The Taming of the Shrew
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For the most part, the film follows the story of the play closely. Almost all of the dialogue from the film is taken verbatim from the play, all of the characters in the film come directly from the play and all of the plot points come directly from the play.

However, a great deal of material has been removed. The most noticeable omissions involve the Bianca (Natasha Pyne) subplot. In the play, every second scene deals with Bianca and the comic attempts of her suitors to colour her favour, as the play alternates between the Bianca story and the Petruchio (Richard Burton) and Katherina (Elizabeth Taylor) story. In the film however, the Bianca plot very much takes a back seat; it is important at the start, but is then only intermittently seen until the end, where it once again becomes important for the last two scenes. Examples of scenes which have had material removed are: the scene where Gremio (Alan Webb) and Tranio (Alfred Lynch) (as Lucentio) are bidding for Bianca's hand in marriage from Baptista (Michael Hordern) - this is considerably longer in the play (Act 2, Scene 1), with Tranio easily winning the contest by offering as a dower far more than Lucentio actually has; and the scene where Hortensio (Victor Spinetti) (as Litio) and Lucentio (Michael York) (as Cambio) scuffle about who gets to tutor Bianca first - again, this is a much longer scene in the play (Act 3, Scene 1), with Cambio and Litio both recognising that the other is attempting to woo Bianca, and both vowing to do something about it. Both of these scenes are seen only at a glance in the film, as Petruchio is searching the Minola residence looking for Katherina. In the play, these two scenes are scenes onto themselves; ie they are not observed by another character. As a result of this, Bianca, Hortensio, Gremio and Lucentio and Tranio all have much more dialogue in the play than in the film.

As this indicates however, the flip side of removing so much of the Bianca material is that film spends considerably more time with Petruchio and Katherina than the play, albeit in scenes with little to no dialogue. Examples of scenes in the film with no counterpart in the play include the scene where Katherina watches Petruchio through the stained glass and smiles to herself; the scene where Petruchio finds Katherina sleeping and looks affectionately at her, and the scene where Katherina is helping Grumio (Cyril Cusack) with the housework.

The framework of the original play is also changed. As Shakespeare wrote it, The Taming of the Shrew is a play-within-a-play, performed by a troup of players for the amusement of Christopher Sly, a tinker who is being duped into thinking he is a lord. However, the framing device is regularly removed in stage productions of the play as well, so the film is not unique in this sense.

Other minor differences include: dialogue cut from virtually every scene, lines moved from one scene to another throughout; some dialogue changed slightly (for example, Katherina's "Is it your will to make a stale of me amongst these mates?" in the play is changed to "Is it your will to make a whore of me amongst these mates?" in the film); and some new, albeit brief, dialogue (for example, Katherina's exclaimation "Of all things living a man's the worst" is not found in the play).

By and large, however, the film is reasonably faithful to the source.

This is a notorious crux in the play which remains a problem in the film.

At the start of the film (and the play), Bianca has two suitors: Hortensio and Gremio. Soon after, Lucentio arrives and falls in love with Bianca. He hears Baptista telling the two suitors that only tutors will be allowed access to his daughter, so both Hortensio and Lucentio come up with the same plan - to disguise themselves as tutors, thereby gaining access to the object of their affection unbeknownst to her father. Meanwhile, Lucentio instructs Tranio to attempt to formally woo Bianca through her father.

The next we see of this situation, Hortensio (as Litio) and Lucentio (as Cambio) are tutoring Bianca, and at the same time, Tranio (as Lucentio) and Gremio are bidding for her. The problem is, where is Hortensio in the bidding scene? Baptista knows that Hortensio is one of her suitors, as does Gremio, so why is he not present in the scene. In the film, it is suggested that the reason he is not present is because he is busy as Litio, but this still doesn't explain his absence from the rest of the Bianca plot, as he subsequently seems to disappear from the story altogether.

In the play, his absence from the bidding scene is never explained, which has led some critics to speculate that the version of the play we know today is actually an edited version of Shakespeare's original. In the original version, Hortensio was not involved in the attempts to woo Bianca, and when Shakespeare re-edited it, he did a poor job, neglecting to fully integrate Hortensio into the relevant scenes (see here for a discussion of this theory).

However, although his absence from the bidding scene is explained in neither the play nor the film, his removal from the rest of the plot is explained in the play (but not in the film). In Act 4, Scene 2, Hortensio encounters Tranio (who he thinks is Lucentio) and they swear no longer to pursue Bianca because she apparently loves Cambio (the real Lucentio).

As such, the play does partially explain his lack of significance in the Bianca plot beyond the opening scenes, despite being introduced as a major character, but the film offers no such explanation.

This is explained in the play, but not in the film. In Act 4, Scene 2, when Hortensio abandons his attempts to woo Bianca (in a scene not in the film), he announces that he will instead marry a wealthy widow who has been pursuing him for some time. This is the woman in the final scene, played by Bice Valori.

