Ask Philippa: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts and answers your questions on our 2011 productions.

Shrew publicity by Kevin Berne

Erica Sullivan (Katherine) and Slate Holmgren (Petruchio) in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW; photo by Kevin Berne.

Written when Shakespeare was in his late 20s and first flexing his muscles for the stage, The Taming of the Shrew engendered both merriment and controversy from the very start, even in a society that was accustomed to the punishment of shrews via bridles and aquatic torture as well as with words. The induction scene that begins this play—both Shakespeare’s induction and the contemporary musical one with which our company has replaced it—firmly situate Shrew as a comedy to be raucously enjoyed. And yet there is cruelty, too—the sharpness of social rejection and the harshness of public humiliation—and, in Shana Cooper’s beautiful production, there are also mysterious and poignant glimpses of love.

Are you going to see our  production of Shrew? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.


42 thoughts on “Ask Philippa: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Edition

  1. We saw last nights production. The director is quoted in the SF Chronicle saying she was evoking PopArt of
    the 1960s. You referred to the set as “Barbie Doll”???? We did not see any of those themes at all. The costumes were so distracting and inconsistent. In the last act Petruchio is wearing a classic Elizabethan jerkin and cross over pants. Elizabethan robes again on Hortensio as the tutor. Why? Petruchio’s other outfits were terrible. Tattoos (fake or otherwise) and S/M look would not have been 1960’s Pop. In the opening scenes he seemed to be channeling early Brando. I fully expected to hear “Stellla”!

    We are longtime subscribers and will always come.

    • Dear Katherine,

      Thanks for letting me know your thoughts and impressions. You know the setting up the top? It is like a barbie doll’s room, with the two female leads coming out, at the start, dressed and coiffed as barbie dolls, and then going upstairs (‘mewed up inside’) to observe the action that is taking place below – all the business that will so effect their lives, and over which they have little control. This kind-of setting and costume contrivance gives a modern-day take on the social constraints imposed on women – suggesting that the fashion dictates of today are in their own way quite constricting for women even if modern-day women aren’t physically constricted by Renaissance bridles and cucking stools. As for the variations in costume – what we’ve been aiming for is an eclectic mx that evokes a mix of familiar images without religiously encasing the production in a specific time and place. Do write to me at if what I’ve written here doesn’t make sense – I’m happy to correspond more. Also, take a look at the program articles. I think you’ll find them useful.

  2. Fabulous performance last night! And the best (most palatable) resolution to “Taming.” Both actors did a marvelous job of transforming their characters toward their ultimate relationship. I felt that they reached common ground, where both spirits could thrive. That final scene was less a succumbing to her fate, than a collaboration between two con artists with twinkles in their eyes. Thanks for that!
    BTW, I now go to ArtBeat (Charlene) as a result of your Style comments a couple of years ago. When you remarked about relationships (in the Grove) I thought about her.
    Again, great end to a fine season.

    • Hello Sandra,

      Thank you for this lovely comment. This is the first Taming of the Shrew I’ve ever seen that I could fully believe in – – it is so hard to get that chemistry working within the constraints of the anachronistic ‘taming’ strategies. I think that Shana’s ‘essence’ work really helped this authenticity to come through (i.e. the authenticity of the real attraction/chemistry that is suggested). During the rehearsal period she has each of the actors and members of the cast and crew develop a short piece that expresses his/her fundamental understanding of/feelings about/connection with their character or their role in the process. The only rule is that they must use display but no language. So, for example, Katherine and Petruchio had to really explore who they think they are, and who they see the other as, and enact this feeling for the other members of the cast and crew. I talked last night in the grove about the truest kind of love making us all, in a sense, servants – when we fall in love, we willingly want to serve the person we love, not as a doormat, but as a being to whom we have enacted a kind-of ego-surrender. I notice in my own life that with three people – my mother, my husband, my son – I am more anxious about their happiness/success than my own. Somehow I can handle my own experiences of loss or failure or grief because I am in the middle of these experiences – but with these people, I am anxious about how they will experience such things because, in a sense, I can’t control what happens to them but I have to bear witness to them, sometimes helplessly. I am not expressing this very well – but I think I do see love as entailing a kind-of surrender. So when we see the final ‘conquest’ scene enacted at the end, we know that a measure of SURRENDER, on both sides, belies any sense of who is the victor and who is submissive. I am becoming garrulous – I must cease and desist.

