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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: October ::
Problem Shrews
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0713  Sunday, 21 October 2007

[Editor's Note: I appreciate the flood of responses I received from my 
query about staging _Shrew_ in the twenty-first century. I do not have 
the time to comment on all of them; however, I will take advantage of 
the privileged position and occasionally make comments within the 
messages themselves. HMC]

[1] 	From:	David Evett <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 12:07:26 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[2] 	From:	Bob Rosen <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 12:10:14 EDT
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[3] 	From:	Julia Griffin <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 12:21:34 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[4] 	From:	Dale Lyles <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 13:03:03 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[5] 	From:	Larry Weiss <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 13:03:30 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[6] 	From:	Sam Small <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 18:39:23 +0100
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[7] 	From:	Suzanne Rosenthal Shumway <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 14:02:06 -0400
	Subj:	RE: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[8] 	From:	Carol Barton <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 14:07:34 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[9] 	From:	Thomas Hunter <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 14:27:09 EDT
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[10] 	From:	David Richman <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 16:02:24 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[11] 	From:	Jinny Webber <
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	Date:	Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 17:16:39 EDT
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

[12] 	From:	Lynn Brenner <
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	Date:	Friday, 19 Oct 2007 10:55:54 EDT
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0706 Problem Shrews


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Evett <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 12:07:26 -0400
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

I think I've made this point before, but the BBC/Time-Life production of 
the play, directed by Jonathan Miller, with John Cleese as a thoughtful, 
rather introspective Petruchio and Susan Penhaligon as a sturdy 
Katherine no longer in her flush of youth manages about as well as any I 
have seen to minimize the abusive elements. An important element here is 
the visual design, full of echoes of the kind of domestic serenity we 
find in Vermeer. Well worth a look-see.

David Evett

[Editor's Note: I too enjoyed this production, which I have, however, 
not seen again since I read Emily Detmer's essay. What struck me the 
most was the conception of the play in terms of the Puritan ideal of the 
companionate relationship, i.e., that men and women can actually be 
friends and treat each other as equals. Revolutionary idea that.]

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Bob Rosen <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 12:10:14 EDT
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

It seems to me that Kate will rule her family and its macho menace in 
the 4th act (reality). It's the objective of a modern director and 
leading lady to make that fact clear during the play. In the interim we 
can enjoy the 'dueling' repartee.

Best,
Bob Rosen

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Julia Griffin <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 12:21:34 -0400
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

Perhaps Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed should become part of the regular 
repertoire too - performed directly after it?

It claims that Kate herself was never really tamed, either ...

Two years ago, a former student of mine, Larry Tremblay, "discovered" 
the lost end of Shrew, revealing that Petruchio has failed entirely in 
his boast, but is unable to convince his friends of this because Kate 
maliciously pretends to be tamed in front of them, reserving her 
unabated shrewishness for him alone. Larry discovered this in a lively 
mixture of blank verse, prose, and moralizing rhyme. I'm sure he would 
show it to anyone who was interested ...

Julia

[Editor's Note: Whether Kate is tamed or untamed does not mitigate the 
problem of the patriarchy's demonizing of her as a "shrew" from the 
onset. Beatrice, in her language Kate's doppelganger, is considered 
witty not shrewish. Barbara Hodgon, in her program essay, notes that 
"many of the derogatory terms applied to Kate-'devil,' 'froward,' 
'shrew,' 'scold,' 'wildcat'-come not just from hearsay but from men's 
mouths: is 'shrew,' then, simply (theatrical) disguise, gossip? In 
Shakespeare's later <I>Much Ado about Nothing</I>, Beatrice shares 
Kate's shrewd speech (Benedick calls her 'my Lady Tongue'); she, 
however, is considered witty-not quite shrew, not quite <I>not</I> shrew."]

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Dale Lyles <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 13:03:03 -0400
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

I agree that this play is extremely difficult for modern audiences. I 
directed it 8 years ago and at the time we struggled mightily with these 
very questions.

As I recall, our solution was that Petruchio-who after all tells us 
plainly what his goal is, so it can't be a scam-wasn't out to achieve 
dominance so much as equity. In the same way that one might bite a 
toddler who is given to biting his playmates in order to get him to 
stop, we proposed that Petruchio was deliberately overtopping Kate in 
order to awaken her to the effects of her own violence. Remember that 
she herself is abusive to all around her.

