Give Shrew Its Due

In the kitchen at work the other day, a coworker tells me that he’s just returned from London, where of course he had to stop by The Globe.  I ask if he saw a show, and his response is, “I wasn’t really on a schedule that allowed time for a show, and besides, it was Taming of the Shrew. Maybe if it was Hamlet or something, but Taming of the Shrew?”

Taming of the ShrewWe generally agree that Taming of the Shrew is, at best, “nothing special” Shakespeare.  I refer to it as a Shakespearean sitcom, and compare it to a Seinfeld re-run that you see on the hotel room tv when you’re channel surfing.  Maybe you’re all “Oh yeah, this is a good one” or maybe you’re more, “Eh, seen this one a thousand times.”

But! A coworker hears our conversation and comes to Shrew’s defense. He calls it a vicious takedown of masculine roles in Shakespeare’s time, and that it is only the fault of modern directors who want to “move it along” and tend to skip or de-emphasize key scenes that cause the play to appear like the “battle of the sexes” romantic comedy it’s known as.  He says that when played properly, you completely empathize with Katherina because you see the kind of men that she’s expected to put up with.  When I push him for specific examples of key scenes he refers to the line of suitors that are introduced early in the play, by which I assume he’s referring to Act II, Scene i for anyone that needs a refresher.

Where do you stand on Taming of the Shrew?  Is it completely misogynistic?  A silly romantic comedy with a happy ending?  Or should it be taken more seriously?  How deep does it go?


6 thoughts on “Give Shrew Its Due

    1. Oh, that’s too funny. I can link it someplace if you’ve got one — I’m pretty sure I googled “free for reuse” images and it came up.

  1. I think Petruchio and Kate show a true partnership of equals. She’s ahead of her time, and the suitors she has to deal with aren’t ready for a partnership. In that show from a few years back, Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS, they did an episode on Shrew. The most interesting part of the episode involved the debate as to if the plot was meant to be misogynistic and disparaging towards woman or if Shakespeare was actually celebrating the non-timid woman with a mind of her own and showing that a true marriage is a respectful partnership. To illustrate the debate, they showed two actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company rehearsing how to play a scene. The text – lines for the male character Petruchio – is as follows:

    I will be master of what is mine own:
    She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
    My household stuff, my field, my barn,
    My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing;

    The way the actor read the lines first was in an angry, almost violent spitting out of the words: a man claiming her as his wife, his property, to do with as he pleases. When the actor got to the end of the scene, he broke character and admitted he couldn’t play the character like that because the audience would simply despise him. The actress agreed that those words sound harsh when read or acted in that context of the man overpowering the woman.

    Next, the actor asked to take what he referred to as a “bawdy” approach – a playful, sexual, grateful, “she’s beautiful and she belongs only to me” attitude as he holds her and kisses her neck as he says the speech. What a difference! Same words but so different in the acting. It was very interesting to see and hear the difference. It made me realize that the direction is critical to the play – you can “play” a scene in various ways. The text stays the same – are you happy or sad or mean when you say the words? This is proof that the plays are meant to be seen and heard, not read on the page. I don’t think reading the plays gives you the true sense of what they are all about.

  2. I really want Shrew to work. I cannot figure out how. I’d be curious to find out: has anybody seen a version of Shrew that they felt really killed it? I haven’t yet seen it come together in a way that made me go “yes! I get it now!”

  3. Traditionally, Shrew has been described as a comedy with a problematic ending–Kate’s speech at the very end.

    As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, interpretation is key and context should be the governor of interpretation.
    For instance, many think of Merchant as anti-Semitic. I don’t. The callowness and insensitivity with which he depicts the Christians, taken together with the humanistic pleas of Shylock (though he himself can also act inhuman, as do the non-Jews) properly performed, can leave a far different impression of what Shakespeare might have been trying to get across. Is it an expose of Antisemitism?

    Shrew is much the same. Although the general tenor is highly misogynistic in character, Kate’s final speech can be taken in more than one way, as can the ugly behavior of Petruchio and his male compatriots. Is Shakespeare lampooning the men?
    Does Kate surrender to misogyny? Or is her speech an understanding that Love may conquer all? There is also a possible element of high game playing in the speech. Then, the manipulated becomes the manipulator. And we know Shakespeare’s women are often much smarter than their male counterparts.

    Both plays are designated as comedies and, notwithstanding the serious elements of both, The Taming of the Shrew can be quite quite hilarious and enjoyable if done well; much more easily than Merchant can be treated as simply a ‘comedy’.
    I’ve done both aforementioned plays and assistant directed Shrew for an audience of approx. 2500 New Yorkers, the most jaded of audiences. All seemed to work well for them.

    In the end, the question should be: Did the audience enjoy it? If it also makes them think afterward, so much the better.

    PS: If I happened to be in London and had a chance to see Shrew, I wouldn’t pass it up. 🙂

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