"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Friday, August 26, 2011

Theater Week/Film Friday: The Taming of the Shrew

Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. New York: Barnes and Noble Shakespeare. 291 pages.

The Taming of the Shrew is a problematic and complex play, and is all the more enjoyable for both of these qualities. Before this summer, I'd seen it twice, but I'd never read it.  Reading it not only reminded me how much I enjoy reading Shakespeare, but it also reminded me just how rich and rewarding this play is, as long as you are willing to think about it.  To begin with, Bianca has much more of a role in the play than I remembered.  It is easy to think of the play as the Kate and Petruchio show, but it is equally about Bianca and her suitors. I also noticed how Kate's father seems to prefer Bianca to her, and one has to wonder if Kate is a shrew because her father prefers Bianca, or if her father prefers Bianca because because Kate is a shrew.  Either way, Kate does not seem to have the happiest home life, and it seems to have embittered her (just a bit).  Kate's speech at the end is certainly infamous, but it is important to notice that Kate and Petruchio seem to have formed a working partnership, whereas Bianca and her husband have not.

I'm used to reading Folger Shakespeare editions of the plays, but for this one I had to get the Barnes and Noble Shakespeare, and I found it to be both informative and user friendly, not just a Folger Shakespeare knock-off.  The notes not only explained words and phraseology that have become anachronistic, but it also placed certain comments in the context of the play itself, such as what Shakespeare might have meant by giving Lucentio such flowery lines ("I burn, I pine, I perish") when he first sees Bianca.  For anyone looking to delve into Shakespeare for the first time, I highly recommend these editions.

As for the play, the director obviously had a clear interpretation of the play.  For him, the "taming" of Kate was less an act of domination and more an act of compassion. Petruchio wanted to mold Kate into, not a more traditional woman, but one who could function in society without being a mean person.  Shakespeare does not take away Kate's snarky tongue, since at the end Petruchio encourages Kate to bring the widow down a peg.  Rather, Petruchio wants Kate to trust him, and he wants to prove to her that he will be there for her. I confess, I care less about whether I agree with a director's interpretation of Shakespeare than whether the vision is strong enough to carry the play (because I have seen instances where it wasn't).  But the director didn't just focus on Kate and Petruchio.  He also had ideas about Bianca and her suitors, and about Lucentio and Tranio. The whole play had a cohesive feel, and every character was important.  When Kate made her speech at the end, with utmost sincerity, it may have begun as a lecture to Bianca and the widow, but it turned into a demonstration to Petruchio of how much she loved and trusted him.

What helped illuminate the production and open new insights onto the director's view of the play was one of a series of podcasts produced by APT this season, called Behind the Curtain.  If for no other reason than it presents interesting views of the play, I'd highly recommend listening to it.  You can listen to the podcasts online here, or you can download them from iTunes.

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