No Tamed Performance

The Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Maeli Goren ’15
April 19-20, 25, 27, 8:00 PM, April 20, 2:00 PM, April 26, 11:59 PM
Class of 1970 Theater at Whitman College
$8 for students, $10 General Admission
Student Events Eligible at Frist

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An evening of light-hearted fun awaits theatergoers with the Princeton Shakespeare Company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew. With a wide range of pervading themes such as the blatant objectification of women, the overt misogynistic glorification of the patriarchal system, or the firm espousal of domestic abuse, this show promises fun the whole family.

I need not say that The Taming of the Shrew is not one of Shakespeare’s noblest works, for the premise of the play tells us that. The main plot begins with Baptista Minola (Rachel Wilson ’16), a lord of Padua with two daughters. There are suitors seeking the hand of the younger daughter Bianca (Carlie Robbins ’14), but Minola refuses to marry off the younger before the elder daughter Katherina (Maddie Reese ’16) is married. This poses a problem to the suitors, as Katherina is considered a “shrew,” with a prickly personality and an indomitable temper.  As the suitors’ good luck would have it, however, they find a man named Petruchio (Pat Rounds ’15) who is willing to take on the task of, well, taming the shrew.  The rest of the story portrays the taming process, featuring, most notably, wooing via reverse psychology, some physical force, and later after the farce of a marriage, the denial of food, sleep, and clothing under the guise of perfect love.  Petruchio claims that nothing is good enough for her, and so food meant for his wife is thrown out for it appears overcooked, new garments are discarded for they do not do his new wife justice, and she is deprived of sleep for some other seemingly absurd reason. Later he begins to psychologically temper his wife in the most subhuman way possible. Petruchio claims the sun is the moon and forces Katherina to agree with his other ridiculous statements. This, he claims, is the taming process. And at the end, we are presented with the most cringe-worthy scene where several men are gathered and decide to have a wager in which each sends a servant to call for their wives, and the one who most obediently comes when beckoned, wins the wager for her husband. To the surprise of the other men, Petruchio wins the wager, and so the play ends with Katherina’s monologue praising the virtues of a submissive wife.  Featuring memorable phrases such as “thy husband is thy lord”; “what is she [the rebelling wife] but a foul contending rebel and graceless traitor to her loving lord? I am ashamed that women are so simple to offer war when they should kneel for peace”; or “place your hands below your husband’s foot: in token of which duty, if he please. My hand is ready; may it do him ease,” this part of the play could probably make even the most ardent misogynist shift uncomfortably in his or her seat.

While it is true that the treatment of Katherina is unequivocally misogynistic in nature, Petruchio is no stellar representation of man either, for his initial agreement to tame Katherina is motivated by the handsome dowry which would follow. It is this crass portrayal of pigheaded misogyny that suggests that the play is a parody, a comedy making fun of the silliness of the exaggerated patriarchy in the play. The framing of the story as a play within the actual play reinforces this claim because it adds distance between the playwright and his work.  The story of Kate and Petruchio is actually a play performed in a tavern before its clientele.  The performers in the play are either participating in the telling of this story, or are sitting towards the back of the stage in the designated bar area, drinking from beer bottles.  Off in the corner are Marcos Cisneros ’15 and Han Tran ’15, who play their guitars during designated intervals, which adds to the tavern environment. The inclusion of blues music in the performance is a good decision, for it allows the characters in the story of Kate and Petruchio to interact with the musicians, adding a comical effect to some of the more awkward scenes. One instance of this occurs after Petruchio has married Katherina and the newly wedded couple arrives home. Petruchio barks at Cisneros and Tran and commands them to play for his fair bride. The startled look on their faces prompted chuckles from some of the audience members.

But this reaction was only possible because of Pat Round’s excellent performance in his role as Petruchio. Donning a leather jacket and projecting an air of confidence, Rounds makes the character of Petruchio a likable and comical one. Reese’s performance as Kate makes the relationship between her character and Petruchio a feasible one. Those unsure of what a shrew actually is need only look to Reese’s pretamed Kate. Going as far as to slap some of the suitors of her younger sister, she instills in our minds just how unpleasant the character of Kate actually is. But, as called for in the play, this vicious shrew must be tamed, and herein lies Reese’s most impressive feat.  Over the course of the play, she convincingly changes from the shrew to a submissive wife. Yet, the docile Kate retains some of the causticity of her former self.  Consequently, Reese’s recitation of the final monologue plants some doubt in the audience’s mind as to whether she is being sarcastic or not. This potentially facetious Kate at the very end exists solely to reassure the audience that some of the themes championed throughout this play, which would be heavily frowned upon in reality, are to be viewed in a comical light, as not to accidently overstep any prescribed boundaries and to offend.

But, as director Maeli Goren ’15 agrees, it is also this overstepping of boundaries that makes this play worth performing.  In the current production, there is a scene in which Grumio(Dan Ames, GS), Petruchio’s servant, affects a borderline offensive Asian accent as he flails around imitating a martial arts fighter, something that text most certainly does not call for.  This sort of political incorrectness is at the core of the play, and this production is a rather faithful interpretation of the work. Let the easily offended beware, for this is no tamed performance.

 * Correction: This article formerly switched the roles of Rachel Wilson and Carlie Robbins.

About Charles Ouyang

Charlie Ouyang is a junior in the Mathematics department. He can be reached at couyang@princeton.edu.
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