Whoever its author (the company adheres to the Earl of Oxford theory), The Shrew remains notoriously difficult to stage with both feminist conscience and dramatic sensibility. The crux is Kate's final "knuckle under, girls" speech, here delivered with a wry self-consciousness, making it a joke shared with a smiling Petruchio who's just spent the past two hours tyrannising and breaking her. This rapprochement comes out of nowhere: neither Kate (who initially seemed less shrewish than demonically possessed) nor Petruchio has risen above their battling – it just stops, because it's in the script. Likewise in the parallel plot Lucentio's servant, out of love for him, readily agrees to a major role in his seduction of Kate's sister.
Director David Beaton, however, has made all the manservants women: the female Tranio shows no jealousy, no resignation. no emotion whatever at her master and lover's fickleness – it's just what's in the script. Well, it's not, and nor are most of the other gender-status points raised by this device; Beaton has, no doubt with the best intentions, opened a can of worms that he is simply unable to digest.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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