Ian, the leader of our Shakespeare 2020 Project apologized for having placed the reading of Taming of the Shrew over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Probably because of Kate’s reputation as someone who’s bad behavior was “tamed” by her overbearing husband, and therefore not a stellar example of a couple. But, after reading it, who really tames who I wonder? I prefer to frame this as reading about a strong willed woman who evolves and chooses change and partnership over being stubborn and alone… Oh, and in addition to being Valentine weekend, it’s also the birthday weekend of another strong willed woman concerned with change… Susan B. Anthony.
Having first read the play, and then watched the Globe Players production, my estimation of Kate is that she is a character we first meet in her flawed “normal” shrewish state, and we see that the people close to Kate, and the way they treat her induces her behavior. Through dramatic progression, we watch as she is “transplanted” into another environment and social role through no will of her own, but as a result, she grows, and transforms into something different. Different is the key word. With the benefit of having actually read the words, I choose to think of her transformation not into an obedient wife as may appear on the surface, but as someone whose attitude has changed. Kate has finally found her emotional and intellectual equal, and having been removed from her toxic environment, she makes the conscious decision to work with Petruchio as a partner in their marriage. We of course meet Petruchio in the same flawed state, and watch as he too learns and grows.
As I have said before about previous plays I’ve read, watching the Globe Player version of the performance helps me to learn even more about the play. Many people commented that the play within a play felt unfinished because it did not return to the initial characters at the end. I have a different view, and it has everything to do with Shakespeare’s brilliant choice to use the word Induction (not Introduction). The word has dual definitions; to lead or move by persuasion or influence, as to some action or state of mind; and to bring about or produce, to cause. Toby Frow, the director, uses an interesting take on the Induction portion at the beginning, by double casting Simon Day as both drunkard Christopher Sly, and Petruchio. The Duke and his men in playing a prank on Sly, transplant him into a world foreign to him through no will of his own. The induction very craftily builds the theme of the main play, which I think is the notion that by changing a person’s environment and the way they are treated, you can cause or induce a change in their behavior. I think this speaks directly to Kate’s situation in the main play, but the double role also subliminally puts the Petruchio/Sly character in both positions, both as the tamer, and as tamed.
Change or transformation is another central theme in the play. Change for Kate, and Petruchio involves things such as change in their physical location, a change in what they consider traditional clothing, changes in attitude and behavior, and psychological change. Shakespeare’s point with all this change is that identity and meaning are never fixed. The characters in the play are all stuck when we meet them and as a result of the action are induced to change. For instance, Petruchio enters, seeking at first his own selfish motives, but then rises to the challenge of changing the behavior of Kate, and ends up changing his own behavior as well.
And if all of this is much too highbrow, take 50 minutes and watch the Atomic Shakespeare episode from the old Moonlighting series. It is surprisingly mostly faithful to the play, even framing it as a play within a play! You’ll thank me for it!
I have two favorite quotes from this play. The first is from Kate’s final speech. It is a luscious iambic pentameter plea to her fellow wives not to frown, but put it words that evoke nothing but images:
“Fie, fie, unknit that threat’ning unkind brow
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads”
The other, near the beginning is a snippet of the witty banter between Kate and Petruchio which is both deliciously shrewish, and delightfully naughty!
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Katherine: Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Katherine: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katherine: Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail?