In 1978, the Alaska Repertory Theatre presented THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. In this Shakespeare classic, James Morrison played Curtis, a house servant to Petruchio.

Morrison said of the role, "...the apprentices had to all audition like mad for the part and I won it. Like it was some kind of wonderful treat for the young monkeys in training. And I remember that my brother and sister-in-law didn't recognize me."

Morrison confirmed for us, "Yes, that's me (on the right!) playing Curtis, the second in charge of Petruchio's household staff."

Christopher Sly, a tinker, falls into a drunken stupor in an alehouse after an argument with the hostess. He is discovered in this state by a Lord and his train who stop at the alehouse after a hunt. The Lord, deciding to have a joke, orders Sly taken to the Lord’s own chamber, dressed in fine clothes, and put to bed. When Sly awakens the Lord and his party have little difficulty convincing him that he is really a nobleman who has been insane for fifteen years. A Company of traveling players is employed to put on a play for the benefit of Sly. The play is THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

Lucentio, a young man from Pisa, arrives in Padua with his servants, Tranio and Biondello, to study. He sees and at once falls in love with Bianca. She is the daughter of Baptista Minola, who has an elder daughter, Katherine. Although Bianca has two suitors already, Baptista refuses to allow her to marry until her older sister, a noisy shrew, has found a husband. He announces this information in a public place where such passersby as Lucentio and Tranio can easily overhear. Effectively, Baptista is announcing that he first wants elder Katherine off his hands. Katherine’s humiliation at this point is related in her harsh words.

Hortensio and Gremio, Bianca’s original suitors, agree between them to try to find a husband for Katherine. At this point Sly wishes the play were over and is not heard from again.

Baptista is adamant that Katherine marry first. Lucentio overhears Baptista conclude that since neither of Bianca’s suitors will give up their pursuit of Bianca and marry Katherine instead, that lovely Bianca must content herself with music and poetry. He asks if either Hortensio or Gremio can recommend a tutor.

Lovesick Lucentio, in disguise, offers himself to Baptista as a tutor to Bianca, and Hortensio, also in disguise, does likewise. To divert Baptista’s attention from Lucentio’s activities -- at his master’s instruction -- servant Tranio assumes Lucentio’s identity and announces himself (as Lucentio) to Baptista as a third suitor for Bianca’s hand.

Petruchio arrives from the country with his servant intending to find himself a rich wife. He visits his old friend Hortensio, who jokingly suggests that he marry Katherine. Petruchio declares that her fortune is enough for him, regardless of her personality.

Petruchio announces himself to Baptista as a suitor for Katherine and holds a stormy, private interview with the young lady, after which he sets a wedding date even though Katherine strongly objects. He is delighted by her spiritedness for it matches his own. He is not merely an adventurous and forthright man; he is also a man of extreme patience and considerable wisdom. He treats Katherine affectionately, calling her Kate with tender familiarity from the beginning. After procuring Baptista’s approval, he leaves for Venice to prepare for the wedding.

Baptista now informs Gremio and Tranio (still posing as Lucentio) that whichever one of them offers the finest dowry may have Bianca in marriage. Tranio wins out, but Baptista says that he must have Lucentio’s father’s agreement to the dowry, since it is such a large one that he cannot believe Vincentio (Lucentio’s father) would willingly part with it.

Petruchio arrives at his wedding very late and ridiculously attired. After marrying Katherine, he forces her to return to the country with him immediately, leaving the wedding banquet to their guests.

Arriving at Petruchio’s country home to prepare the way for Petruchio and his bride, Grumio complains bitterly about the hardships of the trip from Padua. Cold, tired and dirty, he instructs Curtis, a house servant, to build a fire. Grumio demands to know whether the house and servants are prepared or not because the master is in a terrible mood. Grumio relates the story of their journey -- how Katherine’s horse fell with her under it, how Grumio himself was blamed for the accident, how Katherine attempted to prevent Petruchio from beating him, "she pray’d that never pray’d before." To which Curtis responds, "By this reck’ning he is more shrew than she."

Petruchio and wife arrive and dinner is set. But Petruchio refuses to let Katherine eat or sleep. He finds fault with the meat and the making of the bed, pretending that they are not good enough for Katherine and she shall therefore have none. Curtis remarks before his exeunt, "(he is) In her chamber, making a sermon of contingency to her/And rails, and swears, and rates, that she, poor soul/Knows not which way to stand, to look to speak/And sits as one new risen from a dream."

In Padua, Lucentio, in the guise of a tutor, declares himself to Bianca, who is at first cautious, but soon finds herself in love with him. Hortensio (as the tutor Licio) is horrified at Bianca’s amorous affections toward Lucentio, and gives up his suit of her, declaring that he will marry a widow who has loved him for some time.

