Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Taming of the Shrew at the Stratford Festival

One of the great performances at the Stratford Festival this year is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. This Battle of the Sexes comedy is performed admirably by the husband and wife team of Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson who I had also seen as Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. In The Taming of the Shrew, Hay and Carlson have some great interaction, much of it physical. She even gets to slap her husband and spit in his face in every performance.

Practically every character in The Taming of the Shrew has a comedic role and they are well played in this production.

The play itself may draw criticism from some groups who think Petruchio is only trying to break the spirit of Katherina and bend her to his will, but what would these same groups think if it were a play about a woman trying to tame a loud-mouth boorish lout to be a gentleman and husband.

Though some might think that Petruchio is only trying to make Kate obedient, he is actually showing her how churlish and uncouth she is being. He does this by out-shrewing the shrew.

Basically, Kate is a bully, and we all know the public’s attitude regarding bullies. She bullies her family and anyone who comes within reach of her. Kate has boughten into the axiom that one must be strong, overbearing to dominate people to her will. She does not know what love is. Kate does indeed have passion, but it is misdirected.

Only when Kate is broken of all her shrewish passions can she then love. Her speech at the end of the play is magnificent.

 Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, And for thy maintenance commits his body To painful labour both by sea and land, To watch the night in storms, the day in cold, Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe; And craves no other tribute at thy hands But love, fair looks and true obedience; Too little payment for so great a debt. Such duty as the subject owes the prince Even such a woman oweth to her husband; And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, And not obedient to his honest will, What is she but a foul contending rebel And graceless traitor to her loving lord? I am ashamed that women are so simple To offer war where they should kneel for peace; Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway, When they are bound to serve, love and obey.

Is there a man alive who wouldn’t cherish such a woman and devote his entire life to her?

To paraphrase Hamlet:

Give me that woman
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear her
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

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