Performances of The Taming of the Shrew

Early productions

There are very few records of The Taming of the Shrew in performance in Shakespeare’s lifetime. In 1594 there is a record of a production that is likely to have been Shakespeare’s play and in 1633 The Taming of the Shrew was performed at court before the King (Charles I and Queen. A measure of how popular the play was – or how controversial – is given by the existence of John Fletcher’s sequel The Tamer Tamed (which was also performed at court in 1633). The Tamer Tamed shows Petruchio getting a bit of his own treatment from his second wife whom he marries after Katherina dies. 

Variants on the story

Adaptations of the play were popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Audiences would have seen John Lacy’s Sauny the Scot and David Garrick’s Catherine and Petruchio, rather than Shakespeare’s own script. Both of these elaborated the main plot while reducing the Induction and sub-plots. There is more physical violence in Sauny the Scot, in which Petruchio threatens to beat Peg (Katherina) with a stick and to extract a tooth when she refuses to speak to him. 
Garrick’s Catherine and Petruchio has much less violence, more polite dialogue and Catherine is tamer than previous shrews. However, the ending of the play is much less ambiguous than Shakespeare’s final scene. Garrick’s Catherine is subdued and unresponsive, leading Bianca to say, ‘Was ever Woman’s Spirit broke so soon!’ Furthermore, Petruchio has more to say and is given many of the lines originally spoken by Katherina in Shakespeare’s script. For example, he has the last word:
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.
And when she’s forward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will;
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her noble, loving lord?
Catherine and Petruchio Act 3     

Twentieth century productions

During the twentieth century stage productions have increasingly explored issues of male subjugation of women, female submission and class inequalities. Controversial elements in the conflict between the sexes in the play were at the forefront of many productions:
  • In 1978 Michael Bogdanov’s production for the Royal Shakespeare Company focused on the violence of male chauvinism and domination, with Katherina portrayed as a lifeless, oppressed woman cowed by her husband at the end of the play
  • A 2008 production directed by Connall Morrison at the RSC included frequent beatings and violent humour, ending with Katherina’s speech delivered without spirit and in soulless, robotic manner. 
A range of other productions have minimised controversial elements of male domination or chauvinism by using irony, such as Lucy Bailey’s 2012 production at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Katherina’s last speech was heavily ironic. Another RSC production directed by Greg Doran in 2003 ended with a warm and heartfelt speech by Katherina and a shower of gold coins thrown by Petruchio. Other productions minimise controversy by placing true love at the foreground. In Toby Frow’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in 2012, it is clear that Petruchio and Katherina have fallen in love and that their love colours the last scene. 
The range of other adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew show how popular this play is with audiences today. The play has been adapted in film versions and stage versions, as well as adaptations loosely based on the main plot found in the film Ten Things I Hate About You or the musical Kiss Me, Kate.
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