The Taming of the Shrew
Abbreviations: MM = Measure for Measure; MV = The Merchant of Venice; Ado = Much Ado about Nothing; The Shrew = The Taming of the Shrew; A Shrew = The Taming of a Shrew
Amussen, Susan. An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England. New York: Blackwell, 1988.
Amussen studies English villagers between the years 1560 and 1725, initially dividing the ideology of family from its material reality. Beginning with ideology, she identifies popular uses of the analogy between the family and the state and of conceptions of authority. Focusing mainly on the town of Norfolk, Amussen scrutinizes townspeople’s expectations of one another in order to better understand gender and class hierarchies and how people lived within an assumed congruence between family and state institutions. She uses household manuals and political treatises to present the dogma behind family hierarchy and then examines family economics to reveal familial material existence. While the former discloses a staunch patriarchal hierarchy in the family unit, one that is used as a model for the political framework, Amussen finds a striking difference in the economic reality of families, in which women often have a great deal of responsibility for family finances and are trusted partners in matters of pastoral economics or even executors of their husbands’ wills. The subordination of wife to husband appears clear in theory but not in practice. Nonetheless, strong bonds of deference and responsibility in the patriarchal system held together family, town, county, and nation and were plainly showcased by the hierarchical seating in local churches. Early modern England ushered in challenges to authority that were economic (through population growth and inflation), political (through the Civil War between Parliamentarians and Royalists), familial (through industrialization, which changed the family from a unit of joint production and consumption to one that only consumed together), and social (through rejection of local notables by the townspeople). Thus authority changed with the Restoration. The prosecution of moral disorder ceased after the Restoration not because class and gender tensions ended but because “order no longer depended on the reiteration of an ideal of the family as the only apparently unchanging institution, as it had in the early seventeenth century.” The elites traded the Puritan vision of a unified morality for a capitalist ideal in which they could hold their position at the top. Ultimately, the lack of recorded moral disorder after the Restoration represented not equanimity between the genders and classes but polarization of roles and “containment by a careful local elite.”
Aspinall, Dana E., ed. The Taming of the Shrew: Critical Essays. Shakespeare Criticism. New York: Routledge, 2002.
In addition to an extract from Arthur Quiller-Couch’s introduction to his 1923 edition of The Shrew, Aspinall reprints the following critical appraisals: Robert B. Heilman, “The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew” (1966); Jeanne Addison Roberts, “Horses and Hermaphrodites: Metamorphoses in [The Shrew]” (1983); David Daniell, “The Good Marriage of Katherine and Petruchio” (1984); Margie Burns, “The Ending of [The Shrew]” (1986); Margaret L. Mikesell, “ ‘Love wrought these miracles’: Marriage and Genre in [The Shrew]” (1990); Lynda E. Boose, “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member” (1991); Juliet Dusinberre, “[The Shrew]: Women, Acting, and Power” (1993); Lena Cowen Orlin, “The Performance of Things in [The Shrew]” (1993); Michael Shapiro, “Framing the Taming: Metatheatrical Awareness of Female Impersonation in [The Shrew]” (1993); Laurie E. Maguire, “Cultural Control in [The Shrew]” (1997); Thomas Moisan, “ ‘What’s that to you?’ or, Facing Facts: Anti-Paternalist Chords and Social Discords in [The Shrew]” (1997); and Natasha Korda, “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in [The Shrew]” (1996). The collection concludes with reprints of theater studies and reviews of the play on stage, screen, and television: Jan MacDonald, “ ‘An Unholy Alliance’: William Poel, Martin Harvey, and [The Shrew]” (1982); Patty S. Derrick, “[The Shrew], Presented by Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival at the Stephen Foster Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, June 30–July 16, 1994”; Margaret Loftus Ranald, “The Performance of Feminism in [The Shrew]” (1994); Nicholas De Jongh, “Review of Gale Edwards’s [The Shrew], Royal Shakespeare Company” (Evening Standard [April 24, 1995]); Ann C. Christensen, “Petruchio’s House in Postwar Suburbia: Reinventing the Domestic Woman (Again)” (1997); and Barbara Hodgdon, “Katherina Bound, or Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life” (extracted from her 1998 The Shakespeare Trade: Performances and Appropriations). Aspinall’s introductory discussion of the critical and theatrical reception of The Shrew maps out “a chronological overview of the stipulations and qualities inherent in [the] three issues which so preoccupy and vex” critics: (1) the play’s “rough-and-tumble treatment of the . . . ‘curst shrew’ Katherine and . . . of all potentially unruly wives,” (2) the role of the Induction, and (3) the relationship of A Shrew to The Shrew. Aspinall emphasizes the wide range of responses to Katherine’s final speech (the longest in the play) and Petruchio’s “hearty response” to it, because “[i]t is here . . . that the play becomes most resonant in our own culture as we enter a new century of critical inquiry.” While cultural and political interests have informed Shakespeare scholarship since the 1960s, “virtually unique” to The Shrew is the way “even the most cursory of research . . . reveals that much discussion of the play assumes a cultural or political bent from the start.”
