#ShakespearesPlaylist: The Taming of the Shrew

So I LOVE finding songs to fit the mood of #Shakespeare plays. Basically every time I hear a song I love on the radio, I think about how I could fit it into a production. I can’t help it. My brain just does that, which is funny, because I’ve only directed one production (my own one-act) and questioned myself and my abilities the entire time, so I don’t necessarily see myself directing anything else any time soon, but I just like to dream about the music anyway.

The Globe Theater cast of The Taming of the Shrew from 2013 - photo from  https://thehoneycombers.com/singapore/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

The Globe Theater cast of The Taming of the Shrew from 2013 - photo from https://thehoneycombers.com/singapore/the-taming-of-the-shrew/

I’ve decided to play with this habit of mine more and make full-fledged Spotify and Youtube playlists for each play by Shakespeare, under the umbrella name and hashtag #ShakespearesPlaylist .

Quick Wikipedia summary: The Taming of the Shrew depicts the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate “shrew” in the title. Initially, Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship; however, Petruchio "tames" her with various psychological torments, such as keeping her from eating and drinking, until she becomes a desirable, compliant, and obedient bride. The subplot features a competition between the suitors of Katherina's younger sister, Bianca. who is seen as the "ideal" woman. The question of whether the play is misogynistic or not has become the subject of considerable controversy, particularly among modern scholars, audiences, and readers.

I chose Florence + The Machine’s Kiss with a Fist to represent the domestic abuse prevalent in Taming of the Shrew. This is the part of the play that makes everyone uncomfortable, but it’s such an integral part to the plot that you really can’t remove it or gloss over it without changing the story completely. This is one of those problem plays that I think needs to be done carefully and respectfully, with a lot of conversation and care. Sure, perform it, but make sure to discuss the problematic aspects of it in your program or in a post-show discussion.

Husband John and I saw a version of it at The Globe in London in 2013 that featured an all-female cast; that choice retained the original story while portraying it in an explicitly feminist way that helped me see it in a really different way. It was very affecting. Because of those problematic aspects though, I personally have never been involved in a production of it nor have I seen many productions of it. One study (reported on Priceonomics) found that it was the fifth most popular Shakespeare play (in terms of professional performances by major theater companies between 2011-2015; this kind of surprises me? It is quite possible though that I’ve just happened to live in areas where it’s just not commonly performed. Plus, I mostly work with and am around community theater productions, and they seem to be slightly less willing to put on controversial plays (just my observation, not sure why).

I should note- Kiss with a Fist is not actually about domestic violence. Florence Welch explained the meaning of the song on her blog: “It is about two people pushing each other to psychological extremes because they are fighting but they still love each other. The song is not about one person being attacked, or any actual physical violence, there are no victims in this song. Sometimes the love two people have for each other is a destructive force. But they can't have it any other way, because it's what holds them together, they enjoy the drama and pushing each other's buttons. The only way to express these extreme emotions is with extreme imagery, all of which is fantasism and nothing in the song is based on reality. Leona Lewis's ‘Bleeding Love’ isn't actually about her bleeding and this song isn't actually about punching someone in the mouth." (I grabbed this explanation off Wikipedia)

Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation is a bit of an obvious choice for representing a woman who refuses to conform to society’s expectations of her, but I love this song and had to include it anyway.

Yeah, that’s a really short explanation of that, but I really can’t think of anything else to say. Joan Jett is awesome.

Etta James’ It’s a Man’s Man’s World addresses the gender dynamics of the play, as ultimately Katherina has little choice when it comes to her husband. Although Katherina does ultimately “agree” to marry Petruchio when he shows himself willing to counter her sharp wit, she has no ability to stop the ceremony when Petruchio hits the priest and drinks the communion wine and is completely helpless when Petruchio abuses her by withholding food and gaslighting her until she does his bidding. He shows off her “tame” self at the end to the other men. The setting of this play truly is “a man’s world” and Katherina is trapped in it.

Finally, since these songs have mostly been pretty dark, I’m ending on a lighter note with Letters to Cleo’s I Want You to Want Me. This cover was prominently featured on the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack. 10 Things is a loose adaptation of Taming of the Shrew and also coincidentally is one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, probably because it came out in 1999 when I was 11 and thus was one of the first modern romantic comedies I ever actually watched.