05 September 2018
· Adaptations and alterations in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ ·
Part 1 offered an authorial interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew. Now I’d like to look at some efforts by others. With one exception, you can see these for yourself via streaming or physical media. My list isn’t chronological and the post is long, but it barely scratches the surface of what’s out there, and that’s just in English. The hardest thing about writing about this play is stopping.
1967: The first picture for director Franco Zeffirelli, who made a bigger splash a year later with Romeo and Juliet. The Taming of the Shrew starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, husband and wife, reliable tabloid fodder since Le Scandale several years earlier. Stratford Doubter Michael York made his cinematic debut as Lucentio.
The trailer makes it sound like this was a no-brainer casting decision, but the roles were originally intended for Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. The Italianate version.
Instead of the opening Induction, we dive into a Paduan street bacchanal. My text has taken some hits, but there’s enough left to get the point across. My favourite line remains, and Burton delivers it with the proper combination of nonchalance and dismissal: Tush tush, fear boys with bugs.
Burton’s Petruchio is all swagger and pelt (and alcohol, if the stories are true). Taylor’s Kate is one annoyed woman, suffering no fools though they surround her at every turn. The film’s take on the plot lets us watch as she gradually acquiesces in her own taming. First she fights it, then she considers it, finally she decides to give it a shot. She retains control, and (it seems to me) leaves open her option to change her mind back again if the experiment fails. At the concluding banquet she unironically proclaims her wifely subservience, then departs without so much as a by-your-leave, leaving her lord and keeper to scurry after her. She may be tamed, but she’s not cowed.
Contrary to the image at right (from the trailer) and the one at the top of the post (shopped from a promotional poster), there are no whipping scenes to be seen in this film. I watched it through again to be certain. Two horses and an ass get cropped on their rumps in a rainstorm. That’s it. False advertising.
More to come about whips.
1929: All Talking All Laughing, at least while the camera was rolling. Married stars (you see the gimmick) Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were embroiled in their own connubial discontents during the filming. They separated soon afterwards, and divorced in 1936. This film is possibly the first feature-length Shakespeare talkie, but postlife is too short for me to fact-check that. Here’s a starting point, be my guest.
Even less of my text survives here than in Zeffirelli’s adaptation. What remains is meant to remind the audience every now and again, hey don’t forget, you’re watching Shakespeare. The Induction is missing once more, this time in favour of some foreshadowy Pulcinella-style puppet S&M.
Acting: I don’t want to be unfair. This was only two years after The Jazz Singer. Sound cinema was still young and these were some of its toddling steps, but the leftover ham is already hard to digest. The exaggerated physicality of silent films lingered in many early talkies, even though speaking made the gesticulating and mugging look overdone. But here’s the catch: this film was shot to be both a talkie and a silent, two movies from the same photography. Not a good idea in hindsight, but nobody knew it at the time. Cinemas lacking audio could run the silent version with its inserted intertitles. Sound equipment was an expensive upgrade, and it didn’t help that Wall Street crashed three days after the film’s release. So the histrionics get a pass, but Fairbanks’s right arm should have been tied to his waist, or amputated.
I can’t prove that Terry Gilliam thought of Fairbanks
when he envisioned Mrs Lowry’s footgear headgear
in Brazil, but the connection seems obvious.
Most of the attention paid to this film by critics and social historians and graduate students comes from the ending. Pickford sends the message that Taylor would repeat thirty-eight years later, but Pickford’s signal is more overt. Her Kate not only knows what’s up, she lets her sister (and the audience) in on the secret.
Now, the whips.
Whips are the dominant motif in 1929’s Shrew, with such a presence that they’re seen right on the poster. Where they’re not seen is in proximity to horseflesh. Petruchio saunters into Padua on his two feet, carrying a whip. (A stabled horse may be inferred, but is nowhere visible.) The whip cracks as Petruchio discusses his plans to wive and thrive. When he and Katherine meet, her whip cracks to get his attention. Soon she’s laying it into him, then going after anyone in reach. She lashes Petruchio at the door of the church where they’ve just been married. (Was it under her skirts at the altar?) The whips accompany the newlyweds into their nuptial bedchamber (this was before the Production Code, who can say), but after Kate concusses her mate with a footstool she has a change of heart and chucks her whip into the fire. Not so Petruchio. Next day, sore head bandaged, his whip is back on his wrist as he triumphantly kisses his ‘tamed’ ex-shrew. Watch the clip again.
