Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (eds), The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition

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Guessing and speculating about what Shakespeare's own views might be is part of the game of 'supposes' that playgoing, or play reading, permits and encourages. But it is vital to remember that these are indeed just suppositions, some of them spurious, or false, and that, in any case, the play, like any other artistic or intellectual production, 'means differently' in the twenty-first century than any sixteenth-century person—even the author—might have supposed.

Marjorie Garber, 2005

Shakespeare here has copied Nature with great skill. Petruchio, by frightening, starving, and over-watching his wife, had tamed her into gentleness and submission; and the audience expects to hear no more of the shrew; when, on her being crossed in the article of fashion and finery, the most inveterate folly of the sex, she flies out again, though for the last time, into all the intemperate rage of her character.

William Warburton, 1747

Figure 1 Ann Miller as Lois Lane / Bianca in the 1953 film version of Kiss me Kate in the 'Any Tom, Dick, or Harry' song and dance, dir. George Sidney.

Figure 1 Ann Miller as Lois Lane / Bianca in the 1953 film version of Kiss me Kate in the 'Any Tom, Dick, or Harry' song and dance, dir. George Sidney.

There are as many recipes for effecting this purpose [taming a shrew], as there are prescriptions for a toothache; and for the same reason, because none of them answer the end, but the getting rid of it; for the old proverb still stands bluff against all such documents, that 'Every man can cure a scold, but he who has her.'

Elizabeth Griffith, 1775

Now, [director Jonathan] Miller says … there are many Elizabethan portraits of happy, smiling women, and a lot of graves all over Warwickshire … with two bodies carved in stone, clearly people devoted in life and in death. He feels that's a real clue: that men and women did resolve the difference in status by making marriages based on mutuality. But I, like Jane Austen, have a little bias in favour of my own sex. To me those images may be far more indicative of the way women allowed the system to function … The cost of making a marriage work seems to me to be very one-way.

Fiona Shaw, 1989, about playing Kate in Miller's 1987 production

[There is the question of] whether there is any reason to revive a play that seems totally offensive to our age and our society … it should be put back firmly on the shelf … Instead of softening its harsh edges like most recent directors, [Michael Bogdanov] has chosen to emphasize its moral and physical ugliness.

Michael Billington, 1978, reviewing Bogdanov's production

Like Comedy of Errors, Taming is concerned with defining the proper relationship in marriage. But whereas Comedy of Errors focuses on marriage as the root relation from which all others grow, as the nucleus, the foundation of an entire society, The Taming of the Shrew focuses on marriage as the foundation of a happy and orderly life. Comedy of Errors looks outward; Taming looks inward.

Marilyn French, 1981

Rather than condemning Katherina's violence or self-assertion entirely, Petruchio redirects her claims to mastery away from him … violence is not only the problem but part of the solution … marital harmony depends upon rather than standing distinct from carefully managed domestic violence.

Frances E. Dolan, 2008

The Taming of the Shrew is almost the only one of Shakespeare's comedies that has a regular plot, and downright moral. It is full of bustle, animation, and rapidity of action. It shows 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 still greater. Petruchio is a madman in his senses; a very honest fellow, who hardly speaks a word of truth, and succeeds in all his tricks and impostures.

William Hazlitt, 1817

pg 408But why has it been so easy, for so long, to treat human beings as property? The answer is depressingly simple: we have never agreed on what qualifies as 'human' … The title of Shakespeare's play implies that Kate is an animal (a small mammal called a shrew). A man's property portfolio includes, in addition to his wife, other living things: a horse, an ox, an ass. Like women, these are all mammals with large brains and complex nervous systems. Petruchio lumps the woman and the other mammals together with inanimate objects (house, barn, unspecified goods and chattels). That confusion of human beings with other animals and objects actually begins long before the wedding.

Gary Taylor, 2015

I wanted the play to be about Kate and about a woman instinctively fighting sexism. But I don't really think that's what the play is about. It's not the story of Kate: it's the story of Petruchio. He gets the soliloquies, he gets the moment of change. All the crucial moments of the story for Kate, she's off stage.

Paola Dionisotti, about playing Kate in the 1978 Michael Bogdanov production

Figure 2 Mary Pickford as Katherine and Douglas Fairbanks as Petruccio in the first Shakespeare 'talkie', directed by Sam Taylor (1929). Like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the couple's off-screen romance added to the intrigue of the production.