Bean, John C. “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.” In The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, edited by Carolyn Ruth Swift, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, pp. 65–78. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980.
Bean characterizes critics of The Shrew as either revisionists (in their belief that Katherine delivers her final speech ironically and remains untamed) or anti-revisionists (in their belief that Katherine is tamed “through the reductive procedures of rollicking, old-fashioned farce”). Objecting to both these positions, Bean argues that “what we should emphasize . . . is the emergence of a humanized heroine against the background of depersonalized farce unassimilated from the play’s fabliau sources. If we can appreciate the liberal element in Kate’s last speech—the speech that strikes modern sensibilities as advocating male tyranny—we can perhaps see that Kate is tamed not in the automatic manner of behavioral psychology but the spontaneous manner of the later romantic comedies where characters lose themselves in chaos and emerge, as from a dream, liberated into the bonds of love.” In making his case, Bean contrasts The Shrew with the brutality of the folktales presented by Jan H. Brunvand (below) and of A Shrew. Contrasting the last speeches of the heroine in the two plays, Bean can point to the misogyny of A Shrew’s version, with woman being presented as the source of sin, and to the emphasis in The Shrew’s version on “reciprocity of duties in marriage.” Through the latter Bean believes that Shakespeare is complicating the tradition of farce that he inherited by introducing into it the humanist conception of marriage as a union bound together “by the mutual obligations of love.” As his sources for this view of marriage, Bean cites the Catholic Erasmus and Juan Luis Vives and the Protestant Heinrich Bullinger and Robert Cleaver. Bean finds romantic elements in the taming, chiefly in the role-playing of Petruchio on the occasion of his wedding and in his language games later in the play, both of which lead Katherine into chaos, from which she emerges through the discovery of her own imagination. Bean also notes the persistence of farce in Shakespeare’s play, in Petruchio’s “beating of servants, his throwing of food and bedding, his railing at the tailor” and in Katherine’s “being compelled to come on stage at the end of play, to stomp obediently on her new hat, and to lecture on cue about the duties of wives.” It is against this background of farce that, Bean says, we see her emerge as a romantic character.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Quarterly 17 (1966): 345–59.
Brunvand contends that “examination of the background of . . . folktale tradition coupled with study of a few key texts can prove quite conclusively that Shakespeare’s taming plot, which has not been traced successfully in its entirety to any known printed version, must have come ultimately from oral tradition.” While no oral text has been reported from England, such texts have been reported from the countries surrounding it—Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany. Shakespeare’s play shares with a Danish folktale three of the four elaborations on the basic plot of taming that distinguish the particular subtype of the folktale found throughout northern Europe: “several details about the bridegroom’s arrival at the wedding (riding a nag, wearing old clothes, etc.) [3.2.42–62], the absurd statements to which the wife must agree [4.3.194–202; 4.5.1–45], the incident with the bent green branch [in the folktale, but not the play], and a wager on the wives’ obedience [5.2.67–128].” It is only in northern European versions that the wife must agree to the husband’s absurd statements before he will take her back to her father’s home. These versions, like Shakespeare’s play, also feature a cash wager that is laid only after dinner. Then “the wives are called in successively and further demands are made on them. Often in the tales the wives must either enter in some stage of undress or remove some clothing in front of the men, just as in Shakespeare’s play Kate must remove her cap and throw it to the floor.” Brunvand also purports to show that the shorter play A Shrew must derive from Shakespeare’s play by demonstrating that the latter is closer to its folktale origin than the former. Only Shakespeare’s play contains these four folktale traits: “warnings to the suitor about the shrewish girl, the man’s arrival at the wedding on an old sick horse, his bad behavior there, and the wife kissing her husband as a proof of her taming.”
Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 1, pp. 57–160. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957.
Bullough tracks the many possible sources for The Shrew and prints two sources and an analogue, attempting to account for the relation of each to Shakespeare’s play. The first source is George Gascoigne’s 1566 play Supposes, published in 1575, and no doubt a source for Shakespeare, who took the names Petruc(h)io and Litio, as well as suggestions about the play’s disguises and subterfuge, from Gascoigne. The analogue is from Goulart’s Thrésor d’Histoires Admirables et Memorables, as translated by Edward Grimestone in 1607, which contains a story of Philip, duke of Burgundy’s deception of a drunken artisan that is roughly analogous to the Lord’s trick on the tinker Sly in Shakespeare’s play. The second alleged source Bullough prints is the play A Shrew, printed in 1594, and thought by Bullough possibly to be “Shakespeare’s first shot at the theme” and thus a source for The Shrew. (It now seems more likely that the 1594 play and the 1623 Shrew derive in some way from an earlier Shakespearean treatment.) Bullough also re-creates for his reader the long histories of parts of Shakespeare’s play. Versions of the beggar transported to wealth are found in The Arabian Nights, in Goulart, in a 1570 jestbook by Richard Edwardes, in Sir Richard Barckley’s A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man (1598), in one of the ballads in Bishop Thomas Percy’s collection, and in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). Literary representations of marital conflict date from Plautus in classical drama through Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale” and such Tudor jestbooks as A Hundred Mery Talys (from around 1525) and Tales and Quick Answers (1567), as well as The Ballad of the Curst Wife Wrapt in a Morell’s Skin [i.e., the skin of a dead horse] (from around 1550).
