is discovering possibilities of one kind of comic structure while working within the demands of another.”19 In the new Oxford edition of the play, H. J. Oliver concurs; the result is “a young dramatist's attempt, not repeated, to mingle two genres that cannot be combined.” He concludes: “Shakespeare was already too good a dramatist for the material he was dramatizing: characterization and farce are, finally, incompatible.”20

The structure of the play is another source of controversy.21 Most performances excise the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew because the frame plot, featuring Sly as audience to a play, is never picked up at the conclusion. Scholars have offered a variety of explanations for this oddity: some argue that Shakespeare simply forgot about the frame plot, others that this part of the play was lost; some suggest that the actors in the frame plot reappear in the main plot; and still others hypothesize that Shakespeare revived these characters in a dance (jig) that concludes the play. Yet the problem remains unsolved, raising still more. When does The Taming of the Shrew begin? When does it end? And what does this labyrinthine structure tell us about beginnings and endings?

Faced with these problems, the honest critic may admit dissatisfaction, frustration, and confusion. Some may simply agree with Tillyard that “the last scene of the play with Kate's great speech on the subordination of wives readily accommodates itself to whatever notions we have acquired in the course of reading the play.”22 But that is no reason to presume, along with Bean, that “Shakespeare's own sense of purpose is unclear”—as if we knew Shakespeare's thoughts, or lack thereof. Rather than remain trapped within these arguments over characters, moral, and genre, we might accept that we can no more resolve them conclusively than we can decide whether Bellman or Silver was faster at the hunt. Of more concern is what we make of being put in situations where we cannot choose. What does the construction of this play tell us about our construction as subjects?

The Taming of the Shrew is a trap. Even those who proclaim the unlimited semiotic pleasure of the text must agree that this is not a pleasurable text. Like Grumio's menu, The Taming of the Shrew is a tempting but ultimately depriving text that forces us to choose between impossible alternatives. It is a world of choices and no choice, of ambivalence and deprivation, bisexuality and castration. Grumio's mock offering of mustard and beef is in this regard no different from Petruchio's games with the sun and the moon. The play tantalizes us with a variety of choices and then forces us to choose a limited subject position in a way that cannot help but frustrate. And no discovery of hidden thematic harmonies can change this experience.

Again and again we are confronted with an illusion of alternatives and forced to make a choice. When the Lord plots to reconstruct Sly's class identity, for example, he asks his servant whether Sly will accept the part. “Believe me, lord, I think he cannot choose” (Ind.1.42), replies the servant, who is in a woefully similar situation. When asked by Kate which suitor she fancies, Bianca replies—with hands literally tied—“Believe me, sister, of all the men alive / I never yet beheld that special face / Which I could fancy more than any other” (2.1.10-12). Can we choose the mustard? What critic would argue for the sun? Is Gremio preferable to Hortensio? Bianca to Kate? Tranio to Lucentio? Is there a “thirdborough” who can decide whether Sly or the Hostess, Petruchio or Grumio, Bianca or Kate was at fault? Not only can we not choose the correct reading of characters, plot, theme, argument, genre, and structure, but we cannot choose who is who, because everyone is “really” someone else. Yet as soon as we take on the task of acting in, viewing, or writing about this play, we are forced to make choices all the same.

For the reader or critic who is unprepared to have his or her critical tenets equated with folly, The Taming of the Shrew offers a maddeningly intransigent and contradictory experience. Rather than docilely submit to such traditional interpretive strategies as character analysis or clarification of moral stance, The Taming of the Shrew comments on their folly. It questions the hierarchy of meanings that we would impose upon it and initiates us into a world where the logic of paradox reigns. It foregrounds the impulse to dichotomize and so impose a logic of oppositional structures upon experience. And yet it does so through a paradoxical structure that both tantalizes us with a way of getting outside of these binarisms and yet denies its possibility.

The history of critical controversy over the true nature of the characters reveals the play's success in demonstrating the coalescence of theatrical role and social reality. The more we attempt to distinguish the “real” Kate and Petruchio from the roles they assume, the more we are trapped. Petruchio's stance of paradoxical self-reference calls to mind the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan, who announced: “All Cretans are liars.” If the statement is true, then it is also false. Since the character Petruchio tells us he is always playing roles, there is no single character who we can say plays these roles. The history of controversy over the play's refusal to retrieve the frame plot at its conclusion further evinces an interest in double-binding paradoxes. Since the frame plot with Sly and the Lord as audience to a play is not picked up, since both “plays” end at once, the characters of the frame plot are no longer outside of the play that they witness; the frame is subsumed by the vision. The numerous plays within plays redefine each enclosed play as a frame as well and emphasize the problem of separating frame from vision, play from reality, and character from role. Biondello brings the “old news” that Petruchio comes but comes not, since “A horse and a man / Is more than one, / And yet not many” (3.2.84-86). Grumio informs Petruchio that “the oats have eaten the horses” (3.2.205-6), and Tranio plots that “A child shall get a sire” (2.1.411). These jests further underline the play's interest in the paradox of the enclosed enclosing its frame.

The most inclusive reading of The Taming of the Shrew describes the play as a metadrama designed to confuse and later clarify the relation between social roles and theatricality.23 The only problem with this interpretation is that it denies the contradictions we actually experience in reading and watching the play. If the moral of the play is that we cannot escape theater, any reading that would stand outside of the play denies that the play refuses any stance outside of it. If we correlate play and paradox, we are still not clear of the problem, since a reading of the play as paradox must acknowledge the play of paradox at the level of its own discourse. As soon as we seek to resolve the contradictions in character by arguing that Petruchio is a wise fool who displays the paradox of character, we betray the felt experience of the play in which he is both a cruel authoritarian and a witty philosopher who infuriates and confuses. If we resolve the controversy over genre by suggesting that the play veers toward comedy to show a freedom over the mechanical or arbitrary roles of farce, we are faced with the task of staging a production that can reflect this paradox. If we are right about The Taming of the Shrew then we are wrong, and there is no easy way out of this dilemma.

We can find a visual analogy of this frame-up in any number of works by M. C. Escher, of which The Print Gallery may serve as an example. … To read the picture we may trace a path from the bottom right-hand corner or entrance into the print gallery, past the man near the entrance, and finally on to the young man on the far left who is examining a framed print of a harbor scene. Just as the windowpane of the gallery through which we see the young man frames him, so the print the young man beholds is constructed so as to escape the boundaries of its frame. In the upper right-hand corner of the picture, the print becomes the building in which the young man stands, and so the viewer is truly “lost” in the picture he beholds. The left side of the picture emphasizes the frame; the right side emphasizes how the framed material encloses its frame. The Print Gallery contains a viewer, already framed, and a framed print; it ultimately denies the boundary between the two, contains its viewer, and so reminds us that we are part of the picture we see. The Taming of the Shrew contains an audience, already dramatized onstage, and a framed play. By denying the boundary between the two, the play reminds us that we are part of the play we see and that we cannot escape it.

In its games with both characters and spectators The Taming of the Shrew enacts the problem of getting outside of the system in which one operates. It confuses ground and figure, frame and vision; it refuses to complete its stories, to decide its debates, to resolve its contradictions, to finish what it begins. The critic who would tame and trap the play finds her attempts frustrated and her role mocked. To interpret becomes equivalent with an attempt to dominate, to transform, to tame, to fix a shifting ludic surface with a single master perspective. This play, structured like a paradox, reminds us of the way in which paradox works so as to deny a frame of reference outside of its infinite regressions. The question remains: what does The Taming of the Shrew tell us about our construction as subjects?


One answer is provided by the essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in which Louis Althusser explains how the construction of the subject and its interpellation into an ideologically constrictive symbolic order are one and the same:

Ideology “acts” or “functions” in such a way that it “recruits” subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or “transforms” the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most common everyday police (or other) hailing: “Hey, you there!” Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was “really” addressed to him, and that “it was really him who was hailed.” … Naturally, for the convenience and clarity of my little theoretical theatre I have had to present things in the form of a temporal succession. … But in reality these things happen without any succession. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing.24

One of the best examples of Althusser's argument is the opening of The Taming of the Shrew, where Sly is “hailed” and made a new man. But perhaps the best example is the way in which this play repeats in its games with its audiences the games it plays with Kate; both reenact the taming of the shrew, the uncomfortable introduction to the arbitrary and divisive subject positions of the symbolic which is considered socialization.

Critics who resist teaching The Taming of the Shrew explain that literary works are ideologically complicit discourses that actively construct their audiences: “Since each invocation of a code is also its reinforcement or reinscription, literature does more than transmit ideology: it actually creates it. … To invoke the conventional narrative resolutions … [is] to sanction them … to perpetuate them as the working myths of the culture.”25 Since The Taming of the Shrew offers a virtual manual of techniques devised to persuade women of the natural basis of culturally determined differences, an exploration of the work of gender ideology provides a useful class exercise. Rather than refuse to recognize sexist texts, we can subvert the relation of frame, gaze, and pleasure in the theater of a sexist culture by identifying these sites of misrecognition.

The history of criticism reminds us that the play has served as a vehicle for engendering gender. As a text that encourages controversy and divisiveness, The Taming of the Shrew forces us to take sides, and so to take our places on either side of the gender line. Most readers are familiar with the story Lacan tells of the engendering of the subject through language: a little boy and little girl are seated in a train facing both each other and the opposing sides of the station which they are fast approaching. “‘Look,’ says the brother, ‘we’re at Ladies!’ ‘Idiot!’ replies his sister, ‘Can’t you see we’re at Gentlemen.’ For these children,” Lacan concludes, “Ladies and Gentlemen will be henceforth two countries towards which each of their souls will strive on divergent wings, and between which a truce will be the more impossible since they are actually the same country and neither can compromise on its own superiority without detracting from the glory of the other.”26 Lacan maintains that language and sexual difference are intertwined in arbitrary gender identifications that (mis)direct our libidinal energies. To illustrate his argument Lacan draws two identical doors, writes the words “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” under them, and explains that the signifier does not “stand for” the thing but only makes sense in relationship to another signifier. Similarly, male and female, regardless of biological differences, are products of a linguistic signifying system, so that male is necessarily “not female” and female “not male.” Jacqueline Rose explains: “In Lacan's account, sexual identity operates as a law—it is something enjoined on the subject. For him, the fact that individuals must line up according to an opposition (having or not having the phallus) makes that clear.”27

Lacan's work on the splitting and so procuring of the subject in language led him to correlate the instability of sexual identity with the instability of ego identity and to see both as a function of the ordering fictions by means of which the ego as supplement is set into place. For Lacan, the assumption of a sexual identity is accompanied by the sacrifice of free libidinal energy necessitated by signification, which demands that we be one thing and not another. As identity demands the fiction of closure, so sexual identity requires a fiction which, however fostered by biology or in its service, is essentially linguistic, ideological, and fetishistic. A more telling illustration of Lacan's thesis can be discovered in the painting by Larry Rivers titled Parts of the Face. … For Rivers, as for Lacan, the problem is the representation of sexuality—the way in which libidinal energy is parceled up and channeled through socially appropriate bodily zones, the way in which we are inscribed and so caught in a linguistic order. Rose observes that we have “failed to see that the concept of the phallus in Freud's account of human sexuality was part of his awareness of the problematic, if not impossible, nature of sexual identity itself,” and as a result, we have “lost sight of Freud's sense that sexual difference is constructed at a price and that it involves subjection to a law which exceeds any natural or biological division. The concept of the phallus stands for that subjection, and for the way in which women are very precisely implicated in its process.”28 And yet most suspect here is the way in which any text about the problem of oppositional structures, including Lacan's, is inevitably caught up within them.

The Taming of the Shrew records a powerful myth in our society—one so prevalent in our culture that we hardly recognize it. The myth of the transformation of nature into culture through the incest taboo was celebrated by Claude Lévi-Strauss and in turn adopted by Lacan as the truth of the symbolic order. This myth privileges men over women, sanctions the exchange between men of their daughters and wives, and equates misogyny with civilization itself. “The prime role of culture is to ensure the group's existence as a group,” writes Lévi-Strauss, “and consequently, in this domain as in all others, to replace chance by organization. The prohibition of incest is a certain form, and even highly varied forms, of intervention. But it is intervention over and above anything else; even more exactly, it is the intervention.”29 As an exogamy rule, the incest taboo functions to establish a system of social relationships by replacing the intrafamilial marriage with interfamilial marriage. Yet given such an account, we might as well make up our own myth of difference.

Consider. Once, long ago, there was a shrew, a she-demon, a woman-who-frightened-men. She refused to submit to our laws of marriage; refused to be traded as her father ordered; and threatened to undo the very system of exchange by enjoying her sexuality freely. No marriages could take place until she was controlled, for by her actions the identity-conferring status of marriage in our tribe—the very basis of our systems of exchange and assignment of subject positions—was threatened. None of the men in the village could control her; she was called demon and witch, devil and whore. The natural order suffered as a consequence; the places at table and church stood empty; the harvest was spoiled. In time, her father went to a trickster figure and struck a bargain with him. As the trickster understood the law of no-difference and of difference, he agreed to undertake the taming of this she-man and so to restore difference to the society. The trickster ushered in a period of festive nondifference, and pandemonium ensued with the advent of his misrule. Sons refused to obey their fathers, servants refused to obey their masters—everyone enjoyed a change of place. The shrew felt the entire community to be mocking her, however, and, shamefaced, soon repented. From then on the couple symbolized the triumph of difference and of the sacred role of marriage in creating systems of exchange which assure identity and order.

Is this story so different from The Taming of the Shrew? Like this play, it offers a compendium of devices of gender ideology. It universalizes its sexism as natural and inevitable and parades the instance of female submission as the basis of civilization. It not only repeats the classic separation between woman as angel and as devil, fetishized object and castrating bitch, but also repeats the classic distinctions between woman as nature/man as culture, woman as object of the gaze/man as bearer of the gaze, woman as obstacle/man as hero who by mastering the dangerous otherness of nature brings about civilization. Finally, like The Taming of the Shrew, our story employs a trickster figure who appears to subvert a particular social order, and yet does so only to strengthen it. For example, Petruchio's mad actions reveal the folly of Paduan society; his reversal of the traditional categories of mad and sane, foolish and wise suggest his affinities with the trickster, jester, or wise fool. The Paduans call him “lunatic,” “madcap ruffian,” “madbrain rudesby,” “a frantic fool,” “a devil,” “a very fiend.” Kate suggests that he wear a coxcomb, Petruchio dresses himself in a clown's costume, and the play's folk sources confirm Petruchio's roots in the rustic clown.30 The influence of a festive carnival tradition on The Taming of the Shrew is evident in the play's inversion of the roles of master and servant through disguise, its reported mockery of religious authority at the wedding, its mockery of paternal authority at the conclusion, as well as its focus on paradox.31

Since the carnival tradition subverts only to restore difference in a given social order, it is simultaneously subversive and conservative. Similarly, The Taming of the Shrew both recognizes the work of gender ideology and seeks to justify it. Such contradictions are in fact typical of the genre of Renaissance humanist defenses in favor of extending women's rights, texts that have since become more paradoxical than originally intended. In the sixteenth century, the term paradox referred not only to apparently self-contradictory yet valid statements but to statements contrary to received opinion, as in Hamlet's “This was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof” (3.1.113-14). Renaissance humanist defenses of woman were therefore doubly paradoxical, since they were both unconventional and, to some readers, inherently self-contradictory. Further, as Rosalie Colie points out, “most of them were truly paradoxical in that they both defended and did not defend their subject, incorporating elements from the long tradition of misogyny into their general arguments for the relative emancipation of women.”32 A prominent example is Erasmus's famous defense of women, A Merry Dialogue Declaring the Properties of Shrewd Shrews and Honest Wives, which advises us to employ the humanist strategy of firm persuasion rather than force in dealing with shrews.

Colie reminds us that paradoxes fail when the values they question are no longer widely held: “To deliver a paradoxical encomium, the rhetorician assumed certain values on the part of his audience, values which he would then proceed to question, to undermine, or to overthrow by means of his epideixis. Whether or not he believed in his argument is not in question: but his audience, representing ‘received opinion,’ had to believe in its dialectical opposite.”33 One of many paradoxes in The Taming of the Shrew is the advice that one may humanize a shrewish wife by treating her as if she were an object or animal. Of course, misogynistic farce had always suggested this strategy, following the assumption that a husband would be happy with an object or pet. In The Taming of the Shrew, however, this tactic is paradoxical since it is employed so that the wife may reject the role of object or pet and recognize the value of social roles instead. In her conscious agreement to play an arbitrary role, she will be fully “humanized.” Critics unfamiliar with misogynistic farce miss Shakespeare's parody of it to reach very different aims. The Taming of the Shrew disturbs not simply because it is sexist, then, but because its supposed correction of misogynistic practices renders its remaining misogyny all the more disturbing. The play's efforts to put socialization on display as comic drama and to break some mirrors of misrecognition merely highlight its blatant failure to break other mirrors.

To explore sexism in The Taming of the Shrew is to recognize that the relationship between ideology and cultural reality as transmitted through literature is never easy to analyze. Yet the mere existence of propagandistic literature, as Carolyn Lougee points out, implies “the reality of prohibited behavior which alone made the prescriptions necessary.”34 Like the misogynistic farces upon which it is modeled, The Taming of the Shrew blames and punishes woman. It merely offers new tactics of punishment and domination, replacing physical violence with double-binding mind games, deprivation of food and sleep, and emotional hypnosis. The replacement of violence by propaganda may indicate no more than increased artfulness in the manipulation of the oppressed. The replacement of shrew-taming farces by shrew-taming comedies is simply a more covert form of oppression. Precisely because The Taming of the Shrew appears less overtly sexist than misogynistic farces, it is all the more dangerous. As disturbing as Kate's taming is the way in which she is portrayed as happily tamed and actively spreading the practice of her indoctrination. The play renders woman into an apologist for the phallocentric system that oppresses her. It offers as a corrective to a blatantly diseased aristocratic society the scapegoating of woman as solution; the rebellious woman becomes the cause rather than the symptom of class struggle. Since comedies about the illness of society still masquerade as comedies about the illness of women, it appears that we have not yet escaped the scene of shrew taming.35

Shakespearean comedy typically deflects class problems onto the instance of the rebellious female whose punishment and correction constitute the narrative action. The Comedy of Errors concludes with the correction of Adriana, A Midsummer Night's Dream solves its problems by punishing Titania, and The Taming of the Shrew pretends to treat a failing aristocratic order by reconciling a rebellious female critic to its ways. That Kate has become the apologist for a misogynistic society that she vows to hold to certain standards of truth and decency cannot help but strike us as ridiculous. Petruchio has taught Kate sublimation: she exchanges one halter for another. She hates not men but less “masculine” men than Petruchio; hates not women but less “feminine” women than herself; hates not rules but those that contradict Petruchio's. She is still the naive opponent of hypocrisy, the unwitting pawn in a much larger game, the scapegoat for a failing social order. Petruchio will never “watch the night in storms, the day in cold” (5.2.150); Kate will never lift a finger except to wag it at her disobedient house servants—the future audiences to even lengthier speeches on duty. Petruchio will continue to show men how unmanly they are, Kate will reveal the women as unfeminine; both will continue to perform in games of one-upmanship. The two have become principles of differentiation—yet only in a theater. And as we watch their triumphant exit off to bed, we remember what a sterile gesture this is. We look back at the male actor playing Sly's wife. We remember that Kate is a character played by a man. We remember that we are in a theater, multiple theaters. And we begin to hope for another kind of theater, one that accepts difference without making it the obstacle to be defeated, tamed, or raped.