  3. Excellent production! I see this play providing a very good lesson as to what intimacy looks like as two people work out their various fears of intimacy. I could play with the fantasy of giving it a new title: “The Taming of the Shrew Meets the Taming of the Jerk”. Both are “tamed” with a resultant serendipitous “click” into a healthy intimacy in which the intimacy itself trumps the material “stuff” around them. (They run off and leave the cash behind.) I think that each of the two main protagonists have been changed in the crucible of tumultuous encounters to reach the point of safety and power sharing: love. Of course the public role that each plays (as in the last scene ) is aligned with the status and gender roles of the society at the time ; however, Katherine and Petruchio “play” at those roles without rankling at them. I can imagine that as they run off ( to finally consumate their marriage?) they are secure within themselves and in the integrated power of harmonious co-operation. Synergy. They seem to know what is most efficient to function in a dysfunctional society much like the expediency of sophisticated loving couples in a Taliban society who wisely don’t show up in public without wearing the hejab/ burka or beard as emblematic requirements of conformity.

    • Thank you for this great comment, John. Yes, as I mentioned in the grove talk, the mercenary frame of this society creates such an interesting dysfunctionality. I think you’ve really hit on something here when you talk about Katherine and Petruchio finding an intimacy amidst/despite (even because of?) this.

  4. The new Shrew production is sensational. We couldn’t believe how fresh the play seems, after 400 years. Terrifically funny, and with thrilling physical comedy.

    • Dear Mark,
      So happy to hear your thoughts on the production. I think the freshness has also been enhanced by a technique Shana (the director) developed and brought to our rehearsal process. Each day, during rehearsal, she would have one or two members of the team prepare a piece for the rest of the cast and crew based on their feelings about the play – how it really ‘spoke’ to them, fundamentally. The only rule – no words. This essence process helped crystallize their individual connections to the play – a play that has, over history, been quite alienating to actors who have struggled to ‘say the lines’ with conviction. I think this form of connectivity really came across in the production – the actors played the show with such vitality and truth.

  5. Philippa, you asked me to comment in line at the snack bar tonight, so here you are.
    The relationship between Katherine and Pertruchio was marvelously portrayed on both sides. The actors illustrated without a hint of doubt in the final scene that their characters had developed deep and nuanced understanding of the meaning of love. And everything leading up to that was theater magic, pure and simple.
    However, I think that the mutual surrender portrayed in this production is not actually present in the work itself. I must admit, that the final scene as a “collaboration between two con artists with twinkles in their eyes,” as Sandra wrote earlier, was lost on me at first sight. Looking back, that was certainly present, but only through glances and acting, and not words. Taken at face value, Taming of the Shrew remains a tale written in a bygone era of female servitude, as an instructional piece on how effective marriages ought to function. I don’t see it as a story in which both parties are tamed, as John stated earlier, but rather a one-sided struggle for male domination. That being said, I have to wonder; what is this play’s relevance in today’s society? Writing as a Shakespeare fanatic, I think this is one of his few plays where the message conveyed is not a timeless one. If operating under the premise that the theater ought to be organic, evolving and relevant, this is not a play that I would necessarily choose to produce. Preservation can be left to museums, archives and the Royal Shakespeare Company. CalShakes is far above any of that, as evidenced by an utterly enthralling 2011 season.

    • Hello Tyler,
      I want to respond properly to your post. I have to beat the traffic to santa Rosa this afternoon so will post properly tonight to you and the bloggers who’ve come after you

      • Hi again, Tyler. Many critics think as you do – that this play is a museum piece that is really out of touch with today’s values and therefore best left to idiosyncratic productions done by ‘ye old-ey’ Shakespeare companies with a dedicated following. But perhaps, if we follow this thought to its logical conclusion, they might also think that The Merchant of Venice is similarly anachronistic, or Measure for Measure. My feeling is that Shakespeare makes good drama out of situations that may be appealing, or ambivalent, or archaic, or even repugnant – so, for instance, we find unacceptable situations in Shrew or Measure (or even in the father’s edict in Midsummer that his disobedient daughter must face death). These situations do not make the plays irrelevant the situations are no more than premises on which the drama is built. We also find in Macbeth a situation that is morally unacceptable and repugnant – we are asked to explore the mind of a serial killer. Why might you see Macbeth as enthralling and Shrew as repugnant and irrelevant? Misogynists are surely as prevalent today as are serial killers.

