The Taming of The Shrew

by William Shakespeare

Director: Robert Chesterton who writes:

When I suggested The Taming of the Shrew to the committee, they all jumped at it.  It is a very well known title.  When you look at the script it is very non-P C.  The hot-headed Petruchio ‘tames’ Katherina, a virago, by starving her and depriving her of sleep.

I have been thinking of ways to make the play more acceptable to modern audiences.  The first scene of the play sets up a conventional romantic plot.  The handsome young Lucentio, newly come to Padua, sees and falls in love with the beautiful and demure Bianca - Katherina’s younger sister.  He seeks the aid of his wily servant Tranio to get access to Bianca to woo her.  But we have already seen one wild card in this conventional love story - the angry and bitter Katherina.

Next on the scene is the mad-cap Petruchio who has just inherited his father’s estate and is out to find a wife with a generous dowry.  His friend, Hortensio, make a mischievous suggestion that Petruchio should woo Katherina, the shrew.  Petruchio is intrigued by this proposal and decides to take on the challenge.

In the play these two plots run side by side but with a twist.  The ostensibly ideal lovers, Lucentio and Bianca, turn out to be a less than ideal couple.  Bianca is really a spoiled brat and Lucentio has not the brains to see it.  The madcap couple, Petruchio and Katherina in fact tame each other and develop a true and worthy love for each other.

As I see it, Katherina was an intelligent but plain child brought up in a family that did not understand her.  It was a man’s world and Katherina was overlooked.  She began to lash out with her tongue in her inner rage.  Petruchio starts to woo her with a mercenary motive but soon realises that there is a witty and intelligent woman behind her rage.  They both bring out the best in each other.

The great problem with playing Shakespeare is the shortage of parts for women.  And so it is with The Shrew.  With doubling and some cutting of minor characters it can be played with a cast of 13.  There are only three women in the cast - Katherine, Bianca and the widow that Hortensio marries.

The play is set in a man’s world.  One cannot change the sex of most of the characters in the cast because it would damage the male balance of the play.  There are a few exceptions.  Curtis, Petruchio’s housekeeper  and Biondello, Lucentio’s servant could be women. Baptista,  father to Katherina and Bianca, could be played as a woman but I would prefer not to have to.

At the Globe they overcome the problem by casting women in men’s roles.  There are men in the play who could be played by women and I think it would work.  I have in mind:-

Hortensio -     A comic suitor to Bianca
Tranio - Servant to Lucentio who, pretending to be Lucentio, is another conic suitor
There is another comic suitor to Bianca - Gremio.  He is an old man which would be more difficult for a woman to play.  If any woman can persuade me I would happily run with it.

Neither should age stop any one from auditioning.  Good actors can act young and I know there are many good actors in the company. 

Her are my thoughts on the characters of the play:-

Lucentio, a gentleman of Pisa.  The young lover.
Tranio, servant/valet to Lucentio.  Resourceful and wily.
Baptista Minola, man or woman, a wealthy citizen of Padua.  Father or mother of Katerina and Bianca.  Esssntially he/she is not very intelligent.  He/she has always preferred the pretty Bianca to the ‘difficullt’ Katherina.
Gremio, elderly citizen of Padua, wealthy and in love with Bianca.
Katherina Minola, the Shrew, elder daughter of Baptista.
Bianca Minola, the Prize, younger daughter of Baptista.  Spoilt and selfish.
Hortensio, gentlman of Padua, in love with Bianca. Probably a bit of an ass.
Biondella, servant to Lucentio.  Older woman – I see as like Kathleen Harrison
Petruchio, gentleman of Verona.  Impetuous, avaricious and irascible.
Grumio, Petruchio’s personal lackey.  A rather seedy but essentially likeable character.
Mistress Curtis, housekeeper to Petruchio.  Of uncertain age.
Pedant, a citizen of Mantua. 
Vincentio, a wealthy merchant of Pisa, father of Lucentio
Widow, a woman of uncertain age in love with Hortensio
Nathaniel, servant to Petruchio
Phillip, servant to Petruchio

The tailor, the haberdasher and Nathaniel and Phillip will probably be doubled with Vincentio and Gremio.  There will be other servants and waiters who will be doubled with any convenient and suitable other character.

Audition Pieces

The following documents will be used for auditioning, They are named for the characters included in each piece. Simply click on your document of choice and it will open as a separate sheet in your browser from where you can print it (CRTL P).

1 Gremio Hortensio

2 Lucentio Tranio

3 Petruchio and Grumio

4 Katharina Bianca

5 Katharina Petruchio

6 Gremio Baptista Tranio

7 Bianca Lucentio Hortensio

8 Baptista Biondella

9 Grumio Curtis

10 Tranio Pedant

11 Katharina Petruchio Vincentio

12 Pedant Vincentio Biondella Petruchio Gremio


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