That we have to pay a price in entering any social order is not in question; that we must go back and repay the price that Kate pays, however, is. Like Shakespeare, Lacan recognizes gender roles as arbitrary but necessary and parades the specific price that women have paid under a patriarchal order as a symbol of that cost. What disturbs is not cost itself but the mistaken identification of a culturally specific cost with its universality and inevitability. Like Petruchio, Lacan is a trickster figure who undermines and yet proclaims his mastery. Like Petruchio, Lacan articulates the dilemma of breaking the mirror of ideology and yet exemplifies in his “corrected” misogyny his inability to stand outside of the system he would change. Both argue that woman does not exist except as a fantasy or theatrical construct and yet both seek to reify a cultural myth of the exchange of women as the basis of civilization.

Lacan's theory of the symbolic order is limited by the structural anthropology upon which it depends and by the early forms of object-relations theory that it was designed to subvert. Lacan equates a particular configuration of social power with the symbolic order, universalizes the oedipal law, and identifies the paternal metaphor as the privileged level of representation that must intervene between mother and child to bring “nature” to a state of “culture.” Lacanians respond to such complaints by explaining that the specific configurations of the symbolic are indeed open to change: “We must remember that the Symbolic here does not mean anything representative of a second hidden thing or essence,” Ellie Ragland-Sullivan cautions. “Rather, it refers to that order whose principal function is to mediate between the Imaginary order and the Real. The Symbolic order interprets, symbolizes, articulates, and universalizes both the experiential and the concrete which, paradoxically, it has already shaped contextually.”36 Yet Lacan's theory of the symbolic order was developed in the context of a specific historical period of intellectual thought, one heavily influenced by a highly sexist form of structural anthropology. After studying Lacan's reliance on Lévi-Strauss, Rose concludes that “Lacan's use of the symbolic” “is open to the same objections as Lévi-Strauss's account” since “these remarks … most critical of the order described … are in another sense complicit with that order and any argument constructed on their basis is likely to be circular.”37

Lacanian theorists answer that Lacan's phallocentric discourse intentionally reflects the problems he sought to portray. But the tricky question of intentionality is further complicated by Lacan's fondness for paradox. “In the psyche, there is nothing by which the subject may situate himself as a male or female being” asserts Lacan valiantly.38 The sentence is a marvelous example of the problems here: whereas it suggests the ways in which language directs biology and subverts the sexual drive into an identificatory one, it also repeats this strategy by interpellating the female reader as “he,” “him,” and “men.” At what level Lacan's awareness of such problems operates is impossible to discover. Juliet Flower MacCannell rightly warns us against the “tendency … to over-identify Lacan's analysis of the culture of the signifier … with his own stance on that culture.” She maintains that “just as the physician may be said to be apart from the disease s/he discovers, even if s/he has been constrained by it, Lacan's analysis of the systems formed by the signifier, metaphor, the phallus, stand apart from his own ‘system.’”39 But can it? Since the popular return to Freud owes as much to deconstruction as to Lacan, the acknowledgment that Lacan is implicated in that which he attacks need not detract from his insights. We now acknowledge, for example, that Freud repressed the idea of repression, and wished away threats to his theory of wish fulfillment. We admit that Freud refused to abandon the search for primal scenes which he elsewhere acknowledged exist only at the level of fantasied reconstruction. And we accept that Freud denied the bisexuality and gender instability he elsewhere theorizes with conviction. Why deny that Lacan is framed by what he describes?

“Taking the experience of psychoanalysis in its development over sixty years,” Lacan observes expansively, “it comes as no surprise to note that, whereas the first outcome of its origins was a conception of the castration complex based on paternal repression, it has progressively directed its interests towards the frustrations coming from the mother, not that such a distortion has shed any light on the complex.”40 Lacan charged early object-relations theory with denying the fundamental role of the unconscious, sexuality, and representation in psychoanalysis in favor of a new emphasis on the study of the quality of actual maternal care.41 To stress the importance of his intervention, Lacan introduced the name of the father as the third term that interrupts the asocial mother-infant dyad and brings to bear upon it the law of language and symbolic positions. And that intervention is indeed designed to reframe mother-infant relations as always already outside of language and representation. In Lacan's dramatization of psychoanalytic history, the son figure (Lacan) intervenes and rescues the dead father's authority (Freud) from the mother's tyranny (object-relations theory). Since gender ideology is obviously at work in Lacan's portrayal of the mothering function as asocial, we may conclude with Rose that “there is, therefore, no question of denying here that Lacan was implicated in the phallocentrism he described, just as his own utterance constantly rejoins the mastery which he sought to undermine.”42

Teresa de Lauretis rightly critiques Lacanian theory for the way in which its descriptive features all too easily become prescriptive. She complains that “in opposing the truth of the unconscious to the illusion of an always-already false consciousness, the general critical discourse based on Lacanian psychoanalysis subscribes too easily … to the territorial distinction between subjective and social modes of signification and the cold war that is its issue.” More concerned with misrecognition as sites for change, de Lauretis suggests we redirect attention to the dialectical relationship between the means by which signs are produced and the codes themselves, and so explore meaning as a cultural production “not only susceptible of ideological transformation, but materially based in historical change.”43 Insofar as Lacan's writings ignore the material and historical nature of social organization and social change, they betray a disturbing complacency toward structuralist and phallocentric versions of a transcendent law—whether in the form of the phallic signifier, the law of the father, or the law of the symbolic order.


In question here are the role theater has played in the development of psychoanalytic narratives and the role it can play in rethinking them. As a psychoanalyst and teacher of Freudian theory, Lacan reads human psychic development in terms of narratives that he discovered in Freud. Not surprisingly, the locus for Freud's theories of childhood sexuality and male castration anxieties is the Greek tragedy Oedipus, which places incestuous desire in the context of a communal law that condemns it. According to Freud's myth of difference, the male child's sexual fantasies in relation to his mother are accompanied by fears of punishment in the form of castration. The result is the internalization of social taboos and the acceptance of the law of place, achieved simultaneously through superego development and the ordering and repression of sexuality.

Traditional Western narratives of tragedy and comedy alike champion a view of civilization as castration—a phallocentric concept that equates the organization of human sexuality and gender with the birth of language and repression, and so with a psychic displacing-as-ordering that alienates the subject even as it guarantees it a place in the symbolic order. Theater enacts the costs of assuming the displacing image returned back by society—the mask that alienates as it procures entry into society. Traditional narratives of comedy and tragedy therefore typically promote a culturally determined form of the socialization process, juxtaposing the deconstruction of the gaze against the inevitability of a theater of representation, the imaginary as alterity against the symbolic of oedipally inscribed inevitability.

But the key word here is narrative, not theater. We may agree with Gallop that theater stages and so reinforces polar oppositions—but only if we equate the word theater with the term Western narrative drama. The term theater, as Keir Elam reminds us, customarily refers to the performance aspects of a work, whereas the term drama is traditionally reserved for its narrative forms.44 Since theater is always performative but not necessarily narrative, we cannot equate a theatrical ordering of difference with strict polarities. We can, however, acknowledge that traditional Western narrative theater has been obsessed with repeating Freud's version of the Oedipus myth—the scene of a founding crime of sexuality and a payment that decisively orders sexuality and gender. And we cannot help but observe that The Taming of the Shrew rehearses and preserves that myth today, insofar as it identifies the achievement of civilization itself with the domination of women through patriarchal exogamy rites, physical violence, and double-binding mind games. If we compare the complementary narratives of Oedipus and The Taming of the Shrew, we have the tragedy of the man who discovers his sexuality and the comedy of a woman who learns to disavow her own in submission to a repressive patriarchal law. One scenario identifies civilization with male payment for his own sexuality, the other identifies civilization with male control over disordered female sexuality. Both not only record but promulgate the values of a repressive patriarchal culture.

Traditional Western theater thus offers us two stages, comic and tragic, upon which are always playing some version of Oedipus or its sister play, The Taming of the Shrew. A setup is therefore always being staged as well—one that places its spectators in the positions of Kate, Oedipus, and Christopher Sly, all of whom “cannot choose” but accept the interpellation, or hailing, that indoctrinates the subject into a confusing and limiting identity. Whereas cinema can challenge or deconstruct the symbolic by dissolving or dispersing the image, traditional theater would appear to be more tied to the symbolic, to the ego, and to the mask of the unitary individual. Whereas theater questions the validity of masks by virtue of their ability to be exchanged, it cannot dissolve or otherwise destroy them. Master and servant, husband and wife may exchange roles in a comedy, but they never escape the tyranny of social roles; in short, they can never escape being seen, caught in a scene, and so interpellated by a social order. Given traditional theater's superimposition of narrative inevitability, given its scopic regime of voyeurism and exhibitionism, and given its narrative regime of domination and mastery—a feminist theater would indeed appear to require an Oedipus wrecked. Accordingly, feminist theater requires a performance that exposes and stages this taming of the gaze by the symbolic order.

Josette Féral points the way. While arguing that theater is on the side of inscription in the symbolic, Féral maintains that performance is on the side of deconstruction in the semiotic. She suggests that feminist theater is possible—but only when theater is not theater per se. Féral's use of the term theater would seem to correspond to Keir Elam's definition of drama, and her use of the term performance corresponds to Elam's description of theater. “In contrast to performance, theatre cannot keep from setting up, stating, constructing, and giving points of view,” Féral explains, for it requires a unified subject that performance deconstructs into drives and energies and since it assumes representational models that performance rejects in favor of discontinuity and spillage. If performance highlights the “realities of the imaginary,” “originates within the subject and allows his flows of desire to speak,” she concludes, theater “inscribes the subject in the law and in theatrical codes, which is to say, in the symbolic.”45

Féral finds theater and performance “mutually exclusive” “when it comes to the position of the subject.” Yet finally she is describing a dialectic essential to both subjectivity and to theater, which she acknowledges by arguing that “theatricality arises from the play between these two realities” and by describing performance as that within theater which deconstructs it. Féral notes: “In its very stripped-down workings, its exploration of the body, and its joining of time and space, performance gives us a kind of theatricality in slow motion: the kind we find at work in today's theatre. Performance explores the under-side of that theatre.” Criticized for assuming that performance reaches a presence outside of representation, Féral merely observes that “performance seems to be attempting to reveal and to stage something that took place before the representation of the subject (even if it does so by using an already constituted subject).”46

Like much theater theory and practice, Féral's thesis is symptomatic of the battle within theater to differentiate presence from representation. Insofar as theater stages presence, it enacts the contest between being and representation and so renews itself by continually re-posing that relationship. If theater presents a funhouse of mirrors we never escape, it also rehearses the quest for presence by shifting its point of view. If theater suggests Jean Baudrillard's “generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal,”47 it also grounds this paradox in the physical realities of time, space, and society and keeps posing the question of the performance present. As a displacing of the object by its display, theater stages the way it can never get to itself, the way in which the scene always displaces what is shown. Similarly, the actor presents herself to us as always already displaced by a look and seeks, in the process of exhibitionism, the nature of exhibitionism. Theatrical showing is a framing that, by putting frames on stage, necessarily displaces itself. If theater reveals that objects exist only insofar as they are displaced by a look, it also offers various reactive and interactive means of displacing and renewing the act of seeing.

The relation between performance art and traditional theater is therefore not a polar opposition but a dialectic. We seek in theater that moment when our looking is no longer a looking (as in film) but a being seen, a return of the look by the mirror image. Theater provides a way of interrupting the frame from a point of view both within and outside it, much as the unconscious is the blind spot in our vision which in turn is constructed through and reflected by the look of the other. Feminist performance art thus poses a challenge to traditional dramatic theater by foregrounding a subversive force always already within it. In Swan Lake, Minnesota a stripper performs to a fascinated crowd of men by throwing down cardboard cutouts of her body in various states of undress; the last cutout is a mirror that reflects their gaze. In the performance piece Waiting, the author holds up sheets upon which are projected images of waitresses, and then inserts her body and voice in filmed images and narratives of restaurant life, simultaneously positioning herself as author, actor, screen, and the source of their mutual confusion and deconstruction. Thus the paradox of avant-garde theater: in seeking to stage a moment outside of representation it cannot avoid the play of looks that constitutes representation, and yet in speaking of the costs of representation it evokes a sense of rebellion against symbolic form.

Since theater is always placing the living body's energies in tension with a constraining form, it is always recording the cost of entry into the symbolic. But by staging that form we displace it; we view from another angle the looks that inscribe us, and so look back. Neither ideologically conservative nor anarchic, theater is always about the relationship of what is seen and the fact that it is seen, and always renewing the relation of what is seen to the social gaze in which it is inscribed. Rather than deny the look by means of which we are seen and socialized, theater creates energy from the resistance and tension generated by the reversal of that look in the moment of exhibitionism. Since theater is always replaying the battle of presence and representation which occasions it, even classical drama can return us to the theatrical body and to the disruptive gaze by which it is constituted.

For example, The Taming of the Shrew not only stages theatricality but can be said to be “about” the very problem of theater's degenerating into mere show, insofar as it explicitly calls out for a performative mode capable of interrupting and revisioning social roles. Paduan society threatens to degenerate into the merely theatrical, which we may define as a stale crystallization of dramatic roles and narratives. Yet the term theater also refers to a subversive tension that threatens to displace traditional roles and narratives. Similarly, whereas the term drama refers to the conventional narrative aspect of theater, the term dramatic implies a breaking of containers by their contents.

Paduan society is given over to mere show without substance, and on that basis may be condemned as bad theater. Controlled by reified roles and stale narratives, this society resists the energy and tension generated by an awareness of the relation of appearance and reality, container and contained. Padua operates according to an aristocratic code; order is maintained by an elaborate fiction that requires allegiance to the sanctity and prerogative of theatrical roles. Human identity need never be discovered in such a world; will, reason, and justice are exchanged for a smoothly oiled social system in which perspective is arbitrarily determined with mechanical efficiency. With its superficial equation of appearance and reality, social codes and justice, Padua might as well be operated by costumed dummies or robots. The various reactions to Petruchio's costume suggest how the means we use to express what is within have come instead to define it. If clothes don’t “make the man,” speech may similarly be “goodly talk” of which we should be suspicious. Insofar as appearance, lineage, and role work as a veneer to disguise our needs, the frame of show has falsely come to define its contents. As the home of the arts, Padua boasts of its culture but ceremoniously contains the materialism, sexuality, and aggression upon which it is based; Petruchio therefore endorses each openly. Its order depends upon servitude; Petruchio bullies his servant. Its continuance depends upon the sexuality that Petruchio openly celebrates in his antiromantic courting. Its maintenance depends upon wealth; Petruchio praises riches as the highest good. The peace, perspective, and culture are dependent upon taming; the civilizing is dependent upon trapping; the order has been achieved through a form of brutality.

Petruchio's paradoxical actions function both to teach Paduan society the value of the living and the animal, the mercenary and the violent, and to teach Kate the opposing value of the arbitrary social roles she disdains. In this sense his actions serve to emphasize the necessity of keeping the relationship between human being and social role, contained and container, in lively tension. Petruchio's actions function to reverse and so reframe the relationship of performance and theatricality, human beings and their social roles, through subversive action that reverses the categories of civilized and crude, rational and animal. When he champions that which is considered low or denigrates whatever is considered high, he is not simply playing games but exposing the arbitrary game of making such distinctions. Petruchio's behavior reminds us that the low can also be reframed as the elemental and so essential; his mockery of Paduan conventions suggests what happens when social conventions are divorced from use. When Petruchio pronounces materialism to be the chief good, we are shocked—until we find ourselves questioning the dependency of Paduan society's peace, idealism, and culture upon the very materialism he champions. Bianca's love, representative of Padua's highest value, goes to the “lowest” value—riches. When Petruchio demands money or sexual attractiveness in a wife, he reasserts priorities hypocritically denied in Lucentio's idealized wooing. Only a society that recognizes and preserves its connection with the material and the animal will survive, he suggests, and Paduan society deceives itself of this truth at its peril.

Even in the most misogynistic of dramatic narratives, then, we may discover a subversive strain characterized by a disruptive gaze that never rests secure. At the level of narrative, The Taming of the Shrew is not appreciably different from a medieval farce of shrew taming. Yet at the level of performance, The Taming of the Shrew conveys the sense of being maddened by such oppositions and turns it against the audience in a way that alone suggests why this play continues to fascinate. The Taming of the Shrew repeats with the audience or critic what it does to Kate: it maddens us with contradictory experiences until we agree to find resolution in either reductive readings or ideologically suspect resolutions. This activity doesn’t make it a less sexist text, but it does make it a more productive one, as well as a more complicated one for feminist inquiry.

To be sure, The Taming of the Shrew not only resists but succumbs to a feminist analysis. The farcical confusions suggest that relations between master and servant or husband and wife need not be dictated by external show but must be determined by mutual dependencies and their acknowledgment. And yet the discrepancy between the play's lesson of mutual dependency and service and its enforcement of a sexist and aristocratic order cannot fail to disturb. The message that a plumed hat cannot make a master, nor a ceremony a marriage, like the argument that these roles are defined by active service, may continue to make sense today. But when Petruchio seeks to impose upon Kate the values of the formal, the ritual, and the conventional by recourse to physical force and patriarchal custom, we are less inclined to rediscover the “natural” basis of social roles in mutual dependency than a form of sex and class struggle that must be reframed.

Reframing can be an important strategy of change, depending upon how and why it is employed. Reframing emphasizes the arbitrariness of class assignments, acknowledges and enforces alternative class memberships, and so changes one's perspective on a problematic situation.48 Whenever Kate disagrees with patriarchal law, she is forcefully reminded that her protest against theatrical roles is in itself a role. When Kate refuses to accept Petruchio's will and contradicts him, he recasts her disagreements as a form of playful agreement. His double-binding games of reframing the opposition as agreement make it impossible for Kate to negate or to differ, and so have the effect of returning her again to the same position. By reversing traditional categories of value, by calling angry words or behavior mild, Petruchio calls attention to the ways in which equation of appearance and reality in Padua has led to confusing and false appraisals of character and value.

