- The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a play caught between two seemingly incongruous identities. On one hand, it is a classic "battle of the sexes" comedy, a romantic fantasy in which true love tempers the most combative of pairs. On the other, it is an assault on assertive women, a misogynist fantasy in which the "hero" starves and mentally tortures his wife into submission. Both interpretations certainly have their merit. One cannot simply dismiss the reality that Shakespeare's comedy, written as it was in [End Page 101] the England of 1590s, captures the spirit of a definitively patriarchal age, a time of the scold's bridle, when vociferous women would be reined in by physical tortures far worse than any in Petruchio's repertoire of means to "kill a wife with kindness." Nor can one ignore how Shakespeare's rich craft so humanizes both dominating husband and belligerent wife as to make them the most appealing lovers in a play overflowing with romance. Taken for itself, the text appears both a tale of passion and a sexist tract.
Two recent productions by the rival Shakespeare festivals of Pennsylvania (one recognized by the state legislature as the "Official Shakespeare Festival" of the commonwealth and the other reigning unofficially over the substantial local market of the city of Philadelphia) suggest that engaging live performances with intuitive acting can divert the spectator's attention away from the more problematic content of the play. Succeeding in very different ways, each event created a unique theatrical world that mediated the play's misogyny. The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's production did so by casting two of the most dynamic actors in regional American theatre in the roles of Katherina and Petruchio. Grace Conglewski and Greg Wood so equally dominated the stage that spectators could not easily identify Petruchio or Katherina as the prevailing authority. The Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival selected two skilled young performers whose sincere interactions and visible chemistry made the struggle seem a quaint, if at times dysfunctional, game played by true lovers.
Domenick Scudera, Chair of Theater and Dance at Ursinus College and a returning director for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, devised a fascinating menu of elements from 1930s and 1940s Hollywood. Musical pantomimes marked each act-break, setting up the wedding scene or extending Kate's abuse of her sister through slapstick business. Ultimately, Scudera's "screwball comedy" frame was too limited to structural gimmicks to truly qualify as a concept, but to a great extent it served to focus all empathy entirely on Petruchio and Kate. Only Bonetti and Castracane revealed any touches of humanity during the course of the action. Until their surprisingly tender kiss before the act five scene-break, all the performers in the...