Lucentio falls in love with Bianca, the apparently ideal younger daughter of the wealthy Baptista Minola. But before they can marry, Bianca's formidable elder sister, Katherine, must be wed. Petruchio, interested only in the huge dowry, arranges to marry Katherine-against her will-and enters into a battle of the sexes. - from Simon & Schuster edition.
My Edition: No Fear Shakespeare, 264 pages, Published by SparkNotes in 2004
My Rating: 3 Stars
Petruchio: A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen.
Katherine: No cock of mine.
You crow too like a craven.
10 Things I Hate About You is probably one of my favourite movies, like ever. So when it came time to making my list of Shakespeare plays to read this year, The Taming of the Shrew was at the top of my list. Now, going into this I knew there would be radical differences between the romantic comedy of modern day and the romantic comedy of Shakespeare's day, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself really loving the first three acts of the play. It was great! I wish I could quote Katherine and Petruchio's entire first meeting word for word. Only a small snippet is seen above. The banter was fantastic and the set up for everything got me interested in the story Shakespeare had to tell.
The Taming of the Shrew is a love story based on greed and lies. Everyone is scheming in order to get what they want. If I hadn't known this was one of Shakespeare's comedies I would have thought that this story would have ended badly, which it did in a sense (more on that later), but not in a "and then everyone dies" sort of way.
When good-natured Lucentio falls in love with Bianca at first sight he quickly hears that she is not allowed to marry until her older sister does and is being kept from her suitors till the whole mess is sorted. Problem number one: No one will take Katherine to be a wife. Good thing is, Bianca's other suitors Gremio and Hortensio have a plan for that! Their strong willed friend Petruchio is in town and looking for some cash. Katherine's father is rich and her dowry would more then satisfy what he's looking for. So Petruchio takes on the challenge to tame the shrew and marry her for her money. Isn't that just lovely?
For Lucentio, now all he needs is to win over Bianca's affections. In order to do so he hatches up his own scheme. He will pretend to be a tutor called Cambio to woo Bianca while her father hides her away. Meanwhile his loyal servant, Tranio, will pretend to be him and work Bianca's father to seal the match with false promises and fake parentage. Loveliness all around! At the same time that other suitor from earlier, Hortensio, has a similar plan as he goes undercover as a music instructor to also attempt to woo Bianca.
Things really start to get interesting when Petruchio and Katherine meet with fiery results. She not only rejects him, but spars with him as they sling words full of hate and thinly concealed innuendoes. It was wonderful to read and had me excited for what could possibly come next.
Unfortunately, the positives sort of end there. I feel as if I was lulled into a false sense of security in Taming of the Shrew. The first three acts of the play had me convinced I would enjoy this one just like I did the last two plays, and then Act 4 hits, and everything fell apart as I was reminded of the inevitable conclusion.
Times have changed. Katherine is by today's standards, feisty and headstrong, however in days past she was shrew and disobedient. I really, really hate the word obedient. It is possibly the most insulting word to refer to another human being as. Pets can be obedient or curly hair can be obedient, but calling another person such is just disgusting. With such a strong start to the play I had hoped that perhaps, maybe Shakespeare was going to play the part of the rebel and make this "battle of the sexes" an actual battle. But this battle there is a very clear winner and loser.
So after their first meeting Petruchio reports back to Katherine's father that she has fallen in love with him, despite her saying everything to the contrary, and Katherine's father, being a dick, takes Pertruchio's claim at face value and just hands her over. So much for wanting her happiness! She's miserable and rightfully so because it only gets worse from there. The wedding goes through and Pertrucio's plan to tame her involves sleep deprivation, starvation, and complete isolation from her family in an environment of violence until she breaks. Katherine gives in to his will just to get him to shut up. Isn't love just grand?
The ending was inevitable. As the men of the book laugh and bet on her willingness. Her two page speech on a woman's obedience to her lord, master, and husband was inevitable. It made me feel icky, so very icky. I am very happy that I live in modern day with my 10 Things I Hate About You and my fantastic feminism. Whew!
There are a lot of other smaller nuisances in the play that brought down my rating. The characters in the Introduction were unnecessary/unresolved and the similarly named characters "Gremio" and "Grumio" were confusing.
Despite the ending I do think that this play is worth reading. It's easy to consume, easy to follow the story, and interesting to see the parallels with the movie. I also think it is great for opening up the discussion of the history of strong willed women, comparing our past with our present. It's an interesting conversation to have and this would be a very good starter!