The Taming of the Shrew

End Date:  February 25th

Author:  William Shakespeare

Published:  1592

Genre:  Plays & Theater

Pages:  304 (paperback)

Selected By:  BillMo

Average Review:  Scoring Liked Book

“A rough-and-tumble farce centered around a lively battle of the sexes, The Taming of the Shrew brims with action and bawdy humor.  The unconventional romance between a lusty fortune-hunter and a bitter shrew unfolds to the accompaniment of witty, fast-paced dialogue and physical humor.

“The freebooter Petruchio arrives in Padua to hear of Katharina, a beautiful heiress whose waspish rants and caustic personality have repelled all attempts at courtship.  Professing to admire a woman of spirit, Petruchio immediately sets about his wooing.  The initial encounter between ‘Kate’ and her wily suitor is spiked with impassioned exchanges of blows as well as jests.  After a madcap wedding ceremony, the still-protesting Kate is whisked away to be ‘killed with kindness’ and reborn as a loving wife.”

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Gigglemug Reviews

BillMo:  Scoring Liked Book

This was definitely a lot different than I am used to reading.  I have read a little Shakespeare but it has been a wee bit since I have read his work.

The beginning of the story was strange.  I want to know if back in the time period that this story was written that Lord’s of houses truly were that bored that they would play a trick on a drunk lower class fellow to make him think that he was mad and the actual Lord of the house and he was not remembering because he had been mad for so long.  If so I think I want to be the Lord of the house in the 1500-1600’s.  I found that part pretty funny.  If I had my choice of someone playing a prank on me like they do today where they humiliate you and post it on the internet for all eternity or to have them prank me into thinking I was higher class and gave me food, a nice bed, and entertainment I think I would take the later.

I did like the book but I thought the story as a whole had a mean feeling, but if I pictured it like I was watching a play it made it comical like it’s supposed to be and not so seriously mean.  My favorite characters are probably Christopher Sly and the Tailor.  I think both of these characters could have redeeming qualities or at least they were the least mean of all the characters. This reminded me a little bit of high school.  I remember really liking this boy and the best way to get his attention was to ignore him.  Just because this worked did not make it a good idea kind of like “taming” Katherine.  I thought it very awful when he showed up on their wedding day dressed shabbily and being an “ass”.  I felt like her spirit was being broken when Petruchio was trying to make her into his ideal wife.  On the other hand it also seemed that he was doing to Katherine as she was doing to others so I am not quite sure whose meanness was worse.  However, I don’t think Katherine was literally starving anyone or denying them perfectly fine clothes. Speaking of fine clothes I felt bad for the Tailor and think that someone should have let him in on their charade because he did as the men bid and then was told everything was wrong.

I think that Lucentio was underhanded.  He was a liar and trickster yet was rewarded.  Hmmmmm.   This sounds like a lot of people I know these days.  It seems that bad behavior is rewarded.  Dang it!  This book has made me realize I have been living the wrong way.  I should lie and trick people to have a reward for all my underhandedness!

BillMo’s Favorite Character(s):  Christopher Sly and the tailor.

BillMo read the Signet Classics paperback version of this book.

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Lady Esbe:  Scoring Liked Book

I’m not the biggest fan of the bard and this by far is not my favorite of his plays. I prefer Macbeth and on the comedy side, I prefer A Midsummer’s Night Dream.   This is my first reading of this and while it took me a few pages to get back into the swing of Mr. Shakespeare’s language, we are in the realm of his social commentary.  I leave that to Elle Tea to tackle.

I personally was struck by the level of psychological warfare engaged during this play.  It is unfortunate that the oldest daughter must be married off prior to the younger sister being vied for during this time.  However, to secure a woman’s lot in life, it was a necessary, albeit backwards evil.  In this case, we have a very hostile Katherina.  We have no back story to her other than that she is wild, hateful and quite a b****.  For all we know she may have had reason to be angry and belligerent, but we are not privy to that.  However, from what we are allowed to observe, she is more than difficult.  It can be gleaned that she is aware of her situation, standing as a gatekeeper to her sister’s marital bliss.  However, I don’t believe it was always so.  We don’t have proof one way or the other, but it is my estimation that Katharina’s attitude has plagued those around her long before her sister became the desirable one and may have even caused her to be the desirable one.  Katharina is a terror to anyone around her.  She is abusive, verbally, physically and psychologically.  So how does one combat such a person?