All this behavior takes place within the context of another game of reframing called punning, a game which unexpectedly reveals that words have membership in two different semantic classes. When Kate refuses to sit on Petruchio's lap by noting, “Asses are made to bear, and so are you” (2.1.199), Petruchio counters with the observation that “women are made to bear, and so are you” (2.1.200). This subtle reframing of insults leads to more explicit reframing when Petruchio announces to Kate's family that Kate has agreed to marry him. Confronted with her angry denial—“I’ll see thee hang’d on Sunday first” (2.1.299)—Petruchio reframes the scene: “’Tis bargain’d ’twixt us twain, being alone, / That she shall still be curst in company” (2.1.304-5). By reframing Kate's behavior as a temporary role, Petruchio implies that her behavior is a game over which she has control. By playing the game “Let’s be shrews,” by putting shrewishness into the category of acceptable behavior instead of in the category of a problem that must be solved, Petruchio forces Kate into a position from which her rebellion has no meaning, and so no power.

As a strategy for rethinking the relation between container and contained, between the energies of the living body and the constraints of social roles, reframing can be employed just as easily to disenfranchise as to empower another. For example, reframing strategies are often employed to tame and so control feminist and cultural-materialist approaches today. Psychoanalytic and deconstructive approaches that demonstrate that we cannot escape the text, the symbolic, or ideology remind us of the means by which Kate is encouraged to believe that she can never escape the theater of difference in which she exists. The means by which critical theory contains difference are therefore not that different from the techniques employed by Petruchio to tame Kate, insofar as both seek to prove that we are trapped by the terms that we use and so can never escape or revise them.


The use of reframing to control and prevent women from differing is an all too familiar strategy, still in practice in film and theater criticism today. Consider the interaction between Constance Penley and Peter Gidal on feminism and film theory as perceived by Stephen Heath. First Penley: “If filmic practice, like the fetishistic ritual, is an inscription of the look on the body of the mother, we must now begin to consider the possibilities and consequences of the mother returning the look.” Gidal replies: “The last words of your piece say it all. You search for the simple inversion, the mother looking back. I consider the possibilities of the not-mother, not-father (looking or not).” Heath joins Gidal: “To invert, the mother returning the look, is not radically to transform, is to return as well the same economy … (and cinema in the fiction film has always and exactly been concerned to consider the possibilities and consequences within the fetishistic ritual, including the constitutive threat of its endangerment, the play of eye and look, vision and lack); the difference inverted is also the difference maintained.”49

Like Kate, Penley differs and is told that she has made no difference; she is told that her reframing of traditional narrative cinema is merely a reversal that cannot effect change. The difference inverted, however, is not always the difference maintained. Gidal's impulse is cinematic; he wants to dissolve images of women. Penley's impulse is theatrical; her response is a looking back that looks forward. Why should it be more effective to delete women from films than to present their responses to their reflections? Responding to this tactic in contemporary film practice, Rose protests that any such dissolution of the image, any equation of women with a beyond or before language is actually more regressive than progressive:

The impetus is clear: the attempt to place woman somewhere else, outside the forms of representation through which she is endlessly constituted as image. The problem is that this sets up notions of drive, rhythmic pulsing, eroticisation of energy pre-representation, a space of “open viewing,” which then makes film process itself socially—and sexually—innocent. Film process is then conceived as something archaic, a lost or repressed content (“continent”), terms to which the feminine can so easily be assimilated, as it has been in classical forms of discourse on the feminine as outside language, rationality, and so on; arguments which are now being revived as part of the discussion of psychoanalysis and feminism, the search for a feminine discourse, specific, outside. The dangers are obvious. That such arguments overlook the archaic connotations of these notions of energy and rhythm for women, at the same time that they render innocent the objects and processes of representation which they introject onto the screen, seems again to be not by chance.

In a critique of Lyotard's exploration of a nontheatrical representational space, Rose pointedly remarks: “We have to ask what, if the object itself is removed (the body or victim), is or could be such a space of open viewing (fetishisation of the look itself or of its panic and confusion)? And what does this do for feminism? Other than strictly nothing, dropping all images of women; or else an archaising of the feminine as panic and confusion, which is equally problematic, simply a re-introjection as feminine—the pre-mirror girl—of the visual disturbance against which the image of woman classically acts as guarantee.”50

Penley wants to reverse the look by rethinking the limits of the cinematic apparatus. She cites the films of Yvonne Rainer, Chantal Ackerman, and Marguerite Duras, all of which do indeed “run counter to the Oedipal structuring of Western narrative form and the imaginary and fetishistic imperatives of the cinematic apparatus,” effect changes in “narrative organization, point of view and identification,” and designate “both the spectator and the narrator as ‘outside’ the scene … not caught up in or radically circumscribed by a masculine gaze or logic of desire.”51 Yet none of these films deletes or dissolves the image of woman; none of them suggests a feminist style that has so succumbed to its manipulation by an avant-garde as to be virtually indistinguishable from it.

The subtext in this game of two against one is a doubling of its content—the problem of woman. Since the cinematic look is read by these male theorists as constituted by the threat of woman's lack (that is, her castration), she had better not look back, nor, by implication, should Penley. Especially disturbing here is the argument that the cinematic look is constituted by the threat of its endangerment—which in turn is associated with woman's castration (“the play of eye and look, vision and lack”). However successful the application of a phallocentric theory for a reading of phallocentric films, this model stymies the development of film theory and practice in new directions. It encourages us to simplify the complex series of identifications actually at work when gendered subjects view a film, and it results in such peculiar avant-garde stances as Gidal's refusal to portray women in his films since woman is always already the castrated fetishized object.

According to Freudian theory, in a deferred reading of his “first” sight of his mother's genitalia the subject-as-little-boy interprets the mother's “lack” in terms of the threat of the father's punitive, castrating “no” made good. In other words, he associates his mother's “actual” castration with his potential castration. That Lacan rereads this scenario symbolically does not, finally, save it for feminist theory. The castration theory is made no more palatable by the argument that, insofar as we are all lacking, woman is even more aware of her incomplete status. Instead, this rereading keeps a sexist account of the construction of the subject alive and maintains an association of the look with a negative view of female sexuality.

A more theatrical paradigm empowers women to look back and forward, to see how their looking back is interpreted and disrupted by another gaze in a continuing theater of interactive reflections. Accordingly, it may be useful to reformulate the implications of the Lacanian gaze for feminist theory and practice. To reframe this schema we might rethink the development of gender as identificatory and rooted in the problem of the gaze. Feminist applications of object-relations theory, such as the work of Robert Stoller and Nancy Chodorow on gender roles, for example, explore how certain so-called male behavior in our society results from a denial of identification with the maternal figure.52 The male infant's primary identification with the female as mothering person is disrupted in a way that the female infant's is not. Whereas the female subject resolves maternal prohibitions by moving from being the mother's desire to imitating the mother's desire, the male subject is not free to resolve the problem in this way. Deprived of the shift toward mimetic desire open to the female subject, the route offered to the male is typically one of rapid disidentification, which in turn results in ambivalence toward the nurturing object.

As object-relations theory further reminds us, a main task of mothering is to enable the child to accept separation and disillusionment.53 The disruptive maternal look reflects back to the child something other than what it wants to see, but which alone makes identity possible. Ironically, the greater repression is not the mother's castration (what the child doesn’t want to see) but the subject's loss-of-face (what the mother doesn’t want to see or can’t see in the child). Consider Hamlet's “Do you see nothing there?” and his mother's shocked reply: “Nothing at all, yet all that is I see” (Hamlet: 3.4.131-32). What assures entry into the symbolic is not the father's intervention but the disillusionment offered by the real mother. Lacanians might argue that this disillusionment is the intervention itself, and so repeats the move from the real mother to the symbolic mother, but Lacan's early writings on object-relations theory repudiate any such interpretation. If we cannot ascribe the maternal gaze to a period prior to or outside of representation, we can inscribe it as recording the tension of representation, insofar as the maternal gaze both introduces the infant into the social order and questions that identification. Since the maternal gaze offers the infant not a stable, cohesive image but one that by definition changes, the disruptive maternal look reacts to the infant's look and reflects it differently. The paradox of the contained breaking out of its contents, of a deferred disruption always already contained within the mother-infant dyad, yields a maternal disruptive gaze characteristic of theater. We can therefore theorize the mother's look as that which functions to displace in advance the father as the privileged level of representation—without identifying the woman with panic, confusion, or a space before language and representation.

The difference inverted is not always the difference maintained. Since neither Heath nor Gidal proves capable of considering the “possibilities and consequences” of the mother's returning the look—except as a reversal of the terms of the male look, which in itself is castrating—they project that threat onto Penley. Asks Heath: “What then of the look for the woman, of woman subjects in seeing? The reply given by psychoanalysis is from the phallus. If the woman looks, the spectacle provokes, castration is in the air, the Medusa's head is not far off; thus, she must not look, is absorbed herself on the side of the seen, seeing herself seeing herself, Lacan's femininity.”54 Castration is indeed in the air—insofar as male fears of a reversal of their fantasies are projected onto a rethinking of representation which begins on the other side of the screen.

The difference inverted is not always the difference maintained. The reply given by psychoanalysis is not always from the phallus. Penley realizes that no reversal of the look in the same terms is possible—except when Woman as a homogenized construct of the male imaginary is doing the looking, in which case she does not look from the point of view of women. Following Laura Mulvey's critique of traditional cinematic practice as voyeuristic and fetishistic, Penley is calling for the development of new ways of looking—for a rethinking of what it means to be a spectator. To return the look in this context is to break up performance space, deconstruct the gaze, subvert the classic organization of showing and seeing, and rethink the very notion of spectatorship.

Heath summarizes one of the arguments that stalls this movement when he asks if it is “possible for a woman to take place in a film without representing a male desire,” since “any image of a woman in a film, by the fact of its engagement in a process of representation … inevitably re-encloses women in a structure of cultural oppression that functions precisely by the currency of ‘images of women.’”55 He quotes Hélène Cixous, who complains that “one is always in representation, and when a woman is asked to take place in this representation, she is, of course, asked to represent man's desire.”56 But Heath ignores the key word “asked.” When women are not asked to take place in a representation created by and for men but occupy and share the sites of production and consumption, a different economy obtains. Women take place, and refigure that taking place, in ways that challenge traditional forms of representation.

The associations I have drawn here suggest that theatricality offers a constructive path for both psychoanalytic theory and feminist theory to accept the implications of their own displacing looks. Theatrical reading is ambivalent reading, dedicated not to varying the look (which simply amounts to critical pluralism) but to disrupting it, (up)staging theories through one another. It requires that psychoanalysis read cinema and theater read psychoanalysis and—following the motto each proclaims—that none of these disciplines ever rests secure in itself. Why is it that theater alone has always staged identity as unstable, exposing gender and class as a masquerade? Insofar as theater cannot rest in the abyme but stages the displacing gaze, the bursting of the container by its contents, theater offers a way of dislodging the current critical standstill whereby we must use language to describe an experience of being outside of it.

The performative aspect of theater emerges here as a process of staging the disturbance and reversal of the gaze. Theater's techniques for reframing offer a model for feminist theory insofar as they move beyond both the quest for the mysterious essence of the feminine, beyond the acknowledgment of woman as an object of a male gaze, and on to an exploration of the potential of women to break that gaze by reframing it. Feminism poses the problem of reframing in the Kristevan paradox of the semiotic and the symbolic; psychoanalysis confronts this problem in the relationship of the imaginary and the symbolic; but theater alone is capable of staging the paradox of the frame in a way that subverts it. Unlike feminism and psychoanalysis, theater has no allegiance but to ambivalence, to a compulsion to subvert its own look, to split itself through a reflected image. Theater comfortably allies with feminism against psychoanalysis, with psychoanalysis against cinema, and with cinema against itself, without ever finding a resting point except as provisional and always already undermined. Whereas feminism and psychoanalysis seek to reflect the subject from a place where it can never see itself, be it gender, ideology, or the unconscious, theater provides the tools—the stages, the mirrors, or reflecting gazes—through which perspectives are fragmented, shattered, and set into play against one another. A methodology necessarily tied to no master, theater poses a methodological challenge to feminism and psychoanalysis to escape its terms, its goals, its identity.

Against the mise en abyme paradoxes of cinema and deconstructive philosophy we may posit the disruptive potential of the theatrical gaze, which is always ambivalent, always displacing one view and threatened in turn by another. Hélène Cixous complains that “men and women are caught up in a network of millennial cultural determinations of a complexity that is practically unanalyzable: we can no more talk about ‘women’ than about ‘man’ without getting caught up in an ideological theater where the multiplication of representations, images, reflections, myths, identifications constantly transforms, deforms, alters each person's imaginary order and in advance, renders all conceptualization null and void.”57 Yet given these terms, is theater a mere showing or a radical staging of the gaze? Is Peggy Kamuf's “a woman writing as a woman writing as a [woman]”58 a means of breaking out of the label “woman” or of showing how we can never hope to do so? The question is not whether a feminist or a deconstructive theater is possible but whether feminism and deconstruction can recognize and utilize theatrical strategies. Can either feminism or deconstruction stand outside of theater as techniques to be used upon it, or are they always already within it? To theatricalize one must deconstruct, insert a difference in a term which splits it, mimics it, then displaces or usurps it. A woman writing like a woman writing like a woman is never the same woman. If feminism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction can never frame theater, but only mine or mime it, this may be because their techniques have long been trapped inside it. The cost of exit may be denial or repression—or perhaps another frame-up.


  1. Jane Gallop, The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982), 93.

  2. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Paris: Flammarion, 1977), 29.

  3. See, for example, Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, in New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 245-64; and Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), and This Sex Which Is Not One (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).

  4. Ann Rosalind Jones, “Inscribing Femininity: French Theories of the Feminine,” in Making a Difference: Feminist Literary Criticism, ed. Gayle Greene and Coppélia Kahn (London: Methuen, 1985), 106. See also Jones, “Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of l’Ecriture Féminine,Feminist Studies 7 (1981), 247-63; and Jones, “Julia Kristeva on Femininity: The Limits of a Semiotic Politics,” Feminist Review 18 (1984), 56-73.

  5. Monique Wittig, “One Is Not Born a Woman,” Feminist Issues 1 (1981), 50-51.

  6. Julia Kristeva, “Women's Time,” trans. Alice Jardine and Harry Blake, Signs 7 (1981), 33.

  7. Julia Kristeva, “Oscillation between Power and Denial,” in New French Feminisms, 166.

  8. Shoshana Felman, “Rereading Femininity,” Yale French Studies 62 (1981), 42.

  9. See Kristeva's “Modern Theater Does not Take (a) Place,” trans. Alice Jardine and Thomas Gora, Sub-stance 18/19 (1977), 131-34, and “Oscillation between Power and Denial,” where she identifies “the moment of rupture and negativity which conditions and underlies the novelty of any praxis ‘feminine,’” and adds: “No ‘I’ is there to assume this ‘femininity,’ but it is no less operative, rejecting all that is finite and assuring in (sexual) pleasure the life of the concept” (167).

  10. Gallop, Daughter's Seduction, 97.

  11. Teresa de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, and Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 164; her quotation is from Ben Brewster, Stephen Heath, and Colin MacCabe, “Comment,” Screen 16 (1975), 83-90.

  12. See, for example, Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16 (1975), 6-18; Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983); E. Ann Kaplan, Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera (London: Methuen, 1983); Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Mary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellencamp, and Linda Williams (Los Angeles: American Film Institute, 1984); de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t; de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); and Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision (London: Verso, 1986). Sue-Ellen Case's groundbreaking Feminism and Theater (New York: Methuen, 1988) is the first full-length study to treat this topic.

  13. See Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”; and de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t; de Lauretis is far more critical of the dichotomies Mulvey sets up in this classic essay, as is Mulvey in her later work.

  14. Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 68-71, 177.

  15. See, for example, George Bernard Shaw, Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson (London: Arno, 1961); E. K. Chambers, Shakespeare: A Survey (1925; rpt. New York: Hill and Wang, 1958); H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Comedy (London: Methuen, 1938); Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare (1939; rpt. New York: Doubleday-Anchor, 1953); Donald Stauffer, Shakespeare's World of Images (1949; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966); Robert B. Heilman, Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, in the Signet Classic Shakespeare (New York: New American Library, 1966); and Larry S. Champion, The Evolution of Shakespeare's Comedy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970).

  16. See, for example, Nevill Coghill, “The Basis of Shakespearian Comedy,” Essays and Studies 3 (1950), 1-28; Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951); and Coppélia Kahn, Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). These critics differ on the extent to which Kate and Petruchio take part in this attack; some view Petruchio's bullying behavior as a crude exaggeration of patriarchal values, and others do not.

  17. E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Early Comedies, ed. Stephen Tillyard (London: Chatto and Windus, 1965), 214.

  18. M. R. Ridley, William Shakespeare: A Commentary, Introductory Volume to the New Temple Shakespeare (London: Dent, 1936), 24.

  19. John C. Bean, “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew,” in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 74.

  20. H. J. Oliver, Introduction to the Oxford edition of The Taming of the Shrew (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 56, 52.

  21. See Thelma N. Greenfield, “The Transformation of Christopher Sly,” Philological Quarterly 33 (1954), 34-42; Richard Hosley, “Was There a ‘Dramatic Epilogue’ to The Taming of the Shrew?” Studies in English Literature 1 (Spring 1961), 17-34; Peter Alexander, “The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Quarterly 20 (Spring 1969), 111-16; and Arthur Colby Sprague and J. C. Trewin, Shakespeare's Plays Today (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970), 54.

  22. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Early Comedies, 84.

  23. Richard Henze, “Role Playing in The Taming of the Shrew,Southern Humanities Review 4 (1970), 231-40, is the first extensive treatment of this argument. According to Henze, Petruchio “trains Kate to play roles so expertly that one cannot separate Kate's part in the pageant from Kate's function in life” (231); “Petruchio plays contradictory roles with equal effectiveness” (235) that we cannot determine his true nature; and “the final pageant of incredibly obedient shrew reflects most nearly the comedy of life where irony and multiple role-playing obscure reality exactly because irony and multiple role-playing are reality” (239). See also J. Dennis Huston, Shakespeare's Comedies of Play (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), for an even fuller study of play here; as well as Marianne Novy, “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew,English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979), 264-80, and the extension of that essay in her later Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

  24. Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 174-75.

  25. Gayle Greene and Coppélia Kahn, “Feminist Scholarship and the Social Construction of Woman,” in Making a Difference, 4-5.

  26. Jacques Lacan, “Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious,” Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), 152.

  27. Jacqueline Rose, Introduction—2, to Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose, trans. Rose (New York: Norton, 1985), 29.

  28. Ibid., 28.

  29. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans. James Harle Bell, John Richard von Sturmer, Rodney Needham (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 32. On the role of women as objects of exchange in the work of Lévi-Strauss, see Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157-210.

