January 24, 2008

Review: The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare

After first viewing a Biography Channel video of Shakespeare, I chose to read The Taming of the Shrew as recommended to me by Trish. First I cracked open Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by E. Nesbitt for a brief glimpse of the story. I followed this with the real thing.

The beginning of the play is about a Lord who is playing a trick on a drunk beggar napping at his fireplace. The Lord has the sleeping drunk cleaned and sent to his own room. As the drunk awakens, the servants are to behave as if the drunk is actually the Lord of the Manor. As the Drunk is convinced that he is Lord, a group of actors come to entertain him with their play "The Taming of the Shrew." I checked a couple of times initially to make sure I was reading the correct play as none of this part sounded anything like the Nesbitt rendering of the tale. Once I was sure I was reading the right one I realized how familiar this beginning was. It is borrowed from one of the stories in the Arabian Nights known as Abou Hassan or The Sleeper Awakened.

But soon the real story begins with Baptista, the father of two daughters, the eldest is known as Katharine the Shrew and the younger is the much sought after Bianca. But Baptista has sworn that Bianca is not to be courted until Katharine is first married. So all the suitors (and there are several) work together to find a husband for Katherine.

Petruchio is just such a man. He cares nothing at all about her temperament as long as she is rich and beautiful. Petruchio, being a clever man, begins wooing Katherine using a bit of reverse psychology; he plays a game of wits that cause Kate to think him a mad man, including this humorous part:

Pet. Come, come, you wasp; i' faith, you are too angry.
Kath. If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Pet. My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
Kath. Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.
Pet. Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Kath. In his tongue.
Pet. Whose tongue?
Kath. Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
Pet. What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again, Good Kate; I am a gentleman.

I laughed out loud. What an image!

Petruchio manages to set a wedding date and the taming begins from the very first. He is late for the wedding, then he shows up dressed to beat all. He cusses during the ceremony and drinks in the church before rushing off his new bride before she gets a chance to eat. For the next couple of days he is as nice as can be to Kate but is the cruelest cur to everyone else. Kate is not allowed to eat for the food is not perfect, the bed is torn apart so she cannot sleep, and the most fashionable clothes are turned away for imaginary imperfections. In short, Kate is taught what a truly disagreeable temperament looks like, how unpleasant it is.

But he is not done yet. As Petruchio is driving Kate to her father's for the wedding of her sister, he tests her once more. He calls the sun the moon. When Kate contradicts him he is all fired up and threatens to return her home without seeing her family. This is when she finally relents. Katherine sees that the only way to have peace is to affirm whatever her husband says, even if it is wrong.

The last part of the play is a wager between Petruchio, Bianca's new husband, and a friend about who has the most compliant wife. At this point Katherine has been trained well and Petruchio wins the bet. Kate then gives an address to her sister about the importance of an agreeable wife.

While there are certainly parts to this taming process that rankle me, I must say that I found the ending very moving and inspirational; it is something to think upon.

This was my first reading for the Shakespeare Challenge and a very satisfying one it was. I tried reading the biography of Shakespeare by Peter Ackroyd but I found it tiresome. When I had read about 6 pages into it I realized that there was no way I could read the more than 500 pages of this writing style. I'll just have to find a more down-to-earth biographer to enlighten me on the Bard's life.


Jeane said...

Shakespeare is great. It was so hard for me to read in high school, I never got the humor until I was older! I tagged you for a reading meme.

verbivore said...

I have yet to read this play but I think I should get to it this year, sounds so funny.

I've heard very good things about Will in the World, a newish biography by Steven Greenblatt. It's supposed to be quite good.

Petunia said...

Jeane-thanks for the tag.

Verb-thanks for the suggestion. I'll look that title up.

calon lan said...

This one was never a favorite of mine, although it does have some great moments, as you pointed out. I haven't read Peter Ackroyd's bio of Shakespeare yet (but I have heard great things about Greenblatt, like verbivore noted), but if you want something completely different from him, his book Albion is magical and not that difficult of a read.

Petunia said...

I have Greenblatt's Shakespeare reserved at the library. If I like it I'll check out the other title. Thanks Calon Ian.

Sue said...

I know this post is well over a year old, but I bumped into it somehow! Wanted to pass this on....have you heard of or read Shakespeare by Bill Bryson? I have not finished it...just read pieces of it here and there, but I am really enjoying it. You might want to check it out.