Happy Valentine’s Day!
If you have a Valentine today, congrats. I’m jealous. If you don’t, join the club. Just don’t touch my chocolate. Here, we can focus on other romances. The ones we have laughed over, cried over and cheered for within the pages of a book.
And on stage. As much as I love Jane Austen, I also love William Shakespeare. And his plays. There are many great romantic pairings in them. If the first one you thought of is Romeo and Juliet, let me tell you there are greater ones. Ones who make it to the end of their plays! So I thought I’d spend this Valentine’s Day discussing my favorite.
While my favorite play is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” it doesn’t contain my favorite couple. My favorite Shakespeare couple is Kate and Petrucchio from “The Taming of the Shrew.” Told as a play-within-a-play, the main action takes place in Padua, in the home of Baptista. He has two daughters: the beautiful and obedient Bianca and the beautiful but wild Katherina. Many men wish to court Bianca, but Baptista refuses to let her marry before Katherina. And at the rate that’s going, it appears Bianca will never marry.
Enter Petrucchio. He’s come to Padua to “wive it weathily.” Meaning, he needs to find a woman with a lot of money. A friend dares him to woo and wed Katherina. He accepts, especially when he hears how wealthy she is. Then he meets her and falls in love with her beauty as well as her passion. He offers to marry her and Baptista jumps at it. After all, he never thought Katherina would get married. Neither did she. But she is dragged and marries Petrucchio.
He takes her home, with Kate’s past suitors wishing him luck. At his house, the audience is given a glimpse into his relationship with his servants. They respect him and he seems to be kind to them. His antics with Kate are just that—antics. Slowly, his ridiculous displays finally exasperate Kate and their friend until she agrees with him, playing his games. And in the end, the two come to an understanding and fall in love.
I know people debate this play to this day, especially in a post women’s lib world. At the end, is Kate really “tamed”? Does she really love Petrucchio? Does he really love her? I believe he does. And I believe she does as well—or will come to. I don’t think she was “tamed.” In fact, I don’t think she was wild to begin with. I personally think “wild” was Shakespeare’s way of coding the fact that Kate wanted to remain independent. She was chasing men away so she didn’t lose herself to marriage. I do believe Petrucchio loved her and loved her independence. He didn’t break her so much as show her he wasn’t going to put up with her games. And she realizes she has met her match, a man she can’t scare off.
So what about that ending speech? How to reconcile that? And that’s a tricky one. On one hand, it’s a product of Shakespeare’s time. On the other, it seems degrading to women. My favorite way to reconcile this comes from a special the BBC aired a few years ago called “Shakespeare ReTold,” which modernized several Shakespeare plays. One episode was “The Taming of the Shrew” starring Rufus Sewell as Petrucchio and Shirley Henderson as Kate. And Kate does recite the ending speech. But she then says that Petrucchio wouldn’t ask her to do that because he respects and loves her. He agrees. So I like to pretend that happens in the play.
Do you have a favorite Shakespearean pairing?