There is sexual innuendo here and bawdy humour which would be enjoyed by audiences. This amusing interchange shows a flirtatious, ‘cheeky’ side to both characters, and it is in a way quite heart-warming to see a softer side to Katherina, a side where she smiles and enjoys herself. The play is written mostly in blank verse according to Shakespeare’s habit with prose being traditionally spoken by the comic characters.
Thus Biondello’s earnest description of Petruchio’s attire in the wedding scene is in prose; other servants such as Grumio and Curtis speak in prose, though sometimes they speak in verse often creating clever comic effects, for example – “Katherine the Curst,/A title for a maid of all titles the worst.
” [I, ii, 128-129] Grumio’s rhyming couplet here adds humour, especially in the insult to Katherina. As seen in quotations above, all characters make use of paronomasia, but especially the servants, who ‘need’ to use puns to strengthen their positions as the comedians of the play.
Puns were popular amongst Shakespearian audiences, who found the confusion they entailed hilarious. Bawdy humour is used, between male characters, but most notably between males and Katherina – “To cart her rather. She’s too rough for me. ” [I, i, 55]. T o be so abrupt and rude towards a lady could have been shocking but bawdy humour would be particularly amusing to members of the audience, encouraged by the actors’ gestures and emphasis. Verbal comedy is also provided by the exaggerated speech of some characters, notably Petruchio who uses hyperbole in his taming of Katherina – “I tell thee, Kate, ’twas burnt and dried away…
” [IV, i, 157].
The meat, as the audience well know, is fine, but Petruchio exaggerates its condition to make sure Katherina doesn’t eat it. This is amusing because of its ridiculous exaggeration and dramatic irony, and the insistent rhythm of the hyperbole strengthens its effect. The title of the play itself could also almost be described as hyperbole: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ – throughout, Katherina’s identification as a ‘shrew’ and Petruchio’s ‘taming’ are deliberately exaggerated for comic effect.
There are also examples of risqui?? or lewd double entendres: “What, with my tongue in your tail? ” [II, i, 216] These are amusing to both modern and Elizabethan audiences since sexual references are a part of human nature. Verbal misunderstandings are rife: for example when Biondello announces his master’s arrival at the wedding, the interchange between him and Baptista is amusing, and certainly found very funny at the RSC production at Stratford : Is he come? Why, no, sir. What then? He is coming.
[III, ii, 34-37] Most verbal misunderstandings have the same effect as puns, in confusing characters and so amusing audiences. As in most Shakespeare comedies, written to be performed not read, a major aspect of comedy is visual. Arising from the Commedie dell’Arte of Italy, the slapstick style now seen in our modern Pantomimes was comedy for the masses, and still is found funny. Entrances are a big part. When characters sweep through doors, there is often someone on the other side hit in the face by the door.
Biondello’s entrance with Lucentio’s baggage caused laughter in the theatre when he came charging in and fell over, sliding along the stage. Other aspects of visual comedy such as over-exaggerated poses make the audience laugh with no need for words or explanation. One can draw similarities with slapstick comedies of the 1900’s such as Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, who also depended very much on visual comedy. The script of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ provides opportunities for visual comedy through, for example, several beatings and throwing of objects, as in Act IV, Scene 1 with the food.
In the production, characters entered from different positions, some from the wings, some from behind the array of doors on the stage (placed to give a simple image of busy shop fronts and houses), and some (in Petruchio’s house) on raised platforms above and behind the main part of the stage. In contrast to Elizabethan stage craft, we did not see any entrances from above or below to indicate Heavenly/ Hellish status, nor was a canopy of stars in place.
The props though, were simple as they would have been in Shakespeare’s time, with only a few doors, or screens, a table etc, leaving most to the imagination. Both Elizabethan and modern audiences can relate to the humour used in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. There are comic aspects from both times – the marriage fiasco, including complications like the dowry and more, would be better appreciated by an Elizabethan audience, whilst the dry, sarcastic wit so often used in modern advertising strikes a chord with modern audiences.
Marriage, though, and love are easy to relate to for both audiences. The moral message that Shakespeare put across in this play is a complicated one. Katherina could be seen to be crushed at the end – and this would mean a message indicating that obedience is necessary for a successful relationship – the production by the RSC hinted that the whole obedient, subservient persona of Katherina at the end, is a personal joke between her and Petruchio, thus indicating that sexual chemistry, and a sense of humour are the essentials for a successful relationship.
There is also the suggestion that trickery and deception may be necessary for success, and almost certainly a moral message about appearances: to see this, we have only to compare the apparent nature of the main female characters at the beginning of the play with their behaviour when they are summoned as part of their husbands’ wager. Despite these serious elements, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ remains a witty comedy which deals with a very contentious subject very enjoyably.
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