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Short Shakespeare!

The Taming
of the Shrew

March 24, 2012

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
adapted and directed by Rachel Rockwell

What Critics Have Said

God hath given to the man great wit, bigger strength, and more courage to compell the woman to obey by reason or force: and to the woman, bewtie, a faire countenaunce, and sweete wordes to make the man to obey her againe for love. Thus each obeyeth and commaundeth other, and they two togeather rule the house.

– Thomas Smith, 1583

Catharines harangue to her sister and the widow on the Duty of Wives to their Husbands, if the ladies wou’d read it with a little regard, might be of mightly use in this age.

– Charles Gildon, 1710

The part between Catharine and Petruchio is eminently spritely and diverting. At the marriage of Bianca the arrival of the real father, perhaps, produces more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is very popular and diverting.

– Samuel Johnson, 1765

Catharine takes an occasion...of reproving another married woman in an admirable speech; wherein the description of a wayward wife, with the duty and submission which ought to be shewn to a husband, are finely set forth.

– Elizabeth Griffith, 1775

The Taming of the Shrew is almost the only one of Shakespear’s comedies that has a regular plot, and downright moral. It is full of bustle, animation, and rapidity of action. It shews admirably how self-will is only to be got the better of by stronger will, and how one degree of ridiculous perversity is only to be driven out by another greater still.

– August Wilhelm Schlegel, 1811

For the actress of Katharine, the wooing scene is the difficult point; for the actor of Petruchio, the course of the taming. The latter might appear wholly as an exaggerated caricature: but he who is capable of giving it the right humour will impart to this extravagance something of the modesty of nature.

– G.G. Gervinus, 1849

It might be suspected that The Taming of the Shrew was not altogether the work of Shakespeare’s hand. The secondary intrigues and minor incidents were of little interest to the poet. But in the buoyant force of Petruchio’s character, in his subduing tempest of high spirits, and in the person of the foiled revoltress against the law of sex, who carries into her wifely loyalty the same energy which she had shown in her virgin sauvagerie [wildness], there were elements of human character in which the imagination of the poet took delight.

– Edward Dowden, 1881

Unfortunately, Shakspear’s own immaturity...made it impossible for him to keep the play on the realistic plane to the end; and the last scene is altogether disgusting to modern sensibility. No man with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without feeling extremely ashamed of the lord-of-creation moral implied in the wager and the speech put into the woman’s own mouth.

– George Bernard Shaw, 1897

The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew, although Heminges and Condell classed them both as comedies, belong to wholly different dramatic types... The Taming of the Shrew is not a drama of the emotions at all. It is a comedy, or more strictly a farce, in the true sense. It approaches its theme, the eternal theme of the duel of sex, neither from the ethical standpoint of the Elizabethan pulpiter nor from that of the Pioneer Club. It does not approach it from an ethical standpoint at all, but merely from that of the humorous and dispassionate observation.

– E.K. Chambers, 1905

To call The Shrew a masterpiece is not only to bend criticism into sycophancy and a fawning upon Shakespeare’s name. It does worse. Accepted, it sinks our standard of judgment, levels it, and by leveling forbids our understanding of how a great genius operates; how consummate it can be at its best, how flagrantly bad at its worst.

– Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1928

The Taming of the Shrew has comparatively few images, but, rather the contrary to what we should expect, a high proportion—nearly one half—of poetical ones, counterbalancing the farce and roughness of the play, which touches of beauty. These are largely due to Petruchio, who uses close on one half of all the images in the play (40 out of 92), for he is a young man of keen perceptions, and observation of nature, and, when he chooses, he speaks with a poet’s tongue.

– Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, 1935

The trouble here is that Shakespeare over-reached himself—a noble error to which he was always prone—and that...humanity is always disconcertingly breaking in. Farce is no place for the depiction of human beings as they are in the round.

– M. R. Ridley, 1937

Our secret occupation as we watch The Taming of the Shrew consists of noting the stages by which both Petruchio and Katherine—both of them, for in spite of everything the business is mutual—surrender to the fact of their affection. Shakespeare has done this not by violating his form, not by forgetting at any point to write farce, and least of all by characterizing his couple. He has left them man and woman, figures for whom we can substitute ourselves, and that is precisely what we do.

