The Taming of the Shrew is an early comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1590 and 1594. The play begins with a framing device, often referred to as the Induction, in which a drunken tinker named Sly is tricked into thinking he is a nobleman by a mischievous Lord.
The Lord has a play performed for Sly's amusement with a primary and sub-plot. The main plot depicts the courting of Petruchio, a gentleman of Verona, and Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate, and eponymous shrew. Katherina is at first an unwilling participant in the relationship but Petruchio tempers her with various psychological torments - the "taming" - until she is an obedient bride. The sub-plot features a competition between the suitors of Katherina's less intractable sister, Bianca.
Due to the existence of another Elizabethan play entitled The Taming of a Shrew, it is often impossible to give definitive facts regarding The Shrew's genesis.
The play's misogynistic elements have become the subject of considerable controversy, particularly among modern audiences and readers. It has nevertheless been adapted numerous times for stage, screen. opera, and musical theatre; the most of famous adaptation being Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.
The basic elements of the story are present in the 14th-century Castilian tale of the "young man who married a very strong and fiery woman". The play's subplot, involving the characters Bianca and Lucentio, derives from Ludovico Ariosto
's I Suppositi
, either directly or through George Gascoigne
's English version Supposes
(performed 1566, printed 1573).
Date and text
The subject of the performance and publication of The Taming of the Shrew
is complicated by the existence of an alternative version of the story, The Taming of a Shrew,
which is "now generally believed to be either a pirated and inaccurate version of Shakespeare's comedy or else a "bad quarto
" of a different play, now lost, which also served Shakespeare as a source.... While A Shrew
was printed in 1594, 1596, and 1607, Shakespeare's play was first published only with its inclusion in the First Folio
- Christopher Sly - Drunken Tinker
- Bartholomew - A Page (later pretends to be Sly's wife)
- Baptista Minola - Father of Katherina and Bianca
- Vincentio - Father of Lucentio
- Katherina (Kate) - The "shrew" of the title
- Petruchio - Suitor and later husband of Katherina
- Bianca - Sister of Katherina; the ingenue
- Lucentio - Suitor of Bianca (later disguised as the teacher Cambio)
- Gremio - Elderly Suitor of Bianca
- Hortensio - Suitor of Bianca (later disguised as the teacher Litio)
- A Pedant (later impersonates Vincentio)
- Tranio - Servant of Lucentio (later impersonates Lucentio)
- Biondello - Servant of Lucentio
- Grumio - Servant of Petruchio
- Curtis - Servant of Petruchio
- Nathaniel - Servant of Petruchio
- Joseph - Servant of Petruchio
- A Haberdasher
- A Lord
- Peter - Servant of Petruchio
- A Tailor
- A Widow - eventually marries Hortensio
- Hostess of an alehouse
- Huntsman of the Lord
Analysis and criticism
The Taming of the Shrew has been the subject of much criticism. In particular, feminists have attacked the play, and in particular the play's final scene, as offensively misogynistic. Others have defended the play by highlighting the (frequently omitted) introduction as evidence that the play is not meant to be taken at face value and the fact that Petruchio submits himself to the same treatment to which he submits Kate — if she gets no sleep on their wedding night, neither does he. One recent production by the American Players' Theater used part of the introduction and an added ending to avoid the controversy surrounding the play; in their version, the entire play is actually Sly's dream that he is Petruchio, a dream from which he is awakened by his shrewish, real-life wife.
Throughout the years, critics have debated the issue of the play's authorship. The existence of another play, The Taming of a Shrew, which surfaced around the same time as The Shrew, has led to this examination of authenticity. This play is described by Wentersdorf as having “similar plot lines and parallel though differently named characters” (202). Leah S. Marcus addresses this point of contention in her article “Levelling Shakespeare: Local Customs and Local Texts”. She discusses the idea held by some critics that Shakespeare authored both works, and that A Shrew is simply an earlier quarto version as opposed to the later Folio version of the The Shrew. However, she notes that some critics have also taken a different approach to the Folio and quarto idea; they have rejected the idea of “A Shrew” being a work of Shakespeare’s. She states that the reason for this, apart from the many differences in the text, is “because it identifies the acting company with an audience of lowlifes like Sly” (172). Marcus writes that this is seen by editors as out of character for Shakespeare, and, therefore, it is a blatant indication that he did not write A Shrew. Karl P. Wentersdorf introduces the idea that both plays were penned by Shakespeare, but A Shrew may have been abridged, which would explain the differences between the two versions. Christopher Sly, for instance, has a greater role in the quarto text, but departs prematurely from the Folio. Wentersdorf admits, though, that his theory is mostly based on speculation so there is no way of knowing for certain why Sly disappeared from the later text (214).