In this way, her "coming around" was not submission so much as a 
realization that it's really better to treat other people kindly and 
with respect. After that, both partners could relax and play games with 
everyone around them, especially in the banquet scene. Our Kate relished 
the chance to fling Bianca's goody-two-shoes' reputation back in her 
face, imprisoning her sister with the very social norms she championed 
against Kate. It was clear to the audience that Kate did not believe a 
word she was saying, and that Petruchio was applauding her every dig.

Dale Lyles
Newnan, GA

[Editor's Note: Whether Petruchio abuses Kate to teach her about her own 
abusive behaviors (and I believe the issue of Kate's abuse of others is 
arguable) or to gain dominance over her does not belie that Petruchio is 
nevertheless acting abusively toward Kate.]

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Larry Weiss <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 13:03:30 -0400
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

I am convinced that The Shrew can be presented inoffensively. There may 
be several ways, but the two that I have considered for some time are:

(1) Presenting Kate as ultimately triumphant, along the lines suggested 
by Carol Barton in her latest post to the Authorial Intent thread.

(2) Treating the main action as the knockabout farce it undoubtedly is. 
We must not lose sight of the fact that the main action is a play within 
a play, put on for the amusement of Christopher Sly and the gentles in 
the induction who are amusing themselves at his expense. The main action 
is almost classical Commedia d'ell Arte, and I would present it that 
way. (Several years ago the American Conservatory Theater did a 
production in that fashion, and it was quite effective.)  I would also 
restore the entire Sly frame, including the portions in The Taming of A 
Shrew which are omitted from the Folio text. (The current consensus 
seems to be that A Shrew is a corrupt version of Shakespeare's play.) 
In the epilogue to A Shrew, Sly returns in his tinker costume and has a 
conversation with the tapster from the induction. He tells the tapster:

...I know now how to tame a shrew,
I dreamt upon it all this night till now,
And thou hast wakt me out of the best dreame
That euer I had in my life, but Ile to my
Wife presently and tame her too
And if she anger me.

What the audience knows, and Sly does not, is that he has been mightily 
abused with an arrant farce, and the consequences to him when he tries 
Petruchio's tactics on his "real" wife will be far different. In other 
words, the entire main action could be regarded as an elaborate set up 
for the final punch line.

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Sam Small <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 18:39:23 +0100
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

There is much to be said on this sad topic but to be brief the modern 
age is wrong - the play is right. There are plenty, and I mean millions, 
of women out there who would love to love a truly dominant man. That is, 
not a cruel, unbalanced or angry man - but dominant.

Women like Kate are in this subdivision and will display aggressive, 
even arrogant characteristics until they meet more than their match. 
Read Kate's last speech. Don't ignore it. Take it to heart as a 
universal truth - just like you do with Shakespeare's incisive thoughts 
on jealousy, ambition and murder. I do.

SAM SMALL

[Editor's Note: I am not about to respond to the sentiments expressed 
here, and I would suggest that anyone who is moved to respond should do 
so privately to Sam Small.]

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Suzanne Rosenthal Shumway <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 14:02:06 -0400
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	RE: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

I participated in a community theatre production of _The Taming of the 
Shrew_ several years ago (2004), and we did have issues with the play. 
As I recall, we downplayed the most abusive elements of Kate and 
Petruchio's relationship, but the final speech by Kate was really 
tricky. I devised a solution which went something like this: Kate and 
Petruchio have an agreement to act one way in public, another way in 
private. Control is something to be shared between husband and wife. 
Dominant behavior on the part of the husband, submissive behavior on the 
part of the wife-these are to be displayed in public whenever necessary 
or required. By the end of the play, Kate learns that a well-timed 
display on her part will make the private world she shares with 
Petruchio more satisfying-indeed, will make it possible. This may not be 
good Shakespearean criticism, but made the actors feel much better about 
the scene they were representing.

Suzanne Rosenthal Shumway

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Carol Barton <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 14:07:34 -0400
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

