Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

No plot line is as pleasing to audiences as that of a woman and man beginning their relationship in enmity and resolving it in love. So irresistible is the situation that even mediocre renditions can have considerable charm. The paradigm of the scenario is The Taming of the Shrew, which Shakespeare may have adapted from an earlier play called The Taming of a Shrew. The subplot, concerning Bianca and her suitors, was apparently adapted from a work by George Gascoigne , The Supposes ( 1566), a translation of Ariosto I Suppositi ( 1509).

Many productions of The Taming of the Shrew emphasize its farcical qualities, for here is opportunity for endless horseplay: hitting, slapping, shoving, tickling, kicking, and shouting. But to focus narrowly on such slapstick is to miss elements of great warmth and to do a disservice to the playwright's vision. The two protagonists achieve a relationship both subtle and complicated, and one easily misunderstood.

The play begins with an Induction often omitted from performances, for it is long and roundabout. But thematically it anticipates the heart of The Taming of the Shrew. Christopher Sly falls asleep drunk, and the patrons of the alehouse amuse themselves by making him believe he is a lord. As one hunter claims, "He is no less than what we say he is" (Induction, i, 71). The crowd thereafter treats Sly as if he were of royalty, and before long he is convinced that he is a nobleman who has been asleep for fifteen years. The climax of the charade is Sly's astonishment at the news that a lady of stature, actually a disguised page, is in love with him:

Am I a lord, and have I such a lady? Or do I dream? Or have I dream'd till now? I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak; I smell sweet savors, and I feel soft things. (Induction, ii, 68-71)

The crude Sly has been altered into a man of delicacy, and his change suggests that our character is determined as much by how people treat us as by what we

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