Presenting Taming Of The Shrew To A Modern Day Audience
Presenting Taming Of The Shrew To A Modern Day Audience
The Taming Of The Shrew is an extremely difficult play to present to a modern day audience, as its controversy, caused by prominent themes including dominant males, submissive women and general inequality in the sexes simply can not be accepted in present society. The particularly difficult characters; the swiftly changing disposition of Kate, the misunderstood Petruchio and the often over looked character of Sly must be addressed and adapted accordingly to give the play the acceptability it deserves. In addition, the controversial events of Petruchio and Kate?s first meeting, influencing his consequent monologue, the seemingly barbaric ?Taming? itself and, perhaps the most complicated passage of all; Kate?s reformed final speech, must be adapted tactfully to grant the play at initial tolerability, but hopefully the magnitude, significance and insight is warrants.
It is important to remember that The Taming Of The Shrew is a play within a play. Few directors include the predicament of Sly being ?tamed? by the Lord into his newly decided role, most focus entirely on the plight of Petruchio in ?taming? Kate into hers. However, even in its most basic role it grants the play greater poetic license, immediately enhancing its accessibility. The induction can also give a contrasting angle on the play itself.
The role of Sly seems to mirror Kate almost identically, so the gender inferiority issue can be quashed slightly. Initially resistant to the servants attempts to convince him he is a Lord, ?I am Christopher Sly?, his mind is only changed when he is given a ?wife?, the change is made clear by an indication of class Shakespeare often employs; his speech transforms to that of a more elegant cultured man, an obvious parallel can thus be made between the rapid change in Kate?s attitude. Sly changes from ?by present profession a tinker? to ?Upon my life a Lord indeed? just as Kate?s respect and opinion of men alters from ?and paint your face like a fool? to ?and place your hand below you husbands foot?, this seemingly unjustified transfiguration may be accounted for by the following. In Sly ?For God?s sake, a pot of small ale? to ?and once again a pot o?th?smallest ale? the true depth of his transformation is beautifully demonstrated, although he acts like a gentleman he still thinks and feels like the rogue he is, therefore, when Kate professes that ?My hand is ready may it do him ease? could she not be in the same state as Sly? Merely adapted to her surroundings, but with a change no more than that of Sly?s engulfing her. So should we think of Kate as actually being changed?
Sly?s transformation is based on his perceived power over a woman, which shows society?s stereotypical views at the time and the fact that a ridiculed character expresses them could indicate that Shakespeare viewed these prejudices as foolish. In addition, it could be seen to make comments on gender and social class, where a lack of actual substance for prejudice and the importance of often-misguided perceptions can grant environmental and superficial characteristics more influence than actual qualities, as people?s opinions are shaped by what they are told not what they discover. They are not fixed; as Sly?s ?wife? dresses as a lady he is perceived to be a lady and as Sly is dressed as a Lord he thus becomes a Lord. Consequently, through presenting Sly as a figure of fun it shows men to be controlled by lust and their longing for power, thus showing Kate, through her resistance and desire for love, to be a much stronger character.
The wench, the soldier, the Shrew; Katherine?s reputation makes her change in attitude difficult to justify, but not impossible as there is reason for her hate. In a Nottingham production of the play Kate had a seemingly unjustified detestation for all she met, making her transition difficult to grasp and commend as plausible. Even the comic value does not grant it poetic license to degrade women, as I perceived it to. Transforming from ?I?ll see thee hanged?? to ?I pray thee, love, stay? with no real reason is so drastic it is almost ridiculous, so a reason for Kate?s hate must be established. When blended with an angle that a BBC production raised, that Kate desired love and her hatred was generated through jealousy and envy of her Sister, shown in ?Of all thee suitors here I charge thee tell me whom thou lov?st best?, it makes her change in attitude plausible, even predictable. This allows one to think of Kate as one with Petruchio from the start, as a Sara Z. Daspin version does, making their union flirtatious, comical and mocking of a conservative, hypocritical society who do not understand the masquerade that they are witnessing in Kate?s transformation. Thus, comic value can be exploited in a different fashion. The hypocrisy of the on lookers can be shown through the sweet Bianca disrespecting her father behind his back and the supposedly loving suitors making crude gestures of Bianca, the latter can be shown when Hortensio says ?he hath the jewel of my life in hold? accompanied by him grabbing his crotch in a fashion not unlike Michael Jackson. This will help to prove the lack of substance in the suitors quest for Bianca and display a purity in Petruchio and Kate?s relationship Therefore, if Kate is shown to be as outrageous as Petruchio, for example when in ?Will you give thanks, sweet Kate?? She should not begrudgingly comply, but fling herself to the floor under the weight of her gratitude. Then their relationship will not seem unequal, but exciting and defiant of others, granting further justification of Katherina?s change.
