Taming of the Shrew (1921) Yale/Appendix B


History of the Play

Nothing definite is known about the date at which The Taming of the Shrew was first written and produced; this subject has been a fruitful field of controversy for Shakespearean scholars. Some have put the play as early as 1594, the year in which A Shrew was printed, some as late as 1604–1609, because of certain supposed allusions in the text to contemporary events. These last references are by no means so definite as to be conclusive, especially in the face of the internal evidence,[1] which points to very early composition. One great difficulty in the matter is that The Shrew does not appear in Meres's list of 1598, though this may be because the work is only in part Shakespeare's or because Meres 'affects a pedantic parallelism of numbers,' giving only six comedies to balance his six 'tragedies.' Another plausible, although not entirely satisfactory, theory has it that this play is the Love's Labour's Won of Meres. The strongest argument for the identification has been set forth by Professor A. H. Tolman in his Views about Hamlet and other Essays, but as yet we have no conclusive evidence upon this vexed point. It seems possible, however, that Shakespeare might originally have called his drama by the appropriate name Love's Labour's Won to distinguish it forcibly from the popular Taming of A Shrew, and when the old play had been definitely superseded by the newer version, that he returned to an approximation of the earlier and more literal title.

Whether or not Love's Labour's Won may be identified with The Shrew, however, Meres's omission of this play is not necessarily a proof that it was not in existence in 1598, still less that it was not being written at about that time. A point in favor of this latter supposition is that line 88 of the first scene of the Induction is, in the Folio, given to 'Sincklo,' who, according to Fleay, was an actor with the Chamberlain's men from 1597 to 1604. This fact, coupled with the evidence for early composition furnished by metrical tests, rather points to 1597–1598 as the time of the play's appearance; but after all, it is impossible to fix any very definite date for the composition of The Taming of the Shrew.

We know, from the title-page of the First Quarto, dated 1631, that this play 'was acted by his Maiesties Servants at the Blacke Friers and the Globe' theatres; and in 1633 it was given at court before the king and queen. It did not, however, survive much longer upon the stage in its original form. The first important revision of it was that made under the title of Sauny the Scot by John Lacy, performed on April 9, 1667, at the Theatre Royal and published in 1698. Pepys writes of it: 'To the King's house and there saw The Taming of a Shrew, which hath some very good pieces in it, but generally is but a mean play; and the best part, "Sauny," done by Lacy; and hath not half its life, by reason of the words, I suppose, not being understood, at least by me.' In this play Grumio's part, much enlarged, is made into that of a Scotch servant, Sauny (compare his original name of Sander in A Shrew); the scene is laid in London instead of Padua; and the dialogue is shortened, as well as all put into prose. Lacy wrote a new Fifth Act which dealt with Katherine (now Margaret)'s renewed assertion of independence on regaining the shelter of her father's roof. Petruchio first treats her silence as if it were due to the toothache, until she discomfits the Barber who is introduced to extract the offending member. Ultimately the shrew is brought to her senses by a mock funeral in which she figures as the corpse and is bound on a bier. Her cries of protest are interpreted by Petruchio as being the words of a demon within her body, and it is only with Margaret's final surrender, 'My dear Petruchio, you have overcome me, and I beg your pardon,' that she is released in time for the final wager scene. This piece was revived at Drury Lane in 1698 and at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1725.

Other offshoots of Shakespeare's play have been The Cobbler of Preston, a two act farce by Charles Johnson, performed at Drury Lane in 1716, and a slighter version of the same piece by Christopher Bullock, given at Lincoln's Inn Fields in the same year. This latter play was revived at Covent Garden in both 1738 and 1759, and Johnson's work was again given at Drury Lane in 1817, a century after its original performance. These works dealt with the Sly story of the Induction in a somewhat enlarged form, Johnson's play even including a love story for Sir Charles Briton, the 'Lord' of The Shrew; but a great deal of The Shrew's original dialogue is retained. More distantly related to Shakespeare is Jevon's The Devil of a Wife; or a Comical Transformation, acted in 1686, a curious combination of the Shrew and Induction plots with an admixture of magic, satire on the Puritans, and incidental songs, a strange piece, which ultimately became an opera outright under the title of The Devil to Pay; or the Wives Metamorphos'd. Other acting plays somewhat indebted to The Shrew are John Fletcher's Rule a Wife and Have a Wife (1624), and more especially, John Tobin's comedy of The Honeymoon (1805). It is also interesting to note that Fletcher wrote a sort of satirical sequel to The Shrew, which he called The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tam'd, dated variously from 1604 to 1621. In this play Katherine has died and Petruchio is married to Maria, a cousin of his first wife's, by whom he is henpecked and subdued.

