Elizabeth Taylor played the feisty Katherina opposite Richard Burton in a 1967 film version of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Elizabeth Taylor played the feisty Katherina opposite Richard Burton in a 1967 film version of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”—a farcical comedy about the tempestuous courtship of the feisty Katherina and the manipulative Petruchio, who bends her to his will—is a classic battle of the sexes that still plays out on stage and in film.

Early audiences found it uproarious, ribald, misogynistic, or all three.  George Bernard Shaw dismissed it as a “vile insult to womanhood and manhood.”

But writers long after Shakespeare and Shaw pilfered and reworked the plot to suit the sensibilities of their times.

On Wednesday, (Oct. 23), James Reel, classical music director of Arizona Public Media, returns to the Arizona Senior Academy for the last of his four-part series on the enduring appeal of Shakespeare’s plays. His 2:30 p.m. lecture will discuss how various artists have been inspired by “The Taming of the Shrew.”

According to Reel, the first spinoff came in 1611, when John Fletcher’s popular sequel turned the tables in “The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed.”  In this play, after the death of Katherina, Petruchio takes the less compliant Maria as his second wife.  Refusing to cede to his demands, she bands with other like-minded women who barricade themselves with provisions in an upper floor of her house.

In 1756, David Garrick, a giant of the London theater, penned “Catharine and Petruchio,” depicting a more companionate marriage in which the shrew is less tamed.  For the next 150 years, it was performed more often than Shakespeare’s original.

The year 1949 brought “Kiss Me, Kate,” an award-winning musical with a memorable Cole Porter score, which itself was turned into a movie four years later.  Among many notable film adaptations, a 1967 standout starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose own off-screen marital spats added sparks to the performance.

The battle keeps spinning even on the contemporary stage. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, the backdrop for “The Taming of the Shrew” featured a boardwalk on the beach and Petruchio cast as a rockabilly musician.

James Reel
James Reel

Submitted by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer

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‘Taming of the Shrew’ Concludes Shakespeare Series: Oct. 2013