Other critics in the 20th century, such as Mikhail Morozov, have maintained the idea that Shakespeare may not have been entirely original in his writing of the play, suggesting that the ideas from The Taming of a Shrew were those of another author (Makaryk 286). Also, in discussing Shakespeare’s other plays, the critic Kenneth Muir declares that he did in fact borrow content from other authors, and cites The Taming of the Shrew as an instance of this (28).
The history of criticism of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is saturated with controversy. Many people today might assume that the play was easily and well received by all in Shakespeare’s time, based on prevailing societal oppression of women. On the contrary, a significant number of critics as well as audience in Elizabethan England were similarly taken aback by the play’s harsh, misogynistic language. “Since its first appearance, Shrew has elicited a panoply of heartily supportive, ethically uneasy, or altogether disgusted responses to its rough-and-tumble treatment of the ‘taming’ of the ‘curst shrew’ Katherine”. As “arranged marriages began to give way to newer, more romantically informed experiments” , people’s views on both women’s position in society and their relation to men inevitably began to change.
This transformation of society’s perception of women’s role, although gradual and minuscule, affected people’s reaction to the play. Shrew caused a certain tension in the conscience of the audience that is still present among viewers today. Response to Shrew “is dominated by feelings of unease and embarrassment, accompanied by the desire to prove that Shakespeare cannot have meant what he seems to be saying; and that therefore he cannot really be saying it”. Viewers are torn between their feelings of satisfaction with the ultimate “getting together” of Petruchio and Katherine in the end and feelings of mortification at the extremely misogynistic rhetoric.
Evidence of at least some initial societal discomfort with Shrew is that another playwright at the time, John Fletcher, felt the need to respond to Shakespeare’s controversial play with one of his own. Fletcher wrote The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed as a sort of sequel to Shrew, in which Kate has died, and Petruchio is remarried to a young girl named Maria. His new wife, however, decides to tame Petruchio; thus the tamer becomes the tamed. Although Fletcher’s sequel is often downplayed as merely a farcical mockery of Shrew, many critics acknowledge the more serious implications of such a reaction. For example, Linda Boose says that “Fletcher’s response may in itself reflect the kind of discomfort that Shrew has characteristically provoked in men and why its many revisions since 1594 have repeatedly contrived ways of softening the edges” (179). If audience were fully comfortable with Shakespeare’s original text, playwrights would feel no need to continually edit, reform, and rewrite some of the more brutal scenes.
After the 17th century, The Taming of the Shrew greatly decreased in both popularity and performance, compared to Shakespeare’s other plays. In its rare surfacing, the play was most often an adaptation of Shakespeare’s original. In the 18th century, however, there was a revival of The Taming of the Shrew, as it was once again performed the way Shakespeare had intended. “As the 18th century demanded a greater realism and a more authentic Shakespeare, both on stage and in print, a newfound admiration for Petruchio accumulated rapidly”. Incidentally, when playwrights stopped trying to rewrite Shrew to remove the gender-based tension, the play was more commonly accepted just the way it was. Viewers began to believe that Shakespeare literally intended for Petruchio to be the hero of the play, righteously yet humorously taming a much too wild Katherine. The brutality with which Petruchio “handled” Kate was overlooked in favor of a more trivial, joking nature.
