William Shakespeare and His “Shrew”

This is from the material we published in the Indiana Festival Theatre program for The Taming of the Shrew, which we open next Thursday (see the calendar for all performance dates here):

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, where his father, John Shakespeare, was a glover and a local politician. Will spent at least the first twenty years of his life in Stratford. In 1582, at the age of eighteen, Shakespeare married the twenty-six-year-old Anne Hathaway. Their first child, Susanna, was born five months later. The couple had two more children, the twins Hamnet and Judith.

The legal record of the twins’ birth in 1585 is the last known reference to Shakespeare until he is mentioned in a 1592 satiric pamphlet, Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, in which it obvious that Shakespeare had made his way to London and had become associated with London’s theatre companies.

By 1594, Shakespeare was a playwright and actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He was also a shareholder in the company, for which he wrote his major plays. Shakespeare’s share of their income was substantial (he ultimately had a ten percent share in their profits), and his reputation grew. By 1597, he had become wealthy enough to purchase New Place, the second-largest house in Stratford.

Shakespeare continued working in London until he retired to Stratford in 1610, where he resided until his death in 1616.  In 1623, members of his theatre collected and published most of his plays in a volume known as the First Folio (shown at right).

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, written some time between 1589 and 1592. The views of marriage and love presented in The Shrew are shared with The Comedy of Errors, written around 1594 (and presented by the IFT last summer). As in The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew has many elements of farce: disguises, mistaken identities, and broad physical humor. If Shakespeare took it one degree further, we’d have to be throwing pies.

There are at least three love plots in The Taming of the Shrew, many of them involving the beautiful Bianca Minola, who lives with her mother, Baptista, and her sister Katherina in Padua. (Our production’s Padua is not in Italy, where Shakespeare located it, but Florida.)

Coming to Padua to further his education are the young Vincentio and his servant Tranio. Outside Baptista’s house, they witness  Gremio, an older man, and Hortensio, a younger, attempting to court Bianca, but Madame Baptista will not permit such a thing until someone marries Katherina. Both suitors refuse the suggestion, for, truth be told, they view Katherina as “a devil” who is “too rough.” Bianca, then, is off-limits until Katherina is married.

Gremio and Hortensio partner to find a husband for the “shrew,” while Vincentio, hearing that Bianca needs a tutor, disguises himself as a schoolmaster, a teacher of Latin. He switches clothes with Tranio, so that Tranio may masquerade as him.

Vincentio is not the only one to hit upon the approach to wooing Bianca in disguise: Hortensio soon presents himself as a music teacher so that he, too, may meet Bianca and secretly woo her.

Thus there are several would-be suitors, presenting themselves to Baptista as tutors, teachers, and providers of musical instruments.

Petruchio arrives, along with his servant Grumio. His father newly dead and buried, Petruchio is looking for a wife—especially a young woman who will bring to their marriage a large dowry. “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua,” he proclaims.

Recruited by Gremio and Hortensio, charmed by the wealth of Madame Baptista, and caring not a whit that Katherina is proclaimed an ill-tempered shrew, Petruchio says that he will have Katherina, whom he calls “Kate,” as his wife. This, of course, will clear the way for the undercover courtship of Bianca by the tutors-in-disguise.

The courtship of Katherina and Petruchio is, well, a spirited one, their wedding ceremony, a disaster, and the honeymoon at Petruchio’s house a good deal less than cordial. The “taming” of Katherina changes both the wife and the husband, as you shall see.

About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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