- Shakespeare and the Shrew: Performing the Defiant Female Voice by Anna Kamaralli
“Bitch, hag, nag, crone, virago, harridan, harpy, scold”—thus begins Anna Kamaralli’s study of Shakespeare’s shrews in performance, a refreshing addition to contemporary Shakespeare studies (1). She goes on to define shrewishness in terms of speech and shrews as “vocal women”—“women who continue to speak their truth about the world, no matter what means others employ to silence them” (1). To be a shrew is to be a subject in patriarchal dramatic worlds that construct female characters as objects. The book’s scope is thus broader than one might assume, since Kamaralli’s deconstruction of early modern English prescriptions regarding female chastity, silence, and obedience opens up the whole field of female subjectivity for interrogation. “Shrewish is a pejorative term, but describes a behavior that can frequently be viewed as brave, clever, noble or just,” as Kamaralli notes (204). Indeed, perhaps her most significant contribution to contemporary Shakespeare studies here is her transvaluation of the shrew from negative to positive connotations. The book, as its title suggests, is centrally concerned with theater. Using genre, Kamaralli makes reference to a wealth of theatrical, cinematic, and TV productions, some of which are represented in a dozen black and white photographs sprinkled throughout.
The pièce de résistance of the book is chapter 3 that analyzes Goneril and Emilia from the tragedies and Isabella, Marina, and Paulina from plays designated as “not-quite Tragedies” (152). Kamaralli is right to examine the implications of not only the elision of Emilia’s lines in productions such as the 1990 BBC TV version and Oliver Parker’s 1995 cinematic text but also the brutal sexual treatment of the Emilias of Zoe Wanamaker and Anna Patrick by their respective Iagos (145). Kamaralli also emphasizes the significance of Emilia’s heroic defiance of patriarchal inculcations—a defiance that she pays for with her life.
Because the shrewishness of Isabella and Marina had never occurred to me, I read these analyses with particular interest. Kamaralli links them together as shrews who enact “the ability of the female tongue to be a guide to others” (152) and persuade them to moral action, reconciliation, and community healing. Kamaralli points out that Isabella and Marina are unique in their lack of interest in the male characters. This phenomenon results in the redirection of their language “towards moral and metaphysical questions not usually assigned to female characters” (153). The most interesting aspect of Kamaralli’s reading of Marina is the extent to which the character defies, even inverts, stereotypes through her eloquence. [End Page 219]
The Winter’s Tale, Kamaralli notes, “may well be the most female-centered of all Shakespeare’s plays” (202). Yet she points out two productions that both displace Paulina and Hermione from center stage in the final scene to focus instead on the father/son bond of Leontes and a revived (ghost of) Mamillius: Declan Donnellan’s 1999 St. Petersburg production and Edward Hall’s 2004 Propeller Theatre Company production. Such productions “constructed a way to make the story about the men after all” (195). They are, however, outweighed by productions that emphasize the suffusion of the play with the feminine, such as Gale Edwards’s 1987 South Australian Theatre production or Annabel Arden’s 1992 Theatre de Complicité production in addition to a variety of other Royal Shakespeare Company productions emphasizing Paulina’s definition by her “demands that injustice be acknowledged, and that people be held accountable for the harm they do” (203). As Kamaralli observes, “Shakespeare relied more and more on his shrews to stand as the figure of our hope that there will be someone who will step up and say what needs to be said” (203).
Chapter 1 analyzes Constance, Kate Percy, Jeanne, and Margaret, while chapter 2 attends to Adriana, Katherine, and Beatrice. Kamaralli links Katharine and Beatrice together as shrews who “show the virtuoso female tongue as being at its best...