I think it's possible to stage the play in this century, playing both 
Petruchio and Bianca as stereotypes (the bubble-headed bombshell and the 
domineering male). I do think that's how they're meant to be seen: 
Petruchio thinks (perhaps from past experience) that the way to conquer 
a woman is with brute force--but he meets his match in the feisty and 
intelligent Kate. Kate is totally self-centered and self-absorbed, 
unable to give of herself because she is unwilling to do so--and (to me) 
pretty used to making mincemeat out of the men around her by means of 
her sharp tongue and sardonic wit. She too meets her match, in a man who 
is no more intimidated by her than she is by him--and I think it is love 
(and respect) in both cases that "tames the shrews," and makes them 
learn to compromise. Were Petruchio to treat her in private as he does 
in public, he'd be likely to earn a kick in the family jewels--but were 
Kate to behave as his equal in public, she would humiliate him as she 
has so many of the men in her life (including her father). I think in 
that light, the last scene is a scam of sorts--but the joke's on the 
fools who buy into it, and are jealous of Petruchio's "domination" of 
the shrew. I think Shakespeare makes that clear by means of the 
reactions of the supposedly "docile" females to being summoned--they're 
still playing the power-game called "marriage," whereas Kate and 
Petruchio have reached a true accord. And they reap more than a monetary 
benefit from the bet--Petruchio's dignity is restored among "the guys," 
and Kate gets to lecture her supposed "betters" on what phonies they are.

[9]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Thomas Hunter <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 14:27:09 EDT
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

 >The idea of the scam was suggested in the closing moments
 >of this production but no suggestion of a scam before this
 >point was evident.

How about the Christopher Sly scam in the very beginning? Or did they, 
as usual, leave that part out because they, as usual, did not know its 
importance?

Thomas Hunter

[Editor's Note: Yes, no Induction in this production.]

[10]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Richman <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 16:02:24 -0500
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

I believe it can. There is no evidence in the script (defining a script 
as a blueprint or code for production--analogous to a musical score) 
that Petruchio is physically violent. Indeed, there is considerable 
evidence that he is not. The script affords opportunities for actors and 
director to stress physical attraction as well as considerable 
complicity in scamming the others on the part of this couple. The last 
speech can be played as Kate besotting Petruchio sexually and thus 
"taming" him. dmr

[Editor's Note: Concerning Petruchio's nonviolence, I will defer here to 
Emily Detmer, whose essay I mentioned. Detmer questions "the assumptions 
made by twentieth-century critics of the play who applaud Shakespeare's 
alterations of his shrew-taming sources without interrogating the 
politics of power and discipline in the play. Praising Petruchio's 
nonviolent coercive behavior as 'better,' even though it is no less 
oppressive, parallels the 'reforming' distinctions being made in early 
modern conduct books and sermons. Just because Petruchio never hits 
Katherine, or whips her and wraps her in the salted hide of his favorite 
horse, does not necessarily mean his treatment is better or less 
oppressive than if he had. An examination grounded on a better/worse 
binary diminishes or totally ignores the harm in the "better" treatment. 
If readers and teachers fail to take seriously the experience of 
Petruchio's abuse, and thus identify more strongly with him than with 
Kate, they risk complicity with an ideology that authorizes oppression 
as long as it is achieved without physical violence."]

[11]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Jinny Webber <
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Date:		Thursday, 18 Oct 2007 17:16:39 EDT
Subject: 18.0705 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0705 Problem Shrews

Here's one response to Hardy Cook's query about whether it is still 
possible to stage 'Taming of the Shrew' in the twenty-first century,' 
and his daughter's suggested scenarios: 'Her first suggestion was to 
have a totally unsympathetic Petruchio as abuser with the production's 
being an exploration of the Stockholm syndrome. Her second thoughts were 
to stage the play as a scam from start to finish. The idea of the scam 
was suggested in the closing moments of this production but no 
suggestion of a scam before this point was evident.'

This summer's Oregon Shakespeare 'Shrew,' directed by Kate Buckley, 
exemplified a version of Melissa Cook's second alternative (I would 
quite hate to see the first-this is a romantic comedy!)--with the 
addition of attraction and ultimately genuine affection between Kate 
(Vilma Silva) and Petruchio (Michael Elich). I've not read Detmer's 
essay, but have always seen in the play more than domestic violence. 
Yes, Petruchio comes to wive it wealthily in Padua. He also has a house 
to offer his bride and a widow's jointure: this is more swaggering than 
abusive.

In the OSF production, he and Kate feel immediate attraction, to their 
surprise nor necessarily delight, at least on her part. We do know she 
would like to be married rather than dance barefoot at her sister's 
wedding: it's just that the potential suitors are, to her, such asses. 
Petruchio is smart and an outsider-and he wants her!

The fun is that she can't be won easily. Yes, he breaks down her will, 
winning her consent by trickery and humorous force and then coming late 
to the wedding. If she detested the marriage and the groom, that would 
be pretty dreadful. Shrews in Shakespeare's time, according to the lore 
at any rate, were subject to all sorts of vicious 'taming', none of 
which Petruchio imposes on Kate-being put inside a horse skin and what 
not. Instead, he goes against convention in his wedding garb and rushes 
her away before the nuptial celebration.

