Monday, January 20, 2020
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare :: The Taming of the Shrew Essays
In the late twentieth century, it is not unusual for audience members to come away from productions of The Taming of the Shrew with the impression that they have just witnessed the story of a dynamic woman turned into a Stepford wife.1 There are also Shakespearean critics who hold such views. G. I. Duthie, for instance, describes Katherina as a "spirited woman who is cowed into abject submission by the violence of an egregious bully" (147). John Fletcher's 1611 play The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, in which Petruchio's second wife treats him as he had treated Kate,2 suggests that even during Shakespeare's lifetime the battle of the sexes within the play had become a battle of the critics outside it.3 Shakespearean scholars on the other side argue, as Charles Boyce does, that far from being a tale of domination, "the play's main plot concerns the development of character and of love in a particular sort of personality" (626). Boyce goes on to say that "The violence in The Shrew--except for the beatings of servants ... is limited to Katherina's own assaults on Bianca and Petruchio" (626). Nor is Boyce alone in his belief that Petruchio is physically kind to Kate; as Robert Speaight writes, "It is only to others that he is rough" (59). Much of the confusion comes from a simultaneous idealization of the twentieth century4 and denigration of the sixteenth, a glorification of the sensibilities of modern critics, directors, and audiences coupled with a condemnation of the "medieval" insensitivity of the playwright. For example, Jonathan Miller, director of the 1980 BBC Shrew, says, "Shakespeare is extolling the virtues of the obedient wife ... in accordance with the sixteenth-century belief that for the orderly running of society, some sort of sacrifice of personal freedom is necessary." He defends his position with an attack, arguing that "If we wish to make all plays from the past conform to our ideals ... we're simply rewriting all plays and turning them into modern ones," a practice he calls "historical suburbanism" (140). However, he is himself engaging in a procedure which might be called historical blurring, allowing certain historical trends to obscure individuals and their divergent opinions.5 No period can be correctly characterized as homogeneous, certainly not a time as tendentious as the Renaissance. To maintain that women's rights were not hotly debated by Shakespeare and his contemporaries is ignorance coupled with arrogance, and to fit the creator of Portia, Rosalind, and Viola into the company of male supremacists requires an adept mental contortionist.