Thoughts on THE SHREW: Critical Opinions

The Taming of the Shrew was written over 400 years ago for an audience and society that held and followed different ideas and traditions about marriage, courtship, and the relations between men and women. We do not necessarily share these ideas, nor did some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. While Shakespeare was still alive, playwright Thomas Fletcher wrote The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed (1611), in which Petruchio, made a widower by Katherina’s death, remarries a young woman who fully asserts her rights to speak, make decisions, and behave as if she were not living in a decidedly patriarchal society. The Tamer Tamed was a popular critique of The Shrew. Shakespeare’s play had a long history of being revised and rewritten to make it better fit the temper of its time. One such revision drove playwright and critic Bernard Shaw into a temper, for he declared the play “one vile insult to womanhood and manhood from the first word to the last,” and that the revised Petruchio had nothing to do with “Shakespeare’s coarse, thick-skinned money-hunter.”

Shakespeare’s world is not ours, of course, and we respond differently to his situations, jokes, and plot developments. Below, we have gathered some observations from critics, scholars, directors, and actors which show a wide variety of responses to The Taming of the Shrew. We hope our production helps you form your own opinion about Katherina, Petruchio, and the need, if any, for lovers to “tame” one another.

“On one level Shrew is about the power of theatre to change people, to actually make people see themselves, and you, through seeing life reproduced on the stage.”
—Bill Alexander, director, 1992

“The last scene [of the play] is altogether disgusting to 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.”
—Bernard Shaw, 1897

“Kate and Petruchio … clearly are going to be the happiest married couple in Shakespeare.”
****
Why, there’s a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.
“If you want to hear this line as the culmination of a “problem play,” then perhaps you yourself are the problem. Kate does not need to be schooled in “consciousness raising.” Shakespeare, who clearly preferred his women characters to his men (always excepting Falstaff and Hamlet), enlarges the human, from the start, by subtly suggesting that women have the truer sense of reality.”
—Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 1998

“[Kate’s final speech] continues to seem relevant, rather than some obscure sixteenth-century issue, precisely because the frame of reference spectators and readers bring to this play is inevitably shaped by their own political stance on current male-female relations.”
—Margaret Jane Kidnie, The Shakespeare Handbooks: The Taming of the Shrew, 2006

“Petruchio directs Kate to the dark center of her psyche and dramatizes her fears so that she may recognize them. He shows her what she has become, not only by killing her in her own humour but also by presenting her with a dramatic image of her own emotional condition: he acts out for her the drama of her true self held in bondage by her tyrannical, violent self. What is internal … Petruchio makes external.”
—J. Dennis Huston, Shakespeare’s Comedies of Play, 1981

“[Many critics are], I think, responding, sometimes explicitly, to conflicting impulses—to their profound abhorrence of male dominance and female submission and to their equally profound pleasure at the play’s conclusion, a pleasure created by the comic movement of the whole. Both impulses must be acknowledged. Feminists cannot, without ignoring altogether the play’s meaning and structure, fail to rejoice at the spirit, wit, and joy with which Kate accommodates herself to her wifely role. Within the world of the play there are no preferable alternatives. But we cannot fail to note the radical asymmetry and inequality of the comic reconciliation and wish for Kate, as for ourselves, that choices were less limited, roles less rigid and unequal, accomodations more mutual and less coerced.”
—Carol Thomas Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays, 1985

“What I’m saying [in Kate’s final speech] is, I’ll do anything for this man. Look, would there be any hang-up if this were a mother talking about her son? So why is selflessness here wrong? Service is the only thing that’s important about love. Everybody is worrying about ‘losing yourself’ —all this narcissism. Duty. We can’t stand that idea now either. It has the real ugly slave-driving connotation. But duty might be a suit of armor you put on to fight for your love. I don’t think the last speech jumps out of nowhere. It’s the logical emotional end.”
—Meryl Streep, actor, 1978

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