Monday, August 10, 2015

Why Taming of a Shrew? Why Now?

I wanted to direct The Taming of a Shrew because Kate makes me want to be a better boyfriend. There are lots of interesting textual curiosities in this play, and there are many ways that The Taming of a Shrew can be said to create a dialogue with it's Folio cousin (The Taming of The Shrew, as it is more commonly known), especially in light of the pamphlet wars that marked a revolution in proto-feminist thought in early modern London at this time. But, at the end of the day, what really strikes me care about The Taming of a Shrew is the way Kate comes when her husband calls for her.

In A Shrew, during the concluding wager scene, one of Kate's sisters gives the answers that she's busy right now, but she'll come to her husband soon. If I'm being completely honest with myself, that's the answer I've been most likely to give with any lady I've thought of as my significant other, which probably has a lot to do with why they're now ex-significant others. And that's probably why Kate and Ferando (Petruchio in the Folio version) are described as being wed, and the other couples are "sped" at A Shrew's conclusion.

Kate and Ferando are both intelligent, strong willed people, and they're attracted to each other for that reason, but through the process of the eponymous taming, they're able to create a companionate marriage for themselves where they can both put the relationship first. Ferando refuses to call Kate for a hundred pounds of silver ("She shall not come so far for such a trifle"), and sets the value on her time and effort at 500 pieces of gold; it's particularly noteworthy because, while Ferando is clearly not poor, he's also not nearly as rich as members of his social circle). Kate, for her part, comes without hesitation, merely because her husband wants her there.

I want to be more like Kate.

But that's just me.

There are lots of reasons why Bad Quarto Productions should be producing this play, especially at this point in time: A Shrew interrogates the explicit misogyny of The Shrew by making Kate a consensual participant in her own taming. Kate tells the audience in an aside she wants to make sure her would-be husband is man enough to make her act like a proper woman, which removes the taming plot from the realm of domestic abuse and, along with the indefinite article of the play's title, raises a further question of who is taming whom.

Ferando is described as a perfect match for Kate: "As blunt in speech as she is sharp of tongue, /
And he I think will match her every way," and his antics are poorly received by his friends. He enters with every bit as much of an air of unsuitability to marriage as Kate does, and their mutual happiness at the play's conclusion testifies that Ferando has been tamed to husbandry as much as he has tamed his wife. Couple that to the promise Ferando makes to Kate that she "shall rule tomorrow," and we're left with a picture of a household governed by a partnership of husband and wife. Modern production of The Shrew never quite so well achieve this, however so they strive, and whatsoever devices they use, as the rarely performed 1594 quarto does with words alone.

But there is also here the possibility that Kate's sisters are the real tamers, making their young gentlemen callers into more suitable husband material, and taking part in a game of courtship to secure not just husbands, but also advantageous social positions. Shakespeare is replete with exercises in taming future spouses, and if Kate is the only shrew we're talking about in this taming, the Shrew play(s) would be unique: Shakespeare's other comic tamers are all women, from As You Like It's Rosalind, to The Merry Wives of Windsor, all the way on through Twelfth Night's Viola.

And, of course, there's also the fact that A Shrew doesn't let you forget that the taming was all just a play within a play.

Given the lack of evidence any historian or textual bibliographer is bound to confront head on, it's impossible to say beyond a reasonable doubt whether A Shrew is a different version of The Shrew, and that Shakespeare is responsible for both, and if so, which version is later and reflects revision, or even whose revision it reflects. The Taming of a Shrew does what good suspect texts do: it makes us re-think and re-imagine a play that we think we know well, and forces us to confront the reality that we maybe don't know it so well after all.

The Taming of a Shrew has given me a lot to think about, and I look forward to exploring this text through performance with you all, and I hope you'll join us for our October 2015 production!

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