Monday, July 20, 2015

The Taming of the Shrew.

     The Taming of the Shrew. At the Stratford Festival Theatre. Directed by Chris Abraham. Ben Carlson (Petruchio), Deborah Hay (Katherina), Sarah Afful (Bianca), et al.
     In many ways a traditional Shrew, this production succeeds on many levels. Unusually, it includes the Induction, heavily adapted, but a good reminder that what we are about to see is a play put on for a gullible old drunken fool. It’s a mix of farce, fantasy, and fun, not to be taken too seriously. The company emphasised the fun, and worked together to produce high-quality theatre, inspired and shaped by the traces of commedia dell’arte in the script.
     Except of course that the play does raise serious questions, as all plays do. The director notes that in Shakespeare’s time marriage was being redefined, as if that were news: marriage is always being redefined. But the comment does remind us of all the other plays in which Shakespeare deals with courtship and marriage. Even the history plays, whose stories focus on politics and power, show us that the personal is the essence of all relationships, regardless of the social constructs from which we can never completely escape, and which most of us find quite comfortable and even comforting templates for our social selves.
     We can’t avoid the misogyny in the Shrew. Petruchio uses sleep-deprivation and hunger.  The best that can be done is to downplay the brutality, and present Petruchio as acting a part. Well then, does he truly tame Kate? Or does she too act a part, merely to humour this crazy guy, until she can figure out some way of living with him. That she is attracted to him may be inferred from their first encounters, when he persists in flattering her despite her hostile responses.
     How you answer these questions determines the meaning of the rest of the play. Perhaps she simply decides to play along; that’s how Hay plays it when on the return to Padua she agrees that the sun is the moon, and the elderly gentleman is a sprightly maid. She’s decided to play the role of dutiful wife, but why? Has she fallen in love with Petruchio despite herself? He’s like her, after all: has she scented an equal, unlike the self-satisfied fops and fortune hunters who are wooing Bianca?
     Kate’s final speech, in which she scolds the supposedly good wives for their frowardness, demands an answer to those questions. Its significance depends on them. The script doesn’t give much help; it’s certainly defective, and just how much Shakespeare contributed to it is unclear. That means a director can emend and adapt to suit their vision. Whether we read the speech as a final submission, or as an offer of love to a husband who will be her equal as a human being, Petruchio’s response is unambiguous admiration for this wench that has become his wife, and that’s enough, I think, to add a modern twist to the play’s ending. I suspect that many in the original audiences hoped for or confirmed the satisfactions of their own marriages. We want Kate and Petruchio to have a satisfying marriage, otherwise we can’t read that unpleasant middle passage as the parody of courtship that a farce demands. When the play somehow convinces us of the changing perceptions and attitudes in both these headstrong people, it has succeeded. This production does so. Go see it. ***
     Toronto Star review here, and Globe and Mail review here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Petrucchio is the epitome of dragonian masculnity in defiance of nature