        Perhaps, for the many people who can’t find a handle on Shrew, the source of their difficulty is in the language: Macbeth is full of metaphor, whereas Shrew relies much more heavily on punning (rather than metaphor). Punning does not emotionally enthrall us as metaphor does. For me, indeed, herein lies the magnificence of Shana’s production. I’ve never seen a Shrew I could believe in before this production – precisely because the situation is outlandish, and the language is not internal so that I am often left outside, observing this plot business that seems to take forever to reach the end of act 5. But, like Shana, the more I saw the Cal Shakes production take shape, the more I thought, ‘This is a really fascinating play.’ The actors spoke and acted the language FOR REAL. My friend Lynne Soffer, voice/text coach and actor, says that a mark of good acting is to speak the lines as if you haven’t read the play – and I felt this utterly in the way that Petrucho and Kate ‘discovered’ each other and themselves. I also feel that the play is really very clever. For instance, think of the layers of disguise in the plot, which emblematize the vulnerabilities we all have – vulnerabilities that re often ‘disguised’ from our own hearts (appearing ‘in the guise’ of self-righteousness, or competitiveness); or the references to the newly understood Copernican universe in the sun and moon scene…

        Also, on another note, there is a lot that is plausible when you look at the play closely. For instance, Shakespeare gives many reasons why Katherine may be angry – her father continually humiliates her in public, letting it be known that he will not let her younger sister marry until Katherine is taken off his hands; hiring tutors for Bianca and not for her older sister; and going so far, at the end, as to double the dowry he’s offed Petruchio for having the strength to sign up with this daughter whose character he’s seen as irretrievably repugnant to any man… In the face of this parenting (she has no mother), Kate’s anger might seem quite understandable, and her own form of misguided independence quite pitiable.

        Anyway, these are, in the end, just thoughts that might play devil’s advocate to your view.

  6. Interesting to read folks’ take on the production. My stomach hurt throughout the 2nd act at the abuse and torture of Kate. I never saw her in a position of autonomy in the play. I witnessed her fighting for her autonomy but never getting it. I didn’t see her and Petruchio “love” freely. He crushed her will to his with starvation and humiliation. If anything, she reaches a codependent subservience and acceptance of his treatment of her. Though his treatment may change, it only changes while she remains obedient to him.

    I don’t think the text supports any other interpretation, and additions (like leaving the money behind) seem attempts to twist the play’s real meanings.

    I believe I saw Petruchio weep during her “I am ashamed that women are so simple” speech; this seemed to reinforce his role as the abuser who “feels bad.” I just wonder why we keep putting on this nasty and misogynist play.

    • Dear Patricia,
      I’m so sorry I didn’t see this comment on the blog – thanks for calling attention to my having missed it. No, I’d never not post a reply because I didn’t agree with what you said or anything like that. It was a total oversight on my part, and please accept my apologies.

      It’s interesting, what you say about the text not supporting a more woman-friendly interpretation. I know that bernard Shaw agreed with you (saw it as ‘altogether disgusting to modern sensibility’ in the late nineteenth century, when women did not even have the right to vote!) I was wondering today about how Shakespeare himself first had Kate played in that final speech. My guess is that she might have been played pretty submissively, because the playwright John Fletcher was inspired to write a dramatic ‘rebuttal’ in which he has Petruchio, having dispatched Kate to an early grave, re-marries and gets his come-uppance from the shrew he can’t tame.

      Again, I am so sorry I missed this comment, Patricia.