  30. Petruchio is treated as a type of clown or fool by Marianne Novy as well as by Charles Baskervill and W. B. Thorne; his character seems to be based on both the rustic clown and the witty fool. For the folk tradition in Shrew, see Charles Baskervill, The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama (1929; rpt. New York: Dover, 1965); Jan Brunvand, “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Quarterly 17 (1966), 345-59; W. B. Thorne, “Folk Elements in The Taming of the Shrew,Queen's Quarterly 75 (1968), 482-96; Michael West, “The Folk Background of Petruchio's Wooing Dance: Male Supremacy in The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Studies 7 (1973), 65-74. See also Barbara Swain, Fools and Folly during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932); Enid Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (London: Faber and Faber, 1935); and William Willeford, The Fool and His Scepter: A Study in Clowns and Jesters and Their Audience (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1969). In “Shakespearean Comedy and the Uses of Reason,” South Atlantic Quarterly 63 (1964), 1-9, Ronald Berman all too briefly reads Petruchio as “a wise fool in a world of the foolish wise, and in this he brings to life the great comic document of his day, Erasmus' Praise of Folly” (7). One might also consider the possibility that Shakespeare was playing Praise of Folly against Eramsus's humanist treatise on women.

  31. For studies that relate Shakespearean comedy to folk traditions of carnival, inversion, and dramatized paradox, see C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959); Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968); Ian Donaldson, The World Upside-Down: Comedy from Jonson to Fielding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970); Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York: Methuen, 1985); and Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986).

  32. Rosalie L. Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 58.

  33. Ibid., 8-9.

  34. Carolyn Lougee, “Review Essay: Modern European History,” Signs 2 (Spring 1977), 635.

  35. See Mary Ann Doane, “The ‘Woman's Film’: Possession and Address,” in Re-Vision, ed. Doane et al., 67-82.

  36. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 268.

  37. Rose, Introduction—2, 45.

  38. Lacan, “Alienation,” The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1981), 204.

  39. Juliet Flower MacCannell, Figuring Lacan: Criticism and the Cultural Unconscious (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 19.

  40. Lacan, “Guiding Remarks for a Congress on Feminine Sexuality,” in Feminine Sexuality, ed. Mitchell and Rose, 87.

  41. Ironically, early object-relations theory is also charged with failing to explore actual child care rigorously enough. D. W. Winnicott points out that “Melanie Klein represents the most vigorous attempt to study the earliest processes of the developing human infant apart from the study of child-care. She has always admitted that child-care is important but has not made a special study of it,” in “Classification: Is There a Psycho-Analytic Contribution to Psychiatric Classification?” (1959), in his collected papers, The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment (New York: International Universities Press, 1965), 126.

  42. Rose, Introduction—2, 56.

  43. De Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t, 180-81, 172.

  44. Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London: Methuen, 1980), 2.

  45. Josette Féral, “Performance and Theatricality,” trans. Terese Lyons, Modern Drama 25 (1982), 178.

  46. Ibid., 177, 178, 176.

  47. Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra,” in Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), 253.

  48. See Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, and Richard Fisch, Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution (New York: Norton, 1974); and Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin Bavelas, and Don D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication (New York: Norton, 1967).

  49. Constance Penley, “The Avant-Garde and Its Imaginary,” Camera Obscura (1978), 26, and Peter Gidal, as quoted by Stephen Heath with his comments in “Difference,” Screen 19 (1978), 97-98.

  50. Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision, 209, 210.

  51. Constance Penley, “‘A Certain Refusal of Difference’: Feminist Film Theory,” in Art after Modernism, ed. Wallis, 386, 387.

  52. Robert Stoller, “The Sense of Femaleness,” and “The ‘Bedrock’ of Masculinity and Femininity: Bisexuality,” in Psychoanalysis and Women, ed. Jean Baker Miller (Baltimore: Penguin, 1973), 231-43, 245-68; Stoller, “Fact and Fancies: An Examination of Freud's Concept of Bisexuality,” in Women and Analysis, ed. Jean Strouse (New York: Grossman, 1974); Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

  53. See Jay R. Greenberg and Stephen A. Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983); Margaret Mahler, On Human Symbiosis and the Vicissitudes of Individuation (London: Hogarth Press, 1969); and D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London: Tavistock, 1971).

  54. Heath, “Difference,” 92.

  55. Ibid., 96-97.

  56. Ibid., 96; this comment first appeared in “Entretien avec Françoise van Rossum-Guyon,” Revue des sciences humaines (1977), 487.

  57. Cixous, “Sorties,” in New French Feminisms, ed. Marks and Courtivron, 96.

  58. Peggy Kamuf, “Writing like a Woman,” in Women and Language in Literature and Society, ed. S. McConnell-Ginet et al. (New York: Praeger, 1980), 298.

Dale G. Priest (essay date 1994)

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 elsewhere in the teachings of St. Paul. If Kate's conversion is the subjugation found in a conservative reading of Colossians 3.18, it is also the liberation implicit in I Corinthians 7.22: “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord.” Petruchio's lordship over Katherine has released her from the prison of her miserable self and given her the freedom to play.

As one might expect, the critics are divided about the “proper” reading of The Shrew. It can be said, in general, that the rigorous or conservative reading of the play is associated with the generic critics, specifically those who see the play as farce.2 According to this view, most persuasively argued by H. J. Oliver in his introductory essay to the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the play, the Induction and the early, hyperbolic references to Kate as animal or demon prepare an audience to expect a rough-and-tumble shrew-taming as in a Punch and Judy show (50-51). This interpretation is countered, however, by readings that variously argue for the benign or potentially benign effects on Kate of Petruchio's so-called “taming” of her.3 The post-formalist criticism of the last fifteen years or so has spawned a number of such interpretations, including John C. Bean's feminist argument that Kate is humanized by her husband and “discovers love through the discovery of her own identity” (66). From the “language as power” school comes Tita Baumlin's essay demonstrating that Petruchio “creates through words a ‘brave new world’ of marital harmony” for him and Kate (237). Bridging the gap between these views is Marianne Novy's nicely balanced argument that Kate's final speech is both theatrical performance and evidence of her new command of proper convention and socially approved language, suggesting an ambivalent relation in the drama between play and hierarchical social reality (277-79). Finally, although Sybil Trouchet compares Petruchio's mastery of Kate to the reclaiming of a soul through baptism, her argument remains centered in a conservative reading of Petruchio's “awful rule” (1-10).

The Induction to the play, often cut in theatrical productions, forecasts Kate's conversion experience by way of theological analogy, albeit farcical. In the Induction, a lord and his attendants find an unconscious drunkard, Christopher Sly, and decide to take him home and practice on him by trying to convince him that he is a nobleman just now returning to himself after fifteen years of insanity. When he sees the sleeping Sly, there is an unmistakable sense of power in the lord's language as his scheme takes shape in his mind. It is the god-like power of creation itself. “What’s here? One dead … ?” he asks. “See, doth he breathe?” Through the power of will and the imagination, the lord is about to create, theatrically, a new creature. To the lord, the unconscious Sly is an inanimate lump, an image of death. No actor animates, no lines enliven his inert form. The lord, however, will resurrect him and create a role for him, inspire him, breathe into him new life on a theatrical level. We note the theological implications of the lord's title. He is simply “the lord,” and like the God of Genesis, he will create a man “in his own image”; Sly will awake also a “lord,” but obviously a little lower than his creator. The attempt, in fact, is hopelessly doomed because of Sly's intransigence. Like Kate to come, Sly is firmly committed to his own closed identity and apparently impervious to change. Petruchio's lordship over Kate, however, will be motivated by compelling purpose, and executed with more effective resolve than the lord of the Induction can summon for his practical joke. Petruchio's power and persistence will produce a new creature.

To argue for a thoroughgoing parallel between Petruchio and Christ would be a bit reckless. The former makes it fairly clear that his initial motive for converting Kate is mercantile, and he does not show humility very often. Nevertheless, his misunderstood identity and mission, his messianic zeal, and his penchant for paradox in his methodology and his teaching—all recommend Petruchio as the lord of the main play. He is a stranger who appears on the scene with an unclear purpose, and the community does not know quite what to make of him. When asked who people thought Jesus was, the apostle Peter gave three different answers (Mt. 16.13-14). Likewise, when trying to explain the meaning of Petruchio's tardiness for his own wedding, the community gives three different answers, each dependent upon what the speaker believes he or she knows about the bridegroom: Baptista calls him shamefully undependable; Tranio calls him honest and well meaning, but detained by fortune; Katherine calls him crazy (III.ii.1-25). Kate says more than she knows, for it is precisely Petruchio's madcap but purposeful vision—couched in paradox and energized by his power to refashion reality—that informs his pedagogical pronouncement and his modus operandi in working the miracle of Kate's conversion.

Petruchio announces his readiness, his vision, and his strategy in a key soliloquy delivered just before he meets the notorious shrew:

… I will attend her here
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail; why, then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.


At the philological level, the speech reflects the sophist's power to manipulate language and transvalue semantics to suit the needs of the rhetorician. Such power over language creates “new versions of the world by eradicating static, preconceived notions and offering the listener the freedom to choose a new mode of thinking. … The sophist accomplishes his persuasions through a verbal creation of potential situations, rather than a mimesis or mirroring of present conditions” (Baumlin 244). As rhetorician, Petruchio posits a linguistic “otherness” to challenge or convert the expectations derived from traditional usage. Kate's “railing” becomes “sweet singing” at Petruchio's bidding and for his purpose.

On a deeper, philosophical level, the passage points to the paradoxical epistemology at the heart of Biblical truth and Christian theology. Petruchio, the lord of paradox in the play, describes “Katherine the curst” in terms of the reality she represents by communal or worldly definition, and simultaneously renames her in terms of the “conformable household Kate” she “really” is by his definition. Her reality, already converted to its opposite in his paradoxical mode of perceiving truth, will be her actual or communal reality when she learns this truth and accepts its liberating power for herself. Until then, the real Kate is the identity imposed upon her by community and habitual self. She is a “last” figure whom Petruchio has and will transvalue or convert into a “first” figure, recalling Jesus' power to elevate, in his kingdom, the lowly and despised (Mt. 23.12; Lk. 18.14). From last in her family, subject to Baptista's authority and enslaved by his favoritism for Bianca, she will be raised to first in Petruchio's family. Just as Jesus exalted and lifted to equality and companionship the most uncouth and vulgar (Peter the fisherman), the most despised (Matthew the tax collector), and the most dreaded and feared (Saul the persecutor), Petruchio chooses and exalts the cursed and outcast Katherine unto equality with himself as his true wife upon her conversion at the end. “Kiss me, Kate” will then signify the union of true minds and like spirit.

Immediately following his soliloquy, Petruchio meets the shrew for the first time and proceeds, according to his stated purpose, to “woo her with some spirit when she comes.” The word “spirit” is especially appropriate in regard to his vision and strategy, suggesting not only zeal and commitment but also his power to “suppose,” to create alternative realities that are the simultaneous inverse of literal or apparent circumstance—i.e., the spiritual power outlined in the soliloquy. The new spirit starts with her new name, Kate, suggesting that to him she is already a converted creature, at least in potentia. When she protests that her name is not Kate, but Katherine, Petruchio responds with a barrage of paradoxical inversions making manifest the vision of the soliloquy: “You lie, in faith, for you are called plain Kate / … the prettiest Kate in Christendom, / Kate of Kate-Hall, my super-dainty Kate / … Hearing thy mildness praised in every town, / … Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife” (II.i.185-94). When she begins then to rail and strike him and call him “witless,” he confronts her firmly with this remarkable profession:

Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn,
For by this light whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.


The degree to which the speech represents literal truth is offset by the power of the truth in spirit pronounced here. Is Kate really beautiful? The answer is yes, for Petruchio “intends” her beautiful, just as he “intends” that “all is done in reverent care for her” at his country house later, when he deprives her of food and sleep (IV.ii.191). According to his vision, she is beautiful and she is his, as he already anticipates his victory of “peace, love and quiet life” (V.ii.108). There is a lesson here about the joyful value of relativistic vision and paradoxical perception that Kate is not yet ready to assimilate, a power firmly in Petruchio's possession: “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Sam. 16.7). Petruchio will teach Kate to see “by this light.”

All good teachers use metaphor to make truth more vivid to their students; this is especially true of spirit-led teachers who habitually see beneath the surface of experience. Petruchio is no exception. The allusive, metaphorical quality of “this light” that illuminates both Kate's appearance and Petruchio's vision anticipates a more accessible metaphor that he will use throughout the rest of the play in his mission to educate or convert Kate. I refer to his use of clothing as a teaching device. His first use of this metaphor occurs at the wedding ceremony, when he shows up, late, dressed as inappropriately as could possibly be conceived. As usual, there is method in his apparent madness. To Baptista's protest that his attire is “shame to your estate, / An eyesore to our solemn festival” (III.ii.99-100), Petruchio replies, “Therefore have done with words; / To me she’s married, not unto my clothes” (III.ii.115-16). This unfeigned reprimand clearly echoes Jesus' chiding of his audience in the Sermon on the Mount for their anxiety about what they will eat and wear: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Why are you anxious about clothing?” (Mt. 6.25-27). Both Petruchio and Jesus are calling attention to the difference between outside and inside, appearances and reality, superficial trappings and the interior person. Interestingly, Petruchio follows this pronouncement with a rare, public revelation of his own interior self—his most humble and sincere moment except for the soliloquies: “Could I repair what she will wear in me / As I can change these poor accoutrements, / ’Twere well for Kate and better for myself” (117-20). His use of the clothing metaphor has reminded him of his own faults, which he will try to repair after Kate has changed her superficial wardrobe, as it were, so that the “real” couple can live together happily. As if suddenly aware that he is “casting pearls before swine,” however, he collects himself and resumes his mission: “But what a fool am I to chat with you, / When I should bid good morrow to my bride / And seal the title with a lovely kiss!” (120-22).

At Petruchio's country house, Kate endures an extended, agonizing ordeal to prepare her for subsequent enlightenment and the assimilation of her husband's liberating vision. Her painful experience recalls the instructive admonitions of Jesus' brother James, who, at the beginning of his epistle, says that trials are to be counted a blessing because they lead to steadfastness and wisdom (James 1.2-5). Indeed, Kate's great trial emerges as a kind of purgatorial experience whereby she is cleansed of all superficial or worldly concerns. Petruchio's depriving her of food, drink, and sleep is an analogue to fasting in secret, the New Testament prelude to spiritual regeneration (Mt. 6.17-18). When he sees that the time is right, Petruchio begins his final lesson to prepare her for conversion, and again he uses the clothing metaphor as his primary teaching device. Exercising his antic disposition to the fullest, he flies into a fit of mock rage when the tailor delivers the cap and gown Petruchio had ordered for his wife. Kate likes the articles and wants very much to keep them, but her husband raves that they are incorrectly made and must be taken back. Our key to the theatrical nature of the outburst is the poor, unwitting tailor's protest that the garments have been sewn exactly to Petruchio's specifications. We can be sure that they are, indeed, correct; Petruchio is again staging an instructive performance. He understands that to a person like Kate, clothes represent reality, an extension of the self. She sees them, wants them, and feels they must be hers—a childish urge to enhance and gratify her self, her essence. Thus Petruchio will not let her have them—again, to shock her into recognizing her own immaturity portrayed before her. He wants her to realize that clothing, like the fixed and rigid identity she wears and clings to with such fervor, are mere appearance; neither must be mistaken for reality or happiness.

Her purgatory at the country house almost over, Kate and her husband make ready to return to her father's house, but there is time for one last lesson and one last use of the clothing figure. He tells her gently, I suggest:

Well, come, my Kate. We will unto your father's,
Even in these honest mean habiliments.
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For ’tis the mind that makes the body rich;
… Neither art thou the worse
For this poor furniture and mean array.
If thou account’st it shame, lay it on me,
And therefore frolic.


Like Jesus at the end of his parables, Petruchio makes clear the meaning of his metaphor in explicit terms. Humble clothing, paradoxically, indicates richness of spirit. It is her mind that can make her wealthy, not her garments. So they will travel home in “mean array.” If Kate does not quite yet accept the apparent shame, she can “lay it on” Petruchio, suggesting Jesus' voluntary bearing of his disciples' burdens, including their failure to understand him completely (Mt. 11.28-30). When she consents to go with him, the final journey to conversion is underway. Their destination is “your father's,” or “our father's,” as he says when they are out on the road (IV.v.1). The “return unto the father” motif here resonates with obvious theological overtones that include the poverty-stricken, poorly dressed prodigal son returning home (Lk. 15.11-32), and Jesus' ascension to his father's right hand following his resurrection (Mk. 16.19). Kate's resurrection, as it were, is itself now at hand, whereupon she may “frolic” for the first time in her life.

The final step, then, in the transformation of Katherine the curs’t into frolicking Kate occurs on the trip back to Padua when she sees the light, both literally and figuratively, in a scene that recalls St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus in the ninth chapter of Acts. Both scenes are epiphanies, moments of discovery signified by the oxymoronic interplay of dazzling light and blindness, and both result in a convert with a new name. Let us look at the exchange in detail:

Pet: Come on i’ God's
name, once more toward our father's.
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!
Kath: The moon! The sun. It is not
moonlight now.
Pet: I say it is the moon that shines
so bright.
Kath: I know it is the sun that shines
so bright.
Pet: Now, by my mother's son,
and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list, …
Kath: Forward, I pray, since we have
come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please.
An if you please to call it a rush candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
Pet: I say it is the moon.
Kath: I know it is the moon.
Pet: Nay, then you lie. It is the
blessed sun.
Kath: Then, God be blessed, it is
the blessed sun. …
What you will have it nam’d, even that it is,
And so it shall be for Katherine. …
Pet: Why, how now, Kate, I hope thou
art not mad.


What Petruchio means, in his usual paradoxical mode here, is, “I am pleased, Kate, that thou art mad at last.” In the exchange we note the frequency of the words “God” and “blessed,” and the reference to “our father's.” Petruchio's “now by my mother's son, and that’s myself,” perhaps recalls Christ's announcement of his divine origin and powers. Kate's statement of submission, furthermore, seems to have the ring of a religious confession (“Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me”). With this confession she is converted to her lord's subjunctive “doctrine,” released from the prison of her old, fixed identity to enjoy the freedom and spontaneity that animate Petruchio himself. She has learned (recalling Biblical paradox) that to find herself she must lose herself and has forsworn her oath to resist Petruchio's efforts to convert her. Thus when they meet Vincentio on the road, she playfully participates with her husband in the transformation game of pretending the old man is a “young budding virgin”; and when Petruchio returns him into old Vincentio, Kate responds:

Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes
That have been so bedazzled with the sun
That everything I look on seemeth green.
Now I perceive thou art a reverend father;
Pardon, I pray thee, for my mad mistaking.


The conservative proponents of farce will read Kate's acquiescence here as “weary resignation” (Oliver 56). Surely Kate's deliverance into something finer and happier than she has known is a better reading, however, especially since Shakespeare has cultivated our interest in these people as human beings rather than as the mechanical puppets of a typical Renaissance farce. Furthermore, the text encourages us to find metaphorical meaning in Kate's blindness and subsequent vision. Petruchio's miracle reminds us of Jesus' giving sight to the blind man in St. John's gospel: “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (Jn. 9.39). The result, for Katherine, is that all is now “green,” signifying regeneration. She is free to enjoy her husband's happy madness at last.

