Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Holding a Mirror Up to Nature? Adapting the Taming of the Shrew for Teenagers and Pedagogy

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Holding a Mirror Up to Nature? Adapting the Taming of the Shrew for Teenagers and Pedagogy

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Taming of the Shrew as a Problem(atic) Play

Next to The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew is probably one of the hardest plays to stage/film in the 21st century due to its misogynist content dressed up in the form of a comedy. Comparing how the recent production in the Stefan Jaracz Theatre (2007-2013), Lodz, Poland, and a Hollywood off-shoot 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) update the play's gender wars for a specifically teenage audience will show how misguided the Polish production was compared to its Hollywood counterpart. The analysis of critical and audience responses to the two modernisations of the play will further illuminate the discrepancies between Shakespeare criticism, critical reception and audience readings, proving how continually problematic and controversial the play and its theatrical/cinematic incarnations may be.

In his Introduction to the play, G.R. Hibbard (1996, 40) notices, as many others before and after him, "The Taming of the Shrew, like The Merchant of Venice, is one of those plays by Shakespeare that some critics rather wish wasn't by him. Most books on the play record varying degrees of discomfort with what seems to be its rambunctious sexism." To pinpoint that the theme of gendered inequality at the heart of the play is too heavy and serious for the world of comedy, Charles Marowitz's appropriation of the play-The Shrew, 1973, shows Petruchio raping Kate before she delivers her final declaration of submission. The idea of dissonance between subject-matter and genre seems to be further supported by a remark by Ann Thompson (2003, 21), who considers it is more appropriate to talk about The Taming as a modern problem play in the light of divided opinions it has generated and continues to generate. When it comes to performance, some contemporary actresses also express their "problem" with the play, finding Katherina's part especially challenging. For instance, Josie Lawrence (qtd. in O'Connor 276), Kate in the RSC production in 1995, describes Petruchio's treatment of his wife upon their arrival to his house in plain terms as "abuse" and "physical and mental torture".

Furthermore, The Taming of the Shrew seems to have a bad press amongst some contemporary writers. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Anne Tyler, commissioned to rewrite the play by the publishing house Hogarth, claims she has always loathed it. Turning it into a novel is supposed to offer her a chance to solve "the problem" of Kate's, and Shakespeare's, motivation (Tobar). Finally, in his review of Michael Bogdanov's RSC production in 1978, The Guardian's theatre critic, Michael Billington (qtd. in Thompson 17), famously wondered "whether there is any reason to revive a play which seems totally offensive to our age and society". The question should be especially addressed if the play is revived with a teenage audience in mind.

Shakespeare, Feminism and Pedagogy

There is a great chasm between Shakespeare's times with their attitudes to women and marriage and those of the early 21st century. However, comparing the definition of the word "shrew" from the 1960s edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary where its first meaning represents a scolding woman and the second a small mouse-like animal to its current edition which reverses that order proves that there is a huge gap separating us even from our immediate ancestors (qtd. in O'Connor 258). It also explains why it was possible for Elizabeth Taylor to deliberately deliver Kate's final speech of wifely submission in earnest in the 1966 adaptation by Franco Zeffirelli-a risqué choice for any contemporary stage or film actress.

The gap that separates us from the 1960s is even more discernible in the modern classroom. In his practical guide Teaching Shakespeare, Rex Gibson (30) claims that, "Feminism is the fastest-growing and most widespread of all recent approaches to Shakespeare. Is it also the new perspective most obviously present in schools and colleges. …

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