The most important and most famous version of Shakespeare's play is Garrick's Katharine and Petruchio, which was first given at Drury Lane on March 18, 1754. Garrick's chief motive in his work was to shorten and prune the original, which he did so successfully that his work, generally performed as an afterpiece to some tragedy, has only three comparatively brief acts. This was accomplished by omitting the Induction and the entire secondary plot of the comedy, including the characters of Grumio, Lucentio, Tranio, Vincentio, the Pedant, and the Widow. He introduced a 'Music Master' to play Hortensio's 'Broken Lute' scene, gave to Biondello Gremio's descriptive speeches about the wedding, had them spoken to a servant named Pedro, presented Hortensio and Bianca as already married, and changed Curtis from a man into an old woman. This latter transformation has, by the way, become a generally accepted stage tradition, along with the representation of the Tailor as a stutterer. Naturally Garrick added to the text of the play throughout, his most famous original passage being Katharine's soliloquy after the wooing scene at the end of the First Act:

Why, yes; sister Bianca now shall see,
The poor abandon'd Katharine, as she calls me,
Can make her husband stoop unto her lure,
And hold her head as high, and be as proud,
As she, or e'er a wife in Padua.
As double as my portion be my scorn!
Look to your seat, Petruchio, or I throw you:
Katharine shall tame this haggard; or, if she fails,
Shall tie her tongue up, and pare down her nails.


The immense success of Garrick's piece is its own best justification. For ninety years it held the stage and was presented hundreds of times throughout the English-speaking world. Henry Woodward was its first Petruchio, and Mrs. Pritchard, later followed by Kitty Clive, the Katharine. It is recorded that as Woodward and Mrs. Clive were not upon good terms personally, the horseplay in the taming scenes was more boisterous and lifelike than necessary; once Woodward threw his Katherine to the ground in the course of the action, and another time he is said to have stuck a fork into her finger. Among the famous Petruchios to follow Woodward in Garrick's farce were Edward Shuter, John Philip Kemble, J. W. Wallack, and Charles Kemble; its Katharines have included Mrs. Greene, Mrs. Siddons, Eliza O'Neill, and Helena Faucit. Garrick's piece held the stage from 1754 until 1844, when Benjamin Webster revived The Shrew according to the text of Shakespeare and according to contemporary ideas about Elizabethan stage conditions. The play produced by John Philip Kemble in 1810 under Shakespeare's title had proved to be Garrick's version once again, and the four performances at Drury Lane in 1828 were of an opera based on the play. In 1856 Samuel Phelps revived the original drama with scrupulous fidelity to the text and 'according to the usage of the modern stage,' restoring the Induction so that he might himself appear as Sly; Henry Marston was Petruchio and Miss Atkinson, Katherine. More recent English performances in these parts have been those of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, 1867 (their first appearance together), Johnston Forbes-Robertson and Mrs. Bernard-Beere, 1885, Mr. and Mrs. F. R. Benson, 1890, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Beerbohm Tree, 1897, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Asche (Lily Brayton), 1904,—Mr. Asche acted both Pteruchio and Sly—and Mr. and Mrs. Martin Harvey (Nina de Silva), 1913.

In America Katharine and Petruchio was first presented in 1766, with Margaret Cheer and Lewis Hallam in the leading parts. This version long held its place on our stage, being given by such actors as Fanny and Charles Kemble, 1882, Fanny Wallack and James R. Anderson, 1848, Mrs. Scott-Siddons and James K. Mortimer, 1869, and Clara Morris and Louis James, 1871. Petruchio was a famous part of Edwin Booth's, but he used a two-act variant of Garrick's piece, prepared by himself; it was always given as an afterpiece to one of his tragic rôles. His leading ladies in this play included Ada Clifton, Isabella Bateman, Rose Eytinge, and Fanny Davenport. In 1870 Marie Seebach, a German actress, produced in New York a German version of The Shrew, which purported to be true to the original version, but which was in four acts, omitted the In duction, and materially altered the subplot. The first performance in America to follow approximately the Folio text was that given at Daly's Theatre, New York, on January 18, 1887, under the direction of Augustin Daly. This revival met with remarkable success and continued to be given with various supporting casts all through the lifetime of Ada Rehan, whose Katherine was her best rôle and whose performance dominated the piece. The original cast enlisted the best talent of Daly's famous company, including George Clark as the Lord, William Gilbert as Christopher Sly, John Drew as Petruchio, Otis Skinner as Lucentio, Charles Leclerq as Gremio, Joseph Holland as Hortensio, James Lewis as Grumio, Virginia Dreher as Bianca, and Mrs. G. H. Gilbert as Curtis. Later Petruchios to Miss Rehan's Katherine were George Clark, Charles Richman, and Otis Skinner.

