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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shakespeare Uncovered Taming of the Shrew


I just watched the fantastic Shakespeare Uncovered documentary about Taming of the Shrew, hosted by Morgan Freeman.

Don't miss it!




One of my favorite parts of these documentaries is the footage of past stage productions, and this one is fantastic. Not only do you get to see Tracey Ullman and Morgan Freeman from their New York City Shakespeare in the Park production from 1990, you also get to see clips of the Shakespeare in the Park production with Meryl Streep with Raul Julia from 1978.


Taming of the Shrew, 1990


Meryl Streep in 1978


These are amazing video clips, and the whole documentary is worth seeing just for those.

Morgan Freeman introduces the documentary by comparing his own humble Mississippi country origins with Shakespeare's own humble Stratford beginning, and he compares Hollywood of today with London of 1590 or so, when Shakespeare first arrived to begin his career.

He is an excellent host, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the documentary is watching him as he watches other actors perform parts of the play. He delights in John Cleese's performance from the 1980 BBC television version and it's fun to see the joyous look in his eyes when he watches Elizabeth Taylor with Richard Burton (from the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli film) or Samantha Spiro with Simon Paisley Day in the 2012 Shakespeare Globe production (which I reviewed here).


John Cleese, 1980

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, 1967

Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day, 2012

He obviously loves this play, and considers it Shakespeare's most compelling play. He is such a compelling actor, and he is no stranger to Shakespeare, having even played Coriolanus in 1979, also for Shakespeare in the Park:


Coriolanus, 1979


When he did it in 1990, the production transplanted the play to the American Wild West, and I don't want to ruin the video clips of him from 1990, but his Wild West six-shooter Petruchio is marvelous. It totally fits.

Mr. Freeman guides us through some of the history of the play, that it may have been Shakespeare's very first play, and many of the productions made for stage and screen -- and even makes a great point about how almost every romantic comedy, and especially screwball comedies (like Philadelphia Story with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant or It Happened One Night with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable), all owe a debt to Taming of the Shrew.

There are several eminent scholars who add insight, such as Jonathan Bate, Stephen Greenblatt, Farah Karim-Cooper, and Laurie Maguire and many actors who have performed in the play, such as Sinead Cusack and Brian Cox, and Julia Stiles who was in the famous 1999 film adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You, co-starring Heath Ledger, which was his American film breakthrough.




The documentary explores the matter of sexism, misogyny and Shakespeare's handling of the battle of the sexes. Was Shakespeare sexist or subversive?

There is an excellent point that is made about how the Shrew is one of the oldest character types, and when Shakespeare was writing his own Shrew play, he was challenging the audience's expectations about how a Shrew should behave. Ms. Maguire also translates the word "shrew" as a woman who talks too much.

I have to admit that I don't personally think the play is sexist, nor do I think Shakespeare was trying to insult or denigrate women. Some people may disagree, and I don't want to belabor the point.

However, I would like to say that Taming of the Shrew was my father's favorite Shakespeare play. He loved the Elizabeth Taylor version. He could watch it endlessly. He also loved Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast film. The stories do have their similarities, and Richard Burton did look like a beast with that beard and mustache:





My father taught me that in order to tame the shrew you must first love the shrew. In his opinion, without love, there is no reason why Petruchio would put up with Kate. By the end of the play, he has rescued her from her father, and she has rescued him from a life without love. They both win.

When Richard Gere sweeps Debra Winger off her feet at the end of An Officer and a Gentlemen, she has saved him as much as he has saved her. When Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle dirty dances with Jennifer Grey as Baby, they rescue each other.

As far as beastliness goes, Petruchio, or the Beast, or Johnny Castle must be beastly. In order to fall in love, they too must be tamed, and become civilized.

In any case, I find it very interesting that Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew play would be considered sexist, and demeaning to women, at the same time that Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over 100 million copies in print, and is making millions at the box office.

I hope that women would rather have a Petruchio than a Christian Grey.

Overall, I think this documentary handled this controversial matter very well. It is arguably the best presentation of the matter I have ever seen.

Morgan Freeman's reminds us of that old proverb: "A man chases a woman until she catches him." That sums it up nicely.


Morgan Freeman with Tracey Ullman



Also, make sure to watch the first season, available on DVD:

Cheers,




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