Title: The Taming of the Shrew
Author: William Shakespeare
Published: 2016 (originally 1593)
I was dreading writing a review on The Taming of the Shrew ever since I finished it the second week of December. Upon starting the play I had high hopes as I enjoyed the two other comedies I had read and because I loved Ten Things I Hate About You, which is an adaptation of the play by Shakespeare. As it turned out it was not only a very modern but also a very loose adaptation. While in the movie neither the characters nor the story becomes misogynistic, that’s all the play actually is.
Though little fire grows great with little wind,
Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all.
So I to her, and so she yields to me,
For I am rough and woo not like a babe.
I might be completely wrong in interpreting the play as I did – I didn’t read the introduction – but I think if a play or novel is this distasteful to you as this was for me, it does signify that it is either out-dated or really, really bad. I do not say that it is necessarily a bad play. And I also do not say that I don’t see that this play and the hate of women and the complete lack of women’s rights is very much historical. But I do say that for me, this play is too out-dated for me to enjoy.
For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Comfortable as other household Kates.
For me, and as an historian, I find it difficult to say this. I had always thought that my profession might give me some advantage over other readers when it comes to old works like these. I had always thought that, more than the average reader, I was able to enjoy these works because I knew they weren’t just literature – they were also historical sources. Admittedly, that is a bit cocky and not necessarily true. It is hardly surprising that I wasn’t only disappointed with this particular play but also with myself. Why couldn’t I enjoy it despite its obvious misogyny? I have enjoyed other classics in which such views were explicitly argued or implicitly implied. Then why did The Taming of the Shrew disagree with me so much?
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak: ’tis charity to show.
Let me just briefly summarise the play (the following is from Wikipedia). The play begins with a framing device, often referred to as the induction, in which a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly into believing he is actually a nobleman himself. The nobleman then has the play performed for Sly’s diversion. The main plot depicts the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate ‘shrew’. Initially, Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship, but Petruchio tempers her with various psychological torments – the ‘taming’ – until she becomes a compliant and obedient bride. The subplot features a competition between the suitors of Katherina’s more desirable sister, Bianca. In short: Bianca’s suitors pay Petruchio to court Katherina so that in turn the father will give them permission to woo his younger daughter (whom he does not want to give away in marriage before Katherina is).
He kills her in her own humour.
Because women’s rights and position within a household is the subject of this play, it is all the more distasteful in its historically correct depiction of it. Of course references to this are found in other comedies and tragedies by Shakespeare, but then only as a small element, maybe even just an implicit, in-between-the-lines kind of thing. And then it never bothers me. But now (although I still value the play for its historical value) it is very painful to read. There is absolutely NOTHING funny about paying a man to literally TORMENT a women into subordination and obedience. It is cruel, cold-blooded and in every aspect the opposite of what a modern relationship should be like. From a cultural historian’s point of view the history of the play (and the performance of the play) can give us a lot of interesting information on the changing perspectives on women’s rights, but as a reader I absolutely detested it.