THE TRAGEDY OF THE SHREW
It Must Excite Pity & Fear:
The Taming of the Shrew is a Tragedy &
Aristotle Says So.
Utilizing the requirements of tragedy set forth in Aristotle’s Poetics, author Lita Lopez details the finer points of The Taming of the Shrew which make it a true tragedy – not a lame and ugly romantic comedy.
Viewing one of William Shakespeare’s most controversial plays through this clearer lens turns this play from a reviled sexist trope into a powerful cautionary tale of why we need feminism and equality for all.
Although defendants of a rom-com Taming of the Shrew can try to claim that the misogyny and sexism of the play no longer exist in the 21st century, we don’t have to look very far to recognize that is a big fat lie. Just look at the two films below, or Hollywood & #MeToo, or the last century or decade of American politics, or a litany of other painful examples and it is starkly clear that “a woman may be made a fool if she had not a spirit to resist.” We are still being bought, sold, traded, and forced into marriage, beaten, abused, assaulted, raped, belittled, harassed, ignored, underpaid, under-represented, etc., etc., in every corner of the globe and this country, in every culture, background and industry. Enough.
Knots: A Forced Marriage Story is an upcoming documentary about three women in the U.S. forced to marry against their will, just like our tragic heroine, Katherina the Shrew.
For over 400 years William Shakespeare has been regarded as one of history’s greatest playwrights and his works have been read, studied, discussed and produced unceasingly in every corner of the globe on stages and screens big and small. One of his most controversial but most often produced works is The Taming of the Shrew. The whole village wants to marry Bianca but her father insists older sister Katherina must be wed first. Katherina is “so curst and shrewd” no man will take her, so Bianca’s suitors pay the “mad-brain rudesby” Petruchio, who only wants a wealthy wife, to “wed her and bed her.” Since no one can accept the feminist Katherina for who she is, Petruchio must now “tame” her into obedience and submission. The play is either revered or reviled and both reactions can be valid. It can get complicated when looking for the funny in a “romantic comedy” about the subjugation of a free-thinking, wildly independent spirit into a docile and subservient wife or “ideal woman.” Sound familiar? It should.
The Shrew is one of the world’s oldest, most well-known and culturally pervasive tales of arranged marriage. Its impact and influence is far and wide. Even if you’ve never seen The Taming of the Shrew, you’ve seen its scenarios played out again and again in countless books, plays, films and television shows for as long as the play has existed. A notable example from the last century is The Stepford Wives. That film franchise may feel absurd, but it’s far from comedy. The original film is more than searing satire, it is outright horror. Although The Taming of the Shrew and The Stepford Wives are so-called “fiction,” they are both accurate representations of the world as it was in the time they were written – and as it still is today. It’s really hard to laugh watching someone with no equality, no rights and no freedom be starved, tortured, threatened, gas-lit and abused into submission, I mean, marriage.
We don’t have to look far to find current real world occurrences of the same forced marriage tragedies playing out across every corner of the globe, every day. Look at Phoolan Devi, India’s Bandit Queen. Forced to marry at age 11 and brutalized by her 30 year old husband, she ran away repeatedly until age 15 when she was kidnapped and gang-raped by an entire village of men. She chose to fight back as a real life Robin Hood vigilante and leader of her own bandit gang which returned to that village and slaughtered her attackers. That made her India’s most hunted outlaw, as she continued stealing from the rich, giving to the poor and exacting justice for other rape victims. The Bandit Queen eventually negotiated her own surrender, served 11 years in prison and became a living legend. After her release from prison Phoolan Devi was elected to the Indian Parliament, serving there until she was assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Delhi in 2001.
More recent than the Bandit Queen, Knots: A Forced Marriage Story is a soon to be released feature-length documentary film which “examines the truth about forced marriage in the U.S. through the complicated experiences of those who have survived it. Forced marriage is a human rights abuse that has lifelong traumatic consequences. IT IS WIDESPREAD. IT IS WRONG. Three forced marriage survivors – Nina, Sara, and Fraidy – take us on a journey through their lives and fight alongside advocates, experts, and lawmakers to end this human rights abuse in the U.S.” – Knotsthefilm.com
Katherina, Phoolan, Nina, Sara and Fraidy all share the same story and truth. Katherina the Shrew speaks her truth quite plainly, “I must forsooth be forced to give my hand opposed against my heart.” These same words could have been spoken by Phoolan, Nina, Sara and countless other women. It is time that they are all heard.
To squeeze the “comedy” out of this supposed rom-com, theatre directors and filmmakers have tied themselves into their own knots for centuries, trying to soften the blow and cover up the truth of Katherine’s words. And everyone, directors, actors and audiences alike, will admit they feel more than a little yucky about it. We know it’s wrong. Why don’t we stop doing that?
Instead of reviling The Taming of the Shrew for being a sexist comedy, Lopez’s forthcoming book, The Tragedy of the Shrew, discusses how the play can be revered for its groundbreaking feminism. It is vitally important to stop treating The Taming of the Shrew like some kind of cute romantic comedy. As a comedy, it sucks. As a tragedy, it can be amazing.
With in depth textual analysis from the working actress’s point of view, Lopez removes the veil of mystery from Shakespeare’s “garnished language,” making it accessible for a modern day reader, even those who have never read Shakespeare before. With 21st century real world examples of “taming,” such as the extremes above, plus current events, entertainment and personal relationship experience, the author reminds the audience that Katherina’s fight for independence, autonomy and equality is far from over. Using Greek philosopher Aristotle’s Poetics as the superlative blueprint for what constitutes tragedy, the book illuminates how The Taming of the Shrew meets all tragedy requirements, definitively proving Katherina the Shrew to be Shakespeare’s most tragic heroine ever – not a happy honeymooner. “T’aint no rom-com!”
Please comment below if you are excited to read THE TRAGEDY OF THE SHREW. It Must Excite Pity & Fear: The Taming of the Shrew is a Tragedy & Aristotle Says So!
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