Monday, August 24, 2009

Taming of the Shrew- John Mutford's 3rd Review

A friend of mine recently told me that she acted in The Taming of The Shrew in her theatre days and because of that it's one of her favourites. Knowing nothing about the play, when it was time to read another Shakespeare play I chose it. I wasn't far in before I had to ask, "you didn't find it all offensive?"

For those in the dark, as I was, the "shrew" is in fact a woman named Kate and the "taming" is a series of emotionally cruel treatments that results in her taking a subordinate position to her husband. If he decides to call the sun the moon, then Kate, too, will call the sun the moon. And it's a comedy.

It turns out that my friend's theatre troupe did as many modern reproductions do: they made Kate's transformation disingenuous. They didn't change any lines per se (though some do), but had the actress deliver them sarcastically.
When Kate lectures the other women at the end, for instance, that men are superior and women must obey, a few simple eye-rolls and the right tone suggest to an audience that she has not been converted at all.

Whether or not Shakespeare intended it this way (I personally think he intended it the misogynistic way), I doubt a modern performance could get away with doing otherwise. But the question remains: does it work?

I'd have to see it performed, and performed well, to pass judgement, but I'm very skeptical. The play oozes cruelty; from the opening framework which targets the lower class, to the play-at-large which targets women, everything is done for laughs. The insults are Shakespearean, and thus should be amusing and witty, but it was hard for me to enjoy myself when some of the characters were being treated so poorly, and without any really nice characters to balance it out. I'll grant, for instance, that Kate wasn't a nice person at the beginning. Had Shakespeare made Petruchio, her husband, a likable character and the victim of Kate's mean behaviour, a reader might be able to at least view Petruchio's later treatment of her as revenge. Not that it would condone cruelty since two wrongs don't make a right, as the saying goes, but at least there'd be some sense of vindication.

On another note, it was only after searching up the play online that I learned it was the basis behind Heath Ledger's Ten Things I Hate About You. I can't say I had any interest in seeing it before, but now I'm a bit curious. Have you seen it?

(Cross posted at The Book Mine Set).


Lana said...

I've only seen it performed once in a way that didn't make me cringe - it was the Royal Shakespeare Company on tour, and the way they did it Petruchio's cruelty was all largely in jest. It was incredible - they didn't change the words, but the way the characters said them made them seem like code... like they were flirting the whole time. It was a really fantastic performance.

I have seen Ten Things, and I really liked it, actually. There are some typical teen movie moments, but it's mostly very clever.

Melanie said...

I saw a recent production by the Nashville Shakespeare Festival. They set it in the late 60's, which was interesting from a costume and music standpoint, but contrary to the theme of the play. They didn't do a sarcastic interpretation at all. still can't decide if i liked it.

Odessa said...

In Shakespeare's day if a woman was disobediant and caused trouble (as we see Kate doing even before she meets Petruchio, even to servants and her sister)her husband could be severely punished. There were pamphlets published with much crueler methods to tame a shrew back in the day.
I've seen it performed with a lot of humor, like Petruchio is falling in love with Kate and ends up being tamed himself at the same time. In the end when she offers to place her hand beneath his foot he stops her. Let's be honest, Kate does have a bit of an attitude problem.
Ten Things... is pretty good, but I like the BBC's Shakespeare ReTold version of Shrew, modernized and very funny. You can see it on YouTube.
Love your Blog by the way, I am a Shakespeare fiend, have been since age 11 or so.

fiona1933 said...

He is not cruel

fiona1933 said...

He is not cruel. This is the man she has been looking for. He is the man with the strength to take her, it is what she wants. There is boiling heat between them from the first. Pet has to prove himself to Kate before she will become his 'falcon' (not his dog). Falcons are ferocious, always to be respected. Bianca, by contrast, is a controlled woman, who avoids men like P ( shifting her 'bush' from the arrow of his "drawn bow!). She chooses a man she can dominate, and leads him a dog's life.
It's a great play, no misogyny, it's so childish to fix on the fair obedience thing, which only means, be sweet to your tired husband. Its about sex, about men and women and the women are totally the equals of the men. Does Lucentio rule Bianca? Hortensio the widow? No! And passionate Kate needs a Petruchio, so her 'fountain' won't be 'troubled'. I love this play.