Labors Lost: Women’s Work and the Early Modern English Stage (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). 324 pp.
Labors Lost offers a wide-ranging account of working women’s behind-the-scenes and hitherto unacknowledged contributions to theatrical production in Shakespeare’s time, revealing that the purportedly all-male professional stage relied on the labor, wares, ingenuity and capital of women of all stripes, including ordinary crafts- and tradeswomen who supplied costumes, properties and comestibles; wealthy heiresses and widows who provided much-needed capital and credit; wives, daughters and widows of theater people who worked actively alongside their male kin; and immigrant women who fueled the fashion-driven stage with a range of newfangled skills and commodities. Combining archival research on these and other women who worked in and around the playhouses with revisionist readings of canonical and lesser-known plays, it details the diverse ways in which women participated in the work of playing, and the ways in which male players and playwrights in turn helped to shape the cultural meanings of women’s work.
“Natasha Korda continues to produce some of the finest scholarship that weaves together the history and cultural representations of the economic lives of early modern Englishwomen. Her latest endeavor, in which she wields the methods and sources of history, literary criticism, art history, and archaeology with aplomb, will appeal to a wide-ranging audience. … For anyone interested in early modern theater, London, or women’s work this is a must-read.” — Renaissance Quarterly
“… an astonishing achievement … ” — Early Theatre
“Korda evidently relishes the abundance and variety of her subject, using economic and commercial history as a lively and even lyrical approach. … [Her] subtle readings show that women’s role in commercial theatre was not just an issue behind the scenes, but one which was regularly dramatized by (all-male) casts on stage.” — Times Literary Supplement
Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). 276 pp.
Examines Shakespeare’s domestic drama in relation to early modern England’s nascent consumer culture and competing conceptions of property. As newly available market goods began to infiltrate households at every level of society in the early modern period, women emerged as never before as “keepers” of household goods. The housewife’s managerial function assumed a new form, becoming increasingly centered around caring for the objects of everyday life–objects she was charged with keeping as if the were her own, in spite of legal strictures governing women’s property rights.
“This book represents some of the most promising directions in contemporary Shakespeare criticism. It brings together historicist, materialist, Marxist, and feminist analysis; it is solidly grounded in historical research; and it is nuanced by subtle attention to the language of Shakespeare’s plays. Both Korda’s findings and her methodology provide exemplary models for future work.” — Shakespeare Quarterly
“Like the best of scholarship in the field, Korda’s goal is to offer much more than new readings of Shakespeare: she seeks to offer a new way of reading Shakespeare. Through her exploration of the entwined linguistic and domestic economies of early modern culture, Korda reanimates a lost history of the domestic … . In so doing, Korda achieves the best of what feminist scholarship can offer to our understanding of the past.” — Criticism
Working Subjects in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Michelle Dowd and Natasha Korda (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press, 2011). 314 pp.
Early modern England witnessed a series of remarkable economic changes that transformed the landscape of labor and the working subjects who populated it. The commercial theater, a cultural institution indebted to both traditional guild structures and the innovations of a burgeoning market economy, was uniquely positioned to interrogate the shifting boundaries of England’s labor economy and to explore the subject of work itself. Bringing into heightened visibility a newly diverse range of occupational roles–including the hitherto unknown occupation of the ‘professional player’–it provided a platform upon which the contours and legitimacy of these roles might be explored and their social implications played out. This essay collection sets out to investigate the ways in which work became a subject of inquiry on the early modern stage and the processes by which the drama began to forge new connections between labor and subjectivity.
“[An] excellent collection of essays … the scholars here assembled have seized on what is interesting and culturally revelatory in a refreshingly diverse array of texts.” –from the Afterword by Jean E. Howard
“This valuable anthology … makes three major interventions. One, in moving beyond citizen or city comedies, it considers labour in relation to diverse theatrical forms, including emerging ones such as tragicomedies and travel plays. Two, … it expands the focus to production and to diverse labouring subjects. Three, … the volume illuminates the intersection of local and global economic and cultural networks, a real need in the field.” — Renaissance Quarterly
Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; paperback 2007). 347 pp.
This collection of essays studies the material, economic and dramatic roles played by stage properties in early modern English drama, offering valuable evidence and insight into the modes of production, circulation and exchange that brought such properties as sacred garments, household furnishings, pawned objects and even false beards onto the stage. The volume reflects upon what the material history of stage props may tell us about the changing demographics, modes of production and consumption, and notions of property that contributed to the rise of the commercial theater in London.
