Archive for February, 2012

The Taming of the Shrew – currently on at the RSC in Stratfod

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

I have seen productions of this that seemed to license rape and brainwashing. This one, directed by Lucy Bailey, saves Petruchio from being a monster and unveils a far more subtle play about love and desire and liberation from slavery to falsely-directed desire. Of course, Katherina’s ‘shrewish’ behaviour at the beginning denotes as big an unfreedom as her sister’s obedience: rebels are no freer than slaves. Petruchio’s strategy of reverse psychology to begin with frames everything she throws at him (literally!) as evidence of her desire to be lovable, and to be able to give love. There are moments that hint at reasons for her being trapped in this ‘attack is the best form of defence’ frame, from her reproaches to her father that the lovely Bianca is his favourite.

Act Four is the really hardcore part, the ‘training’ of Katherina. The staging of this in this production let the whole thing appear to be in a dreamlike or liminal place, so that Petruchio isn’t so much the husband as the hierophant in an initiation, which involves deprival of sleep and food. The fact that it culminates in the walk through the woods and Kate’s acceptance that sun and moon are interchangable, that the reality I experience is in part at least the product of my own way of seeing, adds to this atmosphere of the mystery-temple. And the reverse psychology continues – Kate seems to grow in compassion, the more Petruchio grows in an outrageousness that mirrors hers in Act One.
And the denouement? Katherine’s submission is hard to swallow if one thinks Shakespeare was writing the manifesto for 21st century marriage. However, she has found freedom in accepting the reality of 17th Century marriage; and in this production, when she abases herself to unlace Petruchio’s shoe, he falls at her feet before the famous ‘Then kiss me Kate’ line, and abases himself before her in turn. The husband’s leadership turns out not to be tyranny but servant leadership. There is a connection here to the words in our sacrament of marriage: leadership in the light of Christ surely has little to do with coercion and control, and everything to do with service and self-bestowing love.

Link to theĀ RSC website.