The next play up in the #ShakeTheStacks challenge is a relatively well known play The Taming of the Shrew. While most people might not even know they known The Taming of the Shrew, you might be familiar with the plot as it is been adapted into famous movies and musicals (Kiss Me Kate, Ten Things I Hate About You, and Deliver Us From Eva are all adaptations of this play). There is also a famous version of the play with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (Taming of the Shrew film)
If you’re not familiar with the adaptations or the play itself, the general premise is that a father won’t allow his younger, prettier, more sought after daughter Bianca to get married until her older sister, Katherine (Kate) is married off first. However, Kate is a strong willed woman who intimidates mostly everyone. I won’t give away much more. The play is presented as a comedy and has a lot of mistaken identity and subplots that Shakespeare plays are known for, but its actually pretty dark.
I was in a production of this play in 2007, and I liked it fine when I was in it. I feel similarly about the play over a decade later. The show is fine, its not particularly funny, more silly, but there are some great verbal sparring scenes between the clowns in the show. In this rereading of The Taming of the Shrew I found there to be a nuanced conversation about what it means to be a wife and a bystander in the face of domestic abuse.
Many people have said this play is sexist. Even the title implies that Kate is a wild woman (shrew) who needs to be tamed. Sure, that is sexist. I found in reading the play, Kate was not the villain, her suitor Petruchio was. He manipulates Kate into submission. He is both physically and emotionally abusive, using starvation, exhaustion and embarrassment to control her.
I would love to see a production of this play that doesn’t settle into the comedy and absurdity of the play, but really presents a man who uses torture techniques to control his wife. And more than that, the people around him allow it to happen, from his servants to his new father-in-law. We all watch as a man destroys the spirit and will of his wife, for no other reason than his own ego and own control. That is the play that Shakespeare wrote, or at least how I read it.
If you’ve not read this play, it is just fine. There are some great scenes and speeches and then there is a lot of fluff. The Taming of the Shrew isn’t all together anything special, but it is searching around a much bigger question of women and control, something I know Shakespeare deals with in his future plays. Plays I’m ver excited to get to as I continue to #ShakeTheStacks. Next Up, Titus Andronicus, I hope you’ll be reading along with me.
- Paperback: 113 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (December 1, 2000)
- 3/5 stars
- Buy The Taming of the Shrew on Amazon
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