Monday 20 June 2011


There is no simple explanation of why Shakespeare wrote such a nasty play as The Taming of the Shrew, a production of which by the Festival Players Theatre Company I saw yesterday in Dinefwr Park.

There is much good stuff in the play but you can't get away from the essentials of the plot which involves the bullying and abuse of a single-minded woman into submissive, blind obedience by her jocular and borderline psychopathic husband, apparently a satisfactory result for the playwright. People who don't know Shakespeare well might find this unsurprising, considering the play was written over 400 years ago, but in fact this is quite out of character for the open-minded WS who wrote good parts for women (well, men playing women) and clearly had no perception of them being in any way inferior.

Some people think that the Merchant of Venice is also a "problem play" because of the portrayal of Shylock but it has never seemed to me that the play is antisemitic - Shylock is indeed wicked but also all there as a human being. But there's no getting round the discomfort of this play.

In recent years many actresses have played Katherine's submissive speech at the end of the play with heavy irony, implying that she doesn't mean it but is somehow playing along for laughs or to avoid further abuse. But that is a bit desperate and hats off to this production for playing it straight and letting the audience judge for themselves.

Maybe the only explanation is that Shakespeare was crudely and unjustifiably expiating some fiercely held personal feelings (if so this was unusual because his work is frustratingly short on clues to his personality). Did he leave Stratford because he was bullied by Anne Hathaway? Or was there another woman he had taken up with in London who ran him around? Only the discovery of a cache of his private letters will tell us. I once shocked the Church Warden of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, by suggesting that they dig him up and see what was buried with him, notwithstanding the curse he placed on his grave...

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.