Societal changes in the form of shifting gender roles in the 20th century presented both old and new problems to The Taming of the Shrew. For example, as women achieved higher social status with the feminist movement in the 1960s, wife “scolding” was seen as cruel and unusual abuse. These new, progressive views of women of course impacted the way critics viewed Shrew. “In short, Kate’s taming was no longer as funny as it once had been for some readers and spectators; her domination became altogether disgusting to modern sensibility”. In light of the contemporary awareness of relatively egalitarian gender roles, it is difficult to enact this play without some element of subversiveness. Two tactics are the most common in performing Shrew, while maintaining artistic integrity and coherence. One way is to “steep the play in irony, such as Columbia Pictures 1929 Taming of the Shrew where Kate winks as she advocates a woman’s submission to her husband”. The belief that Kate’s final speech, the most contested part of the play, is purely ironic makes it easier for the audience to stomach the shocking submissiveness of Kate’s words. Another strategy employed by directors is to emphasize the entire play’s farcical elements, such as relying on the role of Sly and the metatheatrical element.
In regard to these two prevailing methods of performing Shrew, there are still many various reactions to the play. As aforementioned, the range goes from those who see the play as pleasantly entertaining to those who are morally repulsed by it, and then there is every view in between. Although the undeniable controversy of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew causes constant quarreling and confusion, it is also the reason for the play’s continual intrigue and dynamism.
Language is central in the plot of The Taming of the Shrew
. Katherine is a shrew based upon her sharp tongue and harsh language to those around her. Petruchio aims to tame her language through his own rhetoric. Shakespearean critic Joel Fineman, suggests the language illustrates the differences of male and female language, and specifically the different types of female language. Shakespearean language critic, Tita French Baumlin, suggests Petruchio uses strategies such as linguistic disguises and lies to change Katherine's language. Baumlin also emphasizes Petruchio's rhetoric in addressing others and Katherine in order to be successful in his taming plot. Petruchio's rhetoric includes referencing Katherine to animals, specifically a falcon. The importance of language in The Taming of the Shrew
is also demonstrated through Katherine's final speech. Katherine refers to the traditional political roles and physical discrepancies to describe the relationship between a husband and wife. Phyllis Rackin, another Shakespearean critic, emphasizes Katherine's traditional and physical analogies in her final speech. Critic, John C. Bean, emphasizes Katherine's language as sincere. Overall, language becomes central in the plot of the play as well as Petruchio's plot.
Types of female language
The importance of language can also be seen through the differences in language between Katherine and other women in the play, specifically Bianca. Critic Joel Fineman suggests that female language is split into two types in The Taming of the Shrew
, good and bad represented by Bianca and Katherine respectively. Bianca is continually illustrated by her appearance using sets of images, motifs, and figures of speech; whereas, Katherine is heard. Lucentio says, "But in the other's silence do I see/Maid's mild behavior and sobriety" (1.1.69-71). Even Bianca's language is seen. Bianca speaks numerous times in the play, however her speech is metaphorically silent. Katherine is too vocal in speech; whereas, Bianca's speech is shown as the ideal for women.
Katherine's shrew language
Katherine first appears in the play as a shrew that often offends those around her with her language (1.1.61-65). Through this language she drives away potential suitors, family members, and friends. Some critics interpret Katherine as unhappy because of this. She used her offensive nature to "protect the vulnerable inner self from exposure, assault, and change." Katherine uses language to insult and discourage Petruchio. Katherine and Petruchio compete with their language.Thus it shows that they both use animal language to insult one another (2.1.194-230). However, it seems Petruchio 'wins'. This is specifically seen through Petruchio's forcing Katherine to switch the words moon and sun at the end of the play (4.5.1-22). Katherine's language drastically changes from the beginning to end. She at first defies Petruchio and his words, but later is shown through her language to succumb to his own rhetoric.
Petruchio's rhetoric to Katherine
Petruchio wants to replace Katherine's language with the language of a tamed woman. He renames her, challenges her verbally, treats her as an animal, and persuades/manipulates her into using his use of words. He specifically uses falconry language in referring to Katherine and describing his relationship with her (4.1.188-211). Petruchio is her master and he will train her to appropriately respond to him. Petruchio's use of puns on Katherine's name also illustrates the importance of language in the plot (2.1.185-195). He uses these puns to refer to Katherine as cake and a cat, objectifying Katherine. Petruchio is eventually seen as accomplishing his goal when Katherine tells Petruchio that she will use Petruchio's language (4.5.18-22). Petruchio creates a new world through new words for Katherine.