As mentioned, Zeffirelli’s Shrew employed no whips, unless they were filmed and then cut during editing. Even if that happened, why use whips to advertise a whipless film? You only scare away the squeamish while frustrating the fetishists.
The real question is more fundamental: How did this scourge of scourges infect my play in the first place? I wrote no whips, unless you count old Gremio telling Hortensio that he’d as soon have Kate’s dowry and be whipt at the hie crosse everie morning as marry her for it. Whipping isn’t funny. When you’re writing to get laughs, any violence has to serve the humour or it’s counterproductive. This is a rom-com, not High Plains Drifter.
In Part 1 I mentioned the potential for damage to my work from poor or misleading revisions. While a plague of whips doesn’t cause errors in dating, it distorts what I wrote in a way I don’t like, so I undertook some whipidemiology to locate the source of the contagion.
The flea was Kemble, the rat was Garrick. I should have known.
David Garrick. 1717–1779. Actor, producer, theatre manager, ripper of plays (not only mine), media celebrity, proto-Barnum. I do not call him a writer. Read any of his writing, you won’t either.
1754: Garrick carved the fourth in his series of a dozen or more eviscerated Shakespears. (I’ll use his spelling for now. Quotation marks are assumed.) The result was a three-act fillet of Shrew called Catharine and Petruchio, published in 1756 and reprinted nine times over the next century. For ninety of those years this was the only version performed in public on either side of the Atlantic. Typically found on a double bill, it would follow an opener such as The Winter’s Docked Tale, or Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear, the one with the happy ending.
Playbill for Garrick’s Theatre Royal, 27 January 1762.
Mrs. CIBBER’s Sheep-ſhearing Song
gets larger billing than the (ᴀᴜᴛʜᴏʀ.)
(Harvard Theatre Collection)
Garrick did more than disfigure a third of my plays, as if that wasn’t enough. The following bit of his business fits into my timeline, so I’m detouring to the provincial north-west to include it. The whip pursuit returns after the blue text.
1769: Garrick was asked by the civic fathers of Stratford-upon-Avon to provide a bust of Shakespear for the new town hall. Garrick had a better idea: a festival! Invite the kingdom to pay homage to his idol. Five years before, the bicentenary of Shakespear’s birth had passed without a soul noticing. Garrick yearned to bind victorious wreaths to the brow of this glory-less son of Warwickshire. He wanted to put on a show.
Alarums, excursions, construction delays. At last, Shakespears Jubilee was set for 6-8 September.
(Folger Digital Image Collection)
The first day’s events, per the ticket:
- • the Oratorio, Thomas Arne’s Old Testament opus Judith, because of its obvious connection to the life and works of Shakespear
- • the Dedication Ode, composed and declaimed by Garrick 
- • the Ball, not to be confused with the Pageant or the Masquerade
- • the Fireworks, self-explanatory
My words played no part at all in the events that celebrated their being written by the man who didn’t write them. Garrick’s schedule for the Jubilee included not a play, not a scene, not a soliloquy, not a sonnet. I can’t make this stuff up.
As it turned out, Garrick’s Jubilee was undone by Veritas, goddess of truth, her wrath made manifest in torrential rains and the flooding of the Avon. The jerry-built bankside venue was inundated and unsafe. The streets became quagmires. The fireworks wouldn’t light. Those who could obtain transport made an early exit from Soggy Stratford. The third day was a washout except for a horse-wade won by Whirligig, and Garrick left town with none of the pomp and publicity of his arrival. He would never return. But he was not a showman for nothing, and his personal losses were recouped with advantages once he got back to London. The Jubilee, a recycled pastiche he assembled for his theatre at Drury Lane, opened in October and ran for more than ninety performances.
This bombastic booster and his botched, benighted, belated birthday bash begat the bogus Birthplace Bardolatry that bedevils us byet.
Garrick died at 62 in 1779, a decade after the Jubilee.
Next-generation actor-manager John Philip Kemble (1757–1823) starred as Petruchio for a while (comedy was not his forte), in his adaptation of Garrick’s adaptation. Guess who played Kate! It’s a trick question: Kemble acted opposite not only his wife, Priscilla Hopkins Kemble, but his sister, Sarah Siddons, and his sister-in-law, Marie Thérèse Kemble. Not all at once, though you never rule anything out with theatre people.