“… an outstanding anthology which achieves a newly energizing convergence between cultural materialism and theater / performance history. The success of this volume lies in the fact that it addresses the dense and knotty philosophical problem of the nature of materiality in the very specific context of theater history.” — Studies in English Literature
“… splendid collection …” — Times Literary Supplement
“For anyone who thought the early modern actor stood in a ‘wooden O,’ this book is a must.” — Journal of New Theatre Quarterly
“Women’s Involvement in Theatrical Production,” in A New Companion to Renaissance Drama, ed. Arthur F. Kinney and Thomas Warren Hopper (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, forthcoming 2017).
“Shakespeare’s Laundry: Feminist Futures in the Archive,” in Rethinking Feminism: Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Early Modern Studies, ed. Ania Loomba and Melissa Sanchez (New York: Routledge, 2016), 93-112.
“‘In Praise of Clean Linen’: Laundering Humours on the Early Modern Stage” (co-authored with Eleanor Lowe), in The Routledge Handbook of Material Culture in Early Modern Europe, ed. David Gaimster, Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson (New York: Routledge, 2015), 307-21.
“Afterword,” Special Issue on “Shakespeare and the Actress,” ed. Clare McManus and Lucy Munro, Shakespeare Bulletin 33:1 (2015): 121-28.
“How to Do Things with Shoes,” in Shakespeare and Costume, ed. Bella Mirabella and Patricia Lennox, The Arden Shakespeare (London: Arden / Methuen, 2015), 84-104.
“Afterword,” Special Issue on “Shakespeare and the Actress,” ed. Clare McManus and Lucy Munro, Shakespeare Bulletin 33:1 (2015): 121-28.
“Coverture and Its Discontents: Legal Fictions On and Off the Early Modern English Stage,” in Married Women and the Law in England and the Common Law World, ed. Tim Stretton and Krista Kesselring (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013), 45-63.
“The Sign of the Last: Gender, Material Culture and Artisanal Nostalgia in Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday,” Special Issue on “Medieval and Early Modern Artisan Culture,” ed. Margaret A. Pappano and Nicole R. Rice, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43:3 (2013): 573-97.
“Insubstantial Pageants: Women’s Work and the (Im)material Culture of the Early Modern Stage,” Special Issue on “Discoveries from Archaeology,” Shakespeare: Journal of the British Shakespeare Association 7:4 (2011): 413-31. Reprinted in European Theatre Performance Practice, 1580-1750, ed. Robert Henke and M.A. Katritzky (Burlington, VT: Ashgate: 2014).
“Accessorizing the Stage: Alien Women’s Work and the Fabric of Early Modern Material Culture,” in Ornamentalism: The Art of Renaissance Accessories, ed. Bella Mirabella (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011), 223-52.
“Trade, Work and Workers,” in Thomas Middleton in Context, ed. Suzanne Gossett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 75-82.
“Introduction” (co-authored with Michelle Dowd), in Working Subjects in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Michelle Dowd and Natasha Korda (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 1-16.
“Staging Alien Women’s Work in Civic Pageants,” in Working Subjects in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Michelle Dowd and Natasha Korda (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 53-68.
“Sex, Starch-Houses and Poking-Sticks: Alien Women’s Work and the Technologies of Material Culture,” Special Forum on “Sex and the Early Modern Woman: Representation, Practice, and Culture” in Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5 (2010): 201-8.
“Vicious Objects: Staging False Wares” in Masculinity and the Metropolis of Vice, 1550-1650, ed. Amanda Bailey and Roze Hentschell (New York and Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 161-84.
“Froes, Rebatos and Other ‘Outlandish Comodityes’: Weaving Alien Women’s Work into the Fabric of Early Modern Material Culture,” in Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its Meanings, ed. Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), 95-106.
“Dame Usury: Gender, Credit and (Ac)counting in the Sonnets and The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare Quarterly 60: 2 (2009): 129-53.
“Women and the Theater,” in Oxford Handbook on Early Modern Theatre, ed. Richard Dutton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 456-73. (Volume awarded Elizabeth Dietz Memorial prize for best book in Early Modern Studies.)
“Gender at Work in the Cries of London,” in Oral Traditions and Gender in Early Modern Literary Texts, ed. Karen Bamford and Mary Ellen Lamb, Series on Women and Gender in the Early Modern World (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), 117-35.
“Women’s Informal Commerce and the ‘All-Male Stage,’” in The Impact of Feminism in English Renaissance Studies, ed. Dympna Callaghan (New York and Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 259-80.
