Thursday, June 28, 2018
The Taming of the Shrew (Macmillan Collector's Library) Hardcover – August 23, 2016 by William Shakespeare (Author), John Gilbert (Illustrator), Ned Halley (Afterword)(Macmillan Collector's Library)
"The Taming of the Shrew" is probably William Shakespeare's second most controversial play -- nobody can figure out if it's misogynistic or a biting double satire on the sexes. Whatever it is, it's still a witty and hilarious comedy that pits the titular "shrew" against a crazy guy determined to browbeat her into traditional subservience... and while they're no Beatrice and Benedick, it is lots of fun.
Framing device: a local lord and his hunting party stumble across a drunken tinker, and decide to play an elaborate prank on him. They dress him in rich clothes, arrange fine food for him, and even drag a protesting servant boy in to pretend to be his wife. And they put on a performance for him as well: Baptista Minola has two daughters, the hot-tempered razor-tongued Katharina and the quiet, demure Bianca.
Since Bianca is not allowed to marry until Katharina is, her suitors form an alliance to get the elder sister out of the way, which is made more complex when a young student named Luciento falls in love with Bianca, and comes up with a clever plan to woo her. Enter Petruchio, an impoverished nobleman with as sharp a wit as Katharina -- and since he's the only one willing to marry her, her father jumps on the chance. From the very beginning, Petruchio beats her over the head with crazy reverse psychology, a ridiculous wedding ceremony, and a honeymoon from hell.
It's often debated whether "The Taming of the Shrew" is a sexist play or not, since the strong-willed, independent Katharina ends up another little obedient wifie, lecturing the other wives on giving their husbands "love, fair looks and true obedience." Blech.
But consider: this speech comes from a woman who, after years of intimidating the men around her, has been browbeaten, emotionally abused and humiliated until her boorish hubby finally "breaks" her... not exactly a rousing celebration of "the taming of the shrew," or of Petruchio! If anything, Shakespeare seems to be hinting that women should be subtle about their rebellion (as Bianca is) rather than broadcasting it to the world... and perhaps that is what the "shrew" had really learned.
And as usual, Shakespeare wraps the play in delicious wordplay ("You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,/And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst"), weird situations (the ridiculous wedding), and an farcical romantic tangle centering on Bianca. And Shakespeare has some fun with the framing device about Christopher Sly -- while the lord is being a jerk, the whole situation is just so hilarious that it's impossible not to enjoy it.
And the characters are pretty fun as well, even when you want to kick them in the backside -- Katharina is delightfully witty, bombastic and very intimidating, and Petruchio is a hilarious, witty jerk who knows just how to counter her. Bianca seems like a subservient doormat at first, but Shakespeare hints that (in her own way) she's just as rebellious as Katharina, unbeknownst to her clownish admirers and her worn-out dad.
"The Taming of the Shrew" seems like a pretty offensive piece until you see all the little barbs sticking out of the surface. Really uncomfortable, and truly brilliant.