Diana E. Henderson
Of all Shakespeare's comedies, The Taming of the Shrew most overtly reinforces the social hierarchies of its day. Lacking the gendered inversion of power and the poetic complexity of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, this early play might seem less likely to capture the imagination of modern audiences and producers; we might expect it, like its farcical companion The Comedy of Errors, to be filmed infrequently and almost obligatorily as part of canonical projects such as the BBC-TV Shakespeare series. Quite the converse is true. More than eighteen screen versions of the play have been produced in Europe and North America, putting Shrew in a select league with the “big four” tragedies, and outpacing those comedies scholars usually dub more “mature.” 1 What accounts for this frequent reproduction of an anachronistic plot premised on the sale of women? 2
Part of the answer lies in a venerable tradition of adaptation. Discussing David Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio, Michael Dobson points out that seemingly minor changes in the text “mute…the outright feudal masculinism of The Taming of the Shrew in favour of guardedly egalitarian, and specifically private, contemporary versions of sympathy and domestic virtue” (Dobson 1992:190). Garrick's version provides the source for a performance tradition that tames not only the “shrew” but also the text. Here “Dr. Petruchio” consciously assumes his boorishness as part of a therapy program for a disturbed Katherina. This Petruchio is a far cry from Shakespeare's blusterer, knocking his servant Grumio soundly as he comes to wive it wealthily (“if wealthily then happily”) in Padua. Such attempts to obliterate gender struggle ultimately collapse the leading couple into a single entity, “Kate-and-Petruchio, ” replicating the play's narrative movement and its ideology. Viewing the story in a euphemized and relatively untroubled way from Petruchio's perspective remains the norm in almost all modern video versions-though not, intriguingly, in the two feature films starring Hollywood's most famous couples of their respective generations, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr, and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film's differences derive not only from the unusual box office power of their leading ladies but also from their directors' cinematic choices.
These choices strive to create a female subject position for Katherine, adding gestures, glances, and private speech to the script's most notorious silences. The