We return, in closing, to where we began—Kate's chiding speech to Bianca and Hortensio's widow in the final scene. The banquet scenario recalls the famous banquet parable in Luke 14, where the host invites upstanding guests who all make excuses, whereupon he invites the “poor and the blind” to the feast instead. In the play, the respectable ladies are instructed by their husbands to come forth, but they both make excuses. Biondello tells Lucentio that Bianca “is busy, and cannot come” (V.ii.81); and he reports to Hortensio that his wife “will not come, (for) she bids you come to her” (92). Then the call goes out for the supposed shrew—the poor outcast and least likely invitee—and she, of course, accepts the invitation without excuse, to the wonderment of all. As in the parable, the two respectable invitees “will not taste the banquet,” whereas the poor Katherine wins the reward—the one hundred crowns wagered by the husbands. Kate has won the victory. Ultimately, the degree to which she is serious about the particulars of her closing speech to the disobedient wives is impossible to determine. But I feel that the proponents of thoroughgoing farce, as well as G. B. Shaw and those who find the speech “disgusting to modern sensibility” (Wilson 180) both overlook the possibility—strongly encouraged by the theological implications of her conversion—that she is playing the role designed to win the game. In any case, she is behaving in a manner that would have been impossible before her conversion. I sense the liberation of her mind and spirit here. Kate is now able to experience the joys of responsible freedom rather than the misery and bondage of the self-centered will.


  1. Fineman, for instance, observes that the discursive modes of Katherine and Petruchio are subversive inversions of traditional patterns endorsed by patriarchal society; yet the subversive patterns manage to resecure, at the end, the very order to which they seem to be opposed. He wonders, in fact, if it is possible for canonical literature to voice a language that does not speak, sooner or later, for the order and authority of man (138 ff.).

  2. See Alexander; Brunvand; Heilman; Weiss.

  3. In addition to those studies cited in the text, see Berry; Bradbrook; Dusinberre; Gottlieb; Huston; Seronsy.

Works Cited

Alexander, Peter. Shakespeare's Life and Art. New York: NYUP, 1961.

Baumlin, Tita French. “Petruchio the Sophist and Language as Creation in The Taming of the Shrew.Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900 29 (1989): 237-57.

Bean, John C. “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Eds. Carolyn Lenz, et al. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980. 65-78.

Berry, Ralph. Shakespeare's Comedies. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972.

Bradbrook, Muriel. “Dramatic Role as Social Image: A Study of The Taming of the Shrew.Shakespeare Jahrbuch 94 (1958): 132-50.

Brunvand, J. H. “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew.Shakespeare Quarterly 17 (1966): 345-59.

Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. London: Macmillan, 1975.

Fineman, Joel. “The Turn of the Shrew.” Shakespeare and the Question of Theory. Eds. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman. New York: Methuen, 1985. 138-60.

Gottlieb, Erika. “‘I Will Be Free’: Shakespeare's Ambivalence to Katherine's Challenge of the Great Chain of Being.” Essays on Shakespeare in Honour of A. A. Ansari. Ed. T. R. Sharma. Meerut: Shalabh Book House, 1986. 88-116.

Heilman, Robert. “The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew.” Modern Language Quarterly 27 (1966): 147-61.

Huston, J. Dennis. Shakespeare's Comedies of Play. New York: Columbia UP, 1981.

Novy, Marianne. “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew.English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979): 264-80.

Oliver, H. J., ed. Introduction. The Taming of the Shrew. The Oxford Shakespeare. New York: Oxford UP, 1984. 1-84.

Seronsy, Cecil. “‘Supposes’ as the Unifying Theme of The Taming of the Shrew.Shakespeare Quarterly 14 (1963): 15-30.

Shakespeare, William, The Taming of the Shrew. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. 110-39.

Trouchet, Sybil. “A Sacramental Reading of The Taming of the Shrew.Aspects du Theatre Anglais: 1594-1730. Ed. Nadia Rigaud. Aix-en-Provence: U de Provence, 1987. 1-10.

Weiss, Theodore. The Breath of Clowns and Kings: Shakespeare's Early Comedies and Histories. London: Chatto and Windus, 1971.

Wilson, Edwin, ed. Shaw on Shakespeare. London: Cassell, 1961.

Stephen Bretzius (essay date 1997)

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, horns, and herds bestowed on Sly (Ind.2.41-96) and the “carts” (1.1.55), “kites” (4.1.195), “cats” (2.1.278), “cates” (2.1.189), “cut” (4.3.121), “chat” (2.1.268), and “chattels” (3.2.230) to which Kate is compared (Gremio's “Our cake's dough” [1.1.108-9]); the debate over which of the three hounds, Silver, Belman, or Echo, is best (Ind.1.19-27) and the final wager over which of the three wives will come first, Bianca (Silver), the Widow (Belman), or Kate (Echo); the Lord's “I would not lose the dog for twenty pound” (Ind.1.21) and Petruchio's “Twenty crowns? / I’ll venture so much of my hawk or hound” (5.2.71-72); the opening hunt generally and Tranio's “’Tis thought your deer does hold you at a bay” (5.2.26); Sly's acquaintance “Peter Turph” (Ind.2.94) and both Petruchio and his servant Peter; the Christ-bearer in “Christopher” (“score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom” [Ind.2.24], “is not a comonty a Christmas gambold or a tumbling-trick” [138-39]) and the more elaborate conversion narrative of the larger taming story—“Then God be blest, it is the blessèd sun” (4.5.18)—that carries the Christ-bearing Lucentio, Bianca, and Petruchio to “St. Luke's church” (4.4.88); the autobiographical subtext introduced by the actor in Shakespeare's own company Will Sly (“we came in with Richard Conqueror” [Ind.1.4-5]) and Petruchio's “will you, nill you, I will marry you” (2.1.271); and so on.2 In each case, the play that Christopher Sly watches from the vantage of his unfinished Induction variously replays the story of his own Kate-like subjection by the Petruchio-like Lord, so that the moral is always less, and the lesson is always more, than meets the eye.

Whether, again, such echoes underscore or undermine the play's patriarchal merriment is further complicated because, however earnest the moral, the play already tells the story of its own Kate-like reception by the Petruchio-like spectator, recasting Petruchio's “taming-school” (4.2.54) as the taming, first, of “Xantippe” by “Socrates” (1.2.126) but also of “harmony” by “philosophy” (3.1.13-14), “Ovid” by “Aristotle” (1.1.32-33), “rhetoric” by “logic” (34-35), “music” by “mathematics” (36), “poesy” by “metaphysics” (37), “rhymes” by “Rheims” (2.1.80), and so on. From Sly's “by transmutation a bearherd” (Ind.2.19-20) to Petruchio's powerfully gendered “Another way I have to man my haggard” (4.1.193), the play traditionally codes the literary feminine and the rational or philosophic masculine, but it also obsessively situates its own reception within the very disruption of sexual difference that it performs, as if the university were the bankside, brothel-bound theater tamed, disembodied (alma mater) or masculinized (ivory tower)—“To suck the sweets of sweet philosophy” (1.1.28). Whereas Kate's Bianca-like taming entails the wholesale repression of sexual difference, Bianca's Kate-like subversion of pedagogy coincides with its bawdy return:

I am no breeching scholar in the schools,
I’ll not be tied to hours, and pointed times,
But learn my lessons as I please myself.
And to cut off all strife. …


So the difference between the theater and the university, from its earliest formulation in Plato to the present, is sexual difference. When falling under the power of music and meter, Socrates warns in Ion, poets are “like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus” (534b). Poems in the ideal Republic, in turn, must be strictly regulated, since “there is a danger that our guardians may be rendered too excitable and effeminate by them” (Republic 387b). Not surprisingly, then, Socrates' suggestion that “the doings of Kronos … had better be buried in silence” begins his epochal case for philosophy's difference from (and with) literature, leaving out what Hesiod's Theogony begins by leaving in—the difference, sexual difference, separating literature from philosophy.

Socrates thus tames literature into philosophy much as The Taming of the Shrew stages its own Neoplatonic untaming of the university (Petruchio) by the theater (Kate), beginning rather than ending with Lucentio's “Here let us breathe, and haply institute / A course of learning and ingenious studies” (1.1.8-9). So in Cervantes's equally representative Don Quixote, the illiterate Sancho Panza's allegiance to the over-read Quixote recapitulates, in reverse, Plato's faithful recording of the unwritten Socrates. On the one hand, Quixote's madness lives beyond the same veil of appearances as Socrates' transcendent vision, and somehow attains to a similar truth; on the other, the novel's Platonic inversion, like the play's, depends on the return or the untaming of a repressed sexual difference, as can be seen from the very first, and most famous, of Quixote's adventures, that of the windmills. Here the mock-epic backdrop explicitly recalls the Homeric literature ultimately condemned by Socrates, and the giant machines are likened to “Briareus.” The magnification, too, is oedipal, the son's struggle with the father (the windmill) for possession of the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso, his lance broken by the intervening superego (the wind). For, if the difference between rational philosophy (Petruchio) and irrational rhapsody (Kate) is sexual difference (if literature, as Socrates asserts, effeminizes), then every adventure undergone by Quixote negotiates the same sexual impasse, since each entails the passage from one realm to the other. When Quixote and Sancho leave the windmills, for example, only the oedipal backdrop links this episode to the one just following, in which the knight confronts a group of travelers taking a Basque woman to her husband. Believing the woman a charmed and disguised Dulcinea, Quixote challenges the group. A Basque man appears, and he and Quixote fiercely join battle at full gallop as the first part of the first book of Don Quixote ends, colliding with a force that splits the narrative. When the dust settles, and the second part begins, Cervantes writes:

In the first part of this history we left the valiant Basque and the famous Don Quixote with naked swords aloft [con las espadas altas y desnudas], on the point of dealing two such furious downward strokes as, had they struck true, would have cleft both knights asunder from head to foot, and split them like pomegranates. At this critical point our delightful history stopped short and remained mutilated [destroncada], our author failing to inform us where to find the missing part.4

What Socrates represses in the name of an ideal Republic, Cervantes brings to the surface with all the force necessary to make a difference in, and for, the narrative, as well as the Republic; in “split them like pomegranates [abrírían como una granada],” a play on the last Arab stronghold at Granada further refigures one founding violence in the other. Like the absent frame in Shakespeare's play, the effeminizing difference suppressed by Socrates is, quite literally, “missing,” even miss-ing, as in Donalbain's “What is amiss?” and, fresh from Duncan's “unsexing,” Macbeth's “You are, and do not know it” (2.3.97). At the same time Cervantes directs his prologue to part 1 not just against “the swarm [caterva] of vain books of chivalry” (30) but, several pages earlier, against “Aristotle, Plato and the whole herd [caterva] of philosophers” (26)—one caterva, one Cervantes, reborn in the other. Ten years later, in the prologue to part 2, he answers the author of a slanderous preface to a pirated Don Quixote in similar terms, who had gone so far as to condemn Cervantes for the wound he received in the famous naval battle of Lepanto:

What I cannot help resenting is that he upbraids me for being old and crippled, as if it were in my power to stop the passage of time, or as if the loss of my hand had taken place in some tavern, and not on the greatest occasion which any age, past, present, or future, ever saw or can ever hope to see. (467)

The mutilated text is now a maimed hand, a violent style; the hyperbole, “the greatest occasion which any age, past, present, or future, ever saw or can ever hope to see,” is Quixote's.

Cervantes's novel thus subverts the language of philosophy with the language of literature through a return of this repressed sexual difference, just as, in The Taming of the Shrew, the language of the theater disrupts the language of the university. At either institutional extreme, traditional ascriptions of shrewishness to Socrates' wife, Xanthippe, correspond to equally speculative references to the shrewish behavior of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway.5 So the closely related early comedy Love's Labour's Lost begins with the king of Navarre's “Our court shall be a little academe, / Still and contemplative in living art” (1.1.13-14), emplotting Plato's suppression of the effeminizing dangers of literature (“on pain of losing her tongue” [1.1.124]) and their return as theater, in this case as Love's Labour's Lost. From the play's hyper-alliterative title to Holofernes's “Of one sore I an hundred make by adding but one more L” (4.2.61), the more “more L,” Herbert A. Ellis suggests, the more moral—“by adding but one moral” (“the king he is hunting the deer” [4.1.1]).6 For the more verbal pyrotechnics, the more signifier-works, the more the constative language of the Neoplatonic academy gives institutional rise to the radically performative discourse of the early modern theater, “in reason nothing,” as Dumaine remarks of Berowne's non sequitur “The spring is near when green geese are a-breeding” (1.1.97-99), “something then in rhyme,” as C. L. Barber draws the moral for Love's Labour's Lost and all of Shakespeare's green-world comedies: “The spring is near when green geese are a-breeding” (Navarre's “Vouchsafe to show the sunshine of your face, / That we (like savages) may worship it” [5.2.201-2]). So Armado's “l’envoy,” “The fox, the ape, and the humble-bee / Were still at odds, being but three” (2.1.88-89), points the moral (“There’s the moral” [86]) of the three sonneteers and Berowne's “Now step I forth to whip hypocrisy” (4.3.149)—Moth's “Until the goose came out of door, / Staying the odds by adding four” (90-91). For the more “more L,” Armado's l’envoy affirms, the more “elle” (Costard's “I was taken with none, sir, I was taken with a damsel” [1.1.289-90]), and the more elle, finally, the more Elizabeth, from Boyet's “Queen Guinover of Britain” (4.1.123) and Nathaniel's “a title to Phoebe, to Luna, to the moon” (4.2.38) to Petruchio's hyper-ironic “Did ever Dian so become a grove / As Kate this chamber with her princely gait? / O be thou Dian and let her be Kate” (2.1.258-60).7 Hence the opening “Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,” which carries the obsessive alliteration of the title into the play, but hence, too, the closing songs of Winter and Spring ushered in by Don Armado's final “Holla! approach” (5.2.890), which points the play's moral by way of the same repeating L, and, following this medieval conflictus of the cuckoo and the owl, “the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.”

In all four wanton instances—Holofernes's “sorel [sore elle],” Berowne's “geese” (prostitutes), Moth's “goose,” and Armado's “owl” and “cuckoo” (cuckold)—patriarchy is confirmed but from Kate's anti-rational perspective, as if Berowne's “Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile” (1.1.77) were the true moral, or “more elle” (“light in the light” [2.1.198]), of Love's Labour's Lost. For the more “more L,” more elle, and more Elizabeth, the more Will (“a sharp wit matched with too blunt a will, / Whose edge hath power to cut, whose will still wills” [2.1.49-50])—the Shakespeare/Shrew alliteration, the “Shre W.,” whose elaborate signature-effect signs off, too, on the play's own “taming” by the state apparatus (the “academe”) it ironically affirms. So Petruchio's “tailor,” who is also Petruchio's “taler”—“Saving your tale, Petruchio …, Backare, you are marvelous forward” (2.1.71-73); “What, with my tongue in your tail?” (218); “Out of their saddles and into the dirt, and thereby hangs a tale” (3.2.57-58); “My widow says, thus she conceives her tale” (5.2.24)—discomfits both genders alike with the phallic cap (“Fie, fie, ’tis lewd and filthy. / Why, ’tis a cockle or a walnut-shell … / Away with it! come let me have a bigger” [4.3.66-68]) and bawdy gown (“Take up my mistress' gown to his master's use! / O fie, fie, fie!” [162-63]) that he has fashioned for Kate (“Error i’ th’ bill, sir, error i’ th’ bill!” [145]). In Troilus and Cressida, a play whose obvious affinities with The Taming of the Shrew go far beyond Petruchio's spaniel “Troilus” (4.1.150) or Lucentio's “Hic ibat Simois; hic est Sigeia tellus” (3.1.28), the autobiographical moral is only more explicit: the play is Cressida (“This is, and is not, Cressid!” [5.2.146]), the spectator Troilus, and the playwright Pandarus, who concludes the action by bringing just this self-authoring allegory to the surface: “Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases, / And at that time bequeath you my diseases” (5.10.55-56).8 In one of these later bequests, Imogen's midnight reading of “The Rape of Philomel” in Cymbeline—“I have read three hours then” (2.2.3)—similarly figures not just her plight but her play and its own three-hour “noting” by the Jachimo-like spectator: “One, two, three, time, time!” (51). For the play not only generates plot by untaming and taming female sexuality, as in The Taming of the Shrew and Troilus and Cressida, but duly records its own effeminized status as the Imogen-like object of the very patriarchal noting it celebrates. Across a corresponding sixteen year “gap” in time (Kronos), the bawdy ballads that the wandering rogue Autolycus sells his audience in the pastoral second half of The Winter's Tale (“Pins and poking-sticks of steel, / What maids lack from head to heel” [4.4.226-27]) Shakespeare sells his, miraculously transforming the Othello-like jealousy of Leontes and Mamillius for Hermione into the shared affection of Hermione and Perdita for Leontes (“Why, this is a passing merry one and goes to the tune of ‘Two maids wooing a man’” [288-89]).

Sexual difference, in these ways, centers the plays—the difference, again, between Rome and Egypt, England and France, Montague and Capulet, Venice and Belmont, the court and the forest, the tragedies, finally, and the comedies—because it represents the difference, inside out, between the play and its audience, the stage and its reception. For it is across this difference, sexual difference, that the experience of attending the theater and returning home recapitulates the gendered movement from court to imaginary forest to court (and courtship) in comedies like The Winter's Tale (“Come on then, / And give’t me in mine ear” [2.1.31-32]), The Merchant of Venice (“I am a tainted wether of the flock” [4.1.114]), and A Midsummer Night's Dream (“Marry, if he that writ it had played Pyramus, and hanged himself in Thisby's garter, it would have been a fine tragedy” [5.1.357-60]). In The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare's revisionist-antirevisionist perspective, his perpetual upping of the “anti,” closely resembles a pair of engravings reproduced in Barbara Freedman's book Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy: Albrecht Dürer's woodcut from Unterweisung der Messung (1525) and M. C. Escher's Print Gallery (1956). … In Dürer's woodcut the taming of an effeminized nature by a patriarchal gaze corresponds to a literal, antirevisionist reading of Kate's conversion. From left to right the two hills in the window above the woman unironically yield to the potted plant in the window to the artist/spectator's right. In Escher's lithograph, by contrast, the lack of a closing frame on the right side of the canvas, like the lack of a closing frame for the Induction in the play, draws the viewer squarely into the picture, even as the onlooker's head literally rises into the frame. From this revisionist perspective the woman to the left of the engraver in Dürer's etching is now the diminutive woman in the window to the observer's right.

