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Taming of the Shrew – Dramaturgical background

Here’s some information to help you “get inside” Sweet Tea’s upcoming production of The Taming of the Shrew! First, an article written by the Sweet Tea Shakespeare company dramaturg, Ruth Nelson; then, check out the links provided for additional analysis, performance reviews, and fun facts!

NOT Your Average Picnic: Sweet Tea Shakespeare Serves Up The Taming of the Shrew
By Ruth A. Nelson
(originally published in Friction Magazine July 2014)

A rich young bachelor acquires a rich headstrong beauty for his wife. It sounds like the plot of many a modern romantic comedy, doesn’t it? But what if, instead of living “Happily Ever After,” the groom showed up late – and dressed like a homeless clown – to the wedding, dragged his new bride away from the reception and through the mud to his country house, deprived her of food and sleep, and eventually humiliated her into meek submission? One might think a phone call to the police would be more appropriate than a round of applause.

Thus runs the plot of The Taming of the Shrew, one of Shakespeare’s most hotly debated plays and Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s second offering this summer. Shrew has been a source of contention for literary and theatrical analysts since its debut in the 1590s. Various productions have explored an array of interpretations to this robust comedy, from a sobering tale of cruel misogyny to a surprisingly tender – and easily misunderstood – love story. Whichever way you slice it, this story has the potential to be a difficult theatrical morsel to swallow, for audience and actors alike.

Why choose such a tricky dish for Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s summer fare? Jeremy Fiebig, Founder and Artistic Director of Sweet Tea Shakespeare, does not shy away from the play’s boldly troublesome nature: “Shrew is considered controversial because it seems to celebrate a male chauvinist perspective. The play does do this — there’s no getting around it. To me, presenting and dealing with the discomfort that emerges from a play like Shrew is important. Shrew can serve as a mirror for us. If we look into it, we may not like what we see, but we can sure learn from it.”

Besides being “important,” Shrew has proven its performative worth through sheer longevity. For over four hundred years now, audiences continue to demand, enjoy, and respond enthusiastically to the shamelessly raucous fun of this script. Between 2002 and 2012, the Royal Shakespeare Company alone put up no fewer than four productions of The Taming of the Shrew (Maddy Costa, The Guardian 2012). Disguises, rivalries, fistfights in the street, bumbling servants, razor-sharp verbal wordplay – Shrew has it all! Even with its uncomfortable subject matter, this comedy remains a popular resident of Shakespeare’s “hall of fame,” making it an apt choice for the warm, whimsical, unabashedly theatrical Sweet Tea Shakespeare.

Furthermore, at its core, Shrew is a funny story about love. Recalling Love’s Labours Lost, Sweet Tea’s first summer show (June 2014), Fiebig observes: “Both shows this season are about the extremes we go to for love and the unexpected endings that come from those pursuits.” As with every production, the goal of Sweet Tea Shakespeare is to explore authentically the rich nature of this complicated text, invite the audience into the exploration, and have a riotous amount of fun along the way. Who knows? We all might learn something – and we will definitely be better for the laughter.

TEXTUAL HISTORY
Visit the British Library online:
http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/taming.html

*Note: It is widely believed that John Fletcher wrote a sequel to Taming of the Shrew in the early 1600s, called The Woman’s Prize or The Tamer Tamed.

LITERARY ANALYSIS
Check out this article by Erin Furstnau: http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/shrew/efurstnau.htm

PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
1) Royal Shakespeare Company, 2012 – Maddy Costa (The Guardian):
http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/jan/17/taming-of-the-shrew-rsc

2) Shakespeare BASH’d, Toronto Fringe Festival, 2012 – J.A. Macfarlane: http://www.playshakespeare.com/taming-of-the-shrew/389-theatre-reviews/6071-an-excellent-evening-bash

3) Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 2010 – Barry Eitel
(Framing device written by Neil LaBute):
http://www.playshakespeare.com/taming-of-the-shrew/389-theatre-reviews/4889-labute-cannot-tame-shrew

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