Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Kate and Petruchio: Co-Heroes in an Alliance for Agency? Film Versions of Shakespeare's the Taming of the Shrew

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Kate and Petruchio: Co-Heroes in an Alliance for Agency? Film Versions of Shakespeare's the Taming of the Shrew

Article excerpt

This analysis will juxtapose Jonathan Miller's 1980 BBC film version of The Taming of the Shrew with Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Miller, a more contemporary director with a progressive perspective, allows for a broader range of historical possibilities in his interpretation and application of Shrew for the modern audience. Miller takes into consideration the advent of twentieth-century feminism, and yet stays true to Shakespeare's original text with its historically embedded ambiguity regarding women and power. The play, therefore, becomes less about a hierarchical relationship between Kate and Petruchio, and more about their alliance, which affords each of them agency (or instrumental action) in a quest for cultural non-conformity. This nuanced characterization, which was ignored by Zeffirelli, positions Kate and Petruchio as co-heroes, a term I will use to identify a collaboration of will that offers autonomy as well as unity to both characters.

Feminists, skeptical of claims of mutuality within the traditional marriage arrangement, hold fast to their view that Kate's ultimate "wiving" is synonymous with the degradation of women. For instance, Holly Crocker asserts that since "male agency directs Katharine's obedience," the ideology present within Shakespeare's play affirms Petruchio's superiority by converting Kate's self-perception and worldview into a reflection of an idealized image which he specifies (144). Crocker argues that Petruchio's "taming" of Kate "denies any investment she might have in her own identity, repressing feminine agency in her character and thus in his own" (153). Similarly, Lynda Boose identifies the tension that lies in "women's abjected position in the social order ... and the costs exacted for resistance" (179). Themes of domination and suppression surface from the patriarchal era in which the play was written, as well as from the cultural perspective through which various productions are directed. Moreover, critics are often tempted to cast back onto history today's values and standards.

Arguably, a more layered and subversive message emanates from Shrew, revolutionizing the marriage relationship in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare's other works evidence strong female characters such as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, who cleverly disguises herself as a man, exhibits extraordinary intelligence, and gives evidence of a notable capacity for administering justice. Beatrice, a woman of her own mind in Much Ado About Nothings establishes herself as an equal in wit to Benedick. Although this story, in essence, is another "shrew-taming" of sorts, Benedick is mutually tamed. Another mutual-taming occurs in As You Like It, as gender-bending Rosalind exhibits crafty intelligence and insight into human behavior while covertly instructing Orlando how to be a better lover. Thus, Shakespeare's heroines support a theoretical, antiestablishment motive embedded in Shrew rather than the typical assertions of misogynist intent.

Responding to The Taming of the Shrew, John C. Bean's feminist argument maintains that "Kate is humanized by her husband and discovers love through the discovery of her own identity" (78). She is therefore able to "submit" herself to Petruchio because she trusts him not to dominate her. It is her trust in Petruchio, not her submission to him, which elevates him to a more honorable and respectable position. Bean stipulates that "Kate will love only according to her bond, no more, no less and the limits of her bond will be reached whenever Petruchio's authority ceases to be loving" (66). Director Jonathan Miller illustrates this liaison in the BBC version of Shrew by stressing Petruchio's posture of mutual submission. Easily over six feet tall, John Cleese/Petruchio lowers himself to look Sarah Badel/Kate directly in the eyes during their initial verbal sparring. From this first gesture forward, Miller's direction initiates the evolution of a progressive and groundbreaking marriage relationship. …

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