“The Case of Moll Frith: Women’s Work and the ‘All-Male Stage,’” in Beyond the All-Male Stage: Women Players in Early Modern England, 1500-1660, ed. Peter A. Parolin and Pamela Allen Brown (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005; paperback reprint 2008), 71-88.
“Labors Lost: Women’s Work and Early Modern Theatrical Commerce,” in From Script to Stage in Early Modern England, ed. Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel, Redefining British Theatre History Series, gen. ed. Peter Holland (New York and Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 195-230.
“The Case of Moll Frith: Women’s Work and the ‘All-Male Stage,’” in Early Modern Culture (an on-line journal; http://emc.eserver.org), Issue Four: Special Issue on “Materiality” (2004).
“The Merry Wives of Windsor: A Modern Perspective,” in William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library Edition (New York: Washington Square Press, 2004), 227-40.
“Isabella’s Rule: Singlewomen and the Properties of Poverty in Measure for Measure,” in Women, Property and the Letters of the Law in Early Modern England, ed. Nancy E. Wright, Margaret W. Ferguson and A. R. Buck (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 137-61.
“Singlewomen and the Properties of Poverty in Measure for Measure,” in Money and the Age of Shakespeare: Essays in the New Economic Criticism, ed. Linda Woodbridge (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 237-250.
“Introduction: Towards a Materialist Account of Stage Properties” (co-authored with Jonathan Gil Harris), in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 1-34.
“Women’s Theatrical Properties,” in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 202-29.
“‘Judicious Oeillades’: Surveying Marital Property in The Merry Wives of Windsor,” in Marxist Shakespeares, ed. Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow, Accents on Shakespeare Series (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 82-103.
“‘Household Kates’: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare Quarterly 47:2 (Summer 1996): 109-31. Reprinted in The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Dympna Callaghan (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009); The Taming of the Shrew: Critical Essays, ed. Dana E. Aspinall (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 192-225; Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Marion Wynne-Davies, New Casebooks Series (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).
“Household Property / Stage Property: Henslowe as Pawnbroker,” Theatre Journal 4 (Summer 1996): 185-95.
“Mistaken Identities: Castiglio(ne)’s Practical Joke,” in Desire in the Renaissance, ed. Regina Schwarz and Valeria Finucci (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 39-60.
Review of Helen Smith, Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) in Journal of British Studies 53:1 (2014): 224-26.
Review of Jennifer Panek, Widows and Suitors in Early Modern English Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) in Journal of British Studies 46:1 (2007): 167-69.
Review of Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) in Shakespeare Quarterly 54:2 (Summer, 2003): 209-12.
Review of Viviana Comensoli, Household Business: Domestic Plays of Early Modern England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996) in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, Volume 12, ed. John Pitcher (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and London: Associated University Presses, 1999), 345-350.
Review of William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts, ed. Frances E. Dolan (New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996) in Shakespeare Quarterly 49:3 (Fall 1998): 322-25.
Review of Frances E. Dolan, Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in Early Modern England 1550-1700 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994) in MLN 109 (December 1994): 1000-1003.
Review of Susan Zimmerman ed., Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992) in MLN 108 (December 1993): 980-84.
Review of Sarah Kofman, The Childhood of Art: An Interpretation of Freud’s Aesthetics, trans. Winifred Woodhull (New York: Columbia University Press) in MLN 103 (December 1988): 1172-74.
“Women’s Economic Status and Property Relations,” “Women and Theatrical Production,” and “Talkativeness and Tongues,” in The Stanford Global Shakespeare Encyclopedia, ed. Patricia Parker (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, forthcoming 2017).
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
In a well-known interview with Diane Sawyer, Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner came out as transgender. Now, as Caitlyn Jenner, she states in the July 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, “The uncomfortableness of being me never leaves me all day long. I'm not doing this to be interesting. I'm doing this to live.” Gender Identity Disorder is the formal diagnosis used by physicians and psychologists to describe those who experience significant dysphoria with the gender they were assigned at birth. According to the LGBTQ community, the average transgendered individual does not reveal their true identity until the age of 34. Can you imaging living a life for 34 years in the wrong body? Can you imagine living a life for 34 years that was inauthentic? A life that reflects Emerson’s view of trying to be something the world wants you to be, rather than who you really are? It is truly living a life being a phony. However, living a life in disguise or as a phony applies to more than just the transgender community. It can, and I am sure has, applied to us all on various levels.
