The Taming of the Shrew – Alternative Character Interpretation(s)

Posted in Editorials on September 14th, 2012
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While in London, Adam and I had the opportunity to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the building where Shakepeare’s plays were originally performed, rebuilt a few hundred yards from the original site. We saw The Taming Of The Shrew.

There’s volumes that could be and have been written about what Shakespeare meant to say about women (and men) in this play. The only thing I have to add is that he must have been either reacting to or parodying the reaction to recent gains in women’s rights/education/autonomy. Otherwise there’s not much of a point to it all.

The performance was excellent and hilariously funny at times. I did enjoy myself for most of the play, drinking cider under the stars and wondering if my experience was anything like those of people centuries past. (My basis for comparison comes from Shakespeare in Love and Doctor Who.)

The first thing that really broke my concentration was Act IV Scene V.

PETRUCHIO

Come on, i’ God’s name; once more toward our father’s.
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!

KATHARINA

The moon! the sun: it is not moonlight now.

PETRUCHIO

I say it is the moon that shines so bright.

He’s gaslighting here, and it’s icky to watch.

KATHARINA

I know it is the sun that shines so bright.

PETRUCHIO

Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father’s house.
Go on, and fetch our horses back again.
Evermore cross’d and cross’d; nothing but cross’d!

HORTENSIO

Say as he says, or we shall never go.

KATHARINA

Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
An if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

But as it continued, an alternate dialogue, one from the novel 1984 began to play in my head.

‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘Four.’

‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’

‘Four.’

The word ended in a gasp of pain.

***

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four. I suppose there are four. I would see five if I could. I am trying to see five.’

‘Which do you wish: to persuade me that you see five, or really to see them?’

‘Really to see them.’

I’m don’t know if there’s been anything scholarly written about this. The only other reference I could find was in TV Tropes.

Orwell clearly isn’t making an allusion to Shakespeare, but the scenes to me are so strikingly similar, it gave me chills. I started thinking that Kate is Winston Smith.

In her final monologue she says:

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.

And all I could see was the ending of The Stepford Wives:


Oh, God. Not Joanna!

At the end of the book and the 1975 film, the men of the town have killed all of the women and replaced them with robots.

I’m trying to keep in mind that The Taming Of The Shrew is a comedy, but there is something very dark under the surface. And I don’t think we can separate what we suspect to be Petruchio’s motivations from how we interpret Kate’s transformation. The play is almost a Rorschach for a person’s views of gender roles. My most generous interpretation is that they are playing a delightful D/S sex game. But if we are to believe that she is sincere, it’s not very funny at all.

One Response to “The Taming of the Shrew – Alternative Character Interpretation(s)”

  1. hsextant Says:

    Interesting comparison with 1984. When you think that back in Shakespeare’s time women were not legal entities but chattel to their husbands, the comparison to Stepford Wives is appropriate.

    The Stepford Wives was one of those kind of really dumb movies that really frightened the hell out of me.

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