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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taming of the Shrew


Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see the RSC's production of The Taming of the Shrew. As with any RSC production, it was excellent. Fantastic acting, directing and setting. Stephen Boxer made an admirable Sly/Petruchio and Michelle Gomez played Marion Hackett/Kate to perfection.

It is a problematic play though as it deals with the battle of the sexes and there are some who argue that it should never be performed. The RSC, unlike many, performed the whole of The Taming of the Shrew. The part that is generally performed is the play within the play. The framing device about the drunken Christopher Sly who refuses to pay for damages and therefore needs to be punished is generally left out. The actor who plays Sly also then plays Petruchio, and the woman out for the damages plays Kate. At the end, Sly is left with very little indeed. But I can understand why it has been often staged without the framing device as the device is a bit clunky and it was not quite clear what was going on. The reason for the clunkyness could be that this is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, if not the earliest.

The play also can be a problem for feminists as Kate is seemingly transformed. Both my daughter and I feel that Kate knows about the bet etc, from the servant and the way the request is formed, and thus is playing along, rather than being truly tamed. But it does make for several uncomfortable moments when she is being totally submissive. Her closing speech about male dominance and the need for female submission is a case in point. I kept wondering why is she doing it - -does she love her husband? How could such a vibrant woman become a doormat? Did he truly break her? And if he did, did he ever long to have his sparring partner back?

According to the programme notes, the play owes a lot of the Commedia Dell'Arte. In fact of the first uses of pantaloon in the English language occurs in the stage directions for Taming. There is reason to suppose that the first time Shakespeare saw women acting on stage was in a Commedia Dell'Arte performance. It is known that at least two women ran troupes. Identifying the sources for the play have been difficult and complicated by a rival play called Taming of a Shrew which is broadly similar in structure but does not have the framing device.

Anyway, the play is worthwhile seeing. Very bawdy and laugh aloud. Not boring or stuffy. It travels to the Novello Theatre in London from 12 Feb to 7 March. Go see it if you can.

2 comments:

Carrie Lofty said...

I thought the 2005 TV versions for ShakespeaRe-Told did a great job of navigating the tricky taming issue. Have you seen it, with Rufus Sewell and Shirley Henderson? During the finale, the test of wifely obedience comes down to a prenuptial agreement. Katherine insists that if a woman truly loves the man she wants to marry, and vice versa, a prenup isn't necessary. She says it is a woman's place to lay down at her husband's feet, if he wishes it, but that it's his duty to do the same in return--so neither would ever ask. That's the key. They find happiness in mutual submission, with no sacrifice of agency and power. Good stuff.

Natasha Oakley said...

I LOVE that play. It does all depend on how it's performed, I think.

Have you ever seen the BBC version with John Cleese? He made a wonderful Petruchio.