The character of Petruchio must be approached with great care, as it is he who can cause the most controversy in the play. A production directed by Michael Ouellette takes an original approach to the play by splitting it into two persepectives. Lucentio and Bianca view the ?Taming? as beneficial and tragic respectively with Petruchio?s role being the main influence upon these perceptions, in one ?he must incense the audience to anger? and in he other ?he must move them to laugh at his situation?. These two traits are seen in the Nottingham and BBC productions. In the former, although attempting a comical role, Petruchio is so slimy, narcissistic and domineering it is completely implausible that Kate has actual fallen in love with him, the take on his monologue at the end of Act 4 Sc. 1 ?Thus I have politically begun my reign?? embodies this, he boasts of his power and thrives on the opportunity he has to dominate Kate. However, in the BBC production Petruchio is presented with a charming wit, although presented with more than a hint of sarcasm, as seen in ?I find you passing gentle? which, even though not entirely serious, will surely please Kate more than being deemed a ?devil? as she is by other perspective suitors. It is this that gives the relationship an immediate fire and purpose, namely to encourage adaptation in each party in order for them to express their love. In the BBC production, the monologue is spoken as if he is ashamed of his intention to tame her, as it is not the route he wishes to take to make her fall in love, but presently the only way he sees effective, perhaps simply complying with the views of women at the time. Indeed, in ?bate and beat? Petruchio is almost inaudible, but seems truly reverent when professing ?that all is done in reverend care of her.? Suggesting a desire to love Kate which is absent from the Nottingham production.
Petruchio cannot appear proud of the fact he is taming Kate if he is supposedly exploiting this method to free her of the barrier which prevents her from truly loving, as this will suggest he is merely enforcing control over her, and it is the former angle that I am trying to present. Petruchio must be seen, not in a role of conqueror over Kate, but rather as one who recognises, respects and desires her wit, strength and fire. This can be shown through Petruchio?s reaction when Hortensio describes Kate. Disregarding the wealth issue, ?wealth is a burden of my wooing dance? his ears are caught by ?cursed?, ?shrewd? and ?forward?, ?be she as foul as was Florentius? love?, traits that he arguably boasts himself and consequently desires in others, although the fact that they are embraced in him and condemned in Kate show the attitudes of society in the 1500?s. The outrageous Petruchio can not appear to lust after Kate in the conventional way as shown in ?10 Things I Hate About You? but rather thrive on the verbal sparring that she partakes in ?Come, you wasp/ If I be waspish, best beware my sting?, desire the fire that so obviously burns in her ?A witty mother! Witless else her son?, and long for her not to yield to him, but to free her off the anti-conformist barriers she has placed between herself and happiness.
The first meeting is a difficult passage to convey convincingly and in an acceptable manner. It is easy to argue that Kate sees her match in Petruchio, which is why she complies with his views. His wit combats the viscous tongue that previous suitors had fled from, ?beware my sting/ My remedy then is to pluck it out?, and indeed his linguistics are admirable in the verbal duel, brimful of double entendres and puns, such as ?What, with my tongue in your tail?? arguably more copious than any other scene in Shakespeare, he does match her. He does not seem to respect her though, ?I swear I?ll cuff you if you strike? shows this, but to Kate this could be the only respect when she desires, to be equal with men, however, it still suggests that there must be a greater motivation. This could lie in her jealousy Bianca ?She [Bianca] is your treasure, she must have a husband; / I must dance barefoot on her wedding day, / And for your love to her lead apes in hell?, or simply that she sees her biological clock is ticking and see is losing time, this is shown because leading apes in hell was believed to be the lot of women who die old maids. However, these views cannot be presented to a modern audience as it suggests that women are ruled by jealousy, expectance and their biological clock, which feminists may not approve of.
It is important to portray the union as equal as they both seem to thrive on the challenge. In the Nottingham production Petruchio employs aggression to gain control, and the humour and flirtatious fire present implies that Kate wishes for this to happen. However, in the BBC production the eccentric, but witty Petruchio leaves Kate bewildered and intrigued, thus is more credible. As, although not totally happy, Kate sees in Petruchio something that see desires; a suitor who is not afraid of her and, although not totally serious, one who embraces her supposed faults as beauty. It is important then to keep the verbal barrage constant and contrasting, the anger of Kate coupled with the relaxed wit of Petruchio will create a sexual tension rather than feeling of disgust, for example in ?So Kate will be my hen/ No cock of mine? the two should not be arguing, but rather Kate being incensed and intrigued by the demeanour of Petruchio, and upon announcing the marriage Kate must look to protest only to retain her Shrew-like image.
