Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taming of the Shrew Easier Said Than Done.

The Taming of the Shrew

The majority of William Shakespeare’s plays are considered timeless classics however Taming of the Shrew has not aged well. This is most apparent when watching Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation. Hearing the famous speech about women being obedient just does not sit well with modern ears. In order to enjoy The Taming of the Shrew it is crucial to keep in mind the era in which the play was originally written.

In Zeffirelli’s adaptation Elizabeth Taylor stars as Katharina, the ill-tempered daughter of Baptista Minola (Michael Horden). Baptista’s youngest daughter, Bianca (Natasha Pyne), is being courted by several suitors, including Lucentio (Michael York), but Baptista refuses to let Bianca marry unless Katharina is married off first. Desperate for Bianca’s hand, Lucentio bribes the brute Petruchio (Richard Burton) into trying to tame the seemingly untamable heart of Katharina.

The gender politics in the film would have played far better had Zeffirelli not had such high profile stars in the film. The Taming of the Shrew feels more like a film designed for Burton and Taylor to run wild for a few hours. This is not to say that it is entirely a bad thing. Richard Burton really shines in the first two acts as Petruchio. A perfect example of this is when Petruchio shows up extremely drunk, and hours late, to his own wedding.

Although dominant in the beginning, Zeffirelli does not seem to know how to handle Petruchio’s change from buffoon to lovelorn gentlemen. This probably explains why Zeffirelli leaves Elizabeth Taylor to pick up the slack in the last two acts. As odd as it may sound, her best performances in the film are in the scenes where she is “being tamed” by Burton. Although the events that lead to Katharina’s ultimate change seems a little far fetch, Taylor brings enough charm to the role to overlook the shortcomings in the story.

Although The Taming of the Shrew was Zeffirelli’s debut feature film, it is nowhere near as strong as his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which was released a year later in 1968. In fact, the film is not on par with any of the other Shrew inspired films such as Lina Wertmuller’s outstanding film Swept Away or even the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. Having said that, there are enough enjoyable moments in The Taming of the Shrew to satisfy even the causal viewer for a few hours.

Taming of the Shrew is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Andrew


  1. I haven't actually seen this version of the story and probably won't now. I have read the original play and Katerina's transition in that was never convincing for me, so if the movie was faithful to the play it doesn't surprise me that it seemed farfetched.

    I have seen Kiss Me Kate and 10 Things I Hate About You.

    Kiss Me Kate is a bit meta. The characters in the play are putting on a musical version of the play and the lives of the actors and actresses end up mirroring the play they are performing. It's been quite a few years since I saw it, so I can't remember how it came across in regards to attitudes about women.

    Here is my post 10 Things I Love About 10 Things I Hate About You:

  2. @Chip Lary – I have not seen Kiss Me Kate but it sounds rather interesting. I may need to seek that film out.

    If you have not seen Swept Away (the original not the Guy Richie remake). I would recommend you give that a spin. Some scenes are tough to watch but it is a very fascinating film nonetheless.

  3. @CS - Thanks for the recommendation. I actually have seen the original. I hadn't actually thought of it as a version of The Taming of the Shrew until you mentioned it, but that does make sense. I did see it as a battle of the sexes and of the poor and the rich.

  4. Incidentally, I think this is easily the strongest version of the tale especially since that final glance from Elizabeth makes me think that like Shakespeare Zeffrelli is making fun of the ostensible gender bashing of the play.

    And Richard and Liz are just brilliant here, I think...especially considering that this is one year after their tour-de-force work in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. They look so young here.

  5. @Andrew – It did not even register with me that this film came so close behind Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They were definitely in a groove during this time.


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