Petruchio's rhetoric to others
Petruchio often denies that Katherine is a shrew to others. Through this process, Petruchio further emphasizes the importance of his own rhetoric. Petruchio not only uses his language to change Katherine, but to also change Katherine's reputation. Katherine verbally lashes back on Petruchio when he attempts to rename her. Immediately after Katherine insults him, further illustrating her shrew-like language, Petruchio positively describes her (2.1.243-256). He also describes her pleasantly to her father to further change the perception of Katherine by others (2.1.290-298). Katherine's reputation as a shrew is a result of her language and reputation. Petruchio uses language to change both factors.
Katherine's final speech
Katherine's final speech has various interpretations based upon the language of the speech and the play in its entirety. Most critics can be split into two different categories of perceptions of Katherine's speech: revisionists and antirevisionists. Revisionists view Katherine's speech as ironic. Katherine was not sincere in her statements, but sarcastic. Antirevisionists believe that Katherine's language was sincere and that Petruchio tamed her. However, various readings exist. Some critics see the use of the traditional political language of physical references rationalizing the submission of wives to husbands. Others view the presence of the physical description of women during the speech, the historical context of boys playing female parts, and the reference of a man falsely being attracted to a boy dressed as a woman in the play within a play, as farcical. Others view the language of the speech written by a man, performed by a man, and viewed by a male audience as male performance of ideal female compliance. Others view the language of the speech as completely sincere. Katherine is "liberated into the bonds of love". The language is also important due to its focus on women's warmth and beauty rather than the traditional focus of her sinfulness. Katherine's language in her final speech can be viewed in many different ways due to its unique language. It should be noted that the performance of this speech may affect the interpretation.
There are several themes that critics believe are represented in The Taming of the Shrew
. One possible theme is cruelty (Krims). According to critic Marvin Krims, cruelty is represented more vividly by the aggression in the play than gender issues, which is another common theme (Krims 59). This theme is represented in the entire play, including the Induction (Krims 51). This section of the play prepares the audience to view a play that makes a joke out of the cruelty shown in many aspects and through all of the main characters of the play (Krims 51). Kate and Petruchio demonstrate their cruelty to others as well as to each other throughout the play (Krims 51-52). While reading or watching the play the reader or audience may find the actions that the main characters take towards one another comical, but if they were to consider two people in reality treating each other this way they would be appalled (Krims 51-52).Kate and Petruchio express cruelty in different ways, they nevertheless both exude cruelty. While Kate physically shows cruelty when she ties her sister’s hands together, bashing Hortensio over the head with his lute, striking Petruchio, and beating a servant, Petruchio takes a different approach, displaying cruelty through more psychological means. He does things like misunderstanding Kate on purpose, dismisses her personality by projecting his wishes on her, humiliating her at their wedding, denying her things she truly finds appealing, and being vindictive on their wedding night (Krims 52). The way that these characters treat one another makes Kate’s final speech come across as forced and put in place to cover up pain, and also as a final humiliation for Kate (Krims 52, 53). According to Marvin Krims cruelty is a more central theme than the common interpretation of gender issues because the play is a more broad representation of human cruelty, not just cruelty between the sexes (Krims 59).
Another common theme, according to critics, is gender relations. This is displayed in Kate’s final speech where she dwells on womanhood, and the role of women in marriage (Burns 46). This speech seems to simultaneously belittle women while also explaining the essential and central place of women in relationships with men (Burns 45). It makes sense that gender relations would be a theme as historians have claimed that “rebellious women” were a point of concern for men during the late 16th and early 17th century (Detmer 273). Related to gender relations the theme of domestic violence has a role in the play as well (Detmer). The way in which Petruchio treats Kate in Taming of the Shrew
in some ways makes domination of another, specifically one’s wife, tolerable, as long as physical force is not used (Detmer 247). While the mental dominance that Petruchio used could have been seen as a more civil way to dominate one’s wife it is still equally oppressive as physical abuse (Detmer 275).
