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An Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. Augustin Daly. New York: Private Printing.

A play entitled "The Taming of a Shrew" was published in London in 1594. It had been for some time extant and had been "sundry-times" acted by the players who were in the service of the Earl of Pembroke. The authorship of it is unknown; but Charles Knight ascribes it to Robert Greene (1561-1592) - that dissolute genius, who is now chiefly remembered as the detractor of Shakespeare, and as the first English poet that ever wrote for bread. The German commentator Tieck supposes it to be a juvenile production by Shakespeare himself; but this is a dubious theory.

It is certain, however, that Shakespeare was acquainted with this piece, and it is believed that in writing "The Taming of the Shrew" he either co-labored with another dramatist to make a new version of the older play, or else that he augmented and embellished a new version of it which had already been made by another hand. This is a kind of work to which, beyond doubt, he condescended in the earlier part of his career.

In 1594 he was thirty years old, and he had been about eight years in London theatrical life. Edward Dowden thinks that Shakespeare's portion of this task was performed in 1597. "The Taming of the Shrew" was acted, by his own company, at the Blackfriars Theatre, at the theatre at Newington Butts - which Shakespeare's players occupied while the Globe Theatre was being built - and finally at the Globe itself. He never claimed it, however, as one of his works, and it was not published until after his death. It first appeared in the Folio of 1623.

Keightley describes "The Taming of the Shrew" as "a rifacimento of an anonymous play," and expresses the opinion that its style "proves it to belong to Shakespeare's early period." Collier maintains that "Shakespeare had little to do with any of the scenes in which Katherine and Petruchio are not engaged." Dr. Johnson, in comparing the Shakespearean play with its predecessor, remarks that "the quarrel in the choice of dresses is precisely the same; many of the ideas are preserved without alteration; the faults found with the cap, the gown, the compassed cape, the trunk sleeves, and the balderdash about taking up the gown, have been copied, as well as the scene in which Petruchio makes Katherine call the sun the moon. The joke of addressing an elderly gentleman as a 'young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet,' belongs also to the old drama; but in this instance it is remarkable that, while the leading idea is adopted, the mode of expressing it is quite different."

Richard Grant White says: "The plot, the personages, and the scheme of the Induction are taken from the old play, which, however, is as dull as this is in most points spirited and interesting. In [this play] three hands at least are traceable; that of the author of the old play, that of Shakespeare himself, and that of a co-laborer. The first appears in the structure of the plot and in the incidents and the dialogue of most of the minor scenes: to the last must be assigned the greater part of the love business between Bianca and her two suitors; while to Shakespeare himself belong the strong, clear characterization, the delicious humor, and the rich verbal coloring of the recast Induction, and all the scenes in which Katherine, Petruchio, and Grumio are prominent figures, together with the general effect produced by scattering lines and words and phrases here and there, and removing others elsewhere, throughout the play."

It is evident from these testimonies that, whether Shakespeare recast and rewrote his own work - as Tieck supposes, and as undoubtedly he did in the case of "Hamlet" - or whether he furbished up the work of somebody else, the comedy of "The Taming of the Shrew" that stands in his name is largely indebted, for structure, to its predecessor on the same subject. Both plays, it should be added, owe their plot to an ancient source. The scheme of the "Induction" - a feature common to both - is found as an old historic fact in "The Arabian Nights," in the tale of "The Sleeper Awakened." Shakespeare did not know that work; but this tale of imposture - said to have been practised upon Abu-l-Hassan, "the wag," by the Khaleefeh Er-Rasheed - originating in remote oriental literature, and repeated in various forms, may have been current long before his time.

In that narrative Abu-l-Hassan is deluded into the idea that he is the Prince of the Faithful, and, as that potentate, he commands that much gold shall be sent to Hassan's mother, and that punishment shall be inflicted upon certain persons by whom Hassan has been persecuted.