Enter Petruchio.

The would be suitors of Bianca are either too much of a pansy or idiotic to deal with Katherina head on.  So what does any person who is spineless and unwilling to attempt to date the older, more difficult sister do?  Enlist the aide of a third party who has nothing to lose.  Petruchio is confident and clever.  He listens to the plight of these worthless men and says, “fine, I got this.”  Upon meeting with Baptista, the father to Katherina and Bianca, Petruchio presents himself as a confident, yet odd duck.  He offers marriage to Katherina sight unseen and in spite of her reputation.   Even in their first meeting she is rude, unruly and he persists in is odd duck routine to be almost lovesick. Ha, phase one complete, make them think you absolutely are smitten and will do anything to be with this particular woman.

Phase 2: Instill Doubt.  Which Petruchio does like a champ.  Despite being so bristly, Katherina is actually looking forward to being married.  This turn of events probably puts her at ease that someone would want to be with her and not Bianca.  However, the trick of Petruchio showing up late to the wedding instills the doubt and concern that she will be humiliated by being stood up at the alter and still standing in the way of her sister’s marriage.  Brilliant, throw her off her game of being the devil incarnate by “wooing” her and her father to only show up late to the wedding ceremony and presenting yourself almost fool like in his eccentricity.  She doesn’t have time to gain her wits about her after being relieved that did go through with the ceremony, because Petruchio goes to phase three immediately.

Phase 3:  Treat one as one would treat others.  Petruchio becomes so contrary, bullish and downright abusive, one might feel sorry for Katherina.  Oh wait, that is how she treats others.  The shoe, now being on the other foot, Katherina is now the recipient of the verbal abuse of herself and others around her.   The physical abuse she suffers is starvation and sleep deprivation.  Taking Katherina out of her comfort zone, Petruchio has effectively waged psychological warfare on Katherina.  Katherina is forced to defend others that she would have abused had Petruchio not done it so thoroughly and aptly before she even had the opportunity to.  While Petruchio’s behavior is extreme, it serves a purpose.  Subject her to her own behavior and abuse and watch how she crumbles, as Katherina can dish it out, but surely can’t take it.  Looks like Will had a precursor handbook to modern psychological warfare right here.

By the end of Petruchio’s campaign I feel like Katherina has Stockholm syndrome if not a good taste of her own medicine to realign her thoughts and behavior.  She is kinder, more amenable to those around her, especially her husband.  His general abuse of everyone around him, caused her to champion the better treatment of his servants.  She begins to see those around her as people to be respected and treated with respect and affection vice contempt and abuse.  I don’t see this so much as a breaking of her spirit as a realignment of her ill-tempered behavior.

On the other end, manipulation rules the day to disguise Bianca’s ill-temper.  Bianca presents herself as a genteel and sweet young woman who just can’t wait to be wed.  However, upon getting her way, her total lack of respect is evident immediately.  She ignores her husband with a “I’m too busy” to come help him.  Bianca, unfortunately embodies quite a few women’s attitude of “fake it til you make it” to obtain what they want and then change right before the husband’s eyes.  She doesn’t even wait a full day after the marriage to show that she is willful and could care less about being a dutiful wife.  She achieved what she wanted, marriage, screw her spouse.

I know most women will find Petruchio offensive.  I found him hilarious and spot on.  He fought fire with hell and got the banshee to acquiesce her standard beratements to calm and polite behavior.  It wasn’t about dominating her, but causing her to become humble and respectful of others.  You cannot truly understand a person’s plight until you walk a mile in their shoes and Petruchio taught that lesson well.

Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s):  Petruchio.

Esbe read the Dover Third Edition paperback version of this book.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring Liked Book

I absolutely love Shakespeare and was so glad when BillMo said that her pick for our round of classics would be one of his works… though I must admit this particular selection has never been much of a favorite; I’m really more of a Sonnets or Hamlet kind of girl (you just really can’t beat “Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love” in my opinion), and when I’m in a comedic frame of mind I tend to look more to Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing.  Since so much of his work is so very well-known, including this one, I’ll skip focusing too much on the plot and the characters, which I believe BillMo and Lady Esbe have covered (though I do have to admit to being one of the women cited by Esbe who finds Petruchio’s behavior offensive), and look to the play’s biggest problem for most modern readers, which can really be summed up with two words:

Blatant misogyny.