When, bedraggled, they reach his home, in his treatment of the servants 
he mirrors Kate's behavior-with the effect that she sees how the 
servants feel. 'Patience, I pray you, 'twas a fault unwilling.' 
Petruchio keeps her from sleep-but neither does he sleep himself. When 
he speaks to the audience, 'Thus have I politically begun my reign . . . 
  ' I have seen productions where Petruchio chomps on a fat turkey leg. 
In the OSF show, Michael Elich picks up food-and sets it back down. If 
the falcon goes hungry, so does the falconer.

 From Petruchio's plan for them to visit Baptista's house to the end of 
the play, 'abuse' is not what comes across. Kate is not only the most 
froward woman in Padua, but also the smartest. She's getting herself a 
worthy and loving husband with a wicked sense of humor-so why not play 
along? Silva's Kate gets the point-and the joke: 'be it moon, Sunday, or 
what you please . . .  Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.'

When she kisses Petruchio in the street outside Baptista's house, it's 
heartfelt; their first kiss, the 'handfast' seal which, opposite to 
tradition like all else in this match, follows rather than precedes the 
church marriage. In that light, the dinner at Baptista's house is their 
delayed wedding celebration. Silva looked more proud than abused when 
she returned to the table at Petruchio's command, without even knowing 
he won a bet her new 'subservience.'

So from this interpretation, Kate and Petruchio are winning the game, 
and her speech about wifely duty isn't simply Kate's yielding to woman's 
lowly place. Silva's Kate reveled in her power: now she gets to use her 
sharp tongue to chide the other two brides and play with the audience, a 
confederate of Petruchio. Of course he won't let her place her hand 
beneath his foot: he lifts her into his arms and they go off, the only 
of the three newlywed couples guaranteed a happy wedding night.

This seems more game than scam (and there's imagery to support that, 
e.g. the game of bowls, IV, v, 24-25). But it is also the beginning of a 
life of peace, love, and quiet. Petruchio may add 'awful rule and right 
supremacy,' tongue however much in cheek. As Will Kemp was reported to 
have said, 'Everyone knows you can't tame a shrew.' Better to live with 
her happily-and with mutual respect. So yes, this play can work in the 
21st century. The OSF production got a standing ovation.

Jinny Webber

[Editor's Note: I need some more time to reflect on these points, but a 
slight correction - Melissa married a few years ago and is now Melissa 
Ralph.]

[12]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Lynn Brenner <
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Date:		Friday, 19 Oct 2007 10:55:54 EDT
Subject: 18.0706 Problem Shrews
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0706 Problem Shrews

Edward Hall's all-male company recently did a production of 'Shrew' very 
much along the lines of your daughter's first suggestion: a totally 
unsympathetic Petruchio as abuser with the production's being an 
exploration of the Stockholm syndrome. It played this spring at the 
Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Although certainly not without flaws, it was an eye-opening, riveting 
production. Here's an excerpt from one of the British reviews:

"There's scant wit in the verbal sparring between the brutish Petruchio 
of Dugald Bruce Lockhart - transformed from Sly - and Simon 
Scardifield's abused Katherine. Scardifield is, however, the 
production's greatest asset. As Petruchio sets about "taming" his new 
bride, the audience becomes witness to horrific domestic violence. When 
Katherine eventually capitulates to her husband, she is a woman 
destroyed, self-loathing and irrevocably broken. Scardifield's fierce, 
leggy Kate is dignified, agonised and finally despairing -the victimised 
moral centre of a grotesque and misogynistic world into which she can 
fit only through self-abnegation."

One of the most revealing things about the production is that it 
achieved this result without any distortion of the text: It's all there. 
By contrast, productions that try to present the play as a merry battle 
of the sexes-a cruder version of 'Much Ado'  -- often seem played 
against the text; or at least to skate quickly over its ugly side.

After I saw the Hall production, I wondered for the first time if 
'Shrew' doesn't have something in common with 'The Merchant of Venice': 
Both plays present the audience with ugly realities that are commonplace 
and socially acceptable. You can laugh along with most of the 
characters, with an occasional twinge of discomfort; or you can recoil 
in horror. The playwright holds up the mirror to life, letting you react 
as you wish and draw your own conclusions.

Lynn Brenner

[Editor's Note: Thanks for the stimulating responses to my query. -Hardy]

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