The Taming of the Shrew
“I cannot tarry: I knew a wench married in an afternoon as she went to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit; and so may you, sir: and so, adieu, sir.”
We saw The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, in the RSC production, directed by Conall Morrison and starring Michelle Gomez and Stephen Boxer at The Theatre Royal, Newcastle.
The play is misogynistic and therefore never satisfying, though different productions have tried to save it from this central flaw. Here, Morrison takes care to include the Christopher Sly prologue (often cut from the play), where Sly is tricked into believing that his life as a tinker is a dream, and that in reality he is a lord.
The travelling actors then arrive and perform the play with Sly as their audience, though he shortly metamorphoses into a brutal Petruchio. As always with RSC productions, there is much to marvel at. The actors are great, the sets and lighting stunning, but we are subjected to witness this play, in which Kate is bedazzled and belittled, starved and bamboozled and knocked around until she can do no other than recite her final speech, advising all wives to be obedient to their husbands, with shades of the Stepford Wives never far away.
The frame is brought full circle at the end of this performance, when the actors all leave, and Petruchio (the tinker, Sly) is left, near-naked and trembling at the edge of the stage. The point is well made, but not enough to redeem the play. We have been treated to a feast of language but inside we’re not entirely happy about the experience.
It was useful, therefore, to remember that there is a sequel to Shakespeare’s play. John Fletcher produced The Tamer Tamed seventeen years after the first airing of ‘Shrew’. And in the sequel we are treated to a striking rejection of patriarchy and in its place given a carnival of female activism and solidarity. In the later play, the now widowed Petruchio, still smarting after failing to totally tame his deceased Kate, takes on the seemingly much milder Maria.
But Maria has reserves of strength and cunning, and is equally determined to tame the male shrew she has inherited.