The Lowry Theatre – Salford
10th April 2013
Propeller in association with the Touring Partnership
This all male production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was fast, furious and fabulous. This is one of Shakespeare’s ‘Dream Plays’ but is much darker in nature than a Midsummer Night’s Dream or even the Tempest, as its subject matter is the very role of men and women, their respective places in Elizabethan society and the domestic abuse that the one uses on the other in order to perpetuate those roles.
Bearing in mind the politics of the day when this play was written, Elizabeth had not yet established her image as the Virgin Queen, but was the third woman in succession to take the English throne (after Lady Jane Grey and her half sister Bloody Mary) as the men of the day attempted to use these strong willed women as pawns in their power games.
The play within the play relates the fantasy of the gold digging Petruchio to marry the ill-tempered Kate for money, egged on by the two suitors of her sister Bianca. This is a tale of greed, envy and domestic abuse that echoes as much in peoples lives today as it did back then, and nobody hearing Petruchio speak of how to tame a woman to be a good wife can be in any doubt that it was not a view shared by the playwright. Indeed, Shakespeare’s final twist is to point out to the man who dreamed he was Petruchio that he was an idiot for thinking that violence was the way to tame a woman.
It is clear why Shakespeare was the Queen’s favourite when he was able to produce such magnificent tales that served to strengthen her position in the eyes of the populace, and to weaken those men who sought her hand only to take the throne.
It was still assumed in those days that a Queen was not complete unless she had a King to rule at her side, and Elizabeth was only beginning to challenge the notion that a subject could ever be her king because marriage in those days meant that a woman was the chattel and possession of her husband. Most marriages were business deals or land deals between two families, were arranged not long after birth, and had absolutely nothing to do with love.
There were many who saw Good Queen Bess as the shrew, and yet the ending that propellor have given the play, with the drunk awakening from his stupor to find himself still a beggar and his shrew not tamed at all would have been far more fitting to Queen Bess’s taste than the original which stops at the end of the play within the play, without finishing the play that spawned it.