I see a woman may be made a fool, if she had not a spirit to resist.

I love me some Bard, but I just can’t sugarcoat this – The Taming of the Shrew is misogynistic as all get-out.  But, really – and stick with me here, ladies and gents, because what I’m about to say is going to get some of your feathers ruffled, but I have good cause – really, you just need to get over that.  Seriously.  If you intend to read this play, get it fixed in your mind that a loudmouth, abrasive, violent woman is going to be forced into a marriage full of domestic dysfunction with a loudmouth, abrasive, violent man who will ultimately break her spirit by combining mental abuse with denial of necessities such as food and clothes.  Just cry, “Fie!” and be done with it.  You knew what was going to happen – it’s in the friggin’ title, for pity’s sake.

But don’t take away my Riot Grrl card just yet.  I do consider myself a feminist – a true feminist, who wants women and men to be (dare I say it?) equals rather than the caricature used by so many today of a man-hating harpy who wants to bring men low so I can climb up on their shoulders and look down upon them as they writhe about in the dirt.  That being said, I’m also a ginormous history nerd, so let me tackle the touchy issue of the taming in The Taming as best I can armed with what I know to be true about women, relationships, 16th-century life, and modern entertainment.

A lot of people today look at this particular play and say such things as, “Well, it was the 1500s, and this sort of behavior was perfectly acceptable then.  Happened all the time, in fact.”  Well, in fact, it was not acceptable and did not happen all the time.  Marriages were commonly arranged among the nobility and the wealthy, this is true, and also true is the fact that men had most of the power in government and in the home.  But this period of time was also one in which courtship and at least the pretense of romance was the preferred method of wooing one’s lady love, and the balance of power between men and women had been given a significant shake by the successful reign of Elizabeth I – herself a patron of Shakespeare (in fact, The Taming of the Shrew went public over 30 years into her 44-year reign).  In the end, the openly abusive treatment of Katherine (and of Katherine to her sister and her not-so-gentle gentleman) was no more socially acceptable during the time in which the play was first released than it is now.  So what made it so popular?

Away, you three-inch fool!

Well, the same thing that makes all rom-coms so popular, even today: a few people spend some time making complete fools of themselves, and in the end, the guy gets the girl.  And that’s typically what it comes down to: no matter how it’s billed, no matter who seems to be the primary focus, in the end it is the guy who gets the girl -and it can be no other way, because, as with The Taming of the Shrew, the story may flit from perspective to perspective, but the formula is pretty much the same: a man does what he does and is who he is, and a woman makes herself up and over and changes her life completely, resulting in his realizing how much he just can’t live without her, which, in turn, gives them a happily-ever-after and makes her life worth living.

Still not convinced?  Okay, let’s take a few popular rom-coms that everyone has probably heard of and give them the once-over with the same discerning eye with which we glare disapprovingly at The Taming of the Shrew.  We can all agree that Pretty Woman was a highly successful romantic-comedy, right?  And the moral of that particular story was… what, exactly?  That a successful  man with a seemingly unlimited line of revolving credit can save a low-class gal from the depths of prostitution hell by changing her wardrobe and teaching her how to be more like the women of his social class.  Still not convinced?  Okay, well, Jerry Maguire’s famous “You had me at hello” scene is only possible because the main female character decides to uproot her life (and the life of her small son) to follow a broken man into professional exile – a man who, let me remind you, barely remembers her name and can’t be bothered to treat her with any sort of dignity until he completely hits bottom and realizes she’s the only person left still trying to scrape his self-respect off the floor.  The Bridget Jones series was quite popular, and she clearly never does anything but think about men and how to snag (and shag) one of her very own.  A popular movie series among women right now is Fifty Shades, which, besides being based off of a trilogy of poorly-written books, is essentially the story of a Plain Jane Everygirl who falls in with a powerful, domineering man who takes advantage of her inexperience and anxiousness to please him to coerce and manipulate her into performing sexual acts that make her highly uncomfortable and yet, somehow, end up making her stronger and setting her free.

