The Taming Of The Shrew is one of William Shakespeare’s earliest plays.
The play is about the tempestuous romance of Petruchio and Katharina.
Katharina is the eldest of two daughters. Her younger sister, Bianca is sweet, loving and deferential to their father. She has several men who are eager to marry her. The only problem is that until Katharina marries, Bianca must remain single.
Katharina is feisty, headstrong, loud and opinionated. No man in Padua would dare approach her on the subject of courtship and marriage. Enter Petruchio. Petruchio is an outsider who freely admits that “he wants to wive it wealthily in Padua”. In layman’s terms, he wants to marry for money. Petruchio is not a sweet and gentle man. He is course, rude and loudly opinionated. In other words, a perfect match for Katharina.
This play, depending on the interpretation, can be bawdy, sexy, funny and downright dirty. It is the story of two outsiders who discover that they are a perfect for another. This play can also be downright sexist and misogynistic, again depending on the interpretation.
In Shakespeare’s time, women had no rights. If they were lucky, they had fathers (and later on in life, husbands) who loved and respected them. Marriage then (as it is now still in some parts of the world) is a business transaction with women sold in the name of being married. Wealthy women especially, had no rights.
Over time, Taming Of The Shrew has had several adaptations. Cole Porter’s late 1940’s musical, Kiss Me Kate, is the story of a traveling theater troupe where the lead actors who were once married to each other are playing Katherine and Petruchio. In 1967, a traditional telling of the play was brought to the big screen with married actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton playing the leads. In 1999, the play was remade into 10 Things I Hate About You (which happens to be one of my favorite movies), in which Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger played high school versions of Katharina and Petruchio. This movie evolved 10 years later into an ABC family series with Lindsay Shaw and Ethan Peck taking off where Stiles and Ledger left off. Finally, in 2003, the play was adapted into the film Deliver Us From Eva with LL Cool J and Gabrielle Union (who has a role in 10 Things I Hate About You) as the dueling lovers.
I have mixed feelings about this play. While it is very funny, the play, in it’s original context does not sit well with me. It is soaked in the sexism that existed in Shakespeare’s time and to an extent, still exists in our time. While Katharina can be considered a feminist character who speaks for women whose voices are forced to be silent, her final speech could also be construed as a ideal of a (hopefully) bygone era where women were expected to be obedient and silent.
I’m going to add the trailers for some of the adaptations below. If you have an opinion of this play and it’s various adaptions, please leave them in the comments below.