Enterline, Lynn. “The Cruelties of Character in The Taming of the Shrew.” Chapter 4 in Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion, pp. 95–119. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
Two questions inform Enterline’s study of Shakespeare’s “career-long fascination” with the classical curriculum and humanist pedagogy of the early modern grammar school: “How did [such] training influence what counted as genteel masculinity in the period?” and “How did early modern pedagogy affect experiences of sexuality and desire?” Throughout the book, Enterline underscores “the significant difference between what humanists claimed their [pedagogical] methods would achieve [the formation of proper English gentlemen who would benefit the commonwealth] and what the texts of at least one former schoolboy reveal about the institution’s unintended literary and social consequences.” When read in light of Baptista’s pledge to afford his children “good bringing-up” (1.1.94–101), The Shrew’s many references to classical authors (especially Ovid), “overt interest in grammar school lessons,” and themes of “shrew” and “swine” taming (both topics associated with educational aims of the time) reveal it to be “one of Shakespeare’s most sustained engagements with the social aims, rhetorical techniques, and affective contradictions of early modern pedagogy.” Approaching the play through three Ovidian texts—Heroides, Ars amatoria, and Metamorphoses—Enterline traces their subversive influence on the social transformations of Bianca, Sly, and Katherine, three marginalized figures (as women and as a member of the lower class) who are, nevertheless, awarded the benefits of a grammar school education, something none would have been expected to receive. In the first case, the female student Bianca evinces a better grasp of Latin grammar and schoolroom practice than does her male tutor (3.1.33–38, 44–47; 4.2.6–10); in the second, the deluded beggar proves as comfortable with blank verse as does the capricious lord (Ind.2.68–75); and in the third, Katherine reveals a rhetorical facility and gift for public oratory that rival, if not surpass, the taming master Petruchio’s. Each plot in this play about mastery “raises complex questions . . . about rhetoric’s practical efficacy in ‘training up’ subjects to occupy different social stations by learning acceptable verbal, corporal, and affective behavior.” The vivid descriptions of Ovidian violence and pain that prompt Sly’s transformation from beggar to lord (Ind.2.50–60) remind us that “grammar school practice . . . produced both writers and audiences for a commercial theater in which cruelty became central to representations of emotion and character.” Katherine’s final speech of submission is, perhaps, best appreciated as an oration delivered before her peers and a “master,” the culmination of the “training up” envisioned by humanist schoolmasters, and thus indicative of “a performer performing.” Such rhetorical training encouraged a “habit of alterity,” the ability to impersonate other voices by imitating and embodying passions that were not one’s own. As The Shrew attests, “when Shakespeare creates the convincing effects of character and emotion for which he is so often singled out as a precursor of ‘modern’ subjectivity, he signals his debt to the Latin institution that granted him the cultural capital of an early modern gentleman precisely when undercutting the socially normative categories schoolmasters invoked as their educational goal.”
Henderson, Diana E. “The Return of the Shrew: New Media, Old Stories, and Shakespearean Comedy.” Chapter 3 in Collaborations with the Past: Reshaping Shakespeare across Time and Media, pp. 155–201. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.
Henderson examines the diachronic collaborations over the past two hundred years between Shakespeare and major novelists, actors, theater directors, and filmmakers who, in reshaping his plays, have also re-created modern Anglo-American culture. Her “cross-medial” study of “Shake-shiftings” addresses the political, economic, psychological, formal, and technical forces “that serendipitously transform imagination into memory.” The chapter on The Shrew examines five filmed/televised productions to illustrate how “modern collaborators with the camera dramatize and finesse the difficulties of (yet again) taming a shrew”: the Mary Pickford–Douglas Fairbanks film directed by Sam Taylor (1929), the Elizabeth Taylor–Richard Burton screen version directed by Franco Zeffirelli (1967), Jonathan Miller’s BBC-Time/Life production (1980), the televised docudrama Kiss Me, Petruchio starring Raúl Juliá and Meryl Streep (1981), and Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate about You (1999). The “throughline” shared by these very different screen Shrews “is their resort to some mode of justification for collaborating with this overtly tricky [and for many critics and audiences, ‘archaic and benighted’] text in the first place: the layers they add and the solutions they find vary, from medial to psychological to narrative re-vision, but all implicitly acknowledge . . . [that t]he greater the perceived difficulty in making the audience laugh, the greater the urgency of Shake-shifting.” Throughout the chapter, but particularly in reference to Miller’s production, Henderson cites Freud’s clinical essay “A Child Is Being Beaten” (1919)—“the comedy’s uncanny double”—to shed light on how, through their use of the camera, certain films and videos “wrestle with the possibilities of narrative rupture and psychological depth.” The author concludes that Zeffirelli’s choices to “use rather than paper over [the play’s] narrative gaps and silences” result in “the most layered and lasting of cinematic Shrews.” [The chapter incorporates a revision of “ ‘A Shrew for the Times,’ Revisited,” in Shakespeare, the Movie, II: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, Video, and DVD, edited by Richard Burt and Lynda Boose, pp. 120–39 (New York: Routledge, 2003).]