– Mark Van Doren, 1939

The Taming of the Shrew belongs in its major plot to a...popular type of comedy of which there are traces in Shakespeare’s early work, comedy for the popular rather than for the courtly portion of his audience. The major plot is a refined treatment of the old farcical theme of the taming of the curst wife, but it is a mistake to conceive of the play n purely farcical terms. Petruchio is no wife-beater. He is a gentle, clever man of the world, a profound humorist and the best of actors.

– Hardin Craig, 1948

While a large part of the action concerns match-making and marriage, it is plain that the predominating conception of marriage is Roman (and sixteenth-century). Marriage is primarily an economic and social institution, and love has little to do with it.

– E. C. Pettet, 1949

It is not until [Petruchio] positively declares that the sun is the moon that the joke breaks upon her in its full fantasy, and it is then that she wins her first and final victory by showing she has a sense of fun as extravagant as his own, and is able to go beyond him...After that, victory is all hers, and like most human wives that are the superiors of their husbands she can afford to allow him mastery in public. She has secured what her sister Bianca can never have, a happy marriage.

– Nevil Coghill, 1950

The play ends with the prospect that Kate is going to be more nearly the tamer than the tamed, Petruchio more nearly the tamed than the tamer, though his wife naturally will keep the true situation under cover...This interpretation has the advantage of bringing the play into line with all other Comedies in which Shakespeare gives a distinct edge to his heroine. Otherwise it is an unaccountable exception and regresses to the wholly un-Shakespearean doctrine of male superiority, a view which there is not the slightest evidence elsewhere Shakespeare ever held.

– Harold C. Goddard, 1951

The psychology of the Katherine-Petruchio plot is remarkably realistic. It is even ’modern’ in its psychoanalytical implications. It is based on the familiar situation of the favorite child. Baptista is the family tyrant and Bianca is his favorite daughter. She has to the casual eye all the outer markings of modesty and sweetness, but to a discerning one all the inner marks of a spoiled pet.

– Harold C. Goddard, 1951

Though in marriage the dominant woman threatens proper ordering of a household, in courtship the woman enjoys a superior position. Courtship is not, then, very good training for marriage. Women who take seriously such lavish expressions of praise and worship as sonnet lovers heap upon them will not take easily to the altered marital situation.

– M. C. Bradbrook, 1958

Against the spirit of much of its story, The Taming of the Shrew emerges as a civilizing effort on Shakespeare’s part, one not essentially out of line with the spirit of his later comedies, which tend always to enhance human relationships, to provide for them a foundation of tenderness and mutual respect.

– Derek Traversi, 1960

There can be no question about the justice of his tactics, if measured by the end product, for he enables her first to see herself as others see her, and then, her potentiality for humor and self-criticism having been brought out, she is able to discover in herself those qualities he is so sure she possesses.

– Maynard Mack, 1962

It is well to remember that in the First Folio edition of The Shrew there is no mention at all of an ’induction’ and that editors...have disregarded the Folio and have labeled the first two scenes of the play as ’The Induction.’ To the editors of the first surviving edition of The Shrew, then, the prominence of an outer frame may have seemed less important to the play proper and the Sly material itself may have appeared as more intimately a part of the whole play.

– Cecil C. Seronsy, 1963

The Shrew is a play about marriage, and about marriage in Elizabethan England. The point needs to be stressed, because its obvious affiliations with Latin comedy and with Italian comedy can easily obscure its concern with what were, when it was first produced, topical and urgent issues in this country, coming home to men’s business and women’s bosoms in the literal sense of both words...There is, in fact, nothing inherently farcical in the initial situation out of which The Shrew develops; it reflects life as it was lived.

– George R. Hibbard, 1964

What happens gradually in the course of the play is that Bianca and Lucentio become more and more realistic, and the Kate-Petruchio relationship moves further and further from reality. Eventually the two lines cross; at the end of the play Bianca is talking back to her husband like an ordinary realistic housewife, scolding him for laying a wager on her docility, and Kate makes a speech urging all women to submit to their husbands.

– Sears Jayne, 1966

To see either of these love relations as Shakespeare’s view of marriage we must conclude that he saw the most vital of all human relations either as the act of buying an animal or as the act of beating one into submission. But the real key to Shakespeare’s moral commentary on marriage may perhaps be found in the third story...The Christopher Sly induction is absolutely essential to The Taming of the Shrew because it furnishes the frame of reference in which the other two plots are to be seen, and in this perspective the wooing of Kate is as absurd as the wooing of Bianca. We do not have, as some suppose, a presentation of two views of marriage, the one finally to be judged more valid than the other; we have the holding up to ridicule of two views of marriage, and as the Petruchio-Kate relation receives the greater dramatic emphasis, it is the one found most wanting.

