‘Shrews’apalooza!’ Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ On Stage And Screen
Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is a battle of the sexes that calls for a furiously animated female lead and ends with love. It may not be as familiar as “Romeo and Juliet,” but it has lit up popular culture with adaptations and revivals. Elizabeth Taylor took on the title role in a 1967 film. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles sizzled in the teen adaptation “10 Things I Hate You.” In ballet, the Bolshoi’s production blends dance and drama.
From Cole Porter songs to puppetry on TV, “Shrew” has attracted generations of reinvention. Here’s a look at some highlights.
Shakespeare’s play starts with a simple problem: The beautiful Bianca cannot marry until her older sister Katherine, the man-hating shrew, is married, according to a rule set out by their father Baptista. Here, in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ballet version, Bolshoi star Olga Smirnova dances as Bianca and Artery Belyakov is Baptista. Maillot explains his take in an interview with Dance.com.
Marriage For Money
A bold young man, Petruchio, offers to marry Kate — sight unseen — because he wants a wealthy wife. After they engage in vicious banter, she surprisingly submits to the plan, fearing that otherwise she will be an old maid. Petruchio treats her horribly, attempting to “tame” her. Here, Ekaterina Krysanova, dances the title role and Vladislav Lantratov is Petruchio.
Despite Petruchio’s cruelty, Katharina does turn a corner. By the end of the play, she proves loyal to him and they wind up happy together. Though the theme of wifely obedience may strike us as objectionable today, Shakespeare knew what he was doing: The comedy is actually a play within a play, designed an entertainment for a lowly tinkerer who is the butt of a joke by a noble lord.
The 1967 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli stared real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The film was nominated for only two Oscars, winning neither. Still, 1967 was a good year for the couple: Their performances in another story pitting man and woman at odds — “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?” — won five Oscars.
After the banquet given for the play’s three marriages, Petruchio devises a test to see which of the wives is the most obedient. Kate wins, and delivers a speech — open to much interpretation — about how wives should be subservient to their husbands. Here, Taylor delivers the text to her real-life husband.
Cole Porter's Magic
Winner of five Tony Awards, “Kiss Me Kate” opened on Broadway in 1948 as a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale. With music by Cole Porter, the show became a beloved classic and revolves around a theater couple in a production of “Shrew.” Among its many awards was the Tony for best musical and best composer-lyricist for Porter. Here, the original Playbill drawing featured a whip for the disciplining of our heroine!
The whip returned for the illustration of the original Broadway cast recording featuring Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison. Cole Porter’s witty lyrics make songs like “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily In Padua” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” perfect for musical theater. The show also housed songs that became standards like “Too Darn Hot” and “So In Love.”
Broadway to Hollywood
The 1953 film version of “Kiss Me Kate” brought together major stars of the era, including the opera singer-turned-film star Kathryn Grayson as Kate, opposite Howard Keel as Petruchio and pin-up Ann Miller as the lovely Bianca. And a notable dancer appears in this cast: Bob Fosse played the role of Hortensio.
Kathryn Grayson was a coloratura soprano whose opera career was diverted to Hollywood when Louis B. Mayer signed her up as a star for MGM. There she sang in musicals including 1943’s “Thousands Cheer” and 1945’s “Anchors Aweigh,” both with Gene Kelly.
Another Opening, Another Show
A 2000 Broadway revival of “Kiss Me Kate” starred Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell, who won the 2000 Tony Award for best actor in a musical. The production won five Tonys, including best revival and best direction of a musical.
Puppets on TV
A 1993 production used stop-motion puppets in full-on period costumes to tell an abridged story. The series, “Shakespeare: The Animated Tales,” included 12 adapted plays and was broadcast on BBC 2 between 1992 and 1994.
Politics on TV
In a series on BBC One, the setting is updated to the political realm. Actress Shirley Henderson, of the “Harry Potter” and “Bridget Jones” franchises, plays a successful leader. But she happens to be a temperamental single woman and she needs to get married.
What's With the Outfit?
At his wedding to Katherine, Petruchio dresses up in a crazy outfit, largely to humiliate his new bride. For New York Classical Theatre, which presents free Shakespeare plays in parks and keeps the audience roving with the players, Petruchio’s outfit offered opportunity for extra color: Here, actress Amy Hutchins is hauled off by a garishly dressed Maxon Davis during the company’s 2015 production in Central Park.
‘Deliver Us From Eva’
A loose translation, “Deliver Us From Eva” revolves around a Eva, played by Gabrielle Union, who meddles in her sisters’ lives so much, they try to find her a husband. ‘Deliver Us From Eva’
Playing opposite Union is LL Cool Jay, as Ray Adams, who is paid $5,000 to date Eva and stop her from interfering with her family. Only — guess what — they fall in love!
All Ladies, All the Time
With the recent trend toward all-female casts of Shakespeare plays, “The Taming of the Shrew” sounds outrageous when the language about women obeying men starts rolling. In 2016, Janet McTeer played a rough and lanky Petruchio in The Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park production, directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
Cute But Mean
Cush Jumbo starred as Katherina, done up in a cute gingham dress that emphasized the infantilization of the female character.
Jumbo was a bristling, wild woman in the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Here, she weds her Petruchio.
The American composer Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) wrote an opera based on “Shrew.” In 1979, the Wolf Trap Opera, shown here, revived it and paired it with a production of “Kiss Me Kate.”
Cranko's 1969 Ballet
Choreographer John Cranko created a ballet of “The Taming of the Shrew” the uses period costumes. It is in the repertory of the Houston Ballet, shown here with Melody Mennite in the lead, and was last performed in 2015.
Houston Ballet’s Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh in Cranko’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” set to music by Domenico Scarlatti
Small Role, Big Opera
Shakespeare’s “Shrew” is actually a play within a play: The action starts when a tinkerer named Christopher Sly drunkenly passes out. A nobleman tricks him and trades places with him. Part of the trick is staging a play. This introduction inspired a 1963 opera called “Christopher Sly,” which was revived in the 1980s by New York’s Center for Contemporary Opera.
Inspiration for 'Moonlighting'
The popular television series “Moonlighting,” starring Cybill Sheperd and Bruce Willis, was inspired by “Taming of the Shrew,” according to its creator Glenn Gordon Caron. In one fantasy episode, the cast performs a version of the play.
In the 1999 film “10 Things I Hate About You,” the plot comes straight from Shakespeare: Bianca, Kat’s younger sister can only date if both Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) have dates, according to their father (played by Larry Miller).
Julia Stiles fires off some nasty glares and withering looks in “10 Things I Hate About You.”
Boy Meets Girl
But Bianca’s boyfriend rustles up Heath Ledger to take out this grumpy gal. And somehow, things just work out fine.