  7. Dear Philippa. I spoke to you before the preview for “Taming” and mentioned that I had just seen the Aurora performance of a Delicate Balance. I was disturbed that the director in Albee’s play held fast to the 1960s version and forced me to accept the women as nasty, demanding and emasculating. The men, in Albees view are, of course, darlings.
    Anyone who grew up in the 60s knows that Tobias was imperious and demanding and held the real “Balance”in the family – the purse strings.
    “Taming” however was wonderful. The acting, staging and “gymnastics” were magnificent. Even after 400 years,the director could present a set of circumstances and let the viewer see them in a very contemporary way. Petrucchio loves Kate at the very beginning but knows she will not accept the usual wooing. He needs to capture her in her own world.
    Kate, at the end, comes to love him and knows he will grant her the freedom and self expression she craves. After all, Petruchio is wealthy in his own right and could easily walk away from Kate and, instead wed Bianca. But he is intrigued and obsessed with Kate. Leaving the wager money on the stage was a wonderful touch in the final scene. Petruchio did not need to say a single word after that.
    Leave it to Shakespear. Four hundred years later and he is still the master.
    Regards Kathy; an 8 year subscriber and looking forward to more great Cal Shakes.

  8. Dear Kathy,

    Thanks so much for this post, and I am of course really glad that you felt inspired to believe in the characters. I, too, loved the leaving of the wager money on the stage – this play has so much to do with money and measurable value, and I was intrigued by its suggestion (so beautifully calibrated by the actors) that, in the end, those things are mutable and cannot measure the value of love. AND YET it is all very well to say this when we have more than enough materially – i.e. when we can look at Shakespeare’s play from a thematic point of view with the comfort of a chair and a blanket. ‘What’s aught but as ’tis valued’? Shakespeare is continually fascinated by the idea of ‘value’ and the futile efforts we make to capture and express it (eg Troilus – ‘Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart…’) We have words and actions, and then we have feelings. Can words and actions ever catch up with feelings? Can they ever do them justice? Or are things – the money left at the end of this production, the little silk handkerchief in Othello, the mirror that Lear holds against his daughter’s dead lips – ultimately symbols of just how little we are really able to pin ourselves to outward expressions of material worth? Shakespeare and his contemporaries were very much aware of a kind of skepticism that rebuked all the integrated ideals that had predominated in the past.

  9. Hi Philippa, Following up on my comment about “Importune me no more” after your Sat. Grove Talk on Shrew; I
    Googled ‘Importune me no more’ and found a copy of the poem “When I Was Young and Fair” which is indeed credited to Elizabeth (although it is believed, spuriously.) I’m curious though why this would come to mind at that moment. We (Leslie and I) were thoroughly amused, entertained and surprised by Shrew. Especially when the ultra macho Petrucio makes his entry on a bicycle. Puts me in mind of another man who made his entry on an ass. Love your
    Grove Talks, Bob

    • Dear Bob,
      What a gorgeous comment! I remember you well from Saturday, and I’m so glad you loved the production and enjoy the talks.

      Are you thinking of Titania and the ass’s head? Or Dogberry: ‘ though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass’? Or am I forgetting a character I should remember?

      By the way, if you ever want to come up and share in the Q and As with myself (this Sunday) and myself and the actors (next Sunday) , we’d love to see you. Just come through the gate and scamper up the hill, and we will be there.

      • What a lovely invitation, that I fancy and tremble at. (Even if a preposition IS a bad thing to end a sentence with.) Unfortunately, we will be in SoCal attending a wedding. My reference goes back a good deal farther; 2000 years in fact, when a country bumpkin entered stage left amid palms fronds and outrageous celebration in the opening scene of the passion play.

        • Oh, this is interesting, Bob. Another point of interest – Shakespeare’s theatre would ‘seat’ and ‘stand’ up to 200 people, so it was hellishly difficult to get out. So the actors would often dance a jig on the stage to entertain the audience members while they waited to file out!

          I hope the wedding in So Cal was lovely.

  10. Hello Philippa,

    Might Kate and Petruchio be considered an early version of Beatrice and Benedick, modern lovers struggling to escape from the theatrical conventions of the time. I’ve always thought the only way the ending of Shrew can make sense to a contemporary audience is for Kate and Petruchio to be collaborating in beating the two rival couples and having fun doing it. I think this is largely what is happening in Shana Cooper’s production. Kate knows just what the boys are up to and Petruchio knows she knows. The witty playfulness in the early scene when they meet as strangers returns in the sun/moon exchange when they become intimate partners, and so on to the final triumph. It is not that Kate is lying in her final speech, but that she and Petruchio have learned to combine a private personal equality with each other while functioning within the society where they happen to find themselves. It was not easy then and it still isn’t.

    I didn’t notice the money left behind, probably because I was hoping Petruchio would pick up the cap and return it to Kate, but it was not to be.