High school students understand the idea of being a phony, maybe better than people at any other age range. Many students are constantly trying to do what it takes to ‘fit in’ and are afraid to reveal their true self for fear of rejection. However, due to social media, their lives are so public (literally – their profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are not private) that it is hard to decipher inauthenticity. Unfortunately, many students, unhappy with who they are or their status in the high school hierarchy, create fake profiles that represent who they wish they could be. Creating fake profiles, a technological mask, is not just for teenagers either, but for anyone who puts their life online. In the acclaimed documentary, Catfish, a young photographer named Nev Schulman fell in love with a girl he met online. However, the girl was not who she said she was. Megan, a beautiful 20 something artist, was really Angela, an overweight, married 40 something. In an interview with 20/20, Angela said, “I can't be that person, it’s a sort of jealousy.” Jealousy is said to be the root of all evil, but it also may be the root of being a phony. Merriam-Webster has added the noun ‘catfish’ to the dictionary: “a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.”
In today’s society, despite the countless exhortations to be yourself, it seems now it is harder than ever to do. Reflecting upon the deception activity online and off, along with reading texts on the concepts of disguise and meeting with my Seminar Leader, I find that twenty-first century students are aware of the masks they wear and the potential disguises of others, thus questioning who they or others really are. It will be through this unit that students can learn to stop being phony, or at least attempt to do so.
In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that arises from the ashes of its predecessor. The phoenix is reborn and a new journey begins. Like the phoenix, Cape Henlopen High School arose from the ashes of an old school and negative image, to become a beautiful eight million dollar building epitomizing the perfect beach school.
Whenever I tell someone I work at Cape, eyes light up. There is an air that surrounds working at Cape Henlopen. Para-educators and substitute teachers constantly tell me how lucky I am to work full time at Cape. Teachers from other schools constantly apply to job postings because of the great things Cape does for students and faculty. Parents, too, are proud of the Viking pride. Enrollment increases every year. A new elementary school will be built within the next year to support this increase. Bleachers are filled with moms and dads cheering their sons or daughters on and Back to School Night is parent driven. Teachers and administration know how lucky we are and do not take it for granted. It is more than just a job for teachers and that is evident through the rigor of their lessons and little to no turnaround. Our new assistant principal has worked at numerous Sussex County schools and now often exclaims that she is a Cape lifer.
It is no wonder that Cape receives such accolades. Our athletic program is the best in the state; our DCAS scores soared last year and our extra-curricular activities help improve not only school, but also community. There is such a community, which is funny because Cape is such a small beach town. Nevertheless, everyone truly supports one another to make Cape better than ever. Through YNI, I am able to help continue in those efforts.
When one passes by Kings Highway, the light of our rotunda is always shining, symbolizing the light for our students’ education will never go out. If you look closely, you can see Cape’s mission statement in a delicate gold plaque, available to be read by all who enter. If you do miss it, you can read it on the electronic school sign outside the building. The statement reads, “The Cape Henlopen School District prepares each student for a healthy, creative, and rewarding life in a diverse and global society by creating an educational environment which enables each student to achieve personal excellence and lifelong learning skills to become a productive and responsible citizen.” Enter a classroom, speak with a current student, a parent of a student, faculty member or administrator and each individual will stress how Cape students embody this message, or at least try.
However, things are not always as they appear, just as William Shakespeare demonstrates in The Taming of The Shrew. Just because Cape’s image is perceived as perfect, it doesn’t follow that our students are or can be. Just as sisters Katherine and Bianca are labeled ‘shrew’ and ‘treasure’, these labels are just that, labels. These labels do not define them, nor are they necessarily accurate. Does a moment in our students’ lives or a monologue in a Shakespeare speech define who they are or who the character is? More importantly, can we ever know who a person is? As teenagers, whether at Cape Henlopen High School or any high school anywhere, students are in disguise because they are struggling to figure out who they are themselves. They wear a mask to avoid exposure and susceptibility, which opens up to being vulnerable, hurt or excluded. Through the reading of The Taming of the Shrew, with close examination of Kate’s final monologue and the disguises of characters, students will be able to examine their own life and see the value of honesty and self-worth.
