The taming of the shrew in pop culture

So the thing I was doing with the Western professor didn’t work out. I still have two months worth of blog posts so I figured I’d just post them here if you guys want to see why I’ve been kind of quiet these past months.

taming of shrew 2
“Taming of the Shrew” at the Stratford theatre festival.

     The Taming of the Shrew, It remains one of the most memorable of all Shakespeare’s comedies. The play revolves around Petruchio trying to “tame” Katherina from an angry uncompromising woman to an obedient wife. Meanwhile 3 other men, Hortensio, Gremio and Lucentio are trying to marry Katherina’s younger sister Bianca.

Petruchio does his best to change Katherina using methods of reverse psychology. He tells her that all of her cruel actions are actually kind and beautiful. Upon marrying her He starts to pamper her and disagree with her. At the end of the play Petruchio has a contest with Hortensio (Who has married a rich widow) and Lucentio (Who has married Bianca) to see who has the most obedient wife.  Petruchio wins and the play ends with Katherina giving a speech about why wives should be kind, submissive and obedient to their husbands.

The play has proven to be popular since its first appearance in 1593 The play has been performed hundreds of times all over the world. An Opera version of the play appeared in 1780 and appeared frequently until 1962. A musical ballad version (With considerable story changes) started in 1735 under the name “A cure for a Scold.” The most recent Musical rendition of the play was performed in 2009 at the Georgian National Music Centre. The play first appeared on the silver screen in 1908 with its first Sound adaptation appearing in 1929 Staring Mary Pickford. In 2005 BBC featured the play on their television series ShakespeareRe-Told which set the play in modern day Britain. It even spawned a couple of radio plays on the BBC in 1924 and in the U.S. on NBC radio August 15 1960.  The play was even referenced on the comedy show “The Big Bang Theory” 


What makes the play so popular? One reason might be the play’s focuses on change. The characters in the play are constantly changing both naturally and through the influence of others. Katherina’s changes are influenced by Petruchio’s actions and by everyday life. In our lives we see change occurring everyday. Technological changes, political changes, environmental changes are always happening and affect the people living in that time. This focus on change also makes the play very easy to adapt which may explain why it has been re-told in so many different formats across hundreds of different cultures. Another big theme of the play is marriage. While the play does takes place in the 16th century its core theme of a couple who don’t get along and trying to work out their differences is something many can relate to. Unless you live in a Disney film chances are you’re going to argue with your spouse.  Similarly the play looks at the problems of the family. Many of the characters have some problem with their family like sibling rivalries. It’s simple but the play was among the first to ever to examine this problem. It is interesting to note that many problems between the couples are never fully resolved. Some think this was intentionally done to reflect that some issues in real marriages and family life are never restored, this is just a theory that has never been confirmed but it’s an interesting one.

Unfortunately it is these same themes that have gotten the play into some trouble in recent years. The play focuses on Petruchio changing Katherina from a “Shrew” into an obedient wife. As stated above the play ends with Katherina giving a speech about how wives should be obedient to their husbands. This may have been fine back in the 16th century but modern day marriage roles and the roles of women in society have changed considerably. In our modern world we have a plethora of strong female heroes. Katniss from “The Hunger Games”, Merida from Pixar’s “Brave”, Scarlett Johansson’s “Lucy” beat out Dwayne Johnson’s “Hercules” last summer at the box office. The hit Nickelodeon Show “Legend of Korra” had a stubborn strong willed female lead in Korra. In Japan one of the most popular shows currently airing Fate Stay Night, sequel to the 2012 hit show “Fate/Zero”,  star King Arthur fighting against  fictional and historical figures in a no holds barred fight to the death, except in this story King Arthur is a girl. The hit show “Attack On Titan” (also from Japan) also has an incredibly strong female lead in Mikasa who cuts down giants without a shred of fear. The video game “Bayonetta 2″ which was released last year focuses on a witch fighting against angles and demons with her trademark tough punk attitude. We have become accustomed to strong female leads in cinema. If these character were to appear in “Taming of the Shrew” they would most likely be subjected to change much in the same Katherina was changed.

Korra the main character from the hit Nickelodeon show “The legend of Korra“. Korra was hot headed and stubborn, similar to Katherina. Korra however, does not change.

This has lead to many critics to label the play as Misogynist and promotes woman as caretakers for men. To this day the topic of the play’s depiction of women is still debated. Author Elizabeth Kandor makes the argument that the play is not degrading women but is meant to be a parody meant to show human nature.

“Whatever the “gender studies” folks may think, Shakespeare isn’t trying to “domesticate women”; he’s not making any kind of case for how they ought to be treated or what sort of rights they ought to have. He’s just noticing what men and women are really like, and creating fascinating and delightful drama out of it. Shakespeare’s celebration of the limits that define us – of our natures as men and women – upsets only those folks who find human nature itself upsetting.”

Jonathan Miller director of the BBC 1980 television adaptation of the play argues that is neither pro misogyny or negatively portraying women, he see’s the play as an example of people working together in order to bring order to a fallen world.

“I think it’s an irresponsible and silly thing to make that play into a feminist tract: to use it as a way of proving that women have been dishonoured and hammered flat by male chauvinism. There’s another, more complex way of reading it than that: which sees it as being their particular view of how society ought to be organized in order to restore order in a fallen world. Now, we don’t happen to think that we are inheritors of the sin of Adam and that orderliness can only be preserved by deputing power to magistrates and sovereigns, fathers and husbands. But the fact that they did think like that is absolutely undeniable, so productions which really do try to deny that, and try to hijack the work to make it address current problems about women’s’ place in society, become boring, thin and tractarian.”

Is the Play Misogynist or is it just a farce of marriage?  You’ll have to be the one to make that decision. “Taming of the Shrew runs from May 11th– Oct 10th at Stratford.


  • Holderness, Graham (1988). “Jonathan Miller Interviewed by Graham Holderness”. InHolderness, Graham. The Shakespeare Myth. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  •  Kantor, Elizabeth (2006). The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature. Washington, DC: Regenery. p. 77.

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