Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
In his diary, Philip Henslowe records The Taming of the Shrew at Newington Butts in summer 1594, which may or may not be Shakespeare’s play. The title page of the 1631 quarto claims that The Taming of the Shrew was “acted by his Maiesties seruants at the Blacke Friers and the Globe.” 17 years after Shakespeare’s death, Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, records a performance for King Charles I and Queen Henrietta at St. James’s Palace.
3. How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
The master (Petruchio) and his comic servant (Grumio) group it with his other early comedies The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Comedy of Errors. The complexity of the Petruchio-kate relationship suggests it may be the third in that group.
4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
Petruchio is one of Shakespeare’s many “playwright” protagonists who use performance as a way to solve a problem. Like Richard Gloucester, Prince Hal, Portia, Rosalind, Don Pedro, Hamlet, Iago, Prospero, to name a few, Petruchio makes the world his stage.
5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
Shakespeare’s plays often have a “show within the show” occur during the play proper; but Shrew is the only one that begins with a dramatic “induction” – two long scenes set in England – that explicitly introduces the main business of the play as a show, an Italian comedy put on by a Lord as part of a prank he is playing on Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
In terms of its inherent literary value relative to Shakespeare’s other plays, not much. In terms of its theatrical staying power, they notice.
7. Are there any controversies surrounding the work?
Since the 50s, this play has been one of the primary battlegrounds for scholars, not only on matters important to feminist critics, but on the whole question of Shakespeare’s primacy in the canon. Beyond that, it raises the question of how we experience works from other periods that expose the faults of their own time? Do the play and Petruchio endorse misogyny or interrogate it? Do productions of The Taming of a Shrew perpetuate a world where men seem to be created more equal than women (in this country 23 cents on the dollar more equal) where we accept that there are places women are, in Petruchio’s words, “chattel,” rape is a tool of war, and female genital mutilation religiously prescribed? Or do such productions help us see ourselves more clearly? How do we deal with the great plays and books, including the Bible, where violence, misogyny, slavery, and xenophobia are the givens of the world they come from? And how do we avoid being smug, since doubtless future generations will ask that of our works? More briefly: yes, there are controversies surrounding The Taming of a Shrew.
8. What scene should I especially look for?
Act II, scene i. Shakespeare may have used the “sun/moon” scene near the end of the play as an attempt to solve the problem of men and women and love and power, but every actor who’s ever played one of the leads knows that he stages that mystery when Kate and Petruchio meet.
9. What characters should I especially look for?
Sly. How is he like Kate?
10. What is the language like?
Once things get going, like yours.