Tranio, meanwhile, pursues a Pedant (a gullible and foolish stranger) to assume the role of Lucentio’s father, by telling him that as a citizen of Mantua he is in danger in Padua -- as the two cities are most certainly engaged in bitter hostilities --and must therefore pretend to be from Pisa (home of Lucentio and his father, Vincentio).

Petruchio continues his taming. He offers to purchase finery for Katherine for a trip to her father’s house, but then finds fault with all that the haberdasher and tailor have to offer, concluding that she must wear what she has already, since their wares are beneath her.

While the Pedant plays Lucentio’s father and affirms the dowry offered by Tranio, the real Lucentio secretly elopes with Bianca.

Petruchio, Katherine, and Hortensio (who has been a guest with them) return to Padua. During the trip, Katherine is forced to say that the sun is the moon and an old man (the real and newly arrived Vincentio) is actually a young virgin. Now thoroughly tamed, Kate knows that Petruchio has been mirroring her own behavior. She realizes that she will not be given peace until she makes herself a pleasant companion to him.

Vincentio, discovering that Tranio is posing as his son, is convinced that Lucentio has been murdered by these posing thieves. The Pedant, Biondello and Tranio maintain their deceit, pretending not to know Vincentio, in order to gain time for the eloped couple to finish marrying. An officer is called and enters and is about to arrest the bewildered old gentleman (the only one in the room apparently confused) when Lucentio returns from the church with his bride and admits the entire hoax.

When Lucentio arrives with his bride, his two servants and the stranger flee the scene. Vincentio, much relieved to discover that his son is still alive, tells Baptista that he will be satisfied (in the matter of dowry) and then goes off to "be reveng’d" upon the escaped trio.

As all the other players leave the scene, only Petruchio and Katherine remain. Petruchio demands a kiss in the public street. Though Kate is embarrassed, she does not begrudge him the kiss. She says affectionately, "I will give thee a kiss; now pray thee, love, stay." Petruchio says of their new harmony, "Is not this well?" He calls her sweet Kate, and she recognizes the sincerity of his words.

In the final scene, the whole company enjoys a dinner together following Hortensio’s marriage to the widow. When all the wives are summoned to their husbands, we see just who is the most devoted. Bianca answers that she is too busy; the widow bids Hortensio to come to her. It is Kate who comes at once. Petruchio rewards her with, "Come on, and kiss me, Kate!" She is now more attuned to her husband’s wishes than either Bianca or Hortensio’s wife.

Indeed, at the wedding feast, Bianca reveals an unexpected streak of bawdy, willfulness and arrogance. Lucentio, as it turns out, and not Petruchio, has married the shrewish sister. This is foreshadowed in the scene where she is wooed by the disguised Lucentio and Hortensio. There she displays a deviousness and cunning which suggest that the dutiful daughter and long- suffering, patient younger sister are roles that she knows how to play -- rather than indications of her true character.

Kate, as the shrew, was also playing a role. The common stage convention allows the actress playing this part to show plainly in her face that she falls in love with Petruchio the moment she sets eyes on him. Heartily sick of a single life -- not to mention all the adulation showered on Bianca -- she is really more than ready to give herself to a man, but, imprisoned within a set of aggressive attitudes which have become habitual, she has not the faintest idea how to do so.

Petruchio’s strategy is perceptively designed to make her abandon a shrew’s role originally adopted as a defense, not intrinsic in her nature, and to permit her to escape into freedom and love within the bonds of marriage.

The two techniques he employs are complementary. First, he "kills her in her own humor." He "is more shrew than she" by beating servants (though he never threatens her), hurling dinner plates, insulting tradesmen, scolding and complaining, throwing tantrums and changing his mind with the wind. Not only does he present her in all this with a masculine version of her own unreasonable and arbitrary behavior, he forces her to experience it objectively and to realize just how impossible it is for another person to tolerate.

Secondly, at the same time, he goes on assuring her -- despite everything she can do and say to the contrary -- that she herself is gentile, rational and loving: exactly the hidden qualities in her that he needs to foster and encourage. Petruchio wins in the end not because of superior force but because he succeeds in showing Katherine both the unloveliness of the false personality she has adopted and the emotional truth of the self she has submerged.

On stage, Petruchio comes over far less as an aggressive male out to bully a refractory wife into total submission than he does as a man who genuinely prizes Katherine and, by exploiting an age-old and basic antagonism between the sexes, maneuvers her into an understanding of his nature and also her own.

Synopsized from notes by L. L. Hillegass, M.L.S. for Cliff’s Notes, Inc. and an introduction for this play by Anne Barton of Bedford College, London, for THE RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE.


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