Actors' Renaissance Season 2005

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Stuff that Happens
stuff that happens before the play
  • Katherine, the “shrew” from Shakespeare’s story, has died.
  • Petruchio has just married his second wife, Maria.
stuff that happens in the play
  • Gentlemen discuss Petruchio’s new marriage to Maria and his old behavior with his first wife.
  • Old Moroso seeks a young wife in Maria’s younger sister Livia; but Livia loves Rowland, even though she refuses to elope with him.
  • Spurred by Bianca, Maria rejects her former mildness and vows not to sleep with Petruchio until she “turn him and bend him as [she] list, and mold him into a babe again.”
  • Petruchio discovers that he is “locked out-a doors, and on [his] wedding night.”
  • Livia publicly rejects both her suitors, hoping “that Rowland do not believe too far what [she] said to him” and joins the ranks of Maria and “Colonel Bianca.”
  • More women join the revolt and Rowland swears never to love again.
  • Petruchio bows to certain demands, but is still denied his wedding bed by his wife.
  • Feigned sickness, traveling, and death ensue.
Notes from the Executive Director
fletcher, the collaborator

The Tamer Tamed: 1611

John Fletcher, fifteen years younger than William Shakespeare, collaborated with him on this two last plays, Henry VIII (1613) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1614) and soon afterwards succeeded Shakespeare as the chief playwright of the King’s Men, by far the most successful theatre company in London. One of Fletcher’s talents must have been his ability to work well with others because most of the plays he turned out – about four a year until his death in 1625 – were collaborations.

Today we tend to think of a playwright as a romantic solitary figure like Keats scribbling alone as he contemplates that Grecian urn (or Joseph Fiennes inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love), but these partnerships remind us that theatre was then, as it is today, a business. Actors and theatres demand new plays to produce and, like a TV series, they need them on a predictable schedule. Need a new season of Law and Order? Bring in the writing team. Well, John Fletcher seems to have been a good team player. In addition to Shakespeare, Fletcher partnered with such major playwrights as William Rowley, Nathan Field, Ben Jonson, Philip Massinger, and, most famously, Francis Beaumont.

In the case of The Tamer Tamed (also called The Woman’s Prize), the King’s Men wanted a sequel to one of their most popular plays, The Taming of the Shrew, and their head writer was John Fletcher, who seems to have specialized in boisterous and crowded scenes. The result is a play about the war of the sexes that looks forward as far as comedies like Nine to Five and backwards as far as Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, in which the women, as they do in Fletcher’s play, go on a sex strike.

For that reason, The Tamer Tamed is a blow against that most prevalent of biases: chronological chauvinism, the belief that nobody in the world knew how to think about things before our lifetime. News flash: some people living in England four hundred years ago were able to conceive of the idea that husbands shouldn’t abuse their wives and that women were as smart and as capable as men. Maybe forty-five years of English life in a world where the most powerful person was a woman named Elizabeth had helped with this idea, but there is no question that The Tamer Tamed is just what the title sounds like, a response to the Hortensios of the world who took The Taming of the Shrew at face value.

Does the fact that Fletcher wrote a pro-woman sequel to The Taming of the Shrew mean that Shakespeare’s play was sexist? Not necessarily, but it does mean that almost twenty years after Shakespeare created the first play, the King’s Men knew that their audience would buy tickets to see another play about Petruchio – another battle in the war of the sexes. And they were right: The Tamer Tamed became one of the most popular plays in their repertory. In terms of marketing, Shakespeare’s play is to Fletcher’s as Animal House is to The Revenge of the Nerds – a good excuse for another moneymaking venture. And just about as much political thought went into the play as the studios put into those two movies.

ralph alan cohen

Executive Director
Director of Education