“The Taming of the Shrew” by Shakespeare, from RSC Live.

Wednesday, June 5TH  @ 7 PM.

Shakespeare wrote many plays which are very sympathetic towards females and which portray males in an unfavourable light but “The Taming of the Shrew” is generally viewed as being pro the male of the species. Most scholars are agreed that it was written in the early 1690s. It can be great fun if taken as a piece of comedy, almost as farce. It has always been popular and many legendary performers have acted in it; David Garrick, American, Ada Rehan (one of the great Katherinas), Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Edith Evans, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft, Peter O’Toole, Fiona Shaw, Vanessa Redgrave, are just some of the legendary actors who have starred in it.   According to Eddie Salmon’s book, “Shakespeare: A hundred years on film”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, a comedy/farce, is the fourth most filmed of his plays – after “Romeo and Juliet”, “Hamlet” and “Othello”; it’s also one of the shortest. Furthermore, statistics provided by the RSC tell us that from 1879 to 2004, in Stratford-upon Avon it was, after “Hamlet”, “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It”, the most often performed of all his plays.

“The Taming of the Shrew” has been adapted (in 1948) as a famous musical, “Kiss me Kate”, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The Nineteen-eighties BBC TV production had John Cleese (Basil Fawlty) as a subdued Petruchio. In 1908, the iconic Hollywood Director, D W Griffith, made a silent film of the play. And perhaps most famous of all is the picturesque 1966 film by Franco Zeffirelli starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, with our own Cyril Cusack as Grumio – made during one of the tempestuous times in their marriage(s)! The film has superb photography, sets and costumes and the stars give marvellous performances. (In 1929,in the first ever ‘talking’ picture of a play by the Bard, Hollywood’s screen ‘royalty’, Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford, carried the ‘battle’ between Shakespeare’s lovers into their daily lives thus leading to the collapse of their marriage.)In the play’s Induction (or Prologue), a framing device, Christopher Sly, a tinker, is discovered drunk by the roadside. A nobleman and his hunting party, as a kind of joke, take him to the Lord’s house. There he’s dressed in finery and persuaded that he’s really a nobleman. Strolling players are to present a comedy. And, that, more or less, is the end of the tale of Christopher ‘binge’.

The play to be staged is the story of “the taming of the shrew” – Petruchio, seeking a wealthy wife, woos Katherina, a headstrong woman of quite a violent disposition – so violent that her father fears she’ll never find a husband. There’s also a sub-plot involving Bianca, Katharina’s younger sister, and Lucentio; and there’s an important link between them – Bianca, who constantly attracts men, cannot be married until her father gets Kate safely off his hands . As the play gains a momentum all its own, once they are married, Petruchio brings his new wife to his house in the country and bullies and starves her in an effort to make her a docile, obedient wife – and succeeds! He even had her wait for him to arrive for the wedding ceremony! It is set in Padua, Italy, in Petruchio’s country house.    

I have seen “Shrew” in the theatre quite a number of times over the years and have generally found it to be an enjoyable romp. After the recent screening of the great Arthur’Miller’s “All My Sons” in a compelling, magnificent NTLive production, I now look forward to seeing what, in 2019, the RSC will make of this play.

(Jim Ryan)