Actors' Renaissance Season 2015

This hilarious comedy is much more than a “battle of the sexes”; it is also a profound look at the necessity of “play” in our lives. This production includes Shakespeare’s “Induction,” which presents the Kate and Petruchio story as a play within the play. Blending romantic comedy and outlandish farce, Shakespeare gives us a love story of psychological liberation and the mysteries of being married.

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the induction
  • A Lord finds a drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, asleep on the ground, and decides to play a trick on him.
  • The Lord tells Sly that he has had amnesia for fifteen years and that he’s really a lord.
  • Sly accepts his new nobility and all of the amenities that come with it.
  • Traveling players arrive to present a “pleasant comedy” set in Italy for the “Lord Christopher Sly.”
stuff that happens in the pleasant comedy
  • Lucentio (and his servants, Tranio and Biondello) arrives in Padua to study.
  • Baptista, a merchant from Padua, decrees that no one can marry his “sacred and sweet” younger daughter, Bianca, until his elder daughter “of devilish spirit,” Kate, is wed.
  • Lucentio falls in love with Bianca, who is also being wooed by Hortensio and old Gremio.
  • To win Bianca, Lucentio disguises himself as a Latin teacher; Hortensio disguises himself as a music teacher.
  • Lucentio’s servant, Tranio, disguises himself as Lucentio to woo Bianca openly for his master.
  • Petruchio arrives in Padua to find a rich wife. Hearing of the shrewish Kate and her generous dowry, Petruchio vows to marry her.
  • Petruchio meets Kate. After a noisy exchange, Petrucio announces that they will be married on Sunday.
  • Petruchio, dressed in ridiculous clothes, arrives late on the wedding day. After the ceremony, he refuses to stay for the wedding feast. Instead, he whisks Kate off to his home in Verona.
  • Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) outbids old Gremio for Bianca’s hand in marriage while the real Lucentio (still disguised) wins Bianca’s love.
  • Tranio finds an old man to impersonate Lucentio’s father, Vincentio; this imposter meets with Baptista and consents to the marriage of Lucentio and Bianca.
  • The real Vincentio shows up.
  • Chaos, weddings, and wagers ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief

1. When was the play first performed?
c. 1590-91

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.