Staff Review: The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare W. Et Al
The RSC The Taming of The Shrew is a delightful and provocative introduction to the study of Shakespeare’s ingenious battle of the sexes. The play itself is my personal favourite of Shakespeare’s works. It’s subtle and constant humour, complex relationships and portrayal of gender roles is an adroit parody of patriarchy.
Shakespeare’s use of cross-dressing and mistaken genders is a theme throughout his oeuvre, so it is not that surprising that gender is the focal point of this play in its discussion of power and romance. This is, I believe, the funniest of his comedies, the most outrageous and sexually explicit. There is no suspension of belief required, no fairies, no mystical element, just the raw absurdity of human logic and a fierce chemistry between Kate and Petruchio that would put Bella and Edward to shame.
Jonathon Bate’s introduction to the RSC The Taming of The Shrew is a lively discussion of the complex gender roles within the play and a masterful summary of the critical debate surrounding the text. He engages in the feminist critique against the play’s overtly misogynist narrative and clearly shows Shakespeare’s mastery of complex relationships and gender roles. Bate’s compares the play on sixteenth century gender roles through the subversion and adherence to social norms to contemporary gender debates in which the roles of men, women and transgender people. Modern women, like Kate, are likely to initially respond with rage yet Bate shows that “Shakespeare does not rest with showing that male supremacy in marriage denies woman’s humanity. In the most brilliant comic scene of the play [4.3], he goes on to demonstrate how it defies reason.” (p7) Further, Bate suggests that Shakespeare’s original audience may have been threatened by Katherine’s strength of character and persistent subversion of social norms. Bate explains that “in early modern England there was a criminalization of female unruliness” (p6) and he goes into some detail of the punishments meted out to impetuous women. However, he precludes this with an account of Shakespeare’s representation of women in most relationships as the dominant partner and illuminates the parody of patriarchy inherent within the play. We are left reflecting on the ability of a sixteenth century play to reflect a complex and changing contemporary social world that still has need to discuss and parody the struggles between sex, gender, power and submission. Bate also engages other critical debates regarding the play and gives a fantastic overview of the field of discussion while encouraging students and admirers to delve further into the suggested reading.
The section discussing the history and production of the text itself gives invaluable insight into the performance and adaptations from edition to edition as well as from the original performance to the first scribing. The editorial policy of the RSC editions is to respect the First Folio wherever possible, however, there is printed at the end of the play unannotated but modernized sequences of the contentious parallel play The Taming of A Shrew (1594). This allows alternative interpretations and highlights the dissimilitude between performances. This moves the text away from any notion of solid meaning and definitive authenticity and toward a playful discussion of performance and literary conventions. The annotations throughout the play itself are useful and ease the reading of the play for those not as familiar with old English. There are also scene-by-scene analyses following the play that are extremely useful guides for those new to the play and make accessible Shakespeare’s language and style in the most difficult scenes to read. In addition, and perhaps the icing on the cake, are the chapters on performance that develop a dialogue between the major performances across the centuries and create a thorough and thought provoking investigation into the Shakespeare cannon.
Find the book here, and buy at your local bookshop.
Higher Education Sales, Campus Territory Manager NSW/SA
BArtTh/BArts Hons. English UNSW