As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women

By Penny Gay | Go to book overview

3

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

Avoiding the feminist challenge

It is worth questioning whether The Taming of the Shrew would still be in the dramatic repertoire if it did not have the magic name ‘Shakespeare’ attached to it. The story implied by its title is more thoroughly rooted in a medieval and Elizabethan way of thinking about women and their relation to the patriarchy than any other of Shakespeare’s plays (excluding the histories). Yet as soon as one begins to consider the question the answer seems obvious: The Shrew has remained consistently popular because it reinforces a profoundly-held belief of its audiences. In the four hundred years since Shakespeare wrote the play the patriarchal system has remained entrenched in our society, changing a little superficially, but in no way relinquishing its power. The play enacts the defeat of the threat of a woman’s revolt: it does so in comic form, and often with apparent good humour—thus it offers the audience the chance to revel in and reinforce their misogyny while at the same time feeling good. It ends happily, so all must be right with the world. Yet, looked at with sober late-twentieth-century eyes, this is a story in which one human being starves and brainwashes another, with the full approval of the community. Cruelty can be funny—it is the basis of the ‘practical joke’—as long as one is on the dominant side, and no lasting damage is done to the victim. The Taming of the Shrew argues that the cruel treatment is for the victim’s good, to enable her to become a compliant member of patriarchal society. Whether we in the late twentieth century are convinced of this depends on the way the play’s world is depicted, and particularly on how Kate’s astonishing last speech is spoken and received, both by her on-stage audience and by the audience in the theatre. Ann Thompson points out in her thoughtful introduction to the New Cambridge edition of the play,

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As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Plates viii
  • Preface x
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Twelfth Night 17
  • 2 - As You like It 48
  • 3 - The Taming of the Shrew 86
  • 4 - Measure for Measure 120
  • 5 - Much Ado about Nothing 143
  • Conclusion 178
  • Notes 180
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 205
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