The following two images come from Kemble’s carved-up and revised promptbook copy of Garrick’s 1754 carved-up and revised Shrew. This edition was printed in 1786. Frances Dolan, in her book The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts, gives a date of 1788 for the performances given from this promptbook. Kemble and his sister performed the play together on two dates in 1788, so that’s good enough for me. The exact date isn’t the point.
Garrick’s text, Act II (scenes aren’t numbered), following Petruchio’s tardy arrival and his to me she’s married, not unto my clothes speech, just before the offstage wedding:
Here is the first flagellating bacillus, shed by Garrick in 1754. This conversation is entirely Garrick’s, not mine. An added character, Pedro, reports to Petruchio’s servant Grumio that on the way to church to be married, Petruchio brandished his whip at Pedro as a proxy threat to Grumio, and as a love-token to his not-quite-wife. Garrick.
The whip is not seen onstage, and is not mentioned again in the printed text. The germ waits patiently. Thirty-four years, give or take.
1788: Kemble contracts the disease, then transmits it. Petruchio carries the whip as he arrives at his wedding banquet. The scourge has made its stage début. Since Garrick describes the whip in Petruchio’s hand just before the wedding, and Kemble shows it there just after, it’s reasonable to picture the bridegroom gripping it throughout the ceremony in between. Some love-token.
At this point the damage is done. The whip was retro-virally encoded into the play’s DNA once audiences had seen it onstage.  There were no alternatives to this portrayal until nearly the end of the 19th century, and not many people were reading my text to compare what I actually wrote with what they saw performed.
Kemble wrote no direction for the use of the whip in this scene, and it wasn’t mentioned in any of the book’s subsequent notations. Petruchio’s flogging, like his goodly speech, was extempore. There is some documentation, though. These illustrations by Robert Cruikshank come from an 1838 edition of Garrick’s text. Kemble is shown with his trademark dark curls. Though he died in 1823, he and his whip remained the iconic media image of Petruchio.
▲ The wedding was described onstage, not
enacted. Since Garrick had Petruchio enter the
church carrying his whip, Cruikshank kept it in his
hand at the altar as he cuffs the priest on the
pate with its butt end.
▲ Petruchio’s table tantrum.
[Images in the public domain, digitised by Google]
My play regained its place on stage in the 20th century. But even when my text was available, newer adaptations, now widely disseminated via recordings, allowed the whips to live and thrive. You have already seen some of those results.
I’ve made a big deal out of this example, but the point goes beyond Petruchio’s sadistic proclivities, or the hit my reputation takes when people think I wrote characters who treat their spouses like mutinous sailors. Contaminated, damaged text is all too easy to misinterpret. Misinterpretation leads to mistaken assumptions and incorrect conclusions. You can take it from there.
1948 (Broadway), 1951 (West End), 1953 (MGM film), 1958 (US TV), 1964 (BBC TV), plus others since: The musical, Kiss Me, Kate. I’m saving this for Part 3, the conclusion of my Shrew series. Cole Porter gets his own post. There will be singing. As a sneak preview, here is the cover of the original Broadway production’s soundtrack LP.
Oh look: a whip. It shows up in the play precisely where Kemble put it one hundred and sixty years before.
1980: Between 1978 and 1985, the BBC aired a comprehensive, 37-episode BBC Television Shakespeare series. Jonathan Miller directed The Taming of the Shrew in 1980. Basil Fawlty John Cleese played Petruchio; an unconventional casting choice. Cleese got off to a bad start with me by ruining the boys with bugs line – it’s unintelligible garble. A lot of the diction in this production is rushed or unclear. Not the way to impress the man who wrote the words.
Miller’s approach was also unconventional, with preparatory psychological character studies, and the apparently intentional removal of all the humour, to avoid any hint of farce. Well that will do the job, though what’s left is awfully grim. Sarah Badel’s Kate doesn’t yell in anger, she howls in existential torment. Her pain is far more than a personality flaw, and it’s difficult to watch. This Shrew is so full of hurt and mistreatment that I expected to see the whips, or Manuel from Barcelona getting smacked around.
Left, Vermeer, c1665. Right, BBC/Miller, 1980.
Visually, the production is unusual in less disturbing ways. The street set I’d call Plywood Palladio, while the Minola home suggests the 17th-century Delft interior of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, instead of the home of a wealthy Paduan from a century before. I don’t know what the point was, but it’s interesting to look at.