This unit will be taught during the early weeks of the beginning of the school year. As 12th graders, they are on display to their peers but their image is not always authentic. With these students, The Taming of the Shrew as we read it will be peeled away like the layers of an onion. Many of students need assistance to become proficient in the use of reading strategies and are able to learn these strategies through our class discussions and reading of the play. This will be the first layer that is vital in ensuring all students understand what the play is about and the difficulty in knowing when someone is genuine, along with the relatability of Shakespeare in their own lives. When analyzing Katherine’s final speech, the class may be divided or united. They may assume she is performing a charade and manipulating not only her husband, but also all around her. Or they may believe she has in fact been tamed and it is her sister Bianca who had really needed to be tamed all along—supposing that to tame women is what the play calls for. Regardless of the outcome, students will learn about Shakespeare, a new play and themselves.
William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest dramatist of all time. Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564 (there is no record of his birth) at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. William was the third child of John Shakespeare, a leather merchant, and Mary Arden, a local landed heiress. Scant information can be found in regards to Shakespeare’s education and early life. However, there is information known about his married life. Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 29, 1582 in Worcester, when he was 18. Hathaway was 26 and pregnant during their vow exchange. The first child was daughter Susanna and two years later, twins Judith and Hamnet were born. Hamnet died at the age of eleven and many scholars believe the death of Hamnet influenced the play, Hamlet. Still, “In the four years following Hamnet’s death, the playwright, as many have pointed out, wrote some of his sunniest comedies: TheMerry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It.” It was not until the early 17th century that Shakespeare wrote many of his tragedies such as Othello and Macbeth. From the early 1590’s, Shakespeare was living and working as an actor and playwright in London. Shakespeare also was a partner in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting company. Before the start of the start of the 17th century, 15 of the 37 plays written by Williams Shakespeare were published and his last period ends with the romances The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest and Cymbeline, which have a theme of forgiveness. It is believed that Shakespeare died on his birthday April 23, 1616.
Females in Theater
Yale School of Drama has produced some of the greatest female actors of our time, such as Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Lupita Nyong’o. Luckily for Ms. Streep and Ms. Nyong’o they did not live in the Elizabethan Era, as there were then no female actors. “Women were forbidden, by law, to perform in the Elizabethan theatre, therefore there were no actresses at the Globe Theatre. The acting profession was not a credible one and it was unthinkable that any woman would appear in a play. Young boys played the parts of female characters. These boy actors were usually aged between 13 and 19 years of age when their voices were still high and muscles had not fully developed. The voices of Elizabethan boys were believed to break much later than the modern day due to differences in diet and lifestyle which made it possible for boy actors to play women’s parts convincingly until they entered their late teens.”2 The boys who played girls who played boys, like the character of Viola in Twelfth Night and Portia in The Merchant of Venice, offer a blatant instance of deception and disguise. Granted, the deception is known to the audience. However, this awareness of fraud adds to the complexity of understanding character in the play and lends itself to the idea of being a phony both in text and in real life. It was not until 1660 when women were allowed to act in the theater, although many women of exalted status disregarded the ban prior to its lift. “A great deal of attention is paid the fact that Lower Class Elizabethan women were not allowed to perform on the Elizabethan stage as it would have been considered to be lewd and highly immoral. This view was not taken regarding the appearance of Upper Class Elizabethan women who appeared in court masques! The mother of Queen Elizabeth certainly performed in masques! The first recorded appearance of Anne Boleyn at the Tudor Court was on March 1, 1522 was as a performer in a masque! Perhaps the element of disguise allowed for this as vizards, or masks, were always worn by the performers. But the more probable explanation was that these wealthy women of the court wanted to be included in performing in such an exciting diversion as a masque.” The use of a masque even in Elizabethan times promoted anonymity. “The word mask made its first appearance in England around the 1530’s and is derived from the French word ‘masque’ which means, “covering to hide ones face”.” Anne Boleyn, with all her power, still disguised herself. What was feared in removing the mask? Why was there even a law? Were women afraid to be equals to their male counterparts? Do women today still wear a mask, afraid of revealing their true self?
The Taming of the Shrew: Literary Critiques
After countless hours researching William Shakespeare’s TheTaming of the Shrew, one confusion remains – the reader does not truly know whether or not the shrew has been tamed. It is not only open for interpretation, but interpretation varies according to the historical moment in which the play is read. Despite the fact that The Taming of the Shrew has been analyzed for centuries and by hundreds of scholars, the jury is still out on Katherine’s taming.