– Irving Ribner, 1967

The subject of the play, the breaking of the spirit of a woman or man who had an evil disposition, was evidently a popular one during the last quarter of the century and is really, in the words of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, ’as old as the hills.’

– W. B. Thorne, 1968

Petruchio, with his rags, demonstrates that roles on the stage of the world, like the clothing any person wears, may be used to disguise or to reveal a person’s true character.

– Richard Henze, 1970

It would be simpliste [simplistic] to regard [Katharina’s] statement of total passivity at its face value, and as a prognosis. The open end of The Taming of the Shrew is Katharina’s mind, undisclosed in soliloquy. And so it is appropriate that the play should end on a faint, but ominous, question mark.

– Ralph Berry, 1972

If Petruchio’s conquest of Kate is a kind of mating dance with appropriate strutting and biceps-flexing, she in turn is a healthy female animal who wants a male strong enough to protect her, deflower her, and sire vigorous offspring...The animal imagery in which the play abounds is a prime reason for its disfavor with the critics, who find such terms degrading to Kate and to the concept of matrimony.

– Michael West, 1974

[Petruchio’s] aim is not the crude one of the traditional wife-tamer, or to pulverize the woman’s will as well as, in most cases her body. What Petruchio wants, and ends up with, is a Katharina of unbroken spirit and gaiety who has suffered only minor physical discomfort and who has learned the value of self-control and of caring about someone other than herself.

Anne Barton, 1974

Petruchio, Katharina and the Lord have a special vision, an awareness of life as a play or a game, that gives them a power to control not only their own lives but other people’s. They have a sense of convention, and therefore a power to manipulate convention, to create experiences rather than have experiences forced upon them.

Alexander Leggatt, 1974

The Shrew dramatizes the traditional Horatian view that the function of comedy is both to please and to instruct, achieving these ends not by directly imitating reality, but by creating exaggerated and distorted images of life which show Sly how wonderful the world could be and show Kate how terrible it could become.

– J. Denniss Huston, 1976

At the end of the Middle Ages and in early modern Europe, the relation of the wife—of the potentially disorderly woman—to her husband was especially useful for expressing the relation of all subordinates to their superiors...In the little world of the family, with its conspicuous tension between intimacy and power, the large matters of political and social order could find ready symbolization.

– Natalie Zemon Davis, 1977

This uneasy mixture of romance and farce suggests that Shakespeare’s own sense of purpose is unclear, that he is discovering possibilities of one kind of comic structure while working within the demands of another.

– John C. Bean, 1980

Bianca’s rebellion is perhaps the most optimistic sign the play affords us. Even the Good Child, in her new role as wife, calls such an exhibition of obedience ’a foolish duty,’ and refuses to submit. We can see where Lucentio learned to require submission, and we can guess that Bianca has learned defiance from her sister. But Kate herself is a living sacrifice to the pedagogy of patriarchal rule that holds her culture in thrall.

– Katherine A. Sirluck, 1991

The Taming of the Shrew appears to tame the critic more than the shrew. Its ability to contain us is vividly evidenced both in its onstage containment of an audience and in its success in engaging critics in debate. Whether Kate is a shrew or merely a misunderstood young woman, whether Petruchio is a bully or a philosopher, whether the play upholds or undermines degree, is farce or philosophical comedy, should be staged with or without its Induction—all are matters of heated debate in Shakespearean scholarship.

– Barbara Freedman, 1991

Looked at with sober late-twentieth century eyes, this is a story in which one human being starves and brainwashes another, with the full approval of the community. Cruelty can be funny—it is the basis of the "practical joke"—as long as one is on the dominant side, and no lasting damage is done to the victim. The Taming of the Shrew argues that the cruel treatment is for the victim’s good, to enable her to become a compliant member of patriarchal society.

– Penny Gay, 1994

Power is indeed in Katherine’s hands when she commands the centre of the playing-space. Three leading actors who have recently played the role comment that Katherine’s ’submission’ speech is the scene of her, and their, greatest theatrical power—’the play lands back in Kate’s hands. It’s her play at the end.’ So while there is no doubt that Katherine is subjected to power, it is also true that she wields an irreducible force of her own.