A variation of this theme occurs in Goulart's "Admirable and Memorable Histories," translated into English by E. Grimestone, in 1607. In this it is related that Philip, Duke of Burgundy, called "the Good," found a drunken man asleep in the street, at Brussels, caused him to be conveyed to the palace, bathed and dressed, entertained by the performance of "a pleasant comedy," and at last, once more stupefied with wine, arrayed in ragged garments, and deposited where he had been discovered, there to awake, and to believe himself the sport of a dream. Malone, by whom the narrative was quoted from Goulart, thinks that it had appeared in English prior to the old play of "The Taming of a Shrew," and consequently was known to Shakespeare.

Another source of his material is Ariosto. In 1587 were published the collected works of George Gascoigne. Among these is a prose comedy called "The Supposes" - a translation of Ariosto's "I suppositi," in which occur the names of Petrucio and Licio, and from which, doubtless, Shakespeare borrowed the amusing incident of The Pedant personating Vincentio. Gascoigne, it will be remembered, is the old poet to whom Sir Walter Scott was indebted, when he wrote his magnificent novel of "Kenilworth" - so superb in pageantry, so strong and various in character, so deep and rich in passion, and so fluent in style and narrative power - for description of the revels with which Leicester entertained Queen Elizabeth in 1575.

In versification the acknowledged Shakespearean comedy is much superior to the older piece. "The Induction" contains passages of felicitous fluency, phrases of delightful aptness, that crystalline lucidity of statement which is characteristic of Shakespeare, and a rich vein of humor. The adverse opinion of Payne Collier is entitled to all respect; but, surely, those speeches uttered by the Lord have the unmistakable Shakespearean ring! The character of Christopher Sly likewise is conceived and drawn in precisely the vein of Shakespeare's usual English peasants. Hazlitt justly likens him to Sancho Panza.

The Warwickshire allusions are also significant - though Greene as well as Shakespeare was a Warwickshire man; but some of the references are peculiar to the second comedy, and they inevitably suggest the same hand that wrote "The Merry Wives of Windsor." "Burton Heath" is, doubtless, Barton-on-the-Heath, a village situated about two miles from Long Compton, on the great main road from Oxford to Stratford. Knight, citing Dugdale, points out that in Domesday-Book the name of this village is written "Bertone." Shakespeare's own beautiful native shire - as his works abundantly show - was constantly in his mind when he wrote.

It is from the region round about Stratford-upon-Avon that he habitually derives his climate, his foliage, his flowers, his sylvan atmosphere, and his romantic and always effective correspondence between nature's environment and the characters and deeds of humanity. Only Sir Walter Scott, Wilkie Collins, and Thomas Hardy, since his time, have rivalled him in this latter felicity of literature; and only George Eliot and Thomas Hardy have drawn such English peasants as his. "Ask Marian Hackett, the fat ale-wife of Wincot," is another of the Warwickshire allusions; Wincot doubtless meaning Wilmecote - which Malone says was called Wyncote - where lived Mary Arden, the mother of Shakespeare, in a house still standing, a venerable, weather-beaten, gabled structure, in the parish of Aston Cantlow, about four miles from Stratford.

The version of "The Taming of the Shrew," which for many years has been used on the stage, in one form or another, is the version, in three acts, that was made by Garrick, produced at Drury Lane, and published in 1756, under the name of "Katherine and Petruchio." That version omits several scenes, transposes other parts of the original, and converts the comedy into an efficient farce....

The scene of the Induction is Warwickshire; that of the main action of the comedy at Padua, and at the country-house of Petruchio - who comes to Padua from Verona. The period indicated is the sixteenth century, about the year 1535. The time supposed to be occupied by the action is four days. The correct spelling of the hero's name is Petrucio; the h was probably introduced in order to suggest the correct pronunciation. The name of Shakespeare's shrew is Katharina Minola. The Induction presents the only opportunity that Shakespeare's works afford for showing English costume of his own time. The Italian dresses required for the piece are of styles such as were contemporaneous with the poet. An actor named Sincklo, who is mentioned in the quarto edition of "Henry IV," Part Second, and also in "Henry VI," Part Third, is supposed to have acted in "The Taming of the Shrew," as well as in those two histories - for the inconclusive reason that a reference to him occurs in the old play: the line "I think 'twas Soto that your honor means" was originally given to Sincklo.

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. Augustin Daly. Forward by William Winter. New York: Private Printing, 1887. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < >.


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