From the point of view of a typical spectator in an Elizabethan audience, Katherine was tamed. The belief that her last speech must be a masquerade arises from modern views. “For some three hundred years Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was generally accepted as being about the taming of a shrew. Kate was a shrew, Petruchio was tamer, and he tamed Kate. The first step in revision, then, is to back off from the play as it stands and to find Shakespeare out of line with modern feeling: women do not and should not submit. Yet, this is a mild demurrer compared with the second step, the leas as I have called it, that began about fifteen years ago: the real and more astonishing revisionism, far from declaring Shakespeare out of line with modern sentiment, is to declare him actually consistent with it but in ways we can appreciate only now in mid-twentieth century. In brief, he has really presented Kate, not as a shrew, but as a modern girl. This new being has only “developed the defensiveness of shrewishness” against her “horrible family” – that is, a father ready to “sell” her to “the highest bidder and “her sly little sister.”3 This is from Nevill Coghill in 1950. A few years later, in 1958 Margaret Webster brought to life that modern Kate. “In 1958 Margaret Webster – whose great-grandfather Ben Webster in 1844 has restored the original Shakespeare Taming to the stage as a rival to Garrick’s shorter and simpler version-carried on from Coghill and Goddard. To her, Kate is “a ‘modern’ woman, of intellect, courage, and enormous energy of mind and body, shut up in a society where women were supported only to look decorative.” Webster’s take on Katherine did not sit well with peers. “A year later George I. Duthie felt constrained to issue a warning that the play is “liable to be seriously misunderstood by the modern reader” and to insist, “Katharine’s last speech in the play is an enunciation of the doctrine of order as applied to the domestic milieu…An insubordinate wife corresponds to a rebellious subject.” This did not phase Webster who continued to treat “the speech outright as an ironic jest by Kate, it expresses her “delicious realization….that to ‘serve, love and obey in all outward seeming is the surest road to victory.”
Like many before her, Paula S. Berggren, author of The Woman’s Part: Female Sexuality as Power in Shakespeare’s Plays agrees that Kate has not been tamed, rather she holds all the power. She even compares the speech to those of other Shakespeare female characters who she believes are women who were tamed. “In Kate’s speech there are no arguments supporting the husband’s right to capricious domination nor any recommendation of the wifely submissiveness we find in say, the patient Griselda, for Kate’s submissiveness depends on Petruchios’ “honest will.”4 On his being a “loving lord.” During the time of Shakespeare, most women were submissive to their husbands. Moreover, it was the husband who had the upper hand. Berggren continues to argue that the love between Kate and Petruchio is in Kate’s hands, not her husband’s. “Like Cordelia, Kate will love only according to her bond, no more, no less, and the limits of her bond will be reached whenever Petruchio’s authority ceases to be loving.” Berggren suggests that if Petruchio’s authoritative role is no longer of a loving nature, Kate’s love will stop and the bond between the two will be broken. Berggren continues, “Kate’s final speech in The Taming of the Shrew, then, in its use of political analogies and its emphasis on woman’s warmth and beauty rather than on her abject sinfulness, is not a rehearsal of old, medieval ideas about wives but of relatively contemporary ideas growing out of humanist reforms.” Could it be that Shakespeare knew his readers would question the authenticity of Kate’s speech? Presenting Kate as a tamed shrew in disguise may have been the “modern” approach Shakespeare has taken.
On the opposing side, it could also be a duet between Kate and Petruchio that lingers into Act 5. Kate understands the game Petruchio is playing and abides by the game because it is fun and enjoyed by both. She still has dominance over her sister, especially in the circumstances surrounding the speech. Kate has found a new way to have fun, to enjoy life, but admittedly in a way that appears to relinquish being shrewish or contrary. This role change is rendered easier by the fact she is in love with her husband. She is willing to follow his lead, but at the same time her eloquence reflects sheer delight in a kind of freedom that has opened for her, and is already apparently in the fun she and Petruchio have at the expense of old Vincentio. She has found an outlet for her eloquence. Everyone is listening to her instead of talking about her. Kate is strong in her magnificent capacity to play all the strings on an instrument, which is the hallmark of all Shakespeare’s great characters.
Historical considerations make a difference, but they still don’t settle the question of how to understand The Taming of the Shrew. This itself teaches the lesson that we can truly never know someone. Moreover, how we must always be ourselves.