“Homily on Obedience” (1559). In Elizabethan Backgrounds, edited by Arthur F. Kinney, pp. 44–70. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1975.
Read from pulpits throughout the realm, this homily or sermon forcefully portrays the Elizabethan state’s doctrine of hierarchy and authority. According to the homily, God has created perfect order across his whole creation, from heaven (with its orders of archangels and angels) through the air (with the sun, moon, and stars, in their orderly progress around the Earth, and even with the different orders of birds), the water (with all kinds of fishes in the seas and rivers), the land (with its trees, plants, seeds, and animals of all kinds), the year (with its seasons), the human body (with its soul, heart, mind, and limbs in necessary order), and human society (where God, says the homily, creates some of high status and some of low, some rich and some poor). Any threat whatsoever to this divinely created social order is represented (in a slippery-slope argument) as the potential source of chaos—“all abuse, carnal libertie, enormitie, synne, and Babilonical confusion,” in which “no man shall ryde or go by the hyghway unrobbed, no man shall slepe in his owne house or bed unkylled, no man shal kepe his wife, children and possessions in quietnes.” The emphasis falls heavily on God’s appointment of Queen Elizabeth and her “supreme and higher officers” and on their function as a bulwark against such chaos. The homily infers from this alleged divine selection of the queen that opposition to her will be punished by divine vengeance through the agency of those appointed by God: “ther is no power but of god: the powers that be, be ordeined of god, whosoever therfore withstandeth the power, withstandeth the ordinaunce of god, but they that resiste or are against, shal receive to themselves damnacion, for rulers are not feareful to them that do good, but to them that do evil. . . . But an if thou doe what which is evil, then feare, for he beareth not the sweorde for naughte, for he is the minister of God, to take vengeaunce on hym that doeth evil.” The examples of Christ and his apostles and of David are adduced to persuade English subjects never to resist the power of state authority, but to accept even gross injustice, as did these biblical models. Finally the homily is careful to distinguish between, on the one hand, the alleged direct appointment of Elizabeth and her officials by God and, on the other hand, the pope’s claim to be God’s delegate in making similar appointments, a claim the homily is concerned to repudiate.
Kahn, Coppélia. “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare’s Mirror of Marriage.” In The Authority of Experience, edited by Arlyn Diamond and Lee Edwards, pp. 84–100. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977.
For Kahn, Shakespeare creates in Petruchio the stereotype of male dominance, while fashioning Katherine realistically and sympathetically as initially “a woman trapped in the self-destructive role of shrew by her male guardians.” While Shakespeare may subscribe to the principle of gender hierarchy, he is skeptical of the practice, and his play exposes the division of power and status according to sex alone as irrational and ultimately illusory. As farce the play satirizes men’s attitudes toward women by exaggerating to a ridiculous extent the reach and force of male dominance so that it seems a childish fantasy of omnipotence. This fantasy plays out in all the noise and violence of Petruchio—his stamping, shouting, beating of servants, and throwing of food and dishes to the floor. He plays lord over nature, exhibiting violence that is legitimized by his society. In the quieter language games at the end of the play, his dominance is revealed to defy reason. Katherine verbally accepts his power to call the sun the moon and have her name it so, but in her capitulation she clearly indicates that she thinks him mad. Implicitly she “reassures him that she will give him obedience if that is what he must have, but . . . warns him that she, in turn, must retain her intellectual freedom. . . . Though Kate is clever enough to use his verbal strategies against him, she is trapped in her own cleverness. Her only way of maintaining her inner freedom is by outwardly denying it,” as in her famous speech to Bianca and the widow, understood by Kahn to be delivered ironically. At its conclusion the play appears to replace the fantasy of male dominance with “a contrary myth: that only a woman has the power to authenticate a man, by acknowledging him her master. Petruchio’s mind may change even as the moon, but what is important is that Kate confirm those changes; moreover, that she do so willingly and consciously. Such voluntary surrender is, paradoxically, part of the myth of female power, which assigns to woman the crucial responsibility for creating a mature and socially respectable man. . . . Shakespeare reveals the dependency which underlies mastery, the strength behind submission.”
