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Jun. 11 2012

The Problematic Shrew

By Judith Krummeck | Posted in Host Blogs | 2 Comments

The Taming of the Shrew is such a problematic play, isn’t it?  It feels almost sacrilegious to say that I dislike a Shakespeare play but I really do dislike this one.  It’s true that we often have to suspend belief for a Shakespeare play and have to approach it bearing in mind the context in which it was written.  But, obviously, the thing about his plays that makes them enduring is how universal they are.  In America in 2012 it is difficult to find any universality in the idea that a woman has to be tamed, somewhat like an animal, by her husband.  (Sadly, this doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination in some other parts of the world in 2012.)

Aaron Posner is a regular director at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in DC and I have been captivated by many of his creative and inventive productions there.  I thought that if anyone could give me a better impression of The Taming of the Shrew, he might.  In the run that ended last night at Folger, he set the play in the Old West c. 1880.  If you’re a fan of the HBO series Deadwood, he was inspired by that.  Serendipitously, I happen to be reading Joan Didion’s book, Where I Was From, which includes a description of her ancestors being amongst those who opened up the frontier and made their way to California, so I had been half-living in that kind of world.  The Old West and Shakespeare seemed an odd marriage to me but it did give Posner the opening to make some “gender-bending choices”, as he put it.  The parent of the shrewish Kate and her younger sister Bianca (who can’t marry until her sister does) was turned into a hard bargaining mother rather than a father as Shakespeare wrote it.  Kate is dressed as a gun slinging cowboy in the opening scenes.  In the scene where Kate’s new husband, Petruchio, is humiliating her by making her say that a man is a woman and then recant, the words were given to Kate instead.  What helped it most for me, though, was that they played up a kind of sexual attraction that Kate discovers, which made her choice to relinquish her “shrewishness” seem more plausible.  I still don’t like the play, but this production may have helped me to think about aspects of it differently.

Maybe I should revisit the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film again, and see what I make of that now.

 

 

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Judith Krummeck

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Judith is WBJC's afternoon host. Her full bio can be read here.

2 Responses to The Problematic Shrew

  • Kati Harrison
    Kati Harrison says:

    It’s funny how one is made to feel sacrilegious if one doesn’t like a Shakespeare play! Thanks Judith for indirectly giving me permission to admit that I don’t like “The Taming of the Shrew.” Perhaps it’s less about dislike than the fact that it makes me uncomfortable and a little angry. Watching it, I always try to make excuses for it though, ie, Shakespeare was making money in order to write what he wanted, the play is a reflection of another time and on and on.

    The Aaron Posner production sounds like a winner. The double meaning of taming the American West and just as formidable a woman is pretty darned brilliant.

  • Dyana Neal
    Dyana Neal says:

    I also dislike this play, although the Aaron Posner production sounds interesting. Have only seen bits of the Taylor/Burton film, but it made me uncomfortable. I even have issues with the musical “Kiss Me, Kate.” Caught part of that film on TV recently & found certain scenes very hard to watch. I think it’s safe to say that any man who treated one of us that way onstage (or offstage) would wish he hadn’t!

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