Taming of the Shrew : The Christopher Sly Story

http://blogs.enotes.com/shakespeare/2008-03/staging-shakespeare-the-cast/ I always thought it odd in this play that they do the whole Christopher Sly thing at the beginning (convincing a drunk that he’s actually a wealthy nobleman watching a play), but it never goes anywhere.   I refuse to call it “a play within a play” on those grounds. The above post suggests, and maybe somebody here has details, that there’s apparently more to that story?  It would make a great deal more sense if there was some sort of closure to that meta-story.

8 thoughts on “Taming of the Shrew : The Christopher Sly Story

  1. But what *is* the rest of the story? The only bit I’ve ever seen after the introduction is a quick bit shortly into the play where Sly is asked how he likes the show, because he’s falling asleep.

  2. There’s an earlier play entitled THE TAMING OF A SHREW, where Sly’s story is told in full. Shakespeare began by stealing the character and the plot, then as usual went his own way and either forgot to close the frame or else that part is lost.

    We’ve used the close from the other play in some productions of Shrew that I’ve done, and it works nicely.

    I forget who wrote the earlier play, though I do recall Petruchio “taming” his wife by whipping her back raw and enclosing her in a salted horse-hide. Scary stuff. Though I’m sure it was a laugh-riot(!?!).

  3. As I mentioned in my blog, the Oxford Complete Works contains a real framework to the story, where the characters of Christopher Sly and the Lord who is tricking him pop back in periodically to comment on the play they are watching, but most of all so that Sly can continue calling for drinks. Eventually he falls back into a drunken slumber, is carried offstage and returned to his tinker’s clothing. After the close of the “Shrew” play, Sly wakes up and says he’s had the strangest dream. The tapster at the tavern where he’s drinking tells him he’d better get himself home quickly or his wife is going to be mad. Christopher Sly says that he now knows the proper way to tame a shrew, so he can take care of her when he gets home.

    Also, according to the Oxford, it is not clear whether it was Shakespeare who wrote his first or second, and who did the actual filching of the frame story.

  4. Ah, yes, the whole vexed question of “The Taming of _A_ Shrew.” Was it Shakespeare’s source, or was Shakespeare’s play the source for it? People argue strongly on both sides of the question, and, indeed, there has been much throwing about of brains. It contains a much fuller version of the Sly story, which is neat, although my usual taste is to cut the Christopher Sly subplot altogether (other people think I am a subliterate heathen for saying that). It also takes place in Greece, rather than Italy, and gives Baptista (well, “Alfonso”) a third daughter.

    I’m hardly qualified to hold an opinion, but my feeling is that A Shrew is most likely an adaptation of The Shrew. I could see Shakespeare moving a play from Greece to Italy, certainly, but removing a daughter just doesn’t sound like his style. If anything, you’d expect him to add characters when adapting a comedy–like in Comedy of Errors, where he turns one set of twins into two.

    In any event, if you think the Sly material is important, and if you think it suffers from a “missing ending,” A Shrew gives the only echo of this material still extant. But A Shrew is a very different play, and, contra the editors of the Oxford edition, I would not encourage anyone to read _just_ the Sly scenes in A Shrew–it’s not much closer to The Shrew than is “Kiss Me, Kate,” or event the Shrew episode of “Moonlighting.”

  5. In case Jennifer’s not tracking, Craig, I’ll point out that her blog is the one I originally linked at the top of this post. The one at enotes.com .

    Thanks for the added info on Sly and Shrew!


  6. I am certainly no expert and if it does turn out that there is some missing piece to the story then feel free to disregard what I have written here. But I read the Christopher Sly subplot as an echo to Katherine's story, a sort of broadening of the social implications suggested by this play. Sly, like Kate, is transformed completely and made to be believe that this is who he really is. In both story lines there is an element of playing with power. The Lord has power over Sly and completely changes his perception of himself just as Petruchio uses his power in his social role to change Kate from a shrew, to an obedient demure woman.

    I could be totally wrong, but that is the only way I can make sense of Sly.

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