Kidnie, Mary Jane. The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare Handbooks. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
The core of Kidnie’s handbook, a performance-oriented introduction to The Shrew, is a scene-by-scene commentary (Chapter 2) that encourages readers to “envisage the words . . . unfurling in performance,” thereby opening up the “environment for which [the play was] written and [offering] an experience as close as possible to an audience’s progressive experience of a production.” Other chapters address the authority of the dramatic text and early performances, sources and cultural context, key stage and cinematic revivals, and major trends in modern critical approaches. In addition to passages from sermons, treatises, and pamphlets of the period, the chapter on cultural context includes extracts from three sources and analogues for the three separate strands of Shakespeare’s play: Gascoigne’s Supposes (1556) for the disguise plot, the ballad “A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife” (c. 1550) for the central taming plot, and the anonymous A Shrew (1594) for the Sly induction scenes. The key productions receiving special attention in Chapters 4 and 5 are David Garrick’s adaptation Catharine and Petruchio (1754), the Sam Taylor (1929) and Franco Zeffirelli (1967) films, Charles Marowitz’s The Shrew (1974), Jonathan Miller’s BBC-Time/Life version (1980), Richard Monette’s staging for the Stratford Festival of Canada (1988), and Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate about You (1999). Kidnie shapes her critical assessment of The Shrew (Chapter 6) around three sets of twentieth-century responses to the central “taming” plot: readings of it as a romantic comedy, as “a form of overt ideological display” rooted in the patriarchal order of early modern England, and “trickster” readings, which argue that Shakespeare’s play “only seems to affirm male privilege and female subjection.” In modern critical discourse, The Shrew—like MV and MM—has become a “problem comedy,” its final moments leaving us “with unresolved concerns about the prevailing structure of power.” The play remains one of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged comedies, “not despite, but because of, its controversial staging of a battle of the sexes.”
Newman, Karen. “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.” English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986): 86–100.
Newman argues that dramatic representation, whether on the stage in plays or elsewhere, has the power to expose as unnatural historical gender and class hierarchies that we might otherwise be persuaded to understand as being part of nature. Of chief concern is the dominance of male over female, and the moment crucial to Newman’s analysis is Katherine’s delivery of her long speech about wives’ necessary submission to the wills of their husbands in the last scene of The Shrew. Newman’s method is to contrast the play with an account of an early seventeenth-century court case brought by a small-town tanner against his neighbors. When the drunken tanner was physically and verbally abused by his wife, his neighbors sought to restore the hierarchy of males over females in their town by publicly ridiculing the tanner and his wife: one of the male neighbors, dressed as the tanner’s wife, was carried around so that he could abuse his fellow townsmen. The tanner brought a suit against his neighbors, but his wife is never heard from; she is denied any voice. However, in The Shrew, even from the beginning of the play-within-the-play performed for the formerly drunken tinker Christopher Sly, the shrew Katherine is given a voice and therefore has the power to represent in her speeches the gender hierarchy against which she struggles. Her speeches “deform language by sub-verting it, that is, by turning it inside out so that metaphors, puns and other forms of wordplay manifest their veiled equivalences: the meaning of woman as treasure, of wooing as a civilized and acceptable disguise for sexual exploitation, of the objectification and exchange of women. Kate’s having the last word contradicts the very sentiments she speaks; rather than resolve the play’s action, her monologue simply displays the fundamental contradiction presented by a female dramatic protagonist, between woman as a sexually desirable, silent object and women of words, women with power over language who disrupt, or at least italicize, women’s place and part in culture.”
Novy, Marianne. “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew.” English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979): 264–80.
Novy responds to the playfulness of Petruchio, but without losing sight of him as the embodiment of patriarchy, with his commitment to the authority of fathers over families, husbands over wives, and generally men over women. Even before Petruchio’s appearance on stage, the play confronts its audience with the representation of social hierarchy as a game when the Induction’s Lord changes places with the beggar Sly and when the gentleman Lucentio and his servant Tranio exchange clothes and social roles. Two features of game-playing feature in the first encounter of Petruchio and Katherine: he “behaves according to ‘the fiction, the sentiment of “as if” ’ ” when he invents a Katherine renowned across her social circle for her virtues and beauty, and she behaves as if playing a game in her verbal competition to best him with puns. He continues with his game beyond their private conversation when he represents the two of them as complicit in pretending to observers that she is still a shrew, even though she, he claims, is none. At their wedding, Petruchio exploits the power conferred on him by the patriarchal social order by playfully laughing at the conventions of this order in his manner and dress, but Katherine, in the subordinate position, worries about society’s judgment of her. This inequality persists in the scene with the tailor and haberdasher, when Petruchio can scorn social conventions governing female attire that Katherine is anxious to observe. Not until Petruchio begins playfully to use language later in the play does he offer Katherine an opportunity, which she eventually accepts, to join him in his game, as together they imaginatively re-create the words in terms that they share. “Faced with irrational demands, she has experienced the benefit of seeing them as part of a game and playing along. . . . Her education in folly has taught her how to live with relative comfort in a patriarchal culture.” This language game provides a perspective from which the audience can interpret her final speech as a performance rather than as a sincere expression of belief. The final scene “presents their marriage as a private world, a joke that the rest of the characters miss, a game that excludes all but the two of them.”
Paster, Gail Kern. “The Humor of It: Bodies, Fluids, and Social Discipline in Shakespearean Comedy.” In A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean Howard, 3:47–66, esp. 58–65. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003.
