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The Performance of Feminism in The Taming of the Shrew1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2009

Margaret Loftus Ranald
Margaret Loftus Ranald is Professor of English, the City University of New York, Queens College.


Performance is ideology! This is particularly true of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, one of his two comedies concerning the behaviour of husband and wife after the marriage ceremony—the other being The Comedy of Errors. Here he makes use of what may well be the longest-running English female stock character, the recalcitrant wife, who goes back to Mrs Noah, the disobedient woman of the mediaeval religious cycle plays. But at the same time he adapts the technique of classical farce to observation of human behaviour, by taking an impossible premise (that a wife can be tamed) and extending it logically to the utmost limits of absurdity. He also combines the Mrs Noah figure with the Judy puppet and the clever woman of the Interludes who outwits her husband, but with one distinctive omission: the physical violence commonly assumed essential to shrew-taming. I believe that here Shakespeare has forged a new dramatic mode by humanizing the intellectuality of rhetorically based classical farce and psychologizing the knockabout physicality of its Plautine offshoot.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 1994

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