Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew

Jaz on The Taming of the Shrew

 The Taming of the Shrew is a story about the death of feminism.

Or is it?

Katharina, a fiery independent beauty, is married off at the first offer to rowdy, volatile fortune seeker Petruchio and morphs into a submissive, ingratiating wife.

Or does she?

Maybe it’s just me, but Petruchio and Katharina’s first meeting came off as rather flirtatious. The zingers come one after the other in quick succession, and if Katharina truly disliked him, she would have left the room immediately – she wasn’t one to sit and take it, not even for her father.

On the other hand, suppose she truly despised him. Why did she go along with the wedding?

Perhaps Petruchio intrigued her. Perhaps Katharina decided life would be more tolerable living with a rude, straightforward male than with her heartless father and egotistical, conniving and pretentious goody-goody sister Bianca for the rest of her life. Marriage was the only way out then – since Baptista forbade Bianca from marrying before her. Sadly, Petruchio was the only one who asked … and the only one likely to ask, ever.

Imagine having to live Katharina’s life. Ignored by her father, snubbed by her sister, known to all as “that shrew.” It would drive anyone into a mad fury.

So did her decision lead to the squashing of her independent spirit? Or was she merely playing along with Petruchio’s charade?

Truth be told, I haven’t figured it out yet, although I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. I enjoyed the play: it’s splattered with humor – on and off-colour – and catchy quotes.

“Tush, tush! fear boys with bugs!”

As for Bianca’s bevy of beaus, they’re amusing but tend to blur into each other. They serve only as foils for Katharina and Petruchio.

Liz on The Taming of the Shrew

I much prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies, and The Taming of the Shrew is quite a comedy. The wife-hunting scoundrel Petruchio is cruel enough to match the shrewish Katharina. Though I don’t care for Petruchio because of his overly harsh treatment of Katharina, I find the story entertaining and witty, and I enjoyed the 1967 movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Called a “battle of the sexes”, it’s certainly a battle of wits, and that’s a type of battle I relish.

The Taming of the Shrew has spawned at least two adaptations: Kiss Me Kate and Ten Things I Hate about You. If I didn’t already like The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate would give me reason to. The movie of that name, based on the Cole Porter musical and starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, is one of my favorites. In it, an arrogant stage actor puts on a production of The Taming of the Shrew and tries to win back his ex-wife, who plays the shrew—both on stage and off. In traditional Shakespeare fashion, there’s a mistaken identify in that one of the performers claimed to be a Howard Keel’s character while gambling (and losing). Two gangsters call on Howard Keel during the play’s opening performance to collect on the debt, and Howard Keel cleverly uses them to keep his ex-wife from leaving the show with hilarious results.

As the play is full of witty dialog, the musical is filled with great songs, like the beautiful “So in Love” and the amusing “Too Darn Hot” (performed by dancer Ann Miller) and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (performed by the gangsters, one of whom is Keenan Wynn, or, as I know him, “the bad, bald guy from the Fred MacMurry Absent Minded Professor”).

So, next time you’re in the mood for Shakespeare, check on The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate.

What are your thoughts on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew?