Current Season

The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew was the first play to be staged at BLT and a revival formed the centre-piece of our Diamond Anniversary season. Below in a brief stage history of the play that has figured so prominently in BLT's own history.

Background

"The Taming of the Shrew" is categorised as one of Shakespeare's earliest and funniest comedies - but it is also in many ways a controversial and often criticized work. Some see it as a disturbing and misogynistic story of the breaking of a woman's spirit through cruelty and starvation. Others meanwhile, see it as a study in adjustment and toleration, concerned with learning the kind of acceptance and understanding of others that must inevitably lead to a better, more contented, life. Whilst to yet others it is a lesson in looking beyond the obvious, and recognising the good inside of a person despite outward indications to the contrary.


Lily Brayton as Katherine in a production of The Shrew at the Adelphi Theatre, 1904.

Which of these viewpoints you subscribe to you must decide for yourself after seeing the play - there are justifications for each and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But one must take great care in attempting to impute any political or moralistic motives upon Shakespeare in his writing of the play. Times and attitudes were very different then, and consequently the play would have been viewed by it's audiences in a very different light. To examine the play from a modern politically correct perspective is, therefore, being a little unfair, and amounts to over-critiquing what Shakespeare may never have intended as being anything more than a darned good comedy.

Examining the evidence, it is true that the play sees the transformation of Katharine from a spirited, rebellious, sharp-tongued woman, into a seemingly submissive, dutiful wife. Initially, all that anyone can see in her is this angry, stubborn, harridan of a woman. But Petruchio is different, and takes a chance on her, slowly breaking her down and teaching her that she need not be so hard-hearted. But the seeming cruelty with which he achieves this is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that he subjects himself to the same rigours. And is her spirit truly broken? Ultimately, the story is sufficiently open for you to decide whether Kate truly learns obeisance, or simply that there are subtler and happier ways of gaining ones own ends.

Stage History

"The Taming of the Shrew" is believed to have been written sometime between 1590 and 1594, but it's early stage history is somewhat blurred by the simultaneous coexistence of another similarly titled play, "The Taming of a Shrew". This blurring is deepened by the fact that little if any distinction was made between the two at that time - the epithets 'The Shrew' and 'A Shrew' being often confused and commonly applied equally in reference to either play. The relationship between the development of the two plays, which share the same story and essential characters (some being renamed in 'A Shrew'), is equally unclear. It has been argued that 'A Shrew', penned by an unknown author, was the source of Shakespeare's version, or that both were independently derived from an unknown third source.

It is now generally accepted, however, that 'A Shrew', which is mostly a simplified take on the story, was in fact a plagiarised version of Shakespeare's play - possibly recompiled from memory by an actor. Since 'A Shrew' can be firmly traced back to May 1594 when it was first published, it then follows that 'The Shrew' must have pre-dated it, and have been performed sometime before then - probably at least two years before, since the theatres had just reopened in early 1594 after two years of closure due to the plague. Furthermore, other literary references allude to one or other of the Shrew plays being known at least as far back as 1592, and possibly as early as 1590. If Shakespeare's version was, as is supposed, the earlier of the two then it follows that it was probably first performed at some time during that two year period. It is unlikely that this position will ever become any clearer. Moreover, this blurring of the two versions continues to the modern day, with many modern versions of the Shakespearean classic incorporating additional elements borrowed from 'A Shrew'.

A Brief Timeline

  • 1594 (May 2nd) - A play was entered in the Stationers' Register as 'A plesant Conceyted historie called the Tamyinge of a Shrowe' - being printed in a quarto edition that same year. This is the first known appearance of 'A Shrew'. Shakespeare's 'The Shrew' is generally accepted to have been in existence prior to that time although no original manuscripts exist since Shakespeare never published his plays during his lifetime.
  • 1594 (June 13th) - A play called "the Tamying of a Shrowe" is recorded in Philip Henslowe's Diary being performed at Newington Butts theatre. Although this could have been the other play, it is generally assumed to have been Shakespeare's version since the newly formed Chamberlain's Men (Shakespeare's company from this time forward) were resident at that theatre at the time.
  • 1607 (January 22nd) - 'A Shrew' (the anonymous version) appeared in a publication of three plays, "The Taming of a Shrowe", "Romeo and Juliett" and "Loves Labour Loste" that was entered in the Stationers' Register to Master Linge.
  • 1611 - John Fletcher penned his sequel and reply to the Shrew story entitled "The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed". In Fletcher's play, the roles are reversed and a recently widowed Petruchio is remarried to a bride who "tames" him by driving him from the marital home and refusing to consummate their marriage until he promises to respect her.
  • 1623 - Seven years after Shakespeare's death, two of his fellow actors, John Hemminges and Henry Condell, posthumously recorded his work by publishing 36 of his plays, including "The Shrew", in the 'First Folio'.
  • 1633 (November 26th) - The Shakespearean version of the play was acted at Court before King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.
  • 1667 - Shakespeare's "The Shrew" having been overshadowed by Fletcher's sequel, John Lacy attempted to resurrect it by premiering an anglicized version, reworked in prose, entitled "Sauny the Scot: Or, the Taming of the Shrew". In this version, Sauny, the main character, is Petruchio's servant, terrified of his new mistress.
  • 1716 - A farcical version, "The Cobbler of Preston", was first staged at Drury Lane.
  • 1735 - "A Cure for A Scold", an operatic version by James Worsdale, was acted at Drury Lane.
  • 1754 - David Garrick's shortened adaptation, which had no induction and a simplified subplot, became hugely popular and supplanted all other versions for almost a century.
  • 1844 - Benjamin Webster restored Shakespeare's original text to popularity in his version at The Haymarket.
  • 1908 - The first silent movie version of "The Taming of the Shrew" was recorded by D.W. Griffith as a seventeen minute short.
  • 1911 - "The Cowboy and the Shrew", putting the story in a wild west setting, was filmed starring Tom Mix.
  • 1929 - The first talking movie version was recorded - starring Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
  • 1948 (December 30th) - After a three-week tryout in Philadelphia, the Cole Porter musical "Kiss Me Kate", based on the story of "The Shrew", opened at the New Century Theatre on Broadway where it ran for eighteen months.
  • 1951 (March 8th) - The West End version of "Kiss Me Kate" opened at the Coliseum in London and ran for 400 performances.
  • 1953 (November 26th) - MGM released their film adaptation of "Kiss Me Kate", directed by George Sidney and starring Howard Keel.
  • 1967 - Franco Zeffirelli filmed "The Taming of the Shrew" in an authentic Italian Renaissance setting starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

The Taming of the Shrew at BLT

'The Taming of the Shrew' was chosen as the first play of the first full season of productions, and the first to be performed at the Bingley Little Theatre following its official opening on Monday, 26th April, 1948 (earlier productions having been staged at borrowed venues). The Shrew opened the next night and ran for six performances, including a Saturday afternoon matinee.


Cast of the 1948 production of The Taming of the Shrew.

Revivals at BLT
14th Season: 7th to 12th May 1962.
60th (Diamond Anniversary) Season: 3rd to 8th December, 2007.


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