This is another crux in the play. At the end of Act 5, Scene 1, Lucentio's subterfuge has been revealed. Baptista is furious with him, as is his own father, Vincentio (Mark Dignam), and his relationship with Bianca is under threat. However, immediately upon the commencement of Act 5, Scene 2 (the final scene in the play), harmony has been restored without any explanation as to how. Baptista is now no longer antagonistic towards Lucentio, seemingly having forgiven his rouse, and Bianca and Lucentio are now formally betrothed. This is the same sequence of events as seen in the film. The play offers only a brief hint as to what has happened; Act 5, Scene 2 begins with Lucentio proclaiming "At last, though long, our jarring notes agree,/And time it is when raging war is done/To smile at scrapes and perils overblown." However, this dialogue is absent from the film, leaving viewers to surmise that Vincentio tells Baptista that his family is rich, and can guarantee the dower, so Baptista forgives Lucentio's deception.

In the context of the play, this is a considerably controversial topic, which has been debated since the play was first performed in 1592. In the context of the film however, the issue is not quite so inflammatory because in the film, Katherina only seems to submit to Petruchio. In reality, she has manipulated him to think that she has submitted, and then, at his moment of glory, she pulls the rug out from underneath his joy. This is seen in the final scene of the film. As in the play, Petruchio, Lucentio and Hortensio have a wager to see which of their wives is the most obedient. Everyone is shocked when it turns out to be Katherina, and they begin to complement Petruchio on what a fine job he has done in taming her. The play ends at this point, but the film continues on. Just as Petruchio is soaking in the praise, he turns around to speak to Katherina, to find she has left the room without him, a grave insult, which causes all of those who had been previously praising him to begin laughing at him. The film then ends as he rushes from the room trying to find her.

So, in the exclusive context of the film, Katherina doesn't fully succumb to Petruchio, she merely makes him think she has so as to dupe him.

As with the question of why does Katherina succumb to Petruchio, the question as to whether or not the play is misogynistic has been around for hundreds of years. In the film, which, as we have seen is essentially the same as the play (excepting the very end), the story of Petruchio's taming of Katherina against her will is very much treated comically, presented as a story where the obstinacy of the woman and the resoluteness of the man work to offset each other a la the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. However, the fundamental fact is that a woman is forced to marry a man against her will simply because her father is offering a large dowry. Petruchio even admits that money is the main incentive in his search for a wife, and from the time he meets Katherina to the time the play ends, he never shows any real affection for her, or expresses anything which seems like genuine emotion. His few speeches are all about lying and subterfuge, often mixed with hunting metaphors (in which Katherina is the wild hawk that needs to be trained). These speeches imply that there is no affection in him whatsoever for Katherina, nor any guilt or remorse as to the situation he is forced her to go through. Furthermore, the end of the play is treated very much like a celebration and Petruchio very much like a conquering hero; his taming has been successful.

One of the main criticisms that has been levelled at the play is that by presenting such a situation, with Petruchio very much in the role of protagonist, and also treating it comically, the play is in fact championing the subjugation of women, and celebrating patriarchy and societal male dominance. As such, the play is often seen as Shakespeare's most openly sexist piece, with its main purpose being to cater for the predominately male audience who would have been attending his plays in the late 1590s. Needless to say, many productions and adaptations of the play have thus steered away from this implication, instead offering some sort of counterweight to the apparent sexism (see here and here for more information on the various productions and adaptations of the play), and this film is no different. As explained above, the film includes a final scene not in the play, where Katherina gets the last laugh on Petruchio, thus removing the sense of patriarchal dominance, and instead replacing it with a sense of masculine gullibility.

Whatever the case regarding actual productions however, some critics argue that the play is not sexist at all, even without the addition of new material, and is instead mocking male notions of superiority and celebrating the resiliency of women. Much of the debate is tied into Katherina's final speech, and whether or not she is being sincere. In this adaptation, as explained above, she clearly isn't in any way sincere at all, but there is no indication in the text one way or the other to indicate how Shakespeare himself regarded the speech (although in the play, she does willingly leave the banquet with Petruchio). Actresses usually play the role either devoutly sincere (such as in the BBC Shakespeare version) or heavily ironic (such as in the 1929 adaptation, where Katherina winks at the assemblage behind Petruchio's back). If played sincere, the implication is that Petruchio has simply worn down Katherina, tired her out to the point where she is simply unable, or unwilling, to resist him. In this sense, then, it is difficult to argue that the play is not at least in some degree misogynistic. On the other hand, if the speech is played ironically, the reverse is true, the play becomes a mockery of patriarchy and a celebration of feminine wiles.

In terms of this particular adaptation, according to Franco Zeffirelli's autobiography, he and Richard Burton both wanted Elizabeth Taylor to deliver the speech ironically, but Taylor felt it would be better to speak completely seriously, and then undermine that seriousness by leaving the banquet without Petruchio, thus subverting his apparent authority over her and showing that he hasn't tamed her at all.

See here for a discussion of the apparent misogyny in the play in general, and the final speech in specific.

The R1 US DVD, released by Columbia Tristar Home Video in 1999, and the R2 UK DVD, released by Columbia Tristar Home Video (UK) in 2001 contain the following special features:

Theatrical Trailer

A 3 minute promotional featurette from 1967, featuring a brief interview with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and some clips from the world premier of the film

Filmographies for Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Franco Zeffirelli.

No it is not.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 1 month ago
Top Contributors: Bertaut, bj_kuehl, critic-2

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