Retrograde

I thought I was done Shakes-blogging for a while, but the UNO theatre department is producing The Taming of the Shrew this week and so I had to check it out. This is not my favorite show, by any stretch, but I figured I should try and give it the benefit of the doubt.

The performances are quite spirited; that’s my classmate Kaitlyn Heckel featured as Katherina, with Robert Facio’s Petruchio right behind. There’s a lot of energy and affection between the two actors, and it comes out in the production.  You have to imagine some 20-somethings as 50-year-old men, but that’s the only stretch; the performances are fun.

Aside from an enjoyable bit of entertainment, however, my goal in seeing the show was to figure out if there was any way to interpret the text as anything but reactionary in its treatment of women.  Try as I might, I have to say, no, there’s not.

I know that directors have been trying to rescue Shakespeare from those charges for sometime, but in my opinion, it can’t be done. He was a product of his time, and it shows.

I will say, that though the attitudes that come through are patriarchal and oppressive, I wouldn’t call them (as some have) expressly misogynist. I think he wants Kate and Petruchio to have a loving relationship, he just has obsolete views about a woman’s place. (Of course, the fact that they’re obsolete doesn’t mean we still don’t hear them from the Vatican or some imam or even the talking heads on Fox News.)

There’s simply no getting around the fact that Petruchio is “breaking” Katherina like one might a horse, or, in the metaphors of the play, a hunting falcon. She’s starved, taunted, abused, and ordered about in a manner that’s pretty painful to watch. Now there’s often violence in comedy, and we’re expected to be able to laugh it off.  There is also the use of stereotypical gender roles for the purpose of satire, but there’s no indication that Shakespeare is doing anything subversive here. He’s playing it straight and while Petruchio values her, even loves her, she is still “my goods, my chattels, … my household stuff”, and no amount of genius can redeem that aspect of the play.

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