From (ideological) right to left it is therefore not surprising that postwar feminism should find in The Taming of the Shrew, which thematically recalls Dürer's engraving but structurally resembles Escher's Print Gallery, not just the patriarchal story to end all patriarchal stories but its most concentrated and overdetermined subversion—The Shaming of the True.9 Though ironic readings of Kate's final speech reach back to comments by Constance O’Brien in 1886 and Margaret Webster in 1942, Nevill Coghill establishes the play's postwar revisionist tradition in 1950 by suggesting that the play's moral is “generously and charmingly asserted by Katerina at the end,” adding: “it is a total misconception to suppose that she has been bludgeoned into it” (O’Brien's “it is all nonsense to talk as if this bit of merry comedy expresses Shakespeare's serious ideas of the proper relations between husband and wife”).10 A year after Coghill's remarks (and sixty-five years after O’Brien's) Harold Goddard argues still more forcefully that “The Taming of the Shrew … is possibly the most striking example among [Shakespeare's] early works of his love for so contriving a play that it should mean, to those who might choose to take it so, the precise opposite of what he knew it would mean to the multitude.” According to Goddard, “why explain what is as clear, when you see it, as was Poe's Purloined Letter, which was skillfully concealed precisely because it was in such plain sight all the time” (68). Figuring the play's too obvious revisionism, “The Purloined Letter” here takes up the alliterating L of Love's Labour's Lost (the prefect's “it was all labor lost” [213]) while linking its own signifying desire to that of woman, even as Dupin's “the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out” bawdily revisits Festes' “A sentence is but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!” (Twelfth Night [3.1.11-13]).11

Since Goddard's remarks, an increasingly vocal appeal to the play's apparent “irony” characterizes the series of so-called revisionist readings, from Richard Hosley's “Kate's speech … was probably, without denial of the basic validity of its doctrine, as susceptible to an ironic interpretation in Shakespeare's day as in our own” (1964) to Coppélia Kahn's “[the play's] greatest irony [is that it] … satisfies not woman herself in the person of the shrew, but male attitudes toward women” (1975) and Roger L. Cox's “to call Kate's final speech ‘exaggerated and ironic’ is … like calling Falstaff ‘obese,’ as if the casual observer might not have noticed that he tended to be rather plump” (1991).12 For revisionist readers Kate's final speech simply humors Petruchio, but for antirevisionist readers, by sharp contrast, Kate's final speech simply “humors” Petruchio (i.e., amuses or pleases him), as Robert B. Heilman first counters in “The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew” (1966): “we have domesticated a free-swinging farce and made it into a brittlely ironic closet drama, the voice of a woman's world in which apron strings, while proclaiming themselves the gentle badge of duty, snap like an overseer's lash.”13 Following Heilman's “untaming” of Kate's controversial “mating,” antirevisionist appeals to the play's literalness (and criticism's performativity) include Richard Levin's “the many ironic readings of [Henry V] and The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice can also be explained in this way. … To remain worthy of our worship, the idol's meaning must be changed, like that of our other sacred texts, to conform with current beliefs” (1979); Peter Saccio's “I cannot agree with the common modern view that seeks to revise the plain doctrine of Kate's last speech under the all-saving name of irony. … [Such readings] ignore the difference between local verbal ironies and the massive irony of intent extending through forty-four lines” (1984); and Camille Wells Slights's “Petruchio certainly demands that Kate submit to his will, but we know, as she does, that he won’t step on her hand. Shakespeare, then, does not ironically subvert the patriarchal power structure portrayed in The Taming of the Shrew” (1993).14 From one ironic extreme (Kate) to the other (Petruchio) The Taming of the Shrew, still more ironically, serves no longer as a pretext but a prototype for the critical debate it engenders, one that alternately tames and untames, from Petruchio to Kate, the play—hence the more recent “beyond-revisionist” readings for which even the play's irony, in the final analysis, proves ironic, as in Jonathan Hall's “when I refer to [Kate's] flight from determination through ‘inward dialogism’ as ironic, I certainly do not mean the kind of stabilized irony which supports a definitely satirical kind of feminist reading” (1995) or Natasha Korda's “I do not mean to suggest (following the play's so-called revisionist readers) that Kate's speech should be read ironically, as evidence of her deceit, any more than (with its anti-revisionist readers) as evidence of her ‘true’ submission” (1996).15

Thus it is also not surprising, in connection with the return of a parallel repressed in The Taming of the Shrew, that postwar critiques of the play should ultimately move beyond the binarisms of revisionist/antirevisionist to find in Kate's final moral not just the taming story to end all taming stories but, as Kahn is among the first to propose, a surprisingly sophisticated staging ground for feminism's own elaborate cross-dressings of literature, gender, and power, as in the following remarks by Karen Newman:

The theatrically constructed frame in which Sly exercises patriarchal power and the dream in which Kate is tamed undermine the seemingly eternal nature of those structures by calling attention to the constructed character of the representation rather than veiling it through mimesis. The foregrounded female protagonist of the action and her powerful annexation of traditionally male discursive domains distances us from that system by exposing and displaying its contradictions.16

So in postwar feminism, Newman contends,

we need a different kind of textual intercourse, a promiscuous conversation of many texts, early modern elite and non-elite, historical records and ideological discourses, contemporary theory and popular culture, that puts into play the “literary,” the “historical,” “gender,” as relations and positions rather than static categories. … (146)

Shakespeare is immediately essential to this “textual intercourse” because, as Valerie Traub observes, “the homoeroticism of Shakespearean comedy transverses ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ sites, challenging the binary language of identity by which we normalize erotic desire.”17 Regarding the corresponding fate of postwar feminism in the literary academy, Freedman notes in Staging the Gaze how “psychoanalytic and deconstructive approaches that demonstrate that we cannot escape the text, the symbolic, or ideology remind us of the means by which Kate is encouraged to believe that she can never escape the theater of difference in which she exists”—Gremio's “My cake is dough” (5.1.140).18 Outside the academy feminism occasions a resistance strikingly akin to the antitheatrical prejudice of the early 1580s and beyond, as Jean Howard remarks of representative tracts by Stephen Gosson (1579), Anthony Munday (1580), and Phillip Stubbes (1583): “the social change which the antitheatrical rhetoric was struggling to manage produced fear and anger and incomprehension in many quarters, not only among the powerful who felt they had something to lose if servants wore velvet or women asserted independence from masculine control of their dress and speech.”19 Within the university, as both Freedman and Newman affirm, Kate's subversion of gender initiates a “domestic and domesticating quarrel,” as Fineman remarks in “The Turn of the Shrew,” that literally refigures the university in the theater and the theater in the university (Heilman's “we have domesticated a free-swinging farce and made it into a brittlely ironic closet drama”).20 For if sexual difference is “a linchpin,” as Foucault contends, “an especially dense transfer point for relations of power … endowed with the greatest instrumentality,” feminism and theater in The Taming of the Shrew mark an equally dense “transfer point” whose corresponding eclipse of patriarchal sun by Elizabethan moon (“Now by my mother's son, and that’s myself, / It shall be moon, or sun, or what I list” [4.6.6-7]) literally transforms the early modern university of Lucentio's opening speech into social and political theater.21

In her book Feminism and Theater Sue-Ellen Case proposes that the theater itself represents the taming site upon which Western culture is significantly founded, particularly in the Oresteia, which “Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millet characterize … as the mythological rendering of a patriarchal takeover.”22 Overtaking patriarchy, Shakespeare and feminism register a similar return of this repressed, in the theater but also in the university, complicating while placating, like Cleopatra, the patriarchal desire delimited or defined by this struggle over sexual difference—the am, finally, in Petruchio's drive to “tame” (“For I am he am born to tame you, Kate” [2.1.276]). For from the theater to the university the ubiquitous comic play of feminized O and patriarchal thing in the truly self-canceling moral of The Taming of the Shrew, “O this learning, what a thing it is!” (1.2.159), makes the play itself the lesson, and the playwright the Petruchio, of Hortensio's (and the spectator's) “Then hast thou taught Hortensio to be untoward” (4.5.79)—Lucentio's “fair Padua, nursery of arts” (1.1.2). So teaching, the main part of feminist criticism of The Taming of the Shrew works to make Kate's final speech not more but less “domesticated.” For the difference between doing and saying in the theater (dramatic irony) is also the difference, sexual difference, between saying and doing in the university (Socratic irony). In Shakespeare's England the very exclusion of actresses, in sharp contrast to their presence on the Continental stage, partly reflects the powerful shaping influence of the all-male universities of Cambridge and Oxford on the emerging national theater, Petruchio “Kated.” Shakespeare's strong female characters such as Kate thus strike strong blows against the academy, admitting or accepting such women even when, especially when, “tamed.” From the frame to the play, in turn, the irony entails first an irony of form; in The Merchant of Venice the ironic (revisionist) reading of Shylock's trial scene nowhere more compellingly inheres than when, in a wholly other context and on the level of form, Bassanio rejects the gold casket because “In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt / But, being seasoned with a gracious voice, / Obscures the show of evil?” (3.2.75-77), adding: “Look on beauty, / And you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight” (88-89). In The Taming of the Shrew a still more elaborate formal irony extends the play's patriarchal moral to its own Petruchio-like reception in much the way that a certain commercial self-consciousness joins Shakespeare to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, or Shakespeare to Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida. Hence the final spelling of shrow for shrew in the closing couplet of The Taming of the Shrew, not for the rhyme but for the signature pun on show—as a parting remark, like Puck's “Give me your hands” or Pandarus's “And at that time bequeath you my diseases,” to an audience reaching beyond the thou, Petruchio, who has already grandly exited on “God give you good night!”:

Hortensio: Now go thy ways,
thou hast tamed a curst shrow.
Lucentio: ’Tis a wonder, by
your leave, she will be tamed so.


  1. See Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 65-68.

  2. On the Lord's “twenty pound” and Petruchio's “Twenty crowns,” see Dorothea Kehler, “Echoes of the Induction in The Taming of the Shrew,Renaissance Papers (1986): 36, 39; and Margie Burns, “The Ending of the Shrew,” Shakespeare Studies 18 (1986): 45. According to Kehler, “The precision of this second echo makes unmistakable the significant thematic link between the Induction and the play proper, delineating the action of taming at its most crass” (40). Burns mentions the actor Will Sly and his possible relation to the character Christopher Sly in a note (63 n. 20). On the names Christopher and Katherine, see Laurie E. Maguire, “‘Household Kates’: Chez Petruchio, Percy and Plantagenet,” in Gloriana's Face: Women, Public and Private, in the English Renaissance, ed. S. P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1992), 131-33.

  3. As Thomas Moisan observes of Bianca's Latin lesson on old Priam turned gulled Baptista, “the translation scene epitomizes the uses, or misuses, to which education and formal ‘learning’ are put throughout the play, with educational projects and the value of learning invoked only to be genially disregarded, subordinated to other plans, or simply, and just as genially, trashed, the ridicule to which they are subjected personified in the stock figure of the hapless, and perhaps spurious, ‘Pedant’ who fecklessly wanders into the play in time to provide fodder for one of the ‘wily servant’ Tranio's schemes” (“Interlinear Trysting and ‘Household Stuff’: The Latin Lesson and the Domestication of Learning in The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Studies 23 [1995]: 103-4).

  4. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, trans. J. M. Cohen (New York: Penguin, 1950), 75.

  5. In Joyce's Ulysses Stephen Dedalus offers an autobiographical reading of The Taming of the Shrew that might be further supported by the Induction's various allusions to Stratford, citizens then living in Stratford, and the environs—the notorious “Ann hath-a-way,” following sonnet 145's “I hate from hate away she threw, / And saved my life saying, ‘not you,’” in “Burton Heath” (Ind.2.18) and “Marian Hacket” (21-22); James Joyce, Ulysses (New York: Random House, 1986), 157; Booth, Shakespeare's Sonnets, 501.

  6. Herbert A. Ellis, Shakespeare's Lusty Punning in Love's Labour's Lost (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), 164. Ellis suggests a possible further play on more L, moral, and morall, a phallic mushroom.

  7. Both Love's Labour's Lost and The Taming of the Shrew, in this regard, are closer still to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which ends rather than begins with the problematic taming of its Amazonian Dian—Grumio's “Katherine the curst [Elizabeth the First]” (1.2.129). The seasonal difference superimposed over the play's battle of the sexes (Kate's “It blots thy beauty, as frosts do bite the meads” [5.2.139]) further underwrites Titania's “And thorough this distemperature, we see / The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts / Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose” (2.1.106-8).

  8. The moral Pandarus draws, that the play has now subsumed the sexual difference around which it is written and may therefore end, further recalls, from Full to fail, the more L of Love's Labour's Lost: “What verse for it? What instance for it? Let me see:

    Full merrily the humble-bee doth sing,
    Till he hath lost his honey and his sting;
    And being once subdued in armed tail,
    Sweet honey and sweet notes together fail.”


  9. An earlier version of this chapter was presented under the title “The Shaming of the True” as part of a seminar organized by Barbara Freedman for the 1992 Shakespeare Association of America convention. My thanks to her and other conference participants for helpful suggestions.

  10. Nevill Coghill, “The Basis of Shakespearean Comedy,” Essays and Studies (1950): 11. See Margaret Webster, Shakespeare without Tears (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1942), 142. It was Webster's great-grandfather Ben Webster who in 1844 first restored Shakespeare's original Taming of the Shrew after David Garrick's shorter and simpler version had held the stage for ninety years; see Webster's “Director's Comments” in Tori Haring-Smith, From Farce to Melodrama: A Stage History of The Taming of the Shrew (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), 44-45.

  11. I consider the special place of Poe's “Purloined Letter” in the theater-theory continuum set forth here in “The Figure-Power Dialectic: Poe's ‘Purloined Letter,’” MLN 110 (September 1995): 679-91.

  12. Richard Hosley, “Introduction” to the Pelican edition of The Taming of the Shrew (Penguin: Baltimore, 1964), 16. Coppélia Kahn, “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage,” Modern Language Studies 5 (Spring 1975): 89; reprinted in The Authority of Experience: Essays in Feminist Criticism, ed. Lee Edwards and Arlyn Diamond (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976). This essay, revised as part of “Coming of Age: Marriage and Manhood in Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew,” appears in Kahn, Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981): “in the last scene, Shakespeare finally allows Petruchio that lordship over Kate and superiority to other husbands for which he has striven so mightily. He just makes it clear to us, through the contextual irony of Kate's last speech, that his mastery is an illusion” (114). Roger L. Cox, Shakespeare's Comic Changes: The Time-Lapse Metaphor as Plot Device (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991), 61-62.

  13. Robert B. Heilman, “The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew,” Modern Language Quarterly 27 (1966): 151.

  14. Richard Levin, New Readings vs. Old Plays: Recent Trends in the Reinterpretation of English Renaissance Drama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 134; Peter Saccio, “Shrewd and Kindly Farce,” Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1984): 39; Camille Wells Slights, Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 52.

  15. Jonathan Hall, Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-State (Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995), 158; Natasha Korda, “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (Summer 1996): 130-31.

  16. Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 42.

  17. Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (New York: Routledge, 1992), 17.

  18. Barbara Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 146.

  19. Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (New York: Routledge, 1994), 44.

  20. Fineman, Shakespeare's Will, 139.

  21. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1990), 103.

  22. Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theater (New York: Methuen, 1988), 12.

Ann Thompson (essay date 1997)

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 Higher Education early in 1992.1 This survey was widely reported in a distorted form in the right-wing popular press, which seized on the fact that Shakespeare was compulsory in only 50 percent of the institutions covered. A. N. Wilson's article on “Shakespeare and the Tyranny of Feminism” (London Evening Standard, 4 February 92) can be taken as representative of the generally hysterical reaction with its claim that the novels of Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker are compulsory reading for more students in British higher education than the plays of William Shakespeare. This is of course a ludicrous exaggeration, and the survey itself made no assumptions about any necessary antagonism between Shakespeare and women writers, but, while the same abbreviation serves (confusingly, in my notes) for both, W.S. (women's studies) is the opposition, W. S. (William Shakespeare) the establishment.

So what can feminist theory have to do with the editing of Shakespeare? Even within women's studies the role of feminist theory is problematic. There is still considerable hostility to it for two basic reasons:

1. It is seen (in its institutionalized form) as the exploitation, appropriation, and even de-radicalization of the women's liberation movement. Through women's studies, feminism becomes co-opted into the white male establishment, and its energies are misdirected into narrow scholastic battles.

2. It is seen as elitist because it is inaccessible to most women. It is in conflict with the popular and historical feminist stress on the personal, the experiential.

The first of these objections was discussed by Mary Evans in her 1982 essay “In Praise of Theory.”2 She argued that feminist theory has not been appropriated or co-opted because women's studies cannot merely be “added on” to the existing academic agenda without challenging and changing everything else. She quoted Maurice Godelier's paraphrase of Marx:

We might say that the dominant ideas in most societies are the ideas of the dominant sex, associated and mingled with those of the dominant class. In our own societies, a struggle is now under way to abolish relations of both class and sex domination, without waiting for one to disappear first. (“The Origins of Male Domination,” New Left Review 127 (1981): 3-17)

Feminist theory challenges patriarchal ideology and questions how “ideas” themselves are produced, assessed, and distributed in our society. Given the overwhelming dominance of the male sex in the editing of Shakespeare, Evans's argument implies a prima facie case for feminist intervention.

The second of the objections was the focus of Sarah Fildes's 1983 essay “The Inevitability of Theory.”3 She traced the emphasis on the personal element in popular feminism to the absence of other discussions of women's lives: feminists have been obliged to make use of sources such as diaries, autobiographies, even novels, as the only available forms of data on the experiences of women, which were otherwise ignored by the traditional academic disciplines. (One might also mention the importance of the personal in the influential consciousness-raising movement.) But the personal can be claustrophobic, a dead end in which feeling is privileged over analysis or action. Theory opens onto a larger, more objective picture. Moreover, it is not optional but inevitable: there is no escape from theory, as there is no escape from ideology. While you accept the status quo, theory can remain unconscious, implicit, but, once you begin to resist or challenge, theory has to become conscious and explicit. In the present context it is clear that a major aspect of women's responses to Shakespeare over time has been the personal one, in particular the desire to identify with female characters and to praise or blame the author accordingly.4 Without detracting from the validity of such responses, feminist theory can facilitate an analysis of how Shakespeare has been mediated and reproduced for women readers (and audiences) through the male editorial tradition.

For, as Gary Taylor says, “Women may read Shakespeare, but men edit him.”5 Apparently, no edition of the complete works has ever been prepared entirely by a woman. Mary Cowden Clarke wrote in the preface to her 1860 edition of Shakespeare's works, “I may be allowed to take pride in the thought that I am the first of his female subjects who has been selected to edit his works,” but she did most of the work in collaboration with Charles Cowden Clarke (who was incidentally her husband, not her brother, as Taylor calls him both here [196] and in Reinventing Shakespeare).6 In fact, the first edition published in New York by Appleton was ascribed simply to “M. C. C.,” but the 1864 London edition published by Bickers was ascribed to “Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke,” as were subsequent reprints. In any case the claim was a mistaken one: the distinction of first female editor must unfortunately go to Henrietta Bowdler, whose edition of the works (far from complete, by definition) was first published anonymously in 1807 and then under the name of her brother, Thomas Bowdler, in 1818. The most important female editor in the twentieth century was undoubtedly Alice Walker, who succeeded R. B. McKerrow on the old-spelling edition sponsored by Oxford University Press in the 1930s “under the condition that her work be vetted by a board of male scholars headed by W. W. Greg”;7 she never finished it.