Male perceptions of women
A theme that goes along quite well with gender relations is the male perceptions of women. An example of this theme, is displayed in Induction 1: Lines 110-121
"With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy
And say, 'What is't your honour will command
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?
And then, with kind embracments, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed
To see her noble lord restored to health,
Who for this seven years hast esteem'ed him
No better than a poor and loathsome beggar.
And if the boy have not a woman's gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears," (Shakspeare 11)
Here, the lord has just finished giving instructions to a serving man, to tell a page how to act like a woman, and Christopher Sly's wife. This clearly portrays the lord's view on how women should behave. According to the lord, they should be courteous, humble, loyal, and obedient. He also believes that they are emotional--crying is a "woman's gift". This is a great introduction to Katherina's outright disrespect for this portrayal of woman, and her rebelliousness to the society's values (of women).
In the Sixteenth Century it was permissible for men to beat their wives. Rebellious women were a concern for Englishmen because they posed a threat to the patriarchal model of a good household upon which Elizabethan society was built. Apologists saw The Taming of the Shrew
as innovative because, although it did promote male dominance, it did not condone violence towards women per se, an accepted practice of the time. The "play’s attitude was characteristically Elizabethan and was expressed more humanly by Shakespeare than by some of his sources,” (West, 65). Although Petruchio never struck Katherine, he used other tactics to physically tame her and thus exert his superiority. Many critics, including Emily Detmer, see this as a modern take on perpetuating male authority “…legitimizing domination as long as it is not physical,” (Detmer, 274). George Bernard Shaw condemned the plays in a letter to Pall Mall Gazette as, "one vile insult to womanhood and manhood from the first word to the last.
Many other critics, such as Natasha Korda, believe that even though Petruchio does not use force to tame Katherine, his actions are still an active endoresement of patriarchy. Petruchio, quite literally, makes Katherine his property. Two examples present themselves while Katherine and Petruchio are still courting. First, Petruchio offers to marry Katherine to save her from an impending spinsterhood because she has a large dowry. In Elizabethan society, a woman of age was expected to become a wife.
Second, Katherine is treated as an object when first they are introduced; Petruchio wishes to physically judge Katherine and asks her to walk for his observation; he is pleased with her “princely gait" and she passes the test.
Although Petruchio is not characterized as a violent man, his role still embodies the subjugation and objectification of women during the Sixteenth Century: “The object of the tale was simply to put the shrew to work, to restore her (frequently through some gruesome form of punishment) to her proper productive place within the household economy,” (Korda, 110). Harold Bloom, often accused of wishful thinking, reads Katherine's final speech as ironic, proposing that the shrew is explaining that in reality women control men by appearing to obey them.
The earliest known performance is recorded in Philip Henslowe
's Diary on June 13, 1594, as "the Tamynge of A Shrowe." This could have been either play, but since the Admiral's Men
and the Lord Chamberlain's Men
were sharing the Newington Butts
theatre at the time, scholars have tended to assume that it was Shakespeare's play. It was definitely the canonical Shakespearean version that was acted at Court before King Charles I
and Queen Henrietta Maria
on Nov. 26, 1633. (It was "liked.") After numerous adaptations and sequels, Shakespeare's play, uncut, returned to the stage in 1844 in a Benjamin Webster
Lily Brayton was a noted Katherine in the Edwardian era, playing the part in a number of productions, sometimes opposite her husband Oscar Asche and in the 1907 OUDS production opposite Gervais Rentoul.
Famous recent productions include the 1960 Royal Shakespeare Company production with Peter O'Toole and Peggy Ashcroft, William Ball's 1976 Commedia dell'arte-style staging at the American Conservatory Theatre, and the New York Shakespeare Festival's 1990 production starring Morgan Freeman and Tracey Ullman set in the old west. The longest running Broadway production was the 1935 Theatre Guild staging with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, which ran for 129 performances.
