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.
"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.
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.
"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
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.
Revivals at BLT