Figure 2 Mary Pickford as Katherine and Douglas Fairbanks as Petruccio in the first Shakespeare 'talkie', directed by Sam Taylor (1929). Like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the couple's off-screen romance added to the intrigue of the production.

We were all exhausted and would always say, 'I don't want to be a man!' The idea of showing the exterior, of having to be these cockerels most of the time, because that's what most of us, as men, were within the play, was exhausting. I saw Hortensio as quite a sensitive guy but who was trying to impose upon himself the idea of a man's man, one of the lads who wants lots of ladies when in fact that is not who he is. But if I played as me, Yolanda, with female sensitivity, it did not work. So I had to play him at what we call 'Level Ten' physicality and energy, and, within that, find his sensitivity.

Yolanda Vasquez, 2003 on being part of the all-female cast of the 2003 Phyllida Lloyd production

Charles Marowitz saw The Shrew as brutal, sadistic … Marowitz made his own version, in which scenes from Shakespeare, adapted and incorporating much new stage business—including the onstage rape of Katherine by Petruchio—alternate with a sequence of scenes presenting a contemporary parallel, in which a woman subjects this man to psychological torment … Feminist criticism of the play in the last thirty years has been divided in its judgement of its sexual politics. Those voicing strong condemnation tend to align the taming plot with domestic violence, as currently understood, and see Kate as a battered wife, and her attachment to Petruchio as of the kind that hostages have been known to develop for their captors. Alternatively, and by implication equally damning, the play is seen in a context of early modern misogyny. One danger with such historically influenced studies is in moving between historical records and literary narratives as if between equivalents, and therefore underestimating the pg 409effect of dramatic conventions, and audiences' responses to them. We risk losing sight of such matters when we look into the remoter past, where all records are scarce.

Ann Blake, 2002

… Petruccio's insistence that ''Tis burnt, and so is all the meat' calls attention to the presence of uneaten food, asking both the servants and the playhouse audience to examine the supposedly unacceptable fare … Though Katherine actively protests her husband's evaluation of the supposedly ruined food, the movement of the untouched supper across the stage reinforces the audience's awareness of—and even empathy with—her hunger. The scene's presentation of food invites viewers to connect with Katherine's physical deprivation, allowing playgoers a concrete understanding of her bodily suffering even if they disapprove of the rebellious behaviour that Petruccio hopes to tame.

Hillary Nunn, 2013

Shakespeare has redeemed Petruccio from natural obloquy by making him honestly confess that he comes to wed wealth … Shakespeare knew that money only would get off [i.e. ensure the marriage of] such a woman as Kate Minola.

Charles Cowden Clarke, 1873

According to Miss [Ada] Rehan's ideal, the shrewishness of Katharine is largely superficial. She is externally a virago, but the loveliest qualities of womanhood are latent in her. She is at war with herself; a termagent in temper; haughty; self-willed; imperious; resentful of control; still more resentful of the thought of submission to love, yet, at heart, ardently desirous of it, and secretly impelled to seek it … The vitality, sympathy, and delicious bloom of her Katharine could not be too freely extolled.

William Winter, 1912 (describing the 1887 Augustin Daly production at Daly's Theatre in London)

The lewd image of a tongue (which could also evoke 'penis') in a tail ricochets back to the image of Katherine as a wasp, allowing us to admire the skill of the dramatist in creating the verbal circumstances which lead up to the climactic jest … [this exchange] serves a deeper dramatic function as a means of advancing the relationship between Petruccio and Katherine. Petruccio's initial introduction of bodily parts into the conversation surely constitutes a provocative invitation to sexual banter, and so could be understood as a courtship ploy. As the one speaker sparks off wit from the other, they grow in mutual understanding, in amused enjoyment of one another's company, and in acknowledgment of sexual attraction.

Stanley Wells, 2010

And while such a grim history as that which is carried by the iron bridle may seem far indeed from Shakespeare's zesty comedy about the taming of shrews into conformable Kates, I would insist that it is not. For Kate the fictional shrew is but one of those women whose real history can all too easily be hidden behind and thus effectively erased by the romanticized version of her story that Shakespeare's play participates in creating.

