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About this book

Few of Shakespeare's comedies have proved more popular and enduring than The Taming of the Shrew - and yet it has come to seem one of Shakespeare's more controversial plays. An analysis of the drama that is attentive to its theatrical challenges and stage history allows a better understanding of its power to provoke such diverse responses. How might Katerina's final speech be staged in the twenty-first century? Must it be played for irony, or are her words sincere? How might other characters on stage respond to her account of a woman's duty to her husband?

This Handbook provides students and theatre-goers with a performance-oriented guide to the drama. Its commentary explores the action scene by scene, drawing on discussions elsewhere in the book of Shakespeare's cultural and historical moment, and the play's continued fortunes on the stage and screen. Margaret Jane Kidnie equips readers with the skills and materials with which to explore the variety of ways in which this 'troubling comedy' or 'light tragedy' might take on meaning today for modern audiences.

Table of Contents

1. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
The Taming of the Shrew (The Shrew), performed sometime in the 1590s, was probably one of Shakespeare’s first attempts at writing for the stage. The earliest surviving edition of the play was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, as part of an expensive and prestigious collection of 36 plays called Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, Tragedies. The volume was printed in folio (a printing term that means that each sheet of paper was folded only once), and scholars distinguish this collection from other, later editions of the complete works by calling it the First Folio. All subsequent editions of The Shrew derive, ultimately, from the text as printed in the First Folio. This straightforward publication history is troubled, however, by the existence of a comedy published anonymously in 1594 called The Taming of a Shrew (A Shrew).
Margaret Jane Kidnie

2. Commentary

Abstract
The Folio introduces the play with the heading ‘Actus primus. Scaena Prima’ (i.e., Act I, Scene I), but editors since Rowe have described Sly’s story as an ‘Induction’, a prelude to the main action, or framing device. Spectators obviously have no access to this sort of editorial guidance in the theatre, and so are led to assume, wrongly as it turns out, that Sly and the Hostess will remain at the heart of the plot. Directors sometimes play with this expectation by cross-casting the actors playing the Hostess and Sly as Katherina and Petruchio, and moving straight from Sly falling asleep on the ground at l. 13 to the action in Padua at I.i (see Chapter 4, pp. 138–9). The effect of this choice is to present the taming story not as a play within the play, but as Sly’s dream or fantasy.
Margaret Jane Kidnie

3. The Play’s Sources and Cultural Context

Abstract
The following extracts suggest some of the literary and cultural contexts within which The Taming of the Shrew found life in performance. The first three offer sources and analogues for the three separate strands of Shakespeare’s play: the disguise plot, the taming plot, and the Sly material. The next four passages are taken from sixteenthand seventeenth-century sermons, treatises and pamphlets. These extracts offer contrasting perspectives on women’s legal and moral rights within marriage as well as documenting various abuses of the institution.
Margaret Jane Kidnie

4. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
Three theatre-goers, responding to different productions of The Taming of the Shrew and writing over a period of nearly two hundred years, seem to agree that Shakespeare’s play is difficult to mount in performance. Murphy argues that it is badly written; Shaw Kidnie Chapter 4 6/1/06 10:57 am Page 117 and Billington, that its class and gender politics are unacceptable to modern audiences. Billington’s ‘larger question’ is one worth pondering - if it poses such problems for spectators, why do we continue to stage this play at all? If one simply accepts that Shakespeare’s comedies, The Shrew among them, will be staged, then the question is how one might address these perceived obstacles to enactment. Murphy favours abridgement, whereas Shaw prefers finding in performance some way to step aside from, or make amends for, the play’s politics. This chapter considers how directors and actors, working in theatre and film, have handled in practice the interpretative challenges posed by this early Shakespearean comedy.
Margaret Jane Kidnie

5. The Play on Screen

Abstract
Two films in addition to the Taylor and Miller productions (see Chapter 4, ‘Key Productions and Performances’) are still readily available to viewers. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 production, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, sets the action in Renaissance Italy. Sly is cut, and the disguise plot surrounding Bianca is heavily condensed as part of a larger strategy of shifting the focus more firmly to the taming plot - Bianca’s music and Latin lessons are only glimpsed in passing, while the wedding of Katherina and Petruchio is staged in its entirety. The marriage is agreed after Katherina is locked in a room by Petruchio (this is the reason why she is unable to contradict his claim that she desires to marry him), and she watches him through a stained-glass window as he negotiates the agreement with her father. After he exits, a long silence followed by a faint smile playing across her face suggests that she is not an entirely unwilling bride. A flurry of housekeeping the day after her arrival in Verona, and a shot at the wedding banquet that captures her gazing fondly on small children playing with dogs, reinforce the idea that this particular shrew secretly longs for her own home and family.
Margaret Jane Kidnie

6. Critical Assessment

Abstract
‘Who is the shrew, and why does she need taming?’ These questions, prompted by Shakespeare’s title, go to the heart of the critical debate surrounding The Taming of the Shrew. The most obvious character to be identified with the eponymous ‘shrew’ is Katherina, Baptista’s elder, supposedly unmarriageable daughter, whose behaviour is described by those around her as ‘curst and shrewd’. Shrews begin to proliferate, however, by the closing scene, with the qualities that initially earned Katherina this label - she opens the play unruly, disobedient and argumentative - now transferred to other female characters. One shrew is evidently tamed, only to have two more (Bianca and the Widow) spring up in her place.
Margaret Jane Kidnie
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