– Paul Yachnin, 1996

The Induction invites the audience of 1592 to decipher an anti-play that is an Elizabethan subversion of the conventional shrew-taming story. But the Induction likewise cannily predicts the play’s reproduction and reception four hundred years after its original performance: in our own time, under feminist scrutiny, the ’pleasant comedy’ announced by the Messenger in the Induction (authorized to call it a comedy, one supposes, by the players themselves) has increasingly been seen as a ’kind of history,’ an intervention in and interrogation of women’s history, and not at all innocent of politics.

– Carol Rutter, 1997

When one plays Petruchio there are, I think, roads that it is important not to go down. The text seems to say that you can be as cruel as you like, but if you really start putting on the pressure, being really cruel—for which you have the language and the structure of the speeches to support you—it becomes simply too dark and bleak.

– Michael Siberry, 1998

Katharina is freed from habitual shrewishness by Petruchio’s unrelenting travesty of such waywardness—a robust mode of farcical comedy which is tolerable because Petruchio is clearly acting a part, because he imposes the same privations on himself as on her, and because his underlying delight in her buried self becomes clear.

– John Creaser, 2002

I think these are two people fated to be together and they recognize it instantly. They are always inches away from falling madly in love and it is only Petruchio’s strategy that thwarts it. In his mind the shrew will be tamed by love rather than by abuse. I think it’s important that she not be a victim, that she not simply surrender to what’s happening to her.

– David H. Bell, 2002

Feminists’ long-standing obsession with The Taming of the Shrew might have been brought swiftly to an end if only they had known that John Fletcher had already relied to Shakespeare himself on their behalf. What is more, some 350 years ago the two plays used to be presented in a smug double bill—a dialectical take on the equality of sexes, whereby Petruchio eventually gets his comeuppance.

– Duska Radosavljevic, 2003

There is no longer a question of "taming"; this is a marriage, one consummated in couplets as well as quips. Attention now shifts to the unresolved elements of the love plot, and thus to the story of Bianca, who has been joined by a nameless (but wealthy) widow, the new bride of Bianca’s failed suitor Hortensio. And here we encounter the second reversal. For it is suddenly far from clear who is the real "shrew" of the play’s title—and even who is appointed to do the "taming."

– Marjorie Garber, 2004

Part of the problem, if it is a problem, is that many modern readers do not want Shakespeare to hold, or to have held, views that are socially or politically incompatible with their own; this is "our Shakespeare"...Evidence in the plays of "antifeminism" or of a hierarchical social model in which husbands rule and control their wives is not the evidence many contemporary appreciators would prefer to find.

– Marjorie Garber, 2004

Katherine in The Shrew is the most obvious Shakespeare example of an abused woman. Although New Criticism may interpret Petruchio’s contradictions...as a game, a loving tease with the positive psychological aim of behavior modification, in the twenty-first century it is difficult to find the subjugation of a woman a suitable subject for comic treatment.

– Laurie E. Maguire, 2004

What Katherine actually declares to the other wives is on par with arguments put forward by sixteenth-century Protestant reformers, who held that marriage should be a union of like-minded belief, not domestic tyranny.

– Andrew Dickson, 2005

Beginning with The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare uses hawking metaphors to suggest that a husband tame his haggard like wife as a falconer would his bird.

– Sean Benson, 2006

On one hand, [The Taming of the Shrew] is a classic "battle of the sexes" comedy, a romantic fantasy in which true love tempers the most combative of pairs. On the other, it is an assault on assertive women, a misogynist fantasy in which the "hero" starves and mentally tortures his wife into submission.

– Ben Fisler, 2007

Rather than condemning Katharina’s violence or self-assertion entirely, Petruchio redirects her claims to mastery away from him. The two remain equals with regard to their desire to domineer over their own servants and the outside world. Katharina recognizes only Petruchio as her superior. In a fairytale logic, then, Petruchio seems to get a wife who is a sheep with him and a shrew to servants and other women.

– Fran Dolan, 2008

We might imagine a Petruchio who is routinely violent or one who, in collusion with his servants, stages his own volatility to taming effect. But there is no question that the violence the text describes and implies is directed largely at Petruchio’s subordinates. While it is "not aimed at Kate," she responds as if she is under threat.

– Fran Dolan, 2008

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