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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From The taming of the shrew to Kiss me Kate : the changing fortunes of Katherine, the shrew Edgar, Patricia

Abstract

William Shakespeare's play, The Taming of the Shrew has a varied and interesting stage history. Beginning with Fletcher's The Tamer Tarn'd (1633), a sequel to Shakespeare, there have been many adaptations of the plot in farce, opera and poetic drama, including an American musical comedy. This thesis will follow the stage history of The Taming of the Shrew, focussing on the dramatic development and treatment of the heroine, Katherine. Shakespeare's shrew, Katherine, is much more than a traditional shrew stereotype. Her dramatic presentation in language and action has enough depth and subtlety to provoke much conflicting criticism and interpretation. What motivates her anger? Why is she physically abusive? Is she subdued, tamed or reeducated? Enough clues are present in the play to provide for interesting debate. The first part of the thesis is concerned with examining Shakespeare's dramatic concept of the shrew to establish the scope and range of Katherine's personality and her response to Petruchio's taming tricks. In later versions of the play, the character of Katherine receives a variety of dramatic treatments. Some playwrights reduce Katherine's dramatic function to a mere outline. Others accentuate her physically abusive and sharp-tongued qualities. Yet another variation is a softening of the shrewish disposition to allow for a sentimental treatment of shrew conditioning. The dramatic vigour of the shrew character is constant, but variations in plot, language and thematic idea result in very different and entertaining shrew types. This stage history of The Taming of the Shrew as it relates to the heroine, Katherine, includes an analysis of the following plays. The Tamer Tarn'd (1633), a sequel by John Fletcher serves to comment on Shakespeare's Kate by direct allusion and by dramatic contrast. Sauny the Scot (1667) is a bastardised Restoration version in which the shrew is a farcical stereotype who must suffer extensive physical humiliation for her excessive displays of nastiness. Catherine and Petruohio (1756) is David Garrick's miniature version of Shakespeare which stresses the farce, simplifying the play and the dramatic impact of Catherine. John Tobin's The Honeymoon (1805) is a poetic attempt to re-create The Shrew. The heroine in this play suffers the sin of pride, but is won over to domesticity and humility by love and rural surroundings provided by a gentle tamer. The thesis also considers the nineteenth century attempts to revive the Shakespeare original which struggled unsuccessfully with the popularity of the Garrick version. Some of the musical adaptations of The Shrew provide a rich variety of shrew heroines in very different settings. Included are a ballad opera, A Cure for a Scold (1735), a German opera by Hermann Goetz, The Taming of the Shrew (1878), and a modern musical comedy version, Kiss Me Kate (1948). These adaptations and variant versions provide a veritable school of Katherines. The streak of genius in Shakespeare's dramatic idea of a shrew, who, even in the realm of farce is seen as a human being with the capacity to feel, change and grow, becomes very strongly apparent as Shakespeare's Kate is measured against the shrew heroines in these derivative plays. The contrasting shrew types, though interesting and pleasing in their own way, never quite acquire the stature, poise, wit, intelligence and humour which characterise Shakespeare's attractive Kate. For Kate's civilising and learning encounter with Petruchio is not the brutalising, punitive or subjugating ritual of tradition; amidst the slapstick of farce, Kate, with her Petruchio, provides a unique variation of the shrew heroine. She is not conquered. She changes herself. This is her distinction and her strength and the mark of Shakespeare's human touch.

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