Article Title

Performing Marriage with a Difference: Wooing, Wedding, and Bedding in The Taming of the Shrew


Amy L. Smith


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Even before the recent burgeoning of performance theory, The Taming of the Shrew was of great interest to critics interested in roleplaying, identity, and theatricality. And because Kate’s “taming” and her performative speech both take place in a play-within-a-play, Taming fostered a critical interest in the intersection between performance and gender long before the phrase “gender trouble” became commonplace. The recent debates about performance, culture, and theater sparked in part by Judith Butler suggest, however, that it is time to revisit our analysis of gender and performance in this play. Although there are a number of readings that have already investigated connections between patriarchy and performance in The Taming of the Shrew, critics can largely be grouped into two opposing camps: revisionist and antirevisionist. First there are those who, reading the play as Kate’s taming, see her role as reflective or constructive of early modern patriarchal hierarchies that contend that women must be subject to their husbands. Because such reading argue that Kate’s speech implies a straightforward acceptance of submission, they deny the play’s ability to foster critques of wifely subordination. Second, there are those who read Kate’s final speech ironically, as an act or game. The emphasis on play in these revisionist readings sometimes results in the near avoidance of the uncomfortable taming aspects of the play: Kate’s game frees her from them. While the outcomes of these readings are very different, both seem to pretend that early modern patriarchal ideology are unified and static: Kate submits or escapes subjection to them. And either way, these arguments implicitly suggest that the marriages performed in The Taming of the Shrew do not question or complicate gender hierarchies; rather, they applaud or escape them.

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