The second-century Galen’s doctrine of the four humors—the bodily fluids of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile; their accompanying qualities (either hot or cold, moist or dry); and the behaviors resulting from particular combinations (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic)—offered Shakespeare and his contemporaries “a theory of personality, behavior, status, gender, age, and ethnicity that had the distinct advantage of being rooted in what they believed to be indisputable facts about the human body and its relation to the natural world.” Classical humoralism did not distinguish between the psychological and the physiological; moreover, as understood in the traditional society of early modern England, it “reflect[ed] hierarchical social [and gender] values and could be used powerfully to naturalize them.” Paster applies Galenic humoral theory across Shakespeare’s comedies, with special attention to The Shrew. The play’s “underlying interest in social regulation of the natural and the appropriateness of the means for doing so” allows Paster to focus on the lowborn Sly and the choleric but wellborn Katherine, the two bodies “most conspicuously subject to humoral manipulation in all of Shakespearean comedy.” In the case of Sly, the Lord’s trick offers him “a dream of social elevation against the ‘humor’ of lowness”; the “sensual inducements” afforded him are “intended literally to warm [the beggar] into activity from the lethargy associated with lowness and drink”; even the entertainment provided by the itinerant actors is “presented . . . in humoral terms” (Ind.2.130–38). Whatever threat Sly’s humoral manipulation poses to hierarchical tradition is “fragmentary” because we never see the final effect of the “taming” inner play on him. Unlike Sly and the Lord, both Katherine and her tamer Petruchio “are constructed as humoral subjects prone to [choler and violence,] . . . socially outrageous behaviors produced by chronic humoral imbalance.” The challenge to tame Katherine presents Petruchio with the opportunity to alter himself materially, not merely by marrying a wealthy heiress but also by “expending [his own choleric temper] against a socially sanctioned target,” the unruly woman. His abuse of Katherine thus points up the “ideological underpinnings of the play’s humoral logic in which both protagonists undergo humoral reformation, but only the woman’s reformation is called a taming.” The defining moment of Katherine’s humoral reprogramming comes when she loses her relationship to her environment in the sun and moon scene sequence of 4.5. By denying the empirical evidence of her senses and her own independent judgment, she “agrees in effect to perceive the world through the spectacles of [Petruchio’s willfully changeable] humor” (4.5.21–25). Whether her words here and in her final speech in Act 5 are a strategic means of self-preservation—and whether we interpret the “ratification of male dominance” as ironic—the taming of Katherine, when read in light of humoral theory, becomes “more than tragicomic.” [The revised essay is incorporated as part of Chapter 2, “Love Will Have Heat,” in Paster’s 2004 Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).]
Ryan, Kiernan. “ ‘A kind of history’: The Taming of the Shrew.” Chapter 2 in Shakespeare’s Comedies, pp. 19–38. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Ryan focuses on the playwright’s ten “farcical and festive Elizabethan comedies” as the first phase of “a kind of comedy which Shakespeare quite consciously brought to an end with Twelfth Night and to which he never returned.” (He assigns the problem plays and romances to subsequent phases of Shakespearean comedy.) Ryan begins and ends his analysis of The Shrew with a close reading of Katherine’s final speech, arguing that disparagement of it as a “patriarchal apologia” fails to see how it uses “the template of the taming game in order to subvert the assumptions on which the rules of that game rest.” In support of this claim, the author devotes the middle sections of the chapter to an examination of (1) the “proleptic parody” of the Induction, (2) the foil function of the Lucentio-Bianca subplot, (3) the essential parity of Katherine and Petruchio (see 2.1.138–43, 190–282; 3.2.157–58, 251–52), and (4) the horseplay of the abortive honeymoon at Petruchio’s countryhouse, wherein we see male and female shrews as “mirror-images of each other.” Katherine’s collusion in Petruchio’s “reductio ad absurdum of male supremacy” (4.5.21–25, 30–53) is further evidence that this husband and wife are “a double-act.” As their good-natured bantering about whether to kiss demonstrates (5.1.147–56), the couple’s “intimate tenderness” has been “won through, not by bowing to convention but by flouting it together.” Katherine’s “scripted” and extreme argument on behalf of husbands “crowns the comedy’s sly undoing of the discourse of male domination” even as it illustrates “how deeply entrenched that discourse remains in the minds and hearts of women as well as men.” In Ryan’s reading, the play emerges not as “a repellant patriarchal parable” but as “the much more complex, exhilarating engagement with gender, love and marriage most people instinctively know it to be.”