Daly's version of The Shrew was based on Shakespeare's text, but there were many cuts, transpositions, and additions, all made for the sake of dramatic effectiveness. The dialogue was curtailed throughout, until of Shakespeare's 2647 lines only about 2000 appear in this acting version. As Katherine was admittedly to be the star part, she does not come on in the street scene of the First Act and thus gains an extremely effective entrance as the curtain rises on Act II; also she brings down the final curtain of this act with Garrick's interpolated speech already cited. In the Third Act she does not appear until after the wedding ceremony, and both she and Petruchio are eliminated from V. i. Both scenes of Act III are played as one, and Act IV is condensed into two sets; Scenes 2 and 4 go well enough together, but when Scenes 1, 3 and 5 are telescoped, the speed of Katherine's taming becomes too rapid to maintain the illusion. Nevertheless the practical success of this version was phenomenal: it was presented not only in the United States and Canada, but in England, Germany, and France. In Paris Constant Coquelin, the great French comedian, saw the performance and as a result decided to play Petruchio himself. The French version of Paul Delair, known as 'La Mégère Apprivoisée,' was produced by Coquelin in Paris, and later in New York (1892) with Jane Hading as Katherine. A recent production in France was that given at the Théâtre Antoine on April 24, 1919, with M. Gémier and Mme. Celiat in the leading parts. In Germany the drama has been very popular and has figured nearly every year in the metropolitan and provincial repertoires under the title of 'Der Widerspänstigen Zähmung'; a German version of the play was given at the Irving Place Theatre in New York City during March, 1916.

In 1903 Elsie Leslie and Jefferson Winter gave a performance of The Shrew which included the Induction and Garrick's Katharine and Petruchio, perhaps the only time that such a combined text has been seen on the stage. In 1905 E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe first acted the play, which they have continuously kept in their repertoire since then; the Induction is excluded from their somewhat condensed version. Ermete Novelli and Signora O. Giannini presented an Italian translation of the play in New York in 1907, and in 1915 Margaret Anglin (with Eric Blind as her leading man) presented the play there, as she had previously done in Australia and the West. In this latter revival no words except those to be found in the Folio were used, though the text was slightly cut; the Induction was at first presented by Miss Anglin, but later she dropped it from her version of the play. This production was made in the 'new manner,' an attempt to approximate the conditions of the Elizabethan theatre, so that it was possible to present the play almost as Shakespeare wrote it, without frequent and prolonged changes of scenery. The decorations were done for Miss Anglin by Livingston Platt.

Certain amateur performances of The Shrew may be also noted in this place. The Oxford University Dramatic Society produced it at Oxford in 1897, and again for seven performances, beginning February 6, 1907. As is customary with this organization, professional actresses were imported to take the women's rôles, the part of Katherine falling first to Miss Marian Morris and then to Miss Lily Brayton, who had already performed it on the regular stage. On June 18, 1910, the Yale Dramatic Association presented the play out of doors on the Yale Campus, 'for one performance only.' At this time the Induction and a conventional version of the main play were given.

A German opera made from the drama was first performed at Mannheim, on October 14, 1874, and was revived at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on March 15, 1916. The music for this work was composed by Herman Goetz, and the libretto, Der Widerspänstigen Zähmung, was prepared by Joseph Victor Widmann. In the process Shakespeare's play naturally underwent great change in treatment, one important difference being in the psychology of the principal characters. Petruchio is represented as having seen and loved Katherine before he undertakes to marry her, his rough exterior is merely for the purpose of winning her love; Katherine, on the other hand, succumbs at once to Petruchio's masterful wooing and confesses to herself after the first scene with him that she has quite lost her heart. When the taming process ultimately breaks her pride and she admits her defeat, Petruchio throws off his mask and the lovers are ready to join in a conventional operatic love duet. Another and quite different interpretation of the leading characters in Shakespeare's play is that set forth in a 'travesty in one act,' called The Ladies' Shakespeare, 'being one woman's reading of a notorious work called The Taming of the Shrew, edited by J. M. Barrie.' In this work, not as yet published, but produced on the stage by Miss Maude Adams at Rochester, N. Y., in October, 1914, and subsequently during the season of 1914–1915 on tour, Barrie explains that Katherine was really the tamer, not the tamed, that she was hoodwinking Petruchio all the time, by pretending to want things she didn't care about and so getting what she really wanted. It is he who ultimately capitulates, not she, because her tact and finesse get the better of his blundering bluffness. It is astonishing how, with a prologue setting forth this view and stage business to back it up, Shakespeare's dialogue, practically without a change, lends itself to such a feminist interpretation of the play. Barrie finds that even in Shakespeare the eternal feminine triumphs over mere man, and so the whirligig of time has brought in its revenges!


  1. König finds fewer unstopped lines in this play than in any other of Shakespeare's works.