The situation is not much different today. A survey of current editions of single plays reveals the following statistics: in the New Arden series (henceforth to be known as Arden 2), which has published all the plays except The Two Noble Kinsmen, only one play has been edited by a woman: Agnes Latham's As You Like It (1975). In the Penguin series, which has published all the plays except Cymbeline and Titus Andronicus, only three plays have been edited by women: Anne Righter (Barton)'s The Tempest (1968), M. M. Mahood's Twelfth Night (1968), and Barbara Everett's All's Well That Ends Well (1970). In the Oxford series only one of the nineteen plays published so far has been edited by a woman: Susan Snyder's All's Well That Ends Well (1993). In the New Cambridge series only three of the twenty-five plays published so far have been edited by women: my own Taming of the Shrew (1984), Elizabeth Story Donno's Twelfth Night (1985), and M. M. Mahood's Merchant of Venice (1987). It is still the case, as Taylor says, that, “when they do edit, token women are almost always confined to the comedies, usually to plays which present few textual problems.”8 In addition, it is notable that none of these female editors, from Henrietta Bowdler in 1807 to M. M. Mahood one hundred and eighty years later, would have been publicly recognized as a feminist. (I include myself here, since I had not published anything relevant at the time my edition was commissioned.) Would it have made any difference? Would more female editors have produced editions significantly different from those produced by male editors? On the existing evidence one would probably have to answer this question in the negative, but I would want to draw a distinction between female editors and feminist editors—between what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future. Presumably no one today would dispute that more female editors are desirable (like more female judges or more female members of Parliament or Congress), but what specific contribution might feminist editors make?

It is clear that it is much more easy for a female Shakespearean scholar to identify herself as a feminist today than it was twenty or even ten years ago. Feminist criticism is widely recognized and respected. It has been a lively and quite extraordinarily prolific approach: in his 1991 annotated bibliography of Shakespeare and Feminist Criticism9 Philip C. Kolin covered four hundred and thirty-nine items from the publication of Juliet Dusinberre's Shakespeare and the Nature of Women in 197510 to his cut-off point in 1988. I have even heard complaints that recent publications and conferences have been unduly dominated by the notion of “gender,” which as usual (but curiously) seems to be something possessed by heterosexual women, lesbian women, and homosexual men but not by heterosexual men, who consequently feel excluded. Yet it can hardly be claimed that feminism has had a comparable impact on editing.

During this same period, however, the practice of editing has been beginning, cautiously, to open up to contributions to literary theory more generally that might (potentially at least) include feminist theory. A series of recent articles in Studies in Bibliography illustrates this development as well as some of the difficulties that have been encountered. In his 1989 essay “Textual and Literary Theory: Redrawing the Matrix”11 D. C. Greetham argued that, despite the absence of an explicit debate between textual critics and literary critics, there has been some unacknowledged common ground between them. In particular, they have shared “a specific intellectual climate [that] made some critical and textual assumptions more likely or plausible at some times than at others.” Beginning with the observation that it is “no accident that the current ‘revisionist’ textual view of certain Shakespeare plays occurred during a period of poststructuralist unease with the fixed, determinate text of literary criticism” (1), Greetham went on to demonstrate that there has been greater “filiation” between the two camps than has yet been realized in their approaches to writer-based, text-based, and reader-based theories. In the following year G. Thomas Tanselle focused more on potential divisions in “Textual Criticism and Deconstruction,”12 which is essentially a belated review article on Deconstruction and Criticism, a 1979 collection of essays by Harold Bloom and others,13 in which he deplored the lack of interest in “texts” (as understood by editors) on the part of the deconstructionists and their casual equation of “textual criticism” with “literary criticism.” Greetham's reply to this essay, “[Textual] Criticism and Deconstruction,”14 cleverly read Tanselle's argument as itself a deconstruction of the text he addressed. This allowed Greetham to reread Deconstruction and Criticism in order to deconstruct Tanselle's deconstruction, looking as before for “congruence rather than difference, common cause rather than dissension, between the deconstructors and the textual critics” (14). He put special stress on the mistrust or suspicion of “authoritative” texts, long practiced by textual critics and now taken up by deconstructors, claiming “textual criticism has anticipated and domesticated the agenda of the deconstructors” (20).

Further contributions to the 1991 volume of Studies in Bibliography by Peter L. Shillingsburg (“Text as Matter, Concept and Action”) and G. Thomas Tanselle again (“Textual Criticism and Literary Sociology”)15 pursued and extended these arguments, making it apparent that at least some textual scholars are prepared to engage with theoretical debates and to attempt to articulate the thinking behind their own practice within the frameworks made available by the theorists. It is indeed impressive to me how thoroughly these scholars have acquainted themselves with the ideas, terminology, and characteristic procedures of the deconstructionists in particular, down to the level of Derridean playfulness with the signifier and jokes that cannot help being somewhat ponderous in this context: for anyone who finds both textual scholarship and literary theory hard going, Studies in Bibliography taking on Derrida has the air of a scholarly equivalent of “Godzilla Meets King Kong!”

These writers are not Shakespeare scholars; Greetham, for example, works on medieval texts, Tanselle on Herman Melville. Nor are they feminists, though Greetham does briefly raise the question of whether a feminist approach might challenge the traditional hierarchical structures of the presentation of texts in his essay “The Manifestation and Accommodation of Theory in Textual Editing.”16 They sometimes complain that their overtures are not being reciprocated: it has become obligatory for everyone in the profession to be aware of literary theory, while it is not yet obligatory to be aware of the finer (or even the cruder) points of textual editing. Nevertheless, I see this debate as an enabling one for feminist editors of Shakespeare. As feminists, we too have had to engage with theory (though our encounter has taken place in a different part of the forest from that inhabited by the deconstructionists), and we can surely take courage from the notion that textual critics as well as feminist critics are likely to be receptive to our work.

But what, in detail, is our work going to be like? I shall now attempt a brief survey of how a feminist approach to editing might make specific differences in the three main areas of an editor's responsibility: the text, the introduction, and the commentary.


Editors of Shakespearean texts have always had to choose between possible readings, and it is arguable that a feminist editor might make a different set of choices. In the case of plays that survive in two or more early printed versions, editors have to choose which version they see as more “authoritative.” This choice will depend on a number of factors including of course an argument about the provenance of each text, but an awareness of gender issues can contribute to such a choice in the present and help to explain the reasons behind editorial decisions made in the past. At the most obvious level editorial choices can strengthen or weaken the roles of female characters. As long ago as 1965, Nevill Coghill argued in “Revision after Performance”17 that, if the folio text of Othello is an authorial revision, one of the author's aims was to make the role of Emilia more important, particularly toward the end of the play. This did not have much impact at the time, but it was taken up again in 1982 by E. A. J. Honigmann, who added the observation that several of the folio-only passages are more “sexually specific” than the equivalent passages in the quarto, “that is, they add images or turns of thought that throw new light on sexual behaviour or fantasy, notably reinforcing the play's central concern with normal and abnormal sexuality.”18 D. C. Greetham would say that the intellectual climate in 1982 was more receptive to revisionism than that in 1964 partly because of the work of the literary theorists. I would add that the higher level of gender awareness was partly due to the work of feminists.

Another example of discussion of the potential for editorial choice in this area is Steven Urkowitz's essay “Five Women Eleven Ways: Changing Images of Shakespearean Characters in the Earliest Texts,”19 in which he demonstrates that the parts of Queen Margaret in 2 and 3 Henry VI, Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Juliet and Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, and Gertrude in Hamlet differ significantly between the early quartos and the folio. Also relevant is Beth Goldring's essay, “Cor.'s Rescue of Kent,”20 in which she argues that Cor. as a speech prefix at a crucial point in the opening scene of King Lear could stand for Cordelia and not, as editors have assumed, for Cornwall.

Othello, King Lear, and the Henry VI plays are all textually complex, but editors of apparently straightforward, folio-only plays also have to make choices. They are sometimes confronted with passages of speech that seem at first sight meaningless and need to be reassigned, relineated, repunctuated, or more substantially emended before they can be made to yield any sense. In addition to their reliance on relatively objective criteria (such as theories about the provenance of the folio copy and the degree of likely scribal and compositorial error), editors must of course attempt to understand the context of each letter, word, sentence, or speech and to relate what is happening at the microlevel of the language to larger patterns of coherence at the macrolevels of plot, character, theme, or message. We have all learned from the literary theorists that such an understanding is bound to be limited and subjective: we cannot stand outside the ideological baggage we carry, though we can at least attempt to be aware of the preconceptions and prejudices that may affect our interpretations.

In “Textual and Sexual Criticism”21 Gary Taylor discusses a crux in The Comedy of Errors that he claims has defeated past editors, partly because they were men who accepted the double standard of sexual behavior that the speaker (Adriana in 2.1) is complaining about. Thus, a gender-conscious male editor, sympathetic to the aims of feminism, can expose the sexist assumptions of previous male editors. It seems to me highly likely that feminist editors will discover many more examples of this phenomenon, and I am personally indebted to Taylor's work, but I am less happy about the last section of his essay in which he represents the process of editing itself through sexual metaphors, claiming that male editors favor “lightning strikes of ingenuity” rather than slow, painstaking efforts. He concludes:

Editors always engage in a particular kind of intercourse with an author's discourse: they engorge the text, and simultaneously intrude themselves into it. The male editorial tradition has preferred cruxes which offer opportunities for a quick, explosive release; if an emendation does not provide such a quick fix, it leaves editors feeling dissatisfied. But a crux like this one presents us with “falshood and corruption” which can only be overcome by “often touching”: prolonged exploratory attentiveness. Neither of these methods should have a monopoly on the text. A good editor, like a good lover, should be capable of both. (221)

While this is clever in its use of phrases quoted from the passage under discussion (“falshood and corruption,” “often touching”) and, I believe, the author is at heart well-intentioned toward feminist scholarship, it leaves us, like Taylor's more famous metaphor of editors as “the pimps of discourse,” with the impression that texts are female and editors (still) male.22


Male editors who have misunderstood the nature of the problem in the passage from The Comedy of Errors discussed by Taylor have also of course failed to pay any attention in their introductions to the larger issue of the double standard of sexual behavior in the play, which is endorsed most strongly by the female characters (Luciana in 3.2, the Abbess in 5.1) and which has been highlighted by feminist critics. Male editors have solemnly assured their readers that Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays undergoes a “comprehensive” education through his visits to the Boar's Head tavern, which enable him to achieve a “universal” or “representative” knowledge of his subjects, not noticing that this has involved an extremely limited experience of women. (Hal himself remarks on this deficit when he is required to become a wooer at the end of Henry V—one instance among many of Shakespeare being less blind to women's issues than his editors.) Male editors assume that sex is Ophelia's only problem: one remarked in 1982 that “her tragedy of course is that Hamlet has left her treasure with her” and that she has nothing left to do but “bewail her virginity.”23 A successor quoted these remarks approvingly in 1987, adding complacently that as a virgin Ophelia dies “unfulfilled.”24

A feminist editor of Shakespeare will in fact usually find that in their introductions her male predecessors have neglected, distorted, and trivialized topics that are of interest to women. She must interrogate the assumptions made about gender in the text itself and in the previous transmission and elucidation of the text, drawing on feminist studies of the ways in which Shakespeare has been reproduced and appropriated by patriarchal cultures. An interesting example of this is Elaine Showalter's essay “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism.”25 She sets out to “tell Ophelia's story” not so much from the text of Hamlet but from the “afterlife” of the character as represented in painting, literature, and psychiatry as well as in stage history. Ophelia has become the type, or icon, of female insanity, and her story changes independently of theories about the play insofar as it is determined by attitudes toward women and madness more generally. Hence, Showalter's focus is on “the Ophelia myth” that has accrued around the play and that affects our interpretation of it.

One could adopt a similar strategy in an edition of Cymbeline by investigating “the Imogen myth,” whereby the play's heroine became, during the Victorian period, “the most lovely and perfectly delineated of all Shakespeare's characters”26 and “the immortal godhead of womanhood.”27 What precisely was it about Imogen that brought forth these superlatives at a time when the play as a whole was not held in very high esteem? It turns out, briefly, that she is specifically praised for her total femininity, which cannot be concealed under male disguise, for the domesticity of her figurative language (she refers twice to her needle) and her actions such as cooking for her brothers and Belarius: as the actress Helen Faucit put it, “For the first time, the cave is felt to be a home.”28 She is also commended for her purity (unlike the problematic Isabella in Measure for Measure, she calls out for help as soon as she recognizes the language of seduction), her complete obedience to her husband even when he orders her death, and for the magnanimity with which she gives up her right of succession to the kingdom once her long-lost brothers are found. “Conjugal tenderness” is said to be her dominant quality, and she is often described as “matronly”: perhaps it is not surprising that three of the most celebrated performers of the role—Helen Faucit, Ellen Terry, and Peggy Ashcroft—all played Imogen when they themselves were fifty or more.

This approach could also inform and enliven a stage history, often a rather dull section of an introduction consisting of a dutiful list of names, dates, and places with little to interest nonantiquarian readers. With Cymbeline, for example, one can trace how the idealization of the heroine could only have been achieved by radical cutting and expurgation of the text, beginning with David Garrick's version in 1761. Explicit sexual references and references to all but the most “innocent” parts of the human body were routinely omitted. In the wager scene (1.4), for example, it became standard for Iachimo to assert that he would “win the love” of Imogen rather than that he would enjoy her “dearest bodily part,” and in the scene in which he returns to Rome (2.4) it became standard to omit Posthumus's blunt challenge to him to prove “that you have tasted her in bed.” Posthumus's misogynistic soliloquy at the end of this scene was often cut, as were Iachimo's references to prostitutes in his scene with Imogen (1.6). The purpose of Cloten's pursuit of the heroine was altered insofar as references to his intent to rape her were omitted. After his fight with Cloten (4.2), Guiderius usually entered carrying Cloten's sword, not his head, and Imogen's speech on awakening from her drugged sleep later in this scene was shorn of its references to the body's leg, foot, thigh, and so on. She certainly did not daub her cheeks with the dead man's blood. Despite all this, Imogen's part remained central to the play, though the dynamics of it shifted according to whether the actor-manager of the time was playing Posthumus (like Garrick and John Philip Kemble) or Iachimo (like Macready and Irving). In thus attempting a gender-conscious approach to the study of stage history, a feminist editor can also build on the work of Irene Dash, whose book Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays29 considered the ways in which female roles in a number of texts have been altered and abridged in a male-dominated theatrical tradition.


Mary Cowden Clarke took a swipe at the male editorial tradition when she dismissed most footnotes as “mere vehicles for abuse, spite and arrogance.” Any editor who has plowed through the eighteenth-century commentaries will have some sympathy with the charge. As in the introduction, so in the commentary, a modern feminist editor can generate a refreshing amount of interesting new material simply by performing a critique of her male predecessors' work. The typical rhetorical stance of the male editor is aloof, patronising and overtly or covertly misogynistic. The feminist editor will again find that the editors are frequently more sexist than the text, both in what they discuss and in what they fail to discuss. I shall limit myself to two examples of each category.

To begin with sins of commission, toward the end of The Comedy of Errors the Abbess questions Adriana about the possible cause of her husband's apparent madness and establishes that it is due to “the venom clamors of a jealous woman” (5.1.69),30 Adriana having dared to complain to her husband about his relationship with a prostitute. This conclusion is reached after some very leading questioning, in which Adriana is made to convict herself of excessive and violent scolding. Her sister Luciana objects to the Abbess's verdict and defends Adriana, asserting, “She never reprehended him but mildly” (87), and she asks her, “Why bear you these reproofs and answer not?” (89), to which Adriana replies, “She did betray me to my own reproof” (90). This last line is paraphrased by a 1972 editor31 as meaning “She tricked me into recognizing my own faults”—a paraphrase that is quoted without comment (and presumably approvingly) by a 1987 editor.32 Surely this is simply incorrect? The line means, “She tricked me into criticizing myself,” and the context (not to mention the rest of the play) establishes that the criticism is not justified. Adriana is not “recognizing her own faults” but accusing herself of faults she does not possess. This misreading can, like Taylor's textual example, be attributed to the unthinking sexist assumption on the part of male editors that Adriana is indeed the one who is at fault in this context. The way they present their reading as an apparently straightforward paraphrase means it will all too easily be accepted by readers who are themselves conditioned by patriarchal attitudes and who assume the editor speaks with authority in such a matter.

My other example is from Othello. (Can one imagine anyone advising him not to criticize his wife for her infidelity but, rather, to put up with it quietly and even accept that it is all his own fault? Can one imagine male editors finding it natural to endorse such a position?) The problem here is with Desdemona's sensuality, and it was, sadly, a female editor in 1957 who, as Gary Taylor demonstrates,33 rejected the quarto reading of 1.3.251, in which Desdemona says her heart is subdued to the “utmost pleasure” of Othello, preferring the less physical folio reading “very quality.” The same editor argued in her commentary that, when Desdemona complains that if Othello goes to Cyprus without her, “The rites for why I love him are bereft me” (1.3.257), rites has nothing to do with conjugal rites. A male editor in the following year, whose textual theory committed him to following the quarto, printed “utmost pleasure” in 1.3 but explicitly expressed his approval of a later quarto reading at 2.1.80, in which Cassio prays that Othello's “tall ship” may soon arrive in Cyprus so that he can “swiftly come to Desdemona's arms.”34 This editor commented unfavorably on the more physical folio reading that Othello may “Make love's quick pants in Desdemona's arms” on the grounds that it is “out of character for Cassio and his usual attitude to Othello and Desdemona.” Both these editors seem to use their authority in their commentaries to take as much sex out of the play as they can.

As for sins of omission, I’ll begin with As You Like It, in which it has always struck me that the famous “seven ages of man” speech (2.7.137-66) conspicuously excludes women. After the Duke's introductory reference to “this wide and universal theatre” and Jacques's opening “All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players,” the speaker limits his focus to just one half of mankind—“each man in his time plays many parts”—and proceeds to delineate the schoolboy, the specifically male lover, the soldier, the justice, and so on. No editor remarks on this. Indeed, all eight pages of commentary on the speech in the recent New Variorum edition35 celebrate Shakespeare's ability to portray “representatives of the entire human race.” A feminist editor might note the invisibility of women here and perhaps relate it to the absence of actual women on the English Renaissance stage, a convention about which this play is notably self-conscious, especially in its epilogue.

