Condemning of ‘The Shrew’

The Taming of the Shrew is a wonderful play that we theatre artists all love for the great characters, the comedy, the language…

But what about the “problem” of the audience? This play is one (of many) of Shakespeare’s works that has elements that just seems to rub we moderns the wrong way. Will spectators ever be able let that go and enjoy the play or will there constantly be a battle between an auditor’s conscience and the attempted justifications made in the director’s notes?

In a recent review of Baltimore Shakespeare Festival’s production, the critic states

There’s no getting around the misogyny at the core of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. You can try to talk yourself out of it, as dramaturg Jen Plants does in her program notes … You can try to restore the usually discarded framing device in an attempt to pass the whole thing off as a drunken dream. You can even cast a real ball of fire … as Katharina, the shrew who must be tamed.
Nothing works.

Theatres will usually try to present productions that are relevant today, that speak to modern generations. Most audience members watching Shrew will know in the back of their mind that this play was written 400 years ago for a very different audience with different thoughts about, well, a lot of things. But how can you convincingly justify putting on the play as something relevant?

It’s impossible just shrug relevance away and say “It’s a good play,” or “because it’s Shakespeare!” I’m sure no matter what you say there will be people flocking to come see it if it’s well acted. But the parts of the play that are relevant today are for the director to find or create.

You may have noticed that I don’t really have an answer for you. I’m a little conflicted over it. I enjoy the play for a variety of reasons that I have mentioned: the characters, the comedy, the language. But if I were an artistic director of a theatre company getting my chosen season approved by the board of directors and was asked to justify my choice of Shrew I might have a hard time convincing anyone. How would you justify it? Or would you at all?