We are again Induction-less. I understand the tendency in film and television adaptations to leave it out. The framing device was written for the stage. It needs three dimensions and an audience, not a few people encouched in a room watching a screen on the opposite wall. A live audience sees the play-inside-the-play with Sly, beside him, in a way that’s impossible when he’s not present. The Induction serves a purpose and its loss is a loss, but it’s a practical decision.
This Shrew’s kidnapping of Comedy by Solemnity concludes with Kate’s complete capitulation, the clearest case of Stockholm syndrome I’ve seen this side of Stockholm. The play ends with the group singing an earnest Puritan hymn, Psalm 128.
I checked the verse in my Bible.
I’d rather have the whips. The first time I saw this version, the hymn gave me a flashback to Cecil House that took me two days and a large bottle of aqua vitae to get over.
Adaptations aren’t required to toe my line, as that would be pointless and boring for all concerned. There is room for this dour, mirthless, moralising Shrew. But it is nowhere close to anything I had in mind at any time during the play’s long evolution, and I am not obliged to like what Miller has done to it. His killjoy experiment didn’t sit well with me in 1980, and it hasn’t improved with age.
1999: 10 Things I Hate About You tells Shrew’s story with teenagers at Padua High School, Seattle, USA. I haven’t seen it. I was ready to cue it up as research for this post, but when I saw that they changed Kate’s surname from Minola to Stratford, I changed something too: my mind.
1963: McLintock! An absurd Western farce starring John Wayne. Maureen O’Hara plays his runaway wife Katherine, now back home to demand a divorce. Also featured: their daughter, her beau, his banjo, corrupt government officials, a necktie party, a fight at a mudhole, a cringe-inducing tribe of blanket-clad Comanches, a mishap with molasses and feathers, and the US Cavalry. Daughter and mother both are put over the knees of their men for spanking with coal-scuttle shovels. The only rationale I see for this film to say it’s ‘loosely based’ on my play is that it contains a willful woman named Katherine, a man who uses physical violence on her (which, again, didn’t come from me), and a musical instrument in the 321 family of composite chordophones. But here’s a switch: only the horses get whipped.
2005: The BBC made four ShakespeaRe-Told episodes with modern settings and no verse. Shrew was one of them. Shirley Henderson’s Kate is a conservative opposition MP, single, nearly forty, and an overall ogress. She is advised to marry to improve her optics and boost her career. This does not improve her mood. Rufus Sewell’s Petruchio, a noble rogue in need of funds, decides to win Kate and wed her, not necessarily in that order. Among the witty bits, he raises the bar on to me she’s married, not unto my clothes. Gender-wise it ends well, too. This one I like, a lot.2012: Globe Theatre production. The closest to a ‘canonical’ performance that I’ve found, though that term is hard to nail down any more, even for me. I don’t mean because it’s performed at the Globe, which is a different topic for another day. The venue and period costumes add verisimilitude and make me nostalgic, but it’s the fidelity to my text and my intent that I’m talking about. All the pieces are here, as is all the comedy.
This rendition has no truck with deep psychology or overlaid modern gender roles. It isn’t entirely cringe-free, nor even whip-free, but you won’t get tied up in its complications. Since you know what to expect (you’re reading this, how can you not), you’ll be fine. If you made it through the Miller/Cleese Shrew, this one is cakes and ale.
I keep mentioning the Induction’s omission from the Shrews I’ve covered so far. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is your chance to learn. (Here’s a quick explanation.) Watch this play, and you will see what I mean about the Induction being a device for a live audience. Sly is given an effective twist, then his player (Simon Paisley Day) jumps figuratively through the frame and returns as Petruchio. It required cutting Sly’s last couple of lines right before Petruchio enters, but there’s no way around that when you’ve got the same actor playing both parts. The frame does what it’s supposed to do: it softens up the audience, preparing them – whether they realise it or not – for the role-playing and morphing of identities within the inner story to come.
The comic acting is superb, with spot-on timing and alert delivery by all. Globe actors are very, very good at this; see the version of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry (also from 2012) for another example. Here in Shrew, the cast’s interaction with and responses to the audience transform the crowd into another character in the performance, which is live theatre at its best. The script’s randiness is celebrated, adding to the fun. It’s not lewd, though you do get a glimpse of Petruchio’s bum and his remarkable codpiece. I’d hire the scarlet-garbed musicians for holiday revels at Hedingham Castle, and Pearce Quigley’s Grumio makes me want to sit down and write him his own play. There’s even a moment, in perfect context, of homage to Monty Python that I absolutely adore. You’ll know it when it happens.