The Taming itself today seems barbaric and cruel to many so is the only option to omit this? It could be said that if Petruchio?s attempt to tame Kate was rejected by her then it would be acceptable to present, thus the taming would be unsuccessful. However, to be a success its purpose must first be determined. Did Petruchio simply want control? Or did he desire love? The production in Nottingham suggests the former, so when Kate appears to have submitted to Petruchio, shown in the way she delivers her final monologue, with ?Fie, fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow?? being spoken as if it is Petruchio controlling her speech and actions completely the ?taming? was successful and consequently unacceptable, as there is no place for forceful dominance of men in society. However, the BBC version and Daspin?s adaptation imply the later. Daspin especially, suggests that, although Petruchio believes he is initially right in trying to subdue his wife, it is in her matching his outrageousness. Through embracing ?the moon changes even as your mind? with an outrageous vivacity she can sarcastically mock Petruchio?s attempts at controlling her and it is in these actions that he begins to love her truly. In pretending to be tamed Kate joins Petruchio in union against a society that neither fit into. Indeed, her last attempt at contradiction, when denying him a kiss, is followed by her first pronounced love for him "Now pray thee, love, stay" is stated with an authentic desire for his company previously unheard, clearly showing that she has not been broken by him, but liberated to express her true emotions.
Identity is a key theme in the play. Tranio and Lucentio are a prime example of how Shakespeare suggests perception can change a role, as is Sly in the Induction. However, in Petruchio?s "the mind that makes that body rich; / and as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, / so honor peereth in the meanest habit" he suggests the opposite. This implies that clothes and appearance will change you in the short-term, but Sly will return to the street, and Tranio and Lucentio do switch back. It is therefore essential to see the relation this has with Kate?s situation. Is she play-acting as Shrew or the ?perfect? wife? Surely her sharp tongue and temper are a result of society; her jealousy of Bianca is caused by men?s preconceived views of how a woman should act. The persona of the Shrew is therefore the act, which Petruchio helps her to shed and thus acquires her love, it is when [she kisses him] followed by ?Now I pray thee, love, stay.? That she allows herself to be true to her heart. Petruchio therefore did not tame her he gave her the confidence to be herself.
Kate?s final speech; has she really changed? It is extremely difficult to present this tactfully whilst retaining the angle you have tried to convey throughout the play, as it is extremely controversial. A speech where Kate sounds completely brainwashed and controlled, as she did in Nottingham; staring blankly at the audience, spurting ?my husband is thy Lord, the life, the keeper?? as if Petruchio is moving her lips an d speaking for her, suggests that women will submit to a man?s cruelty if sustained for long enough. In the production the speech was totally contrived as if Petruchio controlled her, suggesting that Kate had been tamed with her glee in the final scene, particularly in her joyous exit, suggesting that she enjoyed being becoming this puppet of Petruchio's. However, this method of direction could upset and offend many viewers as it presents quite a sexist viewpoint. Kate must love Petruchio to give the speech any importance to today?s society. ?10 Things I The About You? presented the final speech, albeit in a different context with new content, well. Reading a Sonnet, perhaps an acknowledgement of the change in context that the play has undertaken, Kate expressed her hate for loving the Petruchio character. This suggested that she was not forced into submission, but rather encouraged to let go of her anger and be ruled by her heart, rather than her past. The BBC took a similar approach. Kate spoke with conviction and love, particularly in ?my mind hath been as big as yours? where her alteration is emphasised, and, if Petruchio had retained his arrogance, this would have made a terrible ending. However, he was humbled by her humility, as shown in ?Why there?s a wench? being said not in a condescending manner, but rather out of admiration of what Kate represents, suggesting a change in both of them induced by love. In contrast, it could be said in admiration of the convincing lie she is spurting.
It is important to remember that to say something is not to mean it, especially when it can win you money. If Kate presents her final monologue in a tongue in cheek fashion with the money from the wager awaiting her and her partner she will show her control, as the winning of the bet is totally in her hands. In my production the two are coupled in their eccentricities, wit and sharpness, so should the end not display the collective power of the couple in winning the wager? So during, the speech, over-exaggerated in mockery of the na?ve hypocrisy of Hortensio and Tranio, Petruchio should struggle to remain serious and have to fight laughter in ?Why, there?s a wench!? because, much like Sly?s change in speech to show a perceived rise in class, Kate?s previously unheard speech runs just as deep, exploiting their friend?s na?ve observations.