Making a merry jest of Shrew’s misogyny
Shakespeare’s early ‘screwball’ comedy, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, is one of his most popular and controversial – so can an all-female cast take the edge of its sexism
Storm of controversies
He did know, though, what he was letting himself in for. “When you do Shrew, the first thing you have to do as a director is say, ‘Am I prepared for the storm of controversies that can arrive with it?’ Yeah, I am prepared, I guess. We’re not trying to do a literal depiction of it. We’re not trying to trivialise or minimise anything. We’re trying to get it out there. Theatre isn’t therapy and it isn’t a didactic medium. What can it do? It can have a light touch that can get people really thinking.”
The Globe Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew will run at the Kilkenny Arts Festival from August 9th to 18th
Shakespeare’s Ireland: Like Hollywood’s Vietnam
It’s not surprising that direct references to Ireland in Shakespeare’s plays are both rare and brief.
Direct references to any contemporary events are rare in Shakespeare. He lived in dangerous times. Even his most obvious, but apparently safe, comment on the Nine Years’ War against Hugh O’Neill’s Gaelic rebellion turned out to be dodgy. In “Henry V”, the chorus draws an analogy between the king’s triumphant return from the wars in France and the acclaim that will greet the Earl of Essex when he comes back from Ireland, “bringing rebellion broached on his sword”.
But Essex didn’t return in triumph; he fell out with the queen and was executed as a traitor. The analogy between the traitor and a heroic king became, in retrospect, potentially explosive.
Yet, even though it was best to steer clear of such touchy subjects, Ireland is a significant presence in Shakespeare’s world.
The projection of military power into hostile terrain for such a long period was an immense undertaking for English society. And the ambiguity of brutal military force in the service of “civilisation” exposed the contradictions of the Elizabethan “golden age”.
Ireland is present in Shakespeare in the same way that Vietnam is present in so many Hollywood movies of the 1960s: even those that don’t mention it at all.
The brilliant American scholar James Shapiro explores this relationship in one of the greatest books ever written about Shakespeare, 1599.
Shapiro combines the skills of a great historian with those of an acute literary critic to do what seemed scarcely possible, and say genuinely new things about the most written-about of writers. He also demolishes the cranky conspiracy theories about the authorship of the plays in “Contested Will” and has made the riveting BBC documentary, “The King’s Man”, about Shakespeare’s relationship with James I. – FINTAN O’TOOLE
James Shapiro will be in conversation with Fintan O’Toole about Shakespeare and Ireland at the Kilkenny Arts Festival on Saturday, August 10th, at 1pm.