Sunday, September 18, 2011

July Review: The Taming of the Shrew

This play, if interpreted literally, can be hard to read. A harsh, bitter, headstrong woman is tricked into marriage with a man who is interested in her because of her fortune. He then proceeds to completely embarrass her at the wedding by showing up drunk in horrible clothes and doesn't even let her go to the reception. This is followed by a day or two of no sleep and little food which forces her to bow to his will and call a man a maiden and noon night in order to visit her family again.

However, Tony Tanner's Prefaces to Shakespeare come to the rescue yet again. Rather than encouraging a feminist, angry reading of the play, he points out Petruchio's redemptive actions. Kate in some ways is trapped in this shrewish character that she may have put on as a response to her father's favoritism of her sister Bianca. Petruchio had no need to transform her into a likable character just to get her money. Since he does, it seems he has come to care for her by the play's end. In Tanner's view, his domestic "torture"--beating his servants, throwing food, tearing apart the bed--show her what married life would be like if she remained a cat and not Kate. Reading it from this perspective, I empathized with Kate and noticed her lines in Act II: "What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see she is your treasure, she must have a husband; I must dance barefoot on her wedding-day, and for your love to her lead apes in hell." Clearly she was miserable--her father wanted to be rid of her but because she was so miserable no one wanted her. Then along comes someone who allows her to become a real person by being willing to bend to someone else's will.

The play reminds me of The Philadelphia Story--Katharine Hepburn's character could be viewed as another shrew. She had married and divorced her Petruchio (Cary Grant) because he didn't meet her standards. She too was harsh and inflexible, though maybe not so violent, and had to learn to be "yar" as she says in the movie: "easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right." I think as a society we overemphasize our rights and needs and esteem stubbornness and a rigid demand of our own way which can only make relationships harder. Marriage is not about seeking your way but what is best for both, which requires being "yar", being flexible, compromising rather than digging in your heels.

In addition, Taming of the Shrew is great to watch. The exchanges between Kate and Petruchio are both sharp and funny and the play as a whole calls for a lot of physical comedy. The only remaining off note I find is the servant who deliberately misunderstands what others say--this type of comic dialogue occurs in other Shakespeare plays as well and I just don't find it that funny.