The first known adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew
was entitled The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed
, a sequel and reply written by John Fletcher
, perhaps around 1611. In Fletcher's play, the recently-widowed Petruchio is remarried to a bride who "tames" him with the help of her friends, driving him from his house and refusing to consummate their marriage until he promises to respect her and endeavor to satisfy her. When the two plays were revived together, in 1633
and in the Restoration
era, Fletcher's play proved more popular than Shakespeare's.
In the 1660s The Shrew was adapted by John Lacy, an actor for Thomas Killigrew's King's Company, to make it a better match with Fletcher's work. Lacy's adaptation, Sauny the Scot, somewhat inconsistently anglicized the character names and recast the play in prose. Most significantly, Lacy expanded the part of Grumio into the title role, which he played himself. Sauny is an irreverent, cynical companion to Petruchio, comically terrified of his master's new bride. The conclusion, in which the Katherine-character feigns death, is influenced by Fletcher's play. Lacy's work premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1667; it is known to have been revived as late as 1698. Samuel Pepys saw John Lacy's adaptation on April 9, 1667. More adaptations followed including Christopher Bullock's Cobbler of Preston (1715) and Charles Johnson's play of the same name (1716); David Garrick's version, Katherine and Petruchio, was introduced in 1754 and dominated the stage for a century; Herbert Beerbohm Tree staged it in 1879. Another version adapted by Laurentian University professor Dr. Ian Maclennan named "The Squaddies Shrew", sees the play set within an army barracks, performed by 6 males as soldiers or "squaddies", with the cast playing the roles of multiple characters throughout the play.
Operatic versions include A Cure for a Scold,
a ballad opera
by James Worsdale
at Drury Lane
(1735), Der Widerspänstigen Zähmung
(The Taming of the Shrew
) (1874) by Hermann Goetz
,The Taming of the Shrew
(1953) by Vittorio Giannini
, and the Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari opera Sly
A number of later works have been derived from The Taming of the Shrew
, most famously the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate
The earliest known film adaptation is the 1908 silent version
directed by D.W. Griffith
. The first sound version on film is the 1929
adaptation starring Mary Pickford
and Douglas Fairbanks
, with "additional dialogue by Sam Taylor
." The 1967 film adaptation
directed by Franco Zeffirelli
and starring Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton
is the most widely seen version of the play. Other film versions include: the 1942
Italian adaptation La bisbetica domata
directed by Ferdinando Maria Poggioli
and located in the XX century Rome; the classic 1952 film The Quiet Man
, in which John Wayne
, as an ex-boxer living in Ireland, "tames" his chosen wife, played by Maureen O'Hara
; the 1999 teen motion picture 10 Things I Hate About You
starring Julia Stiles
(as the shrew) and Heath Ledger
(as Petruchio); and the 2003 motion picture Deliver Us From Eva
The play's theme was parodized in the 1980 Italian comedy Il Bisbetico Domato (international English title: "The Taming of the Scoundrel") starring Adriano Celentano and Ornella Muti.
The earliest broadcast of the play was on the BBC
in 1952, with Stanley Baker
as Petruchio and Margaret Johnston
as Kate. PBS
broadcast a videotaped version of William Ball
's 1976 stage production on their Great Performances
series starring Marc Singer
and Fredi Olster
that was set against a commedia dell'arte
backdrop. In 1980, the BBC
produced a version of the play starring John Cleese
as Petruchio. The television series Moonlighting
also produced one episode ("Atomic Shakespeare") that recast the show's main characters in a comedic parody of The Taming of the Shrew
; The BBC One ShakespeaRe-Told
series sets the story in modern-day Britain, with Katherine (played by Shirley Henderson
) as an abrasive career politician who is told she must find a husband as a public relations
exercise. This modern version still has Kate stating it is a woman's duty to love and obey her husband, but with the requirement that he do precisely the same for her. The 2000 Brazilian soap opera O Cravo e a Rosa
was also based on the play (this title means "The Carnation
and the Rose
" and comes from a children's song about a couple of engaged flowers who had a serious "fight" -- which, in Portuguese, may mean either an awful argument or some physical confrontation). (
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