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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: January ::
SBReviews_13: B&N The Taming of the Shrew
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0005   Friday, 7 January 2011

From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Friday, January 7, 2011       
Subject:      SBReviews_13: B&N The Taming of the Shrew

SBReviews_13:

William Shakespeare. _The Taming of the Shrew_. Ed. Nicholas F. Radel & David Scott Kastan. New 
York: Barnes and Noble Shakespeare, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-1411400412; pp.335. US$6.95.

Reviewed by Ann Pleiss Morris, English Ph.D. Candidate, University of Iowa, M.Litt in Shakespeare 
and Renaissance Literature in Performance, Mary Baldwin College 

I am approaching the Barnes and Noble edition of _The Taming of the Shrew_, edited by Radel and 
Kastan, from a pedagogical perspective, conceding that this is an edition of the play meant for those 
with only a cursory knowledge of Shakespeare.  The eight essays included in this text introduce the 
playwright to his readers, whether they are students learning in a classroom or individuals browsing 
the drama section of their local retail store.  The Barnes and Noble Shakespeare series appears to be 
designed to compete with the Signet Classic Editions, the Folger Editions, and the Penguin Editions 
of Shakespeare.  These inexpensive, concisely annotated, single-play texts are well suited for high 
school classrooms, general education of literature courses, or survey courses.  The Barnes and Noble 
edition of _The Taming of the Shrew_ is applicable to all of these situations and, in addition, offers a 
variety of introductory materials appropriate to a broad spectrum of classroom requirements.

Delving into the gender issues of Shakespeare's _The Taming of the Shrew_ presents challenges for 
both teachers and students.  How do we make sense of the patriarchal culture from which the text 
emerges?  How do we address the influence that gender studies has had on the recent critical and 
artistic interpretations of the text?  Moreover, what does the continued popularity of the play say 
about today's gender politics?  Nicholas F. Radel's introduction to the Barnes and Noble edition of 
_The Taming of the Shrew_ grapples with these questions.  He asserts that _Shrew_ "is not a simple 
rehearsal of history.  What makes it continue to be popular and compelling to playgoers and readers 
is not its antiquated vision of hierarchical family relations . . . .  Rather, it is Shakespeare's brilliant 
handling of character and the play's witty -- if sometimes disquieting -- revelation of the complexities 
of gender relations in the early modern period and perhaps our own" (3-4).  Radel argues that 
_Shrew_ addresses the social construction of patriarchal roles.  For him, the play is as much about 
masculine anxieties and feelings of inadequacy as it is about the women's unruliness.  He sees 
Petruchio as a guide who is trying to teach Kate how they _both_ might navigate these social 
strictures to take advantage of the benefits of marriage in their culture.  He notes that the most 
successful method of playing this game in the text is language and illustrates how Kate and 
Petruchio accordingly refine their verbal wit throughout the play.  His approach is of a middling 
sort, both acknowledging the unsettling gender politics of the play and trying to redeem the play for 
contemporary readers.  Overall, the edition provides a nice starting point for those new to 
Shakespeare, giving them information that could foster productive discussions about the text.  

In addition to Radel's introduction, David Scott Kastan, the series' general editor, provides adept 
essays that introduce both the Shakespeare's world and his language.  He uses examples from all of 
Shakespeare's plays to support his claims, providing an overview of the playwright's work.  Kastan 
specifically focuses on _Shrew_ in his essay on editing the text.  Radel further discusses Shrew in detail 
in his essay about the early staging of the play, in his performance history of the play, and in an essay 
on famous adaptations of _Shrew_.  I like that an instructor can choose from among these essays, 
and their critical approaches, to suit her classroom needs.  As a teacher who emphasizes 
performance, I was particularly impressed by the "_The Taming of the Shrew_ on the Early Stage," 
"Significant Performances," and "Inspired by _The Taming of the Shrew_" sections.  While editions 
such as the Sourcebooks Shakespeare and Shakespeare in Performance have placed increased 
emphasis on the interplay between Shakespeare as literature and Shakespeare as theatre, it was nice 
to see this emphasis in a classroom-ready text.  The diagrams of Shakespeare's theater are useful for 
showing students the layout of the English Renaissance stage and explaining the original staging 
conventions to them (much more effective than makeshift drawings on the chalkboard).   Finally, 
the thorough and informative performance and adaptation histories had me scurrying to buy the 
Barnes and Noble editions of all the plays I will be teaching in my "Shakespearean Adaptation" 
course this spring.

The text, itself, is a conservative version based on the First Folio text.  It aims to clarify the Early 
Modern text when necessary, modernizing spelling and punctuation, standardizing character names, 
and clarifying entrances and exits.  Editorial stage directions are kept to a minimum, and their 
addition is signified with brackets. 

The editors enhance this text with informative notes.  When I taught single editions of Shakespeare 
in the past, I used the Signet Classics editions because they are inexpensive.  While I appreciate the 
portability of the Signet series, I have repeatedly been disappointed by their minimal notes.  I was 
smitten, then, with the thorough notes provided in the Barnes and Noble edition, which cost only a 
couple of dollars more.  (In fact, the Barnes and Noble editions are cheaper than the Signet editions 
when they are purchased from the retailer's web site).  To illustrate my contention about the notes, 
when Petruchio calls Kate "Kate of Kate Hall" (188), the Signet edition glosses the phrase as 
"possible topical reference; several places have been proposed."  The Barnes and Nobel edition, on 
the other hand, provides a more expansive gloss: "Perhaps a reference to Katherine Hall, a large 
house in southern England, or some specific place; most likely, however, an ironic way of saying 'the 
house that Kate is in charge of.'"  I like that in addition to providing more information, this gloss 
explains the phrase's significance, and thereby assists students' understanding of their reading of the 
scene.  The Barnes and Noble edition glosses difficult words in the left margin, provides pithy 
annotations of words and phrases on the verso page, and offers longer notes in the back (such as a 
lengthy explanation of the various inferences of the word "Kate" in Act II, scene i).  Overall, the 
explanatory information is presented in such a way that it is not overwhelming, achieving a balance 
between the terseness of the Signet editions and the gregarious explanations of more scholarly 
editions as the Arden.

The only thing that I feel is missing from this edition is a selection of representative critical essays 
about _Shrew_, similar to the selections provided by the Signet, the Norton Critical editions, or the 
Bedford/St. Martin's texts and Contexts series.  Especially with a controversial play like _Shrew_, I 
find it helpful to point students to a variety of critical responses.  Nevertheless, this edition does 
have an annotated bibliography that gives young scholars a balanced representation of the available 
criticism. This bibliography includes classic articles from the 1960s to the mid-2000s, providing 
examples of such theoretical practices as New Criticism's close readings, cultural studies, and diverse 
approaches to gender, performance, and textual studies.   Now that students can have access to 
most of these essays from their library's web sites, a good bibliography may be all that students really 
need. 

Overall, I was impressed with the Barnes and Noble Shakespeare's _The Taming of the Shrew_ as a 
pedagogical tool.  Its strong, varied essay and clear, thorough notes are particularly attractive, and I 
believe this edition would be a welcome companion as high school and undergraduate students 
begin to navigate the gendered world of Shakespeare's Padua.


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