Lynda Boose, 1991 (discussing scold's bridles and other disciplinary measures for unruly wives in early modern England)

The distick [verses] of Ovid which Lucentio construes in a pleasant way is a fresh proof that Shakespeare was well acquainted with Ovid; and that he had a peculiar value for that poet is plain from what Tranio says in the first scene … The reader by regarding this whole speech of Tranio will find that Shakespeare was far from being that ignoramus in literature as some would unaccountable make him.

Charles Gildon, 1709

In Lucentio's wooing … the schoolroom is not rejected but appropriated for creative purposes. And, crucially, the woman gives as good as she gets … Bianca is beautifully poised here [in 3.1], wholly in control: she gives ('despair not') but she also withholds ('presume not'). The symmetrical parodic construings of the extract from the Heroides set the tone for the relationship between Bianca and Lucentio. Theirs will be a marriage between equals, built on mutual desire and consent—Bianca escapes her class of sixteenth-century woman's usual fate of being married to a partner of the father's choice, to Hortensio or Gremio.

Jonathan Bate, 1993

pg 410

  • Sister Bianca now shall see
  • The poor abandon'd Cath'rine, as she calls me,
  • Can hold her head as high, and be as proud,
  • And make her husband stoop unto her lure,
  • As she, or e'er a wife in Padua.

David Garrick, 1754 (from his adaptation Catherine and Petruchio, Catherine's last speech in 2.1, providing reason for her to marry Petruchio)

The last scene is altogether disgusting to the modern sensibility. No man with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without being 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, reviewing Garrick's Catherine and Petruchio

The part between Catharine and Petruchio is eminently spritely and diverting … The whole play is very popular and diverting.

Samuel Johnson, 1765

The prelude is still more remarkable than the play itself: a drunken tinker, removed in his sleep to a palace, where he is deceived into the belief of being a nobleman. The invention, however, is not Shakespeare's … Here, as well as every-where else, Shakespeare has proved himself a great poet: the whole is merely a light sketch, but in elegance and delicate propriety it will hardly ever be excelled. Neither has he overlooked the irony which the subject naturally suggested: the great lord, who is driven by idleness and ennui to deceive a poor drunkard, can make no better use of his situation than the latter, who every moment relapses into his vulgar habits.

A. W. von Schlegel, 1846

Sly is not brought back at the conclusion of Shakespeare's Shrew, perhaps because his disenchantment necessarily would be cruel, and would disturb the mutual triumph of Kate and Petruchio, who are rather clearly going to be the happiest married couple in Shakespeare (short of the Macbeths, who end separately but each badly). Two points can be accepted as generally cogent about the Induction: it somewhat distances us from the performance of the Shrew, and it also hints that social dislocation is a form of madness. Sly, aspiring above his social station, becomes as insane as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

Harold Bloom, 1998

The first direct allusion to visual art is introduced within the conceit of Sly 's assumed identity as a nobleman, when the Lord orders that the apartment be hung 'with all my wanton pictures' … Sly's bestial nature is echoed in the suggestion that the wantonness would appeal to him … the joke played on Sly is a bathetic prefiguration of the changes imposed on Katherin[e]. In this, it is one of the earliest instances of Shakespeare subsuming references to visual art into something beyond linguistic allusion, folding them into the action that drives the play and the issues that it debates, and constructing a running exploration of the nature of representation in theatre.

Stuart Sillars, 2015

Who does not regret, in the Taming of the Shrew, that we hear not more of Christopher Sly; that … [he leaves] us with only a taste of that beer-nurtured vagabond conversation … [Shakespeare] gave us only the prelude of his merry talk, instead of a running commentary that would have afforded many witty contrasts between the romantic life of Italy, and the coarse home-fed humours of such an everyday English character as Christopher Sly.

Anonymous, 1841

  • The tamer's tamed, but so, as nor the men
  • Can find one just cause to complain of, when
  • They fitly do consider in their lives,
  • They should not reign as tyrants o'er their wives.
  • Nor can women from this precedent
  • Insult, or triumph; it is being aptly meant
  • To teach both sexes due equality;
  • And as they stand bound, to love mutually.

John Fletcher, c.1609, epilogue of The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, a popular sequel to The Taming of the Shrew

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