Schalkwyk, David. “Performance and Imagination: The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Chapter 2 in Shakespeare, Love, and Service, pp. 57–79. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
In this study of the “conjunctive play of love and service” in the Shakespeare canon, Schalkwyk examines how “the social, structural interactions of service inform the personal, affective [interplay] of love” in relationships marked by differences of rank, gender, and sexual identity. The author invokes the precept central to the Protestant ideology of service—namely, that it is “not a form of bondage but perfect freedom if perceived and experienced in the right way”—in order to tie the psychology of service to both love and theatrical performance: If reciprocated, love may be seen as mutual service; if not, it becomes “a form of asymmetrical devotion to the other who occupies the place of master or sovereign. . . . Both service and love are peculiarly performative insofar as they are capable of creating their own worlds or projective valuation through imaginative or aspect-perception.” As evidenced by the Induction (which “reveal[s] all the players [to be] servants”—see especially Ind.1.82), the self-reflexive theatricality “of the player as the double embodiment of service as representing actor and represented character [is] nowhere more evident in Shakespeare than in [The Shrew].” To demonstrate the performative implications of service and love in the play, Schalkwyk considers three passages/episodes: (1) Grumio’s linguistic subversion of his master Petruchio’s commands (1.2.1–19)—an exchange that assumes greater complexity if read “as the representation by servants of a bit of stock master-servant intercourse; (2) the “ironical interplay of clothing and service” that informs the “monstrous sartorial transformation of a servant by an outlandish master” (3.2); and (3) Kate’s final speech (5.2.152–95), its “framework of reciprocal service and love . . . qualified by the [self-reflexive theatrical tenor] of the play as a whole.” Unlike Ado, which ultimately celebrates communal integration, the ending of The Shrew shuns social inclusiveness “for a private arrangement that hovers between virtue and necessity, paradoxically forging the only space in which the reciprocity of love and service may . . . be viable, if only through the fantasy of delight offered by the (in)subordinate servant-player.” [The chapter incorporates a revision of “Love and Service in The Taming of the Shrew and All’s Well That Ends Well,” International Yearbook 5 (2005): 3–43.]
Underdown, David. Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603–1660. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Underdown investigates and explains the behavior of English common people (that is, people below the rank of gentry) during the civil wars and revolutions of 1640–60. With the aid of political and military documents from the years leading up to, during, and after the civil wars and Restoration, Underdown asserts that civil war allegiances of the common people are products of regional and cultural differences shaped by a complex interweaving of localism, class, religion, environment, industry, and tradition. Reaching back to the prewar period, Underdown notes that the traditional patriarchal hierarchy of God, kingdom, and family is challenged by the forces of population growth, inflation, and industrialization of agricultural society. These forces stratify the classes, oppress the common people, and create a cultural and religious conflict between the community-oriented, traditional “Cavalier” Royalists and the individualist, devout “Roundhead” Puritan Parliamentarians. Prompted by the brutality of both the Royalist and Parliamentary soldiers, common people formed the massive popular movement of the “Clubmen,” whose goal was to end the war. Common people voiced their displeasure in less organized ways through riots sparked by lack of food, loss of traditions, and taxation. Underdown argues that such movements point to the civil war as empowering the lower sphere of English people to make decisions in government matters. He offers a complex and multifaceted account of the civil war that dethroned the monarchy and produced an egalitarian parliament. This Puritan parliament championed gender and class equality and food justice, which came at the price of a loss of order, hierarchy, tradition, and stability. Popular opinion toward the “upside-down” and “divisive” Puritans became hostile, and widespread celebrations erupted upon the Restoration of the monarchy. A cautious conservatism threatened to erase newly established equalities. The civil wars brought about inversions of patriarchy, but in the end these “foundered on the stubborn resilience of traditional culture.” However, after the Restoration, “the frequency of prosecution of both witches and scolds declined.” Owing to improved economic conditions and the “emerging conception of the affective family,” physical violence against women was no longer tolerated, but “women lost most of the vestiges of economic and personal independence some had acquired in the unstable years before 1660.” The early beginnings of the fall of patriarchy as a theory of government are present in the civil war period but not fully actualized until after 1688.
Underdown, David. “The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England.” In Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, pp. 116–35. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
According to Underdown, fears of an impending breakdown in the established patriarchal social order were widespread in early modern England. This anxiety displayed itself in a vast literature rife with references to rebellious wives and hectored husbands. In order to determine whether this “threat” to the social order was real or imagined, Underdown sketches a historical context of disobedient wives, rising accusations of witchcraft, and single women refusing service. He notes that until the middle of the sixteenth century punishment of disobedient women was in the hands of the manor or ecclesiastical courts and consisted generally of penance or small fines. However, in the latter half of the century, these offending women become a more important concern. Generally the women accused of being scolds were “poor, social outcasts, widows or otherwise lacking the protection of a family, [or] newcomers to communities.” They began to be forced to wear the scold’s bridle or brank—“an iron collar with a bit to prevent the victim from talking.” Wives believed to be unfaithful or abusive to their husbands were also targets. They now could be bound to the cucking-stool—“the see-saw-like contraption in which the victim was seated in order to be ducked in pond or river.” Or both they and their husbands could be the victims of the elaborate shaming rituals of the charivari, in which they were led about in a procession of their neighbors beating pots and pans, or the skimmington—in which they were confronted by a neighbor wearing horns and others making noise with kitchen utensils, including the skimming ladle. From his study of surviving documents, Underdown learns that prosecution and persecution of women was more common in agricultural communities with dairies than in those with crops. He notes that in the former women enjoyed greater economic power, not only making the butter and cheese but also bringing them to market. The entrance of women into the economy of these regions coincides with other stressors, such as excessive population growth, inflation, land shortage, the rise of capitalism, poverty, and vagrancy, and seems to have contributed to anxiety about their continued submission to male authority and to the strained gender relations that distinguish the early modern period.