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

Moving on from that, I want to focus for a moment on what makes The Taming of the Shrew entertaining to me, which essentially boils down to how very transparent it is from the beginning.  From the Induction, which is set up in two small Acts, we are told quite bluntly that everything that will follow will be a complete and utter farce: a common drunk passes out in front of his favorite bar, and a rich guy accompanied by his entourage stumbles upon him and decides a hilarious way to kill some time would be to drag him home with them, dress him up, and convince him when he wakes that he is really a nobleman who has been very ill and, therefore, very confused about his identity and station for a long time.  The drunkard, while successfully fooled, remains true to his actual nature and makes it quite clear that he wants to be left alone to drink and eat… and possibly muck about a bit with his wife, who is actually the affluent fellow’s pageboy dressed in drag as part of the gag.  And enter the theater troupe who ushers us from the madness of this “reality” into the madness of Baptista Minolas’ household.

In the end, I find it most hilarious of all that the three most unlikable characters in the play are the only ones who are actually at all honest.  Christopher Sly, our drunkard from the Induction, is only ever a drunkard, while his social “betters” decide to fill their bored hours with a whole pile of lies making up one big, cruel joke.  Katherine lacks any sort of filter, says what she wants to say, does what she wants to do, is loud, angry, argumentative, violent and contrary just for the sake of being contrary; Petruchio, meanwhile, makes no secret of the fact that he is an unrepentant treasure hunter who mentally tortures his intended, humiliates her publicly, physically drags her off to a place she does not want to be, and denies her food and clothes.  Assholes, indubitably… but true to who they are.  Meanwhile, those characters who appear to fit the expectations of society infinitely better are, on the whole, as fake as they can be: Bianca, Kate’s younger sister, is sweet and biddable and comprised almost entirely of fluttering eyelashes and girlish giggles… until that ring is on her finger; Lucentio, a nobleman who has come to the city to study, decides the best way to win the heart of the woman he adores is by lying his head off to her entire family and pretending to be someone else entirely; Hortensio, Petruchio’s friend and Lucentio’s rival, then ups his game and pretends to be a music instructor in order to get nearer to the object of their affections.

Such a mad marriage never was before.

It’s the ending I have the hardest time with, to be honest.  In the end, Kate ends up as brainwashed as a Stepford wife, full of agreeable smiles and nods of acquiescence, doting on her husband and chastising the women around her for their blatant disrespect towards their own menfolk.  That Petruchio won the domestic war is abundantly clear.  It’s irrefutable.  But as with all rom-coms, I create a suitable explanation for it all in my own head, one that makes it more palatable for me.  And with The Taming, I tell myself that Petruchio didn’t break Katherine.  Maybe, the night before Lucentio’s banquet, they had a particularly nasty fight in the middle of the night, long after everyone else was asleep; after Katherine had nearly killed him with a candelabra to the dome, they stood there, hands on knees, panting, him nursing a bloody scalp, her staring with horror at the heavy candle-holder that almost became a murder weapon… “There’s no point, is there?” she might say, realizing she’s stuck with this son of a bitch, and he doesn’t like it any more than she does.  “Not really, no,” he’d warily – but readily – agree.  And they spent the rest of that night forming a shaky alliance based solely on the fact that they liked everyone else even less than they liked each other.  And after a few moments of relatively companionable silence, he’d chuckle quietly to himself and say, “You know what would be hilarious?  If we went to that stupid banquet tomorrow and made those miserable sods think that we, of all of them, had made the best union.  That you had become, ha ha, the model wife, and I, by turn, ha ha, the model husband.”  And they would laugh a bit at the absurdity of it all… and then slowly look at each other… and smile.

Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s):  No one, really.  But if I had to choose, I’d say that, as unlikable as she is on the whole, Katherine makes sense from the perspective of a 21st-century woman.  If I was shoved back into the 16th-century knowing what I know now and having had the freedoms that I have had most of my life… only to be forced to live as Kate – to know that my father had so little respect for me to insist that I marry when marriage was not of any interest to me, and to know that I would be bullied into it by not only him but his ridiculous rule that I marry before my younger and more willing sister?  Well, I’d be a raging bitch, too.  And if he tossed me to a man who treated me with such heinous disregard and contempt as Petruchio??  Oh, they would all rue the day…

Elle Tea read this selection from Gramercy’s leatherbound edition of William Shakespeare: The Complete Unabridged Works.

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