The Taming of the Shrew: Summary and Quotes
The Taming of the Shrew is the story of how Petruchio, a money hungry wife hunter, converts the shrewish Katherine Minola into an obedient and adoring wife. Written by William Shakespeare, it is one of his earliest comedies, and to modern readers, one of the most controversial due to the misogynist theme. In the play, Petruchio, a wealthy bachelor, comes to the town of Padua with the hope of marrying a very wealthy woman. He makes it very clear that money is the root of his happiness: “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.”5 Petruchio’s motive is clear from the beginning; hence the reader cannot argue that he is a phony. Hortensio, Petruchio’s best friend, suggests that he marry Kate, as she is very rich. Hortensio is also a suitor of Kate’s sister, Bianca and knows he cannot marry her until her Kate is married, a rule imposed by their father, Baptista. However, Bianca is in love with Lucentio, who is new to Padua, thus it is very unlikely that Bianca’s father will allow the marriage between the two. Therefore Lucentio disguises himself as tutor named Cambio. Petruchio is excited over the dowry he could receive and agrees to the idea suggested by Hortensio. After a brief introduction to Petruchio, Baptista treats the possible marriage exchange of his daughter as a business deal. He says, “Faith, gentlemen, now I play a merchant's part; And venture madly on a desperate mart.”
When Petruchio first meets a bitter Kate, he “matches her fierce temper and manages to convince her father that she passionately loves him but only pretends to hate him in public.” The two are married, even though Petruchio arrives late and dressed comically to his own wedding and the ‘taming’ beings. First, he frightens Kate by yelling at the servants and prevents her from eating. Next, he offers Kate the gifts of jewelry and fine dress, only to take them back them because they were not good enough for her. “When Bianca and Lucentio (who has abandoned his disguise) wed, he refuses to let Kate go to the wedding unless she agrees with everything he says, even if it seems far fetched. His last taming trick is tested when he tells her that “a man is a woman and that the moon is the sun”, which she agrees with.
At the wedding, Petruchio is taunted by Hortensio, who has married a widow, and Lucentio with his Bianca, for having married a "shrew". He proposes a contest to see which man has the most obedient wife. In Act V, Scene II line 62 he says, “Well, I say no. And therefore, for assurance,/ Let’s each one send unto his wife;/ And he whose wife is most obedient;/ To come at first when he doth send for her, /Shall win the wager which we will propose.”6 The wager begins at twenty ‘crowns’ and is upped to one hundred. Of the three women, only Kate comes. “Now, by my holidam, here comes Katherine!” Neither the widow nor Bianca come in with an excuse. Bianca and Lucentio even argue, allowing the reader to believe maybe she was the real shrew. In Act V Scene II line 134, Bianca says, “Fie! What a foolish duty call you this?” Lucentio responds, “I would your duty were as foolish too./The wisdom of your duty, fair Bianca,/Hath cost me an hundred crowns since suppertime.”7 Bianca’s retort to her husband is quick, “The more fool you for laying on my duty.”
The misconception of Bianca proves that you never really know someone. Is she a phony? She is not the woman Lucentio believed her to be. Petruchio then orders Kate to bring the other wives and give a speech telling them to honor their husbands always. He says, “Katherine, I charge thee, tell these headstrong women/ What duty they do owe their lords and husbands.” Katherine delivers her speech that stuns all. She says,
Fie, fie! Unknit that threat'ning unkind brow
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience—
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.
X, iv, 13-198
Leaving the other couples stunned, silent and ashamed, Petruchio proudly kisses Kate and they leave.
Incorporating literacy skills into each lesson is crucial to the success of my students. For a College Prep 12th grade English class, the inclusion model is followed and many students are below grade level. The use of these strategies in the students' reading of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is essential if they are to understand what is happening in the play, especially during Kate’s final speech, and to decide upon the genuine identity of each character.
Vocabulary activities help to highlight the most important words for text comprehension, especially important when reading Shakespearean language. These activities help to change students' understanding of the meanings through direct instruction and context.
The following words will be used in the lesson:
Ergo (adv) consequently; therefore
Commendable (adj) worthy of high praise
Paltry (adj) contemptibly small in amount; utterly worthless
Bereft (adj) – sorrowful through loss or deprivation
Knavery (n) lack of honesty; acts of lying or cheating or stealing
Sovereign (n) a nation’s ruler or head of state, usually by hereditary right
Jarring (adj) to have a harshly unpleasant or perturbing effect on ones nerves, feelings, thoughts, etc.