    Speaking of caps, now that you’ve got the hat routine down, how about Waiting for Godot sometimes soon.


  11. I woke up this morning with the sudden “conviction” that that it was an S&M sex thing they had run off the stage to consumate .Since I am not interested in S&M, in fact it offends my erotic sensibility,I didnt want the play ,which I liked very much, to resolve itself in just that way. Now in my waking mind, I see more depth and complexity. I believe there is some very interesting sexual insight related to, but not identical with S&M, in the profundity , vulnerability and exposure experienced in a deep sexual relationship that at a primitive, childlike level ( actually the pre- knowlege or imagining of the sexul experience) ,in my experience ,is very like an S&M thing . It is probably related to the great fear and draw of the unknown. Sex ,for Kate was as yet the Unknown and she obviously needed to surrender to even be able to get to the point in her life she could sexually mature , by having the actual experience. And her husband helped her get there, for which she was extremely grateful. So , I guess my take on the play is that it is really about sex on a very deep psychological level, and not so much really about womens rights,or the relationship between sexuality and human rights. I dont think the young Shakspeare was trying to take that on, though he seems to be messing with us about it .Perhaps he mischieviously wanted to create some heat between his male and female audience in order to promote his theme that hot women are hot women.

  12. Hello Sana,

    This is a unique take on the final scene. I’m wondering whether our slight cut there influenced you? (we cut a few lines from Lucentio and Vincentio about wifely obedience and frowardness, and also from Petruchio about Lucentio having hit the white but himself as having won the wager.) I do think that there is a huge erotic charge between Petruchio and Kate as they race off to bid each other ‘good night’ (he has quite ironically said to everyone else ‘God give you good night!’, and Shana and the actors wanted to bring out the irony of this ‘We can hardly wait, now that the taming is done and all the money has changed hands – because our attraction goes beyond any of these material factors.’

    Basically I think that all sexual congress entails a measure of vulnerability, from the most ‘tame’ to the most un-tame. I think that sexuality generally links back to unresolved moments or mysteries of our childhood – which is why, I guess, various ‘afflictions’ or ‘perversions’ are often experienced by people who were themselves sexually abused as children. In a state of arousal we are all drawing on some deep well of not-fully-known experience – something deep within our experience but not rationally understood or integrated.

  13. Was my comment was perceived as shrewish? Everyone is answered but me.
    I am interested in the falconry imagery, and how it foreshadows the end of the play, when Petruchio sends his Kate as a trained falcon to bring in prey (Bianca and Hortensio’s bride).

    P.S. While not a subscriber, I attend regularly and I did contribute a tile.

    • Hi Patricia,

      I just saw your comment above – I am so sorry I hadn’t seen it before today. I’ve answered it just now (just got in from the Sunday Q and A at the theatre.) Yes, the falconry imagery is interesting, isn’t it? Petruchio’s “taming” of Kate (with, as you say, its associated imagery of falconry), harsh though it may be, is a far cry from the fiercely repressive measures going on outside the theater to tame shrews (bridles and cucking stools), which were presumably endorsed by much of the play’s contemporary late-16th century audience. Some critics argue that in ‘soft-pedalling’ (!!) the violence of both folktales and of actual real-life practices, Shakespeare sets up Petruchio as a ruffian and a bully, but only as a disguise – and a disguise which implicitly criticizes the brutal arrogance of some male attitudes in the real world. Others add to this the idea that in denying Katherine and, indeed, himself, food and sleep and fine clothes, he is taming both of their fiery spirits to each other: “Ay, and amid this hurly I intend / That all is done in reverend care of her”. (4.1. 187-8). So, in a sense, his brutal practices could be a mask for his real ‘reverend care’ – Katherine certainly suggests at their very first meeting that is is putting on an act: ‘No cock of mine, thou crow too like a craven.” (2.1. 255) But there’s a LOT of debate about this!!! And many feminists argue that these kinds of interpretations are merely apologias for a darling Shakespeare who couldn’t possibly be accused of misogyny. My own guess is that Shakespeare knew he was being very controversial. I don’t think he wanted to present himself as a misogynist or a feminist – he simply wanted, at this point, to build an engine that got the attention of London audiences. And he certainly did this!

  14. Overall I enjoyed the Taming of the Shrew. In your grove talk you mentioned the cucking stool and the bridle as means to tame a shrew. Shakespeare did not us these methods or anything close to them to tame Kate. He was writing to a audience that knew these as the methods to tame a shrew. Was he showing another way? Notice in Petruchio’s taming, he did not just push her aside, or lock her up, or subjuect her to some implement to cure her. If she did not eat, he did not eat. If she did not sleep, he did not sleep. If she wore rags, he wore rags. Could he have not only forced her to suffer, but also suffer with her if he did not love her? Petruchio tamed Kate, did she want to be tamed to be able to love; to get past the shrewish habits she developed?
    If Shakespeare was showing another method of taming a shrew, how else could he ended the play and shown it to be a successful method to his audience?
    Except for when they first met I did not feel there was a chimistry or fire between Petruchio and Kate in this production. I felt she became a “wise ass” submissive. There was a tone in her voice that seemed to say, ya, I’ll do as you say but, I’ll get you later. I did not feel the love between them, expecially when I remember the previous cal shakes Shrew. I can not remember the actors names now, though I remember they were husband and wife. Their love smoldered through the whole play.

    • Hello Mike,

      I just came to your post, and, as chance would have it, I’ve just answered your first question in my post to Patricia (about the relative mildness of Petruchio’s tactics. Some critics have seen this mildness as Shakespeare’s implicit criticism of those males in the audience who endorsed the bridle and cucking stool. My own guess is that he didn’t show those things because it would have been too difficult to make comedy out of them.)

      As for your second comment, about the lack of chemistry you felt between the two leads, my own response would be that I felt a strong chemistry between them. But I always appreciate the honesty of responses like yours, and they do provoke me to go back in my mind and think about moments I’ve enjoyed and why they worked for me. So my answer to this would be that I think the hurdle P and K have to leap is a very high structural one: we are here to watch a contest, and their first punning match makes this very clear. I felt that Kate’s very strength in this production was felt as an attraction by Petruchio – and I found myself wondering – I wonder whether he COULD even be attracted to meek obedience. He is an A-type personality and needs a challenge.

  15. Hey Philippa!

    I saw the show last Friday with the Berkeley Rep Teen Council and really enjoyed it. I’ve seen a bunch of shows at Cal Shakes, and I am always amazed by the gorgeous set design. I wanted to know how the creative process usually starts and how ideas sprout for a show, particularly this one!


  16. Hi Negi,

    Thanks for writing in. I’ll give you a rather long and rambling answer, I hope you don’t mind – but I have a lot of thoughts about this to share. Well, the show starts with a discussion between our artistic director, Jon Moscone, and Shana Cooper. They talk about the design team she wants to assemble for the show, and then the team shoots around ideas between team members. Shana brought with her a team from yale -– costume, sound and set (Katherine, Jake and Scott) – people who studied together and have a wonderful creative rapport, and who would link in well with York Kennedy (also from Yale – but from a few years before.) By the way, you don’t have to go to Yale to have a rapport! It just happened that they shared a background and a creative training.

    The actors are cast – usually several months ahead – by Shana together with Jon and Jessica – and so the design team has their style and physiognomies in mind.

    Shana was very keen to make sure that this show had heart as well as comedy – that Petruchio and Katherine go on a journey. I loved this concept – I am fascinated by the fact that when Shakespeare was writing this play, there was a lot of discussion about what constituted the human ‘heart’ and soul. People had only recently started dissecting human cadavres to compare them with animal ones. So where WAS the human heart? Where WAS the human soul? How could you determine the source and spring of ethics and emotion? All this sort of thinking was circulating amidst skepticism and religion in Shakespeare’s time.

    I think that besides wanting to make a comedy about a controversial subject (shrewishness) Shakespeare was, in this play, interested in something that would intrigue him for the next 15 years of playwriting – the notion of a heart, a mystery of love, that comes out of a world based on material measurements but which goes beyond it and cannot be explained by it. So… I was glad that Shana wanted to bring out the depths of this comedy by also playing on its possibilities for ‘heart notes.’ It gives such a richness. Then she sent me a script with suggested cuts and we talked them through on the phone for 4 hours. Meanwhile the design team members were all working on their design – light, costume, set, music – and I was writing a packet of interpretive and contextual material for the actors – and then we all met and started the rehearsal process a month before the show went up on the boards.

  17. My partner (an Italian woman of a certain age) said it was a terrible play (which she anyway “enjoyed”) due to the unrelenting diminishment of women that it portrays.

    I certainly grant that, but I felt that the director and actors successfully showed – especially through the ACTING and even more especially through Ms Sullivan’s extraordinary performance – the role of surrender in love, in relationships. Value requires cost. They cleverly cajoled the play into communicating these costs – and rewards.

    It is undeniable that the play (text) requires that all the burden of this surrender be on her side, but the emotions in her final speech, his response, and their kiss, was, I think, an attempt to take it a bit further, to redeem the thing a bit…. I found it oddly touching despite the real unpleasantness of watching a person (woman or otherwise) being “tamed” in this way.

  18. On further reflection about the lovely way in which the production transcended the text at the end as I mentioned above: In that final delicate moment, when it the actors make clear that the relationship of Petruchio and Kate is far more nuanced than mere tamer and tamed, the reason it is easy to miss is that watching Kate’s submission is painful for us because she has so much pure (animal?) spirit while Petruchio – as written – is not at all a person with qualities we are likely to think she should have suffered such diminishment to gain; he is a jumble of male stereotypes – vain, venal, overbearing, over-confident, cock-sure, rather than a person to whom, in our post-feminist times, we are likely to believe a woman like Kate ought to be sacrificing anything for. As the physical passion gets drained out of Kate it seems poured into Petruchio but he is unworthy of it UNTIL, during her final speech she, through some other quality, some nobility, it seems, rather than subservience, confers value on the transaction almost like a blessing, sealed with that remarkable kiss. I don’t know that it “saves” Shakespeare’s play for us moderns, because it amounts to such a tiny frisson at the end, but as performance I thought it was marvelous. Bravi!

  19. Dear above writer (KKopp),

    Thank you for your two very thoughtful responses. I love what you say about the nuances of the final speech and of the way you thought the production transcended the text. It’s quite shocking, isn’t it, to hear those words of obedience and subjection? I certainly think it has challenged Shakespeare scholars and directors all over the centuries to try to find alternative things that Shakespeare may have meant. And yet there are the words. So how the actor/actress PLAY them is ultimately going to be the force that unites with our own expectations and experiences to create the mood that we feel. Shakespeare was quite fascinated for the multiple possibilities that words offer us for articulating what we don’t mean to say – all through his plays, it is words, far more than actions – words heard in a different context from the intention of the speaker – that create his dramatic plot twists.

  20. Hi,
    I saw the show last Friday night, and it was fabulous! I not only enjoyed it but i laughed a lot. I’m not an expert in critiquing and analyzing theater performances, much less Shakespeare’s work. However, I think that what the play was trying to show was, at least in the beginning of the piece, a sort of power relation, where in the society of that period, women were supposed to be submissive, obedient and in charge of domestic duties, while men were the masters, rulers and heads of the family. But that in Taming of the Shrew, that man-woman social position is changed, and suggested at end of the play into a man-woman in love relationship. Kate’s surrendering or giving in did not mean giving up her temper and strong head, but realizing that it was worthy to control and smooth her character for a man that showed to care for her, despite his “taming techniques”. Petruchio could have just marry her, take her home and ignore her and her wildness, but instead he took all the time to “tame her”; because his challenge became something else, he cared for her. Their feelings for each other, although well disguised, were the reasons to their changing behavior at the end. That last kiss was desired by both. And, I think, it meant this wasn’t a battle of sexes, this was about partners and lovers wanting to live together in harmony. You respect me, I respect you. You love me, I love you. But, I was wondering what Bianca, Lucentio and the others perceived from Petruchio. Did they think at the end that Petruchio tamed a shrew or that he “loved a shrew”?

  21. Hi Philippa,
    I saw “The Shrew” yesterday. As usual, I very much enjoyed your Grove Talk and the Meet the Artists session afterwards! The blogs with the wonderful array of comments, questions, and your responses are another joy. I very much liked the play, as I have enjoyed every production this season. However, I did not “feel” the intimacy that developed between P and K. I wondered, for the first time, if it made a difference to be seated further back and to the left (Section F). I saw P’s back at several important junctures, and wondered if I had been sitting closer and in the middle, if I would have been able to get better clues from his facial expressions (as well as K’s and those of the other actors) so as to experience the more profound emotional development in the central P-K relationship that’s in the performance, but isn’t in the text.

