Like Titus Andronicus last month, there is no obvious direct source for The Taming of the Shrew‘s main plot, or for its framing device (the Christopher Sly plotline) for that matter. The shrewish woman is an archetype in literature: when Petruchio references both Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale and Gower’s Cofessio Amantis, as well as “Socrates’ Xanthippe” (I.ii.68 and I.ii.70, respectively), we see how the concept of the “curst and shrewd” (I.ii.69) wife has come down through the ages in literature. The framing device, a simple story-within-a-story, is a time-honored trope, dating back to ancient Sanskrit texts (Panchatantra) and the Arabian Nights… though the first dramatic usage is from The Spanish Tragedy (see last month’s discussion of the sources for Titus). The concept of the audience for that nested story being a man fooled into thinking he’s a lord . . . well, that too is a well-worn tradition (again, used in Arabian Nights [though that, interestingly, is a work that wasn’t available to Shakespeare, as it wouldn’t be translated into English until nearly a century and a half later]). So while both elements are not original, there’s no direct lineage for these particular usages by Shakespeare. Continue reading “Source of Confusion, Source of Controversy”
Act Three, Scene One of The Taming of the Shrew takes place a day before Petruchio and Kate’s nuptials. In the Minola household, we find the two faux schoolmasters, Lucentio (disguised as “Cambio”) and Hortensio (disguised as “Litio”), tutoring Bianca. And here we find that though Bianca may be the more pursued of the sisters, Kate doesn’t have a monopoly on forwardness: “I’ll not be tied to hours nor ‘pointed times, // But learn my lessons as I please myself” (III.i.19-20). She is in charge and leaves no doubt about it. She allows Lucentio/Cambio to tutor her in Latin while Hortensio/Litio spends much of the scene tuning his lute and biding his time (to comic effect). Even more comical is the Latin lesson itself, where Lucentio/Cambio translates a passage from Ovid to Bianca: Continue reading “Act Three: Worst. Wedding. Ever. (even if it’s offstage)”
The Taming of the Shrew begins with a false start, as the play as we know it (or as we THINK we know it) is actually a play-within-a-play (kinda). In the two-scene “Induction,” a Christopher Sly is introduced, shown to be a drunk and one who doesn’t pay for his drinks to boot, and promptly passes out in the street. He’s found by an unnamed lord, who thinks it would be a great practical joke to take the unconscious Sly, set him up in the lord’s own manor, and see what happens when he wakes up not as Christopher Sly but a wealthy lord.