My other example is from King Lear. At the beginning of 4.3 in editions that conflate the quarto and folio texts, a Gentleman explains that the army that has arrived from France to support Lear is being led by Cordelia, not by the king of France, whose absence is rather vaguely explained by “something he left imperfect in the state,” (3) which needs his attention. Editors do have something to say about this passage (which is in the quarto text but not in the folio), the standard explanation for the king's absence being that Shakespeare is cautious about making what is after all French military intervention look too much like a foreign invasion. This issue has been debated by recent textual critics who have disputed Shakespeare's need to “censor” his work in this way: see, for example, Gary Taylor's essay “Monopolies, Show Trials, Disaster and Invasion: King Lear and Censorship.”36 But a feminist editor might add that it is also crucial for the emotional effect of Lear's reunion with Cordelia in 4.7 and 5.3 that her husband not be present. One might even express concern at the way in which the play's ending encourages us to endorse Lear's appropriation of Cordelia regardless of her wishes or her other ties, ignoring our sense that she was right to refuse just such an appropriation in the opening scene.

Finally, it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when one comes to examine the traditional editorial procedures for dealing with obscenity in Shakespearean texts, an area that gives rise to sins of both kinds. Some editors simply try to evade the issue altogether, from Pope, who cut many of the lines Shakespeare gave to the sexually outspoken Princess in Love's Labour's Lost,37 to modern editors of As You Like It, who fail to comment on the sexual innuendo in Rosalind's speeches.38 In both cases the fact that a woman is speaking is significant: Shakespeare's heroines (including Desdemona in my earlier examples) are more frank and enthusiastic about sex than his male editors think “ladies” should be.

Frequently, editors use coy phrases such as “bawdy quibble,” “double entendre,” or the even more quaint “sexual equivoque” without spelling out what precisely is going on. They go to extraordinary lengths to avoid using “rude” words themselves, as can be illustrated from the English lesson scene in Henry V (3.4). One 1965 editor informed his readers that le foot and le count are “similar in sound to the French equivalent of English ‘four-letter’ words.”39 A 1968 editor volunteered the information that foutre means “coition” and that con means “female organ.”40 The year 1976 saw a regression from this brave outspokenness with an editor who remarked that the scene in general exhibits “some gentle humour in a number of mispronunciations” and that foot and count are “close approximations to obscene words.”41 A modern feminist editor would surely make less of a fuss about printing fuck and cunt and commenting on the kind of humor that is being generated in this scene between two women.

The sexual politics of The Taming of the Shrew have always been controversial. It is the only one of Shakespeare's plays to have provoked a theatrical reply or sequel in his lifetime in the form of John Fletcher's The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed (c. 1611), in which Petruchio, now a widower, marries again and has the tables turned on him by his second wife. (The implicit homage of such a sequel may have been one of the factors in Shakespeare's decision to collaborate with Fletcher in his last three plays from around 1612-14: Cardenio, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.) While The Shrew has been a popular play in the theater for four hundred years, its stage history offers numerous examples of ambivalence on the part of adaptors and producers toward its subject matter. As early as The Taming of a Shrew, the problematic quarto text published in 1594 and generally known as A Shrew, Katherina is given an aside in the wooing scene (the equivalent to 2.1 in the traditional treatment of the folio version):

She turnes aside and speakes
But yet I will consent and marrie him,
For I methinkes have livde too long a maid,
And match him too, or else his manhood's good.

(sc. 5, 40-42)42

Thus, it is made explicit, as it never is in The Shrew, that Katherina can see some positive advantage in marrying and that she is going to enjoy competing with her partner. But later the brutality of the taming is played up when, in the equivalent of 4.3, we get the stage direction “Enter Ferando [Petruchio] with a peece of meate uppon his daggers point.

Similarly, Catherine has an aside in the midst of the exchange of insults in this scene in Garrick's version (which held the stage from 1754 to 1844 in England and to 1887 in the United States):

A Plague upon his Impudence! I’m vexed—
I’ll marry my Revenge, but I will tame him.


And at the end of the scene she confirms this hint of a reversal of roles and adds further motivation in a closing soliloquy:

                                                            Sister Bianca now shall see
The poor abandon’d Cath’rine, as she calls me,
Can hold her Head as high, and be as proud,
And make her Husband stoop unto her Lure
As she, or e’er a Wife in Padua.
As double as my Portion be my Scorn;
Look to your Seat, Petruchio, or I throw you.
Cath’rine shall tame this Haggard;—or if she fails,
Shall tye her Tongue up, and pare down her Nails.


Garrick has here transferred some of Petruchio's taming metaphors to Catherine in an attempt to redress the balance between hero and heroine, but it also seems that it was he who first made a whip an obligatory stage property for Petruchio. Thus, from the beginning the theatrical tradition has simultaneously apologized for and exaggerated the play's misogyny.44

Male editors have also felt uneasy about The Shrew. In 1904 one found Petruchio's order to Katherina in the last scene to take off her cap and tread on it particularly offensive: “Though not intended to humiliate her, but rather to convince his sceptical friends, it always strikes me as a needless affront to her feelings … offered at the very moment when she is exhibiting a voluntary obedience.”45 Another in 1928 wrote, “There have been shrews since Xantippe's time … and it is not discreet for an editor to discuss, save historically, the effective ways of dealing with them … but … one cannot help thinking a little wistfully that the Petruchian discipline had something to say for itself.” He immediately withdrew this by remarking that Petruchio's method “was undoubtedly drastic and has gone out of fashion. … Let it suffice to say that The Taming of the Shrew belongs to a period, and it is not ungallant, even so.”46 A more recent editor writing in 1981 revealed his embarrassment about the play by having a great deal to say in his introduction about shrews as little furry animals and almost nothing to say about sexual politics. Both this editor and another one in 1982 contrived to take no notice whatever of feminist critics, who had by then already produced some stimulating new readings of the play.47

It is not an exaggeration to say that being commissioned to edit The Taming of the Shrew around 1979 and the experience of working on the play over the subsequent three or four years contributed to my becoming a feminist in a public, professional sense as well as in a private capacity. (I was simultaneously beginning to develop the first courses on women writers and feminist criticism at the University of Liverpool.) I don’t want to dwell on the final product, which was published in 1984, but I did try, especially in my introduction and commentary, to consider issues neglected by other editors and in particular to treat The Shrew as a “problem play” whose darker side has been acknowledged, consciously or unconsciously, throughout its stage and critical history. Perhaps I did not, by today's standards, go far enough. I was present at a paper given by Annabel Patterson at the World Shakespeare Congress in Tokyo in August 1991 during which, after some positive remarks about my edition, she said as much. I reflected then that some of the defects could be attributed to my lack of self-assurance, both as an editor and as a feminist, while others were due to the need to compromise with the wishes of the general editors of the series and behind them the publishers. Rather than conduct a backward-looking autocritique, what I shall do in the final section of this essay is consider briefly what I would do differently if I were editing The Shrew today, ten years after it was published.

I doubt if I would want to make any changes in the text itself, though I would of course need to engage with the choices and arguments of subsequent editors, notably those of Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor in the Oxford Complete Works and Textual Companion.48 The 1594 quarto text of A Shrew is so different at the level of linguistic detail from The Shrew that no editor of the latter play would be likely to emend the text with readings taken from the former, but I would want to reexamine my position on A Shrew itself and on the relationship between the two versions in the light of work published recently by Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey in the introduction to their reprint of A Shrew49 and by Leah Marcus in her essay “The Shakespearean Editor as Shrew-Tamer.”50 These discussions challenge the orthodox position, established by all three of the 1980s editions, that A Shrew is a later text than The Shrew and is to some extent derived from it. They also argue that A Shrew is a more “progressive” text than The Shrew in its sexual politics. Marcus contrasts the continuing use of the additional Christopher Sly episodes in the stage history of The Shrew with their suppression by editors and traces a depressing history of a virtual conspiracy to associate the greater realism and the greater commitment to patriarchy of The Shrew with the “authentic Shakespeare,” while A Shrew with its “significant ideological differences” is banished from the canon.

I think the ideological differences are less clear-cut than these authors claim, and their textual arguments for the chronological precedence of A Shrew are not immediately convincing. A substantial counter argument is advanced in Stephen Roy Miller's unpublished Ph.D. thesis, A Critical, Old-Spelling Edition of “The Taming of A Shrew, 1594,”51 which seems to me, after a very thorough analysis of the evidence, forcefully to reestablish the view that A Shrew is a deliberate (though not always totally competent) adaptation of The Shrew. Marcus misrepresents the editorial tradition when she says that editors have suppressed the additional Sly episodes when all recent editions print them, albeit in appendices. Nevertheless, her work and that of Holderness and Loughrey is interesting, perhaps especially to literary theorists, in representing a poststructuralist and postrevisionist attitude to the fundamental indeterminacy of all texts. The solution proposed by Marcus for editors—that they should print complete versions of both texts—is not likely to appeal to publishers of regular Shakespeare series (Routledge, the Arden publishers, are not prepared to contemplate two versions even of Hamlet or King Lear), but the text provided by Holderness and Loughrey will allow those interested to read the plays intertextually. In an ideal world we would also have a published version of Miller's edition, and perhaps the current interest in “not-after-all-so-bad-quartos” (textually challenged quartos?) will make that possible.

In line with what I have said here, I might wish to be even more explicit in my commentary about obscenity in the play, especially in the wooing scene (2.1) and in the final scene (5.2), though I was gratified to read in a recent essay by Thomas L. Berger that my commentary was the most explicit on these matters of the six editions of The Shrew he examined.52

But the major changes would come in the introduction. Many things would need updating, but I would want to do that along specifically feminist lines. In discussing more recent stagings, for example, I’d pay particular attention to those that have made some distinct point about the play's sexual politics. Two such productions were those at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in 1987 and at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1992. (The latter production transferred to the Barbican Theatre in London in 1993.) The Liverpool production, directed by a woman, Glen Walford (who incidentally used my text), gave the play a North African setting, which was apparently intended to emphasize the restrictions on the women who appeared partially veiled. While this was effective to some extent, it also allowed the overwhelmingly white British audience to feel a sense of racial and religious superiority, complacent in their assurance that the Western Christian tradition is more progressive in these matters than the Eastern Islamic tradition. The Stratford production, directed by Bill Alexander, was (I would say significantly) more interesting for its treatment of the Induction and the subplot than for its treatment of the main plot. (Leah Marcus should have seen it.) It used an extended and thoroughly modernized version of the Christopher Sly episodes featuring a group of thoughtless yuppies who remained onstage right through the play and participated by being required to play minor roles from time to time, usually as servants. In the subplot Tranio became a potentially serious rival to Lucentio in the wooing of Bianca. The main plot was disappointingly conventional (apart from the casting of a blonde Katherina and a small Petruchio), with hero and heroine falling in love fairly obviously at first sight, though the playing of the scene on the road back to Padua (4.5) as a straight love scene was novel. In general, however, this production seemed more interested in class issues than in gender issues—the first postfeminist Shrew?

Turning to the critical tradition, I would be delighted to find much more material now than ten years ago. In the early 1980s I was able to treat feminist criticism as relatively univocal, partly because the field was then dominated by the North American approach, which had developed out of psychoanalytic criticism and which was exemplified by Coppélia Kahn's essay “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage”53 and Marianne Novy's essay “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew.54 Now I would want to explore the pluralism of feminist approaches and, in particular, the extent to which they have been influenced by American New Historicism and British cultural materialism. This would involve a more historical treatment of the play itself: I’d put it in the context of actual sexual politics in the 1580s and 1590s, drawing on recent work by critics such as Karen Newman in her chapter “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew,” in Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama,55 and Lynda E. Boose in her essays “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member”56 and “The Taming of the Shrew: Good Husbandry and Enclosure.”57 At the same time I’d want to pay more attention to the history of women's responses to the play over the last four hundred years, drawing on my own recent work in this field and on books such as Women's Re-Visions of Shakespeare, edited by Marianne Novy.58

While feminist critics have been becoming more historical, they have accused New Historicist critics in particular of treating issues of sexuality almost entirely in terms of power to the exclusion of gender: see Lynda E. Boose, “The Family in Shakespeare Studies; or—Studies in the Family of Shakespeareans; or—The Politics of Politics”;59 Carol Thomas Neely, “Constructing the Subject: Feminist Practice and the New Renaissance Discourses”;60 and my own essay “Are There Any Women in King Lear?”61 A contemporary edition of The Shrew would need to take on these debates as they impinge upon critical discussions of the play. It would also need to engage with the ongoing debate within feminist criticism itself between what one might call “apologist” critics, who want to “save” Shakespeare or even co-opt him as a protofeminist, and the more negative, or pessimistic, critics, who see him as quite irredeemably patriarchal. (In the former camp one might put Irene Dash62 and Linda Bamber, author of Comic Women, Tragic Men;63 in the latter camp one might put Peter Erickson, author of Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama,64 and Marilyn Williamson, author of The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies.)65

There are of course anxieties that focus around this latter position: If we conclude that Shakespeare's views on gender would class him with the reactionaries were he alive today, does that mean we shall stop reading or teaching him? This brings me back to “Shakespeare and the Tyranny of Feminism”: feminism as censorship. The very fact that criticism of The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a positive renaissance in recent years mainly because of the contributions of feminist critics, while other early comedies such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Comedy of Errors remain relatively neglected, does not bear out the charge. (One might also cite the feminist-inspired debates that are revivifying study of more problematic misogynists such as John Milton and D. H. Lawrence.) Personally, however, I am prepared to admit I have no intention of reediting The Taming of the Shrew: having toyed with Cymbeline for a while, I’m now working on the Arden 3 edition of Hamlet.


  1. The survey was carried out by Tim Cook of Kingston University for PACE, the newsletter of SCEPCHE, the Standing Conference on English in Polytechnics and Colleges of Higher Education. SCEPCHE subsequently merged with CUE, the Council for University English, to become CCUE, the Council for College and University English, and the publication is now known as the CCUE newsletter.

  2. Feminist Review 10:61-74.

  3. Feminist Review 14:62-70.

  4. See my essay “Pre-Feminism or Proto-Feminism?: Early Women Readers of Shakespeare,” in The Elizabethan Theatre 14 (1996), 195-211.

  5. “Textual and Sexual Criticism: A Crux in The Comedy of Errors,Renaissance Drama 19 (1988): 195.

  6. Reinventing Shakespeare (New York: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1989), 206.

  7. “Sexual and Textual Criticism,” 197.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Shakespeare and Feminist Criticism (New York: Garland, 1991).

  10. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1995).

  11. Studies in Bibliography 42:1-24.

  12. Studies in Bibliography 43:1-33.

  13. Deconstruction and Criticism (New York: Seabury Press, 1979).

  14. Studies in Bibliography 44:1-30.

  15. Studies in Bibliography 44:31-82, 83-143.

  16. In Philip Cohen, ed., Devils and Angels: Textual Editing and Literary Theory (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991), 78-102.

  17. In his book Shakespeare's Professional Skills (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).

  18. “Shakespeare's Revised Plays: King Lear and Othello,Library 4 (1982): 162.

  19. In Images of Shakespeare, ed. Werner Habicht, D. J. Palmer, and Roger Pringle (London: Associated University Presses, 1988), 292-304.

  20. In The Division of the Kingdoms, ed. Gary Taylor and Michael Warren (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 143-51.

  21. As cited in note 5.

  22. Taylor uses the phrase “pimps of discourse” in the general introduction to the Oxford Textual Companion (Clarendon Press, 1987), 7. It becomes more explicitly gendered on p. 60, where he gives an analogy from Harold Pinter's The Homecoming in which Lenny the pimp talks of a woman “falling apart with the pox”: when a listener asks “How did you know she was?” Lenny replies, “I decided she was.” Taylor continues, “An editor, in emending, decides a text is diseased.”

  23. The Arden Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (London: Methuen, 1982), 152, 151.

  24. The Oxford Hamlet, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 51.

  25. In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (London: Methuen, 1985), 77-94.

  26. Louis Lewes, The Women of Shakespeare, trans. Helen Zimmern (London: Hodder Brothers, 1895), 340.

  27. A. C. Swinburne, A Study of Shakespeare (London: Chatto and Windus, 1880), 227.

  28. On Some of Shakespeare's Women, by One Who Has Impersonated Them (London: Blackwood, 1885), 251.

  29. Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).

  30. Quotations and references are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

  31. The New Penguin Comedy of Errors, ed. Stanley Wells (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), 176.

  32. The New Cambridge Comedy of Errors, ed. T. S. Dorsch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 99.

  33. “Textual and Sexual Criticism,” 199. The edition in question is the New Shakespeare Othello, ed. Alice Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957).

  34. The Arden Othello, ed. M. R. Ridley (London: Methuen, 1958).

  35. The New Variorum As You Like It, ed. Richard Knowles (New York: Modern Language Association, 1977).

  36. In Division of the Kingdoms, 75-119.

  37. See Dash, Wooing, Wedding, and Power, 14-20.

  38. See Juliet Dusinberre, “As Who Liked It?” Shakespeare Survey 46 (1993): 9-21.

  39. The Signet Henry V, ed. John Russell Brown (New York: New American Library, 1965).

  40. The New Penguin Henry V, ed. A. R. Humphreys (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).

  41. The Macmillan Henry V, ed. Brian Phythian (London: Macmillan, 1976).

  42. Quotation and reference from the text given in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), 1:77.

  43. Catharine and Petruchio (London: Cornmarket Press Facsimile, 1969), 14.

  44. For further discussion of these and other examples, see “The Taming of the Shrew on Stage,” in the introduction to my edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 17-24.

  45. The Arden Taming of the Shrew, ed. R. Warwick Bond (London: Routledge, 1904), lviii.

  46. The New Shakespeare Taming of the Shrew, ed. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), xxxvi-xxxvii.

  47. The 1981 editor was Brian Morris, the Arden Taming of the Shrew (London: Routledge); the 1982 editor was H. J. Oliver, the Oxford Taming of the Shrew (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

  48. Complete Works and Textual Companion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986 and 1987).

  49. A Shrew (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1992).

  50. English Literary Renaissance 22 (1992): 177-200.

  51. Miller's thesis was approved for the doctorate of the University of London (King's College) in 1993.

  52. Berger's essay “Looking for Sex in All the Wrong Places,” a contribution to the seminar on editing at the International Shakespeare Conference at Stratford-upon-Avon in August 1992, is as yet unpublished.

  53. Modern Language Studies 5 (1975): 88-102.

  54. English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979): 264-80.

  55. Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991): 33-50.

  56. Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 179-213.

  57. In Shakespeare Reread, ed. Russ McDonald (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994): 193-225.

  58. For my own work, see note 4. See also Women Reading Shakespeare, 1660-1900 by Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, forthcoming from Manchester University Press (1996). Novy's book was published by the University of Illinois Press (1990).

  59. Renaissance Quarterly 40 (1987): 707-42.

  60. English Literary Renaissance 18 (1988): 5-10.

  61. In The Matter of Difference, ed. Valerie Wayne (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1991), 117-28.

  62. Dash, Wooing, Wedding, and Power.

  63. Comic Women, Tragic Men (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982).

  64. Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

  65. The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986).