    In regard to the text, Stephen Orgel expressly states (first note I.2 in The Pelican Shakespeare paperback, 2000) that “Petruchio” was Shakespeare’s phonetic spelling of Petruccio, diminutive of Pietro: pronounced “Petrutchio,” not “Petruckio.” I wondered how the non-Italian “Petruckio” pronunciation was chosen for the CalShakes production?

    With much appreciation,

  22. Hello Richard,
    Thank you for your lovely comments about the grove talk – it is lovely to know that you appreciate it. As for where you’re sitting, I think it can indeed make a difference – the closer you are, the more you might feel the electricity of the exchanges of looks and expressions. I remember something stunning that Kozintsev, the Russian movie-maker, said when he was making the movie of KING LEAR. He said that the magic of cinema is NOT that you can bring horses on-stage, but that it allows you to look into a man’s eyes. I guess one of the things about theater is that not everyone can indeed be close enough to look into a character’s eyes – but when there is gestural intimacy, it is great to be up close.

    As for the Orgel pronunciation, I think it is likely but it doesn’t really matter: the only line it might make a pleasing difference to (in terms of musicality of language) is Hortensio’s ‘Petruchio, I shall be your ben venuto.’ But really the pronunciation in a Shakespeare play depends on what the director finds pleasing.

    Thank you so much for your comments.

  23. My boyfriend and I saw this play last night, and very much enjoyed the production, set, and actors: all was so thoughtfully put together. However, the play itself left us a bit uncomfortable as we contemplated Katherine’s closing monologue according to feminist theory. Up until that point we had understood much of the action, and some of the motives of the characters. For the ambiguous ending, though, we came up with three interpretations:

    1. In the end, Katherine realizes that she has fallen in love with Petruchio, and that the only way she can express her love is through obedience.

    2. Katherine comes to the conclusion that, in the society she lives in, women have no power: it is best to be obedient.

    3. In the end, Katherine realizes that men and women are equal, but she is choosing to obey out of kindness and respect for her husband. Or, that her obedience is a choice, not an obligation.

    While I am unsure of Shakespeare’s intentions with the ending, or what his original audience would have gotten from the play, it seemed as if Erica Sullivan was striving to convey the third. In the end, she doesn’t seem convinced, nor totally broken– in fact, during Erica’s monologue we got the impression that she was still trying to convince herself, and struggling with the idea of giving up her former temper. I would love to know more about this.

  24. Dear Celina,
    What a brilliant analysis! I think all three are plausible. Firstly, in Shakespeare’s time it is, to my mind, most likely that he had his Katherine convey number 2 – I think this because John Fletcher wrote a response-play ‘The Tamer Tamed’, which reacts against Shakespeare’s ending. In Fletcher’s play, Petruccio, having dispatched Katherine to an early death through his cruel treatment of her, marries again. But this wife refuses to be tamed!

    I think that Shana definitely was interested in conveying the kind of journey you discerned in your number 1. And I think this (number 1) is not incompatible at all with the ambivalence you detect in interpretation number 3!!

    I want to add one more possible interpretation for the final speech – that it was written very much with Queen Elizabeth in mind: with the idea that, in displaying the clipping of the wings of an independent woman via marriage, Shakespeare was in fact alluding to Queen Elizabeth’s very good sense in declining to marry at all!

  25. An attention-grabbing dialogue is worth comment. I feel that you must write more on this matter, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  26. Hello Mariann,

    It’s interesting, the fact that you’ve honed in on the
    attention-grabbing dialogue. The dialogue you mention between Katherine
    and Petruchio is like a jousting match – building to a crescendo and
    then – who has won? Petruchio, ostensibly – but has he indeed himself
    capitulated? This play was written very early in Shakespeares career –
    and it evidences something he’d continue to work over again and again –
    a fascination with words as the mechanism of communication we trust –
    but words that also continue to fail us. We mis-speak what we intend
    and we mis-hear what we ought to understand. This is where so many of
    Shakespeare’s dramatic moments come from – mis-speaking and
    mis-hearing. By the way, if uou post again, can you post to the new winter blog?

  27. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

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