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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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