« PreviousContinue »
RECIPES for the management of wives were the theme Early of a series of popular plays during the last decade of History. Elizabeth's reign. Dekker and Chettle's Patient Grissel was acted in 1600; Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness in 1603. But neither the longsuffering wife whom no harshness incenses, nor the guilty one whom kindness subdues, touched the vein. of the rougher Elizabethan playgoer so effectively as the refractory virago or 'Shrew,' who is 'tamed' by the sheer strong will of a masterful spouse. The Taming of the Shrew was the one member of the Shrew-taming species which attained a lasting success; but it had vigorous precursors and rivals in its own time, and, alone among Shakespearean comedies, provoked a lively retort in the next generation.
The Taming of the Shrew was first published, so Early Texts. far as is known, in the Folio of 1623, where it appears as the eleventh in the series of Comedies. It is there divided into acts, but not into scenes. A Quarto edition was printed, in 1631, from the Folio. Of Date of Composition. early performances, as of early editions, we hear nothing; and only internal evidence is available for determining its date. This is here the more precarious, since the play, as a whole, cannot pass for Shakespeare's. Most critics now agree that Shakespeare's participation in The Taming of the Shrew
Sources of the Plot.
consisted essentially in rewriting certain scenes of an older play, large portions of which were embodied, with little or no change, in the piece printed by his editors, and known to posterity, as his. But the affinities of its most Shakespearean portion, the Taming itself, connect it on the whole with the work of the last five years of the century. Petruchio's wooing is what Henry's and Hotspur's might have been, had their Kates resembled his. The same boisterous, militant, unromantic conception of love pervades them all. Undoubtedly the whole scheme of comic effect is, for the Shakespeare of 1595-99, astonishingly elementary. On the other hand, the technique is, within its limited scope, wonderfully sure and firm. So far as the piece betrays Shakespeare's hand at all, it suggests not immaturity but preoccupation. It is the off-hand sketch of a mature artist, whose serious energies were concentrated upon greater tasks. Meres, in 1598, does not include the play in his list of Shakespeare's excellent comedies; but this is indecisive in the case of a play so largely not Shakespeare's. In any case, it had long been familiar in 1609, when Samuel Rowlands made one of his 'Six honest Husbands' apply Petruchio's methods to the 'kind gossip' his wife, who had accused him of drunkenness :
The chiefest Art I have I will bestow
The Taming has countless analogues in storyliterature but no close parallel. The only English tale founded on a similar motive, A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife, lapped in a Morel's Skin for her Good Behaviour (printed in Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, iv. 415), is certainly as old as 1575; but the husband's method of curing' his Shrew by wrapping
her in the salted skin of an old horse belongs to a ruder school of humour than even Petruchio's sufficiently Boeotian fun. Somewhat nearer parallels are found both in the Spanish Conde Lucanor (first printed, 1575) and the Italian Notte piacevole of Straparola (1550); and the Jutland legend of the shrewish Mette,1 which throws into vivid relief the folk-lore origin of the story,2 is in some respects nearer than either.
The earliest known version of the Shakespearean The Taming Taming-story is contained in the play The Taming of of A Shrew. A Shrew, which was published in 1594, with the following title: 'A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The Taming of a Shrew. As it was sundry times acted by the Right Honourable the Earl of Pembrook his seruants . . . 1594.' It was reissued in 1596 and 1607. In the latter year its publisher transferred it to Smethwick, who afterwards published the Quarto of Shakespeare's play.
In what precise form its author met with the story we cannot tell. Probably the submissive sister or sisters of the Shrew already occurred in the variant he used, as in Straparola and the Danish tale. Kate, the Shrew, has two, Emelia and Philena, whose father compels their suitors, Aurelius and Polydor, as the condition of their own success, to find a wooer for Kate. Ferando consents, for a bribe of six thousand crowns, to undertake the enterprise. The subsequent course of the intrigue is substantially as in our present play. Aurelius changes clothes with his servant Valeria (=Tranio) and sends him to instruct Kate in music,
1 Simrock, Quellen des Shakespeare, i. 345; Köhler in Jahrbuch, iii. 397.
2 E.g. Mette is the third of three daughters, she learns by
three examples never to contra-
in order that he and Polydor 'may have leisure to court our loves.' He further persuades a merchant, Phylotus (the pedant), to personate his father, the Duke of Sestos (Vincentio), in order to win the consent of Alphonso (Baptista) to the match. The Taming itself anticipates every incident of Petruchio's from the first cavalier encounter of their wits-a brisk stichomythia-to the final appeal of the converted Shrew to her degenerate sisters. But the psychological groundwork of motive is far cruder: the Shrew is privately eager to be married, and Ferando sustains his courage by recalling the six thousand The scene is laid, absurdly enough, at Athens, but the names of the persons are variously Greek, Italian, and English; and the style has startlingly sudden moods of classical allusion, which suggest a popular play fitfully touched by an academic hand.
When or by whom the old drama of A Shrew was first recast we do not know; but that Shakespeare had such a recast before him, large parts of which he retained, can hardly be disputed. The skilled mediocrity and the insipid accomplishment of the first Act cannot be due to him. Yet the reviser was clearly a practised playwright, and he materially strengthened the somewhat nerveless by-plot of A Shrew, by substituting the Bianca story in its present form for the highly uninteresting love affairs of Emelia and Philena. The two scarcely distinguishable lovers of these two indistinguishable sisters are replaced by three rivals for the hand of one, and the young adventurer Lucentio (Aurelius) has to carry his cause only against the worldly cavils of the father, but against the intrigues of two elderly fellow-suitors. The reviser's merit here lay, however, only in versifying a story that lay ready to hand. Hortensio and
Gremio, with most of the incident and much of the dialogue in which they figure, are taken over from Gascoigne's Supposes, a translation of Ariosto's Gli Suppositi, first acted in 1566. This perhaps suggested the transfer of the locality from Athens to Italy. Hortensius, like Valeria, enters Baptista's service as a music-master, and runs out 'with his head broken' by the Shrew; but all the other circumstances of the tutoring episode are different; Hortensius having hired himself out in order to gain access to Bianca, while Valeria is sent by his master to keep Kate employed.
The Latin lesson was apparently suggested by a similar scene in a slightly older play, The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (pr. 1590).
But the reviser also set his hand to the main story, and made it at various points more articulate and more refined. The Petruchio of Acts i. and ii. 1. 1-168 probably represents his work. Instead of being bribed by the father with 'six thousand crowns' to marry his daughter, he appears at the outset as a young heir in search of a wife, and resolved to 'wive it wealthily in Padua.' He and his man Grumio are old acquaintances of Hortensio (i. 2. 3). All this the reviser sets forth in fluent and regular blank verse, freely strewn with classical allusions and Marlowesque reminiscences, or in homely humorous prose.
Finally, the play, thus revised, was taken up by ShakeShakespeare. The portions generally assigned to him speare's are ii. 1. 169-326, iii. 2. (except vv. 130-150), iv. 1. 3. 5., v. 2. (except the last eight lines). It is clear that he felt no very serious interest in the subject. In no other comedy was he content merely to touch with gold the salient points of another man's work. There are also marks of singular haste. The reviser had made