On the debit side, the actor playing Lucentio has an incredibly annoying inhale wheeze that should have been beaten out of him with cudgels during rehearsals. It’s un-ignorable in his longer speeches, but that is also the nature of live performance. Try not to let it put you off. For now, this version should be the reference.My favourite? Always subject to change, but at the moment it’s a toss-up between the Globe play, the Re-Told episode, and a late-1980s American television sitcom, of all things. This 1986 episode of Moonlighting is The Princess Bride meets Mel Brooks meets me, with a satisfactory update to the gender attitude. Only a few of my words are anywhere to be found, but no matter. It’s tongue-in-cheeky, entirely self-aware, simultaneously silly and sweet. I’ll forgive them the crack at the end about pentameter.
Call me a blasphemer (wouldn’t be the first time) but Good Lovin’ sung by Bruce Willis and the wedding congregation beats the sanctimonious stuffing out of Psalm 128.
 Garrick’s Ode: “AN ODE upon dedicating a building and erecting a statue to Shakespeare, at Stratford upon Avon”, and if you think the title is windy you should read the whole thing. The Internet Archive has the printed booklet from 1769; for regular webpage text, go to ECCO [umich.edu].
I’ve tried, after a great deal of Rhenish, to take Garrick’s ode as a reverse-backhanded compliment. Doesn’t work, there’s never enough Rhenish. All that soft-flowing Avon by thy silver’d stream’s flow’ry margins twaddle, and even if he’d had the right man it’s far too obsequious to be endured. This clueless, self-anointed high priest of the Church of the Stratford Bard chopped my plays into bloody mincemeat in order to sell them to naïve audiences with ADHD. Then he opened the lid on Pandora’s Birthplace, and we’re still living with the results of that stunt. Well, you are.
David Garrick was simultaneously a dupe and a charlatan, and he has a lot to answer for.
 Epidemiological Disclaimer: I know I made a dog’s breakfast of the medical terms. Virii are not bacilli, etc. I needed reasonable synonyms, not biological accuracy. I’m a poet, not a doctor.
References and Additional Reading for Part 2
- • Meet The Burtons: The Celebrity Legacy of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton [PDF at psu.edu]
- · by Jennifer Corkin
- · 2008 NEO Journal, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
- • The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition [doubtaboutwill.org]
- · Michael York reads the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt
- • The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts [Google Books]
- · edited by Frances E Dolan
- · Bedford/St Martin’s, Boston and New York,1996, 347 pages
- • From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of The Taming of the Shrew, 1594-1983 [Google Books]
- · by Tori Haring-Smith
- · Greenwood Press, Santa Barbara, 1985, 280 pages
I didn’t actually read this, though I would have liked to. This is one of the times where I try to check one fact, and end up having to piece it together from the tiny snippets you get back from Google Books searches when they don’t want to share what they know. I don’t like to do it that way, but I can only afford so many pounds per post. Academic books, even used ones, sink me faster than Frobisher’s pyrite did. This post has nearly cost me another manor as it is.
- • ‘My Folly’: Garrick and the Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769 [silibrary1.wordpress.com]
- · by Bettina Harris
- · Shakespeare Institute library blog (University of Birmingham)
- · 29 Feb 2016
- • All Things Georgian [georgianera.wordpress.com]
- · The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769 (7 Sept 2017)
- · The Jubilee: David Garrick’s ode to Shakespeare, 1769 (17 Oct 2017)
- · by Joanne Major
- • The taming of the shrew, or, Catherine and Petruchio (etc) [sceti.library.upenn.edu]
- · J P Kemble’s annotated copy of D Garrick’s 1754 abridgement (edition published 1786)
- · Horace Howard Furness Shakespeare Library/Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image, University of Pennsylvania
- • The History of King Lear, adapted by Nahum Tate, 1681
- · facsimile of 1681 edition [sceti.library.upenn.edu]
- · modern transcription [internetshakespeare.uvic.ca]
- The British Library has more about this tragedy of a tragicomedy, where Tate was the only Fool.
- • The Shakespeare Myth [Google Books]
- · Graham Holderness, editor
- · Manchester University Press, 1988, 215 pages
- Holderness interviews director Jonathan Miller, Chapter 18, pages 195-202.
- • Moonlighting (ABC American television, series ran 1985-1989)
- · Season 3 (1986-1987), episode 7
- · Atomic Shakespeare
- · directed by Will MacKenzie, written by Ron Osborn and Jeff Reno
- · original air date 25 November 1986