Taming Of The Shrew

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1998
directed by Sean Kelley

Accompanied by his servant/chaperone Tranio, Lucentio arrives in Padua to attend the University. He is instantly smitten with Bianca, the younger daughter of the wealthy merchant, Baptista Minola. Already vying for her hand, however, are two prominent men (Gremio and Hortensio.) Baptista decides to protect Bianca from suitors by keeping her at home until he finds a husband for his eldest daughter, Katherina. Lucentio disguises himself as a tutor, "Cambio," in order to woo Bianca, while Tranio assumes Lucentio's clothes and identity, and publicly goes after Baptista's favor. Petruchio comes to Padua to find a rich wife and to visit his old friend, Hortensio. Attracted by Katherina's wealth, and undaunted by reports of her behavior, Petruchio pursues Baptista's blessing. Petruchio meets Kate privately and proposes a hasty wedding. When the wedding day arrives, he disrupts the ceremony and abducts Kate before the feast. At his home in the country, Petruchio and his bride work out the terms of their marriage. Once they have a chance to negotiate living together civilly, Petruchio and Kate return to Padua. They join the other newlyweds - Lucentio and Bianca and Hortensio and his bride - in a lighthearted celebration of marriage.

Date Time
Monday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew recalls Renaissance Italy's lively, popular theatre, commedia dell'arte, by featuring predictable domestic situations, hilarious stage business and stock (or familiar) characters - young lovers, comic servants and overly protective fathers. The Taming of the Shrew also engages us in questions about relationships. By blending slapstick and serious, traditional and timeless, the play affirms life as a zestful, wonder-full adventure.

Accompanied by his servant/chaperone Tranio, Lucentio arrives in Padua to attend the University. He is instantly smitten with Bianca, the younger daughter of the wealthy merchant, Baptista Minola. Already vying for her hand, however, are two prominent men (Gremio and Hortensio.) Baptista decides to protect Bianca from suitors by keeping her at home until he finds a husband for his eldest daughter, Katherina. Lucentio disguises himself as a tutor, "Cambio," in order to woo Bianca, while Tranio assumes Lucentio's clothes and identity, and publicly goes after Baptista's favor. Petruchio comes to Padua to find a rich wife and to visit his old friend, Hortensio. Attracted by Katherina's wealth, and undaunted by reports of her behavior, Petruchio pursues Baptista's blessing. Petruchio meets Kate privately and proposes a hasty wedding. When the wedding day arrives, he disrupts the ceremony and abducts Kate before the feast. At his home in the country, Petruchio and his bride work out the terms of their marriage. Once they have a chance to negotiate living together civilly, Petruchio and Kate return to Padua. They join the other newlyweds - Lucentio and Bianca and Hortensio and his bride - in a lighthearted celebration of marriage.

By setting the play in Renaissance Italy, the time and place associated with commedia dell'arte, director Sean Ryan Kelley accentuates the comedy in The Taming of the Shrew. The commedia tradition provides for broad and physical humor; in fact, our term "slapstick" comes from an actual prop that belonged to the character Arlecchino (Harlequin.) David Barber's set for Shrew captures a sunny corner of the Italian coastal town, Ostuni. Barber designed against the conventional silhouettes of Renaissance architecture, seeking instead to facilitate the bustle and business of the actors on stage. The set evokes sun-drenched stucco dwellings, the simple, classic lines of the Mediterranean. For her costume designs, Maureen Carr Stevens found inspiration in the lines, textures and jewel-toned colors worn by the Italians in Botticelli's paintings. She draws also upon commedia - in Gremio's coat (recalling Pantalone) and Grumio's wedding outfit (reminiscent of Arlecchino's patches.) Highlighting the commedia-inspired lazzi ("shtick,") location and apparel does not undermine the play's more serious questioning of roles in the marriage relationship, however. Kelley shows Kate to be Petruchio's equal. In realizing the renegade status they share, he heightens both the conflict and the potential for comedy between them.

Taming, Tradition and Trust The love story of Lucentio and Bianca plays like an improvised commedia scenario. Lucentio and Tranio, cleverly trading roles, dupe Baptista out of his "treasure," Bianca. Indeed, Lucentio, masquerading as the tutor Cambio (Italian for "I change,") covertly tells his pupil Bianca that his disguise will "beguile the old pantaloon," an allusion to the commedia character Pantalone, an old merchant, easily recognized for his bearded face and preoccupation with money. Hortensio also improvises a role to compete for Bianca, impersonating "Licio" (the Italian "liscio" or "I flatter.") Gremio, who inflexibly can't be anything more than himself, loses his bid for Bianca. ("Gremio" may derive from the Italian verb "to crowd," designating him as the play's quintessential third wheel.) The stakes are higher in the play's central relationship between the "Shrew," Kate, and her "tamer," Petruchio. Shakespeare matches equals, both in terms of physical attractiveness and linguistic ability. Kate is exceptional, although Padua rejects her spiritedness. Untamed, Kate is "mad," "froward" and "curst." However, Petruchio, too, is a societal misfit. He flouts social conventions, wooing Kate hastily, dressing outlandishly for his wedding, mirroring Kate's outrageous behavior. These two powerful individuals tangle verbally from their first encounter. Petruchio uses the methods of Elizabethan falconry to modify his wife's behavior. A mature wild bird (the "haggard") was tethered to her keeper's wrist and "watched." In other words, the captor starved the haggard, kept her awake by looking into her eyes, and gently stroked her with a bird's wing. Watching continued - sometimes for days - until the haggard trusted her keeper (and he her, for a full grown hawk could easily overpower a man.) The process subdued both bird and captor, for he too went without food or sleep. Two of Petruchio's comments at the banquet clarify his views (and perhaps Shakespeare's) about the taming of Kate. First, Petruchio tells Lucentio that, while he would wager twenty pounds on the obedience of his "hawk or hound," he would stake "twenty times so much" upon his wife. (Indeed, Petruchio had already wagered on Kate; in Shakespeare's day, one of the meanings of to wager was to wed.) Additionally, Petruchio explains the meaning of Kate's reformation to the awestruck Hortensio, "Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life." According to the Elizabethan proverb, an unmarried woman was doomed to "lead apes in hell" because she had no children to lead her into heaven. Kate's transformation thus provides her (and her husband) with possibilities other than misery or discord. Ultimately, through watchful taming, Kate and Petruchio learn trust. Through the play, the idea of taming expands; shared, difficult experiences enrich relationships and enable individuals to live as partners, peacefully ever after.