Contend (v) to compete for something; engage in a contest
Famished (adj) hungry or without food
Preposterous (adj) incongruous; inviting ridicule
Chaste (adj) abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse
Cunning (adj) deceptive, sly
Gait (n) a particular way of walking
Sullen (adj) gloomy, sulking
Clamorous (adj) conspicuously and offensively loud
Shrewd: (adj) archaic: hardheaded, stubborn; tough; contemporary: clever, insightful, smart
Ingrate: (n) a person who shows no gratitude
Witlesss: (adj) lacking sense or understanding
Beguile: (v) to trick or deceive
Irksome: (adj) annoying, irritating 1
Amiss: (adv) - in a mistaken way
Graphic organizers help students organize their thoughts, understand vocabulary, enhance character analysis and gain further clarification of quotes, especially in regards to Shakespeare. Graphic Organizers will be especially helpful for students when analyzing and interpreting Kate’s speech, along with the disguises worn by the characters.
Text to Self and Text to World Connections
Keeping the essential idea of not being a phony in mind, every lesson taught in this unit asks students to compare some elements of the characters or plot of The Taming of the Shrew to their own lives. Thus students are excited to participate and share out because the discussion involves their own lives and experiences. Through this connection, they are not only having a closer and more personal contact with the play, but also understanding how two ideas—Shakespeare’s and their own—can come together. This classroom experience creates a learning environment in which students are engaged and learning takes place.
It was once written that, “how students read is just as important as what they read.” As I teach 12th grade, upon graduation students will be attending college. In college, a professor often requires reading to be completed prior to class. However, he or she will refer back to the text during class. Reading aloud has a twofold purpose. First, it allows students who did not do the reading to hear the text. Second, it allows for students who did do the reading to hear the text, which when read can be difficult. This will help with clarification and further understanding.
Editor, author and coach Jordan Rosenfield listed 10 reasons why writing is good for you. They are as follows:
- Creativity has been proven to have positive effects on health, self-esteem and vitality
- Writing is good for your brain, creates a state similar to meditation
- Writing hones your powers of observation, giving you a fuller experience of life
- Writing hones your powers of concentration and attention, which is more fractured than ever thanks to technology and TV
- Writing connects you with others through blogging, writing groups, live readings, and self-publishing outlets like Scribd and Smashwords.
- Through writing we preserve stories and memories that may otherwise be lost
- Writing entertains you and others, and having fun is an important part of good health
- Writing strengthens your imagination, and imagination is key to feeling hope and joy
- Writing helps heal and process wounds and grief, clearing them out
- Life is too short not to do what you enjoy
Although not formal writing, journaling is a form of accepted classroom writing. Journaling is a wonderful way to have students reflect on a characters and disguises, and to pose questions. In my class, journaling may be a part of the Do NOW and although no specific length is required, the time for writing must be used efficiently and effectively. Students write in a carefree manner. Often times I play music while they write to help inspire the writing process. Journal topics vary from very broad to specific.
Many students are visual learners. Students will watch Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew. They will watch Kate (portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor) delivering her speech and decide whether or not it is sincere. Additionally, they can be asked whether seeing the speech acted out helps them make their decision.
Lesson 1: This introductory lesson gives students an opportunity to learn more about who students really are, as well as who the characters in the play really are.
Anticipatory Set: Have students brainstorm and define the word “authentic” by writing what it means to them on a sticky note and post it on a poster.
Activity: Students will create an “I AM’ poem about themselves, giving them an opportunity to think about themselves as an “authentic self”. They will then have a fellow classmate ask questions to see if they agree or disagree about what their fellow classmate wrote. This will move students toward an understanding of whether the characters of the play are being authentic.
Lesson 2: In preparation for their essay, students will participate in a World Café exercise while reading. A World Café is an Avid Strategy that is effective  for hosting large group dialogue. World Café will focus on the following:
The process will begin with the first of four or more five-minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table to answer and discuss one question. At the end of the allotted time, each member of the group moves to a new table, while the host stays, welcomes the new group and shares previous responses, ready for a new discussion.
The questions that will be asked are the following:
- If the play was about a man being tamed, what would it look like?
- Have women changed since the time of the play?
- Have men changed since the time of the play?
- Do people wear disguises to get what they want?
After the end of the activity, the host will summarize the different responses and an open forum discussion will begin.
Lesson 3: Students will read The Taming of the Shrew. They will use this text to answer the following question using textual evidence from the play: Has Katherine been tamed? Is she a fake or a phony? Why or why not?
Activity: Students will determine in a detailed and developed five-paragraph essay whether or not Katherine has been tamed. They will use textual evidence to help with their decision, incorporating at least three quotes.
Lesson 4: Students will watch the film version of The Taming of the Shrew, noting similarities and differences, again closely examining Kate’s final speech. Is the portrayal of Katherine different from their perception after having read the play?