(First written on June 28, 2012) The closing scene of The Taming of the Shrew brings all its characters to the stage. That is when you notice how many there are after they appear in groups of 2, 3 or 4 for most of the play! Shortly after, you also notice how important their presence is to focus on Shrew’s final monologue. Indeed, Katherina, who was loud, violent, angry and shrew throughout the play, explains how her husband’s influence has made her a better woman – an obedient wife.
Shakespeare’s women are a world of their own. It is fantastic that the playwright has created such strong female characters, but they often seem to end up tamed (or dead?)! However, some will interpret this behaviour as having a second meaning: they accept to be tamed in order to be listened to.
Is it true that a woman who listens, obeys and applies the rules ends up… ruling those who think they are ruling her? Is it necessary for a woman to comply if she wants to get her way? No one would even listen to Katherina while she was bad tempered, hateful and almost ugly… however, once she shows poise, respect and listens to her husband’s every will, all eyes are on her while she delivers her speech with elegance, confidence and perhaps malice, if one believes what I questioned above. It’s a fascinating question that Shakespeare gives us the liberty to answer over and over again.
The brilliant Samantha Spiro plays Katherina on the Globe stage this season. Her big eyes, long brown hair and petite shape make her a ball of fire as she relentlessly curses everything everyone tells her, kicking, screaming, rolling around on the floor and running around the stage. In the image above, she shows shock: shock that her husband Petruchio (she is wearing a ruined wedding dress) could ever even try to level with her. Spiro has a beautiful soothing voice I can imagine hearing on the radio. Until the end of the play, her words and sentences are short and sharp, which accentuates the beauty of her final speech.
If I am honest with myself, I can imagine I would not be cast as Katherina but rather as her sister (who is much softer – yes, I am honest here) – but I promise you I will fight this. I want to play the shrew Katherina.
There’s small choice in rotten apples.
(Act 1, Scene 1, Hortensio)
Or is the adder better than the eel
Because his painted skin contents the eye?
(Act 4, Scene 3, Petruchio)
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty.
(Act 5, Scene 2, Katherina)