Wayne, Valerie. “Refashioning the Shrew.” Shakespeare Studies 17 (1985): 159–87.
Wayne situates Shakespeare’s Katherine in The Shrew in a rich context of medieval and Shakespearean drama. The figure of the shrew or scold, Wayne discovers, is widespread, appearing in relation to accounts of Noah and the flood in a wide variety of postbiblical sources: “in the fourth-century Gnostic Book of Noria, in the Koran, and in a tenth-century Mohammedan account, as well as in the Caedmonian manuscript, two Wogul folk tales, a Russian redaction of the Revelations of Methodius, Enikel’s Weltchronik of the thirteenth century, and Queen Mary’s Psalter, and on Swedish church walls of the fourteenth century.” Wayne pays particular attention to the figure in the so-called Towneley cycle by the Wakefield Master, particularly in the Noah play and the famous Second Shepherds’ Play, and, in addition to The Shrew, in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (Adriana), Othello (Emilia), and The Winter’s Tale (Paulina). Wayne sees some connection between the character Gill in The Second Shepherds’ Play and Katherine in The Shrew insofar as both appear to collude with their husbands in elaborate schemes to take material advantage of their immediate social groups, being unsuccessful in the medieval play and successful in the Shakespearean one. By defining the scold or shrew as necessarily a married woman, Wayne finds that Katherine largely falls outside the social category because she is not even fully married at the end of the play when she exits with Petruchio to consummate their marriage. Wayne characterizes Petruchio as “not an object of wrath [like the husband of the conventional shrew], but an agent of concord. . . . He has only to show himself superior to the other men in Padua, especially Kate’s father, in his understanding of her needs and wants and how to deal with them, and the shrew is already on her way to submission.” He thus begins to resolve the problem of shrewishness “before it arises.” In Act 4 he becomes a parody of the shrew, but his disorderly conduct, while domestic, is not marital: “it is not aimed at Kate.” The irony that arises from Katherine’s final speech can be understood in terms of the humanist Juan Luis Vives’s maxim “A good woman by lowely obeysaunce ruleth her husbande,” and “Petruchio is in on the joke.” An audience may nonetheless feel cheated by the play’s ending, because “it provides us with absolutely no help in dealing with the inequities of the world of the play.”
Wootton, David, and Graham Holderness, eds. Gender and Power in Shrew-Taming Narratives, 1500–1700. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
This anthology of eleven essays explores “the various dramatic, poetic and narrative versions of the popular ‘taming of the shrew’ story, from the Middle Ages to the Restoration, in light of new historical work on the place of early modern women in society.” The essays are the following: Anna Bayman and George Southcombe, “Shrews in Pamphlets and Plays”; Sandra Clark, “Shrews, Marriage and Murder”; Holly A. Crocker, “Engendering Shrews: Medieval to Early Modern”; Richard Madelaine, “ ‘He speaks very shrewishly’: Apprentice-training and The Taming of the Shrew”; Leah S. Marcus, “The Shrew as Editor / Editing Shrews”; Margaret Maurer and Barry Gaines, “Putting the Silent Woman Back into the Shakespearean Shrew”; Helmer J. Helmers, “Unknown Shrews: Three Transformations of The/A Shrew”; Charles Conaway, “ ‘Ye sid ha taken my Counsel sir’: Restoration Satire and Theatrical Authority”; Graham Holderness, “ ‘Darkenes was before light’: Hierarchy and Duality in [A Shrew]”; Jan Purnis, “The Gendered Stomach in [The Shrew]”; and David Wootton, “The Tamer Tamed, or None Shall Have Prizes: ‘Equality’ in Shakespeare’s England.” Graham Holderness’s introduction outlines two opposing views of The Shrew dominant in scholarship of the 1980s and early ’90s: “knowledge” readings, which discern “reciprocal accommodations and free mutuality between the sexes,” and “power” readings, which consider the play (and the “taming trope” itself) barbaric and “beyond redemption.” The reassessment of early modern gender relations in more recent historiography and cultural criticism does not deny “the depth and extent of patriarchal oppression” in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; it does, however, insist on the “contestedness [and instability] of English patriarchy within the early modern home,” where women wielded more domestic authority than previously believed. The essays gathered here attempt to bridge the gulf between “knowledge” and “power” readings of the play, while also seeking to extend “the semiotic and chronological range” of the term “shrew,” which could be used of either a man or a woman, and which “could attract positive as well as negative valencies.” In her afterword titled “ ‘Thus have I politicly ended my reign,’ ” Ann Thompson responds to the preceding essays, comments on several recent productions in which gender and class conflicts are front and center, and confirms what she had suggested in her 1984 Cambridge edition: The Shrew should be redefined as a “problem play.”