A feminist adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is an ambitious goal. The play has a reputation for reaffirming old, patriarchal attitudes and exalting the subjection of women in a marriage. So as I watched, I considered the following question: have Kate Pincus ’15 and Miranda Rizzolo ’15, for whom the play is a senior English project, succeeded in transforming one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic works into a statement for female empowerment?
Before I get into that, it should be said that a major strength of this play is the nine-person cast: each performer has a moment when they are either hilarious or captivating. The three stars of the show were Rizzolo as Kate, Ben Symons ’15 as Petruchio and Ivan Kirwan-Taylor ’18 as Tranio. The roles were exceptionally well cast. Kirwan-Taylor’s British accent and facial expressions when not speaking added depth to the part; Petruchio was energetic and eccentric; Kate was accurately over-the-top. The best moments of the play happen with Kate and Petruchio onstage together, as when Petruchio brings his new wife home for the first time (the food-throwing was an added bonus).
Even the play’s title makes a feminist reading difficult — giving a woman the label of a ‘shrew’ who needs to be ‘tamed’ because she is too unruly, too disobedient, is obviously archaic. In this interpretation, however, Petruchio does not ‘tame’ Kate — at least not in the sense that we normally think. At the beginning of the play, Kate is wild and empowered. She appears to have no desire to be won over by a man, and expresses disdain towards every one of her potential suitors. And when Petruchio begins his attempt to woo her, the dynamic onstage feels like he is pining for her acceptance, rather than trying to destroy her independent spirit.
With Bianca and her suitors as well, it seems as though it is actually the women who have the upper hand. Hortensio and Lucentio vie for her love but, for a good chunk of the play, she remains unmoved by their advances. Marianna Gailus’ ’17 height intensifies this feeling; as Bianca, she towers over Hortensio (Miles Walter ’18) and Lucentio (Laurence Bashford ’18), adding a physical aspect to her position of power. Still, all this interpretation requires that we ignore the arrangements for marriage that are being made by the two sisters’ father — deals that will change the two daughters’ lives, but in which they have no say.
However, at the end of the play, Kate doesn’t just seem placated by Petruchio’s antics — she appears to be genuinely in love with him. The moment when he asks her to kiss him in the middle of the street is well-acted, and as a result very effective. At this point, I was sold on the idea that Kate and Petruchio could be equals in the relationship. But when he shows off her obedience, some of this started to slip away and I wasn’t so sure. Lines like “Place your hand below your husband’s foot,” and “Tell these headstrong women what duty they do owe their lords and husbands,” are hard to reshape into a feminist narrative. Yet I am still very conflicted about this; at the end, Kate seems happy with her husband and willing to be gracious towards him because she genuinely loves him.
Kate’s final monologue can be taken to affirm the respect that a wife should have for her husband. This makes sense, given Kate’s independent nature at the beginning of the play and her gradual acceptance of marriage by the end. In any case, the play’s solid acting, especially by Rizzolo, sells very well the possibility that “The Taming of the Shrew” might not be as misogynistic as is generally thought. Simply because of that, this production is successful. Pincus and Rizzolo manipulate the script and re-imagine the relationships between characters to cast one of the Bard’s best-known works in a new light. See the play and gauge for yourself just how equal Kate and Petruchio’s relationship really is — you might be surprised.