The Taming of the Shrew (Saddleback’s Illustrated Classics), William Shakespeare (adapted)

Oh, for those empty, unguided days of January! I wish for them well now that the year has really and truly begun! It seems as if all of my work projects and plans for travel have sprung to life at once, and where, even a week ago I felt completely undirected, I’m plenty busy now…

One of the writing projects I’m working on at the moment deals with the relationship between Katerina and Petruchio (the “shrew” and her suitor) in The Taming of the Shrew, so I’ve been reading all the copies I can get my hands on. This particular version, a graphic novel intended for middle school children, was lent to me by my father, a huge Shakespeare buff. He collects all sorts of strange versions of the plays, as well as histories, films, and modern interpretations; he’s been doing this for as long as I can remember. We read and watched many of Shakespeare’s plays together when I was a kid, and his ability to pick the ones most interesting to me at any given age is, I’m sure, a huge reason why I enjoyed them so much. The language was familiar to me from a young age, and after years of discussion, I intimately know the plots and cultural significance of much of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

When he first started talking to me about this particular project, I was fascinated by the idea of looking at this play through a more modern lens, and with an eye to the idea of bullying that emerges upon careful reading. He and I started talking about it at Christmas, and I’ve been researching since then, but what I’ve discovered upon discussing the play with others, is that most people have no idea what I’m talking about. And I mean none. I’ve had blank looks just from sharing the title of the play, and these were from well-educated and knowledgable friends. Admittedly, I hang out with a lot of people whose strengths are rooted in the sciences, or who are musicians or engineers, but still! I was shocked. If they hadn’t even heard of the play, how could I expect to write something using the characters from The Taming of the Shrew that could be, in any way, comprehensible to students?!

It was an eye-opening experience, and one that I’m glad to have had early in the process. I realized I’ll have to go about this trusting a perspective other than my own; I will have to embrace the fact that readers may not immediately recognize the significance of this play within Shakespeare’s larger body of work. They may not know that although he was certainly a product of his time, the frightening misogyny in this play is not found in all of them…

I’m curious to know if any of my readers have used a resource like this to teach Shakespeare (or another author) to middle or high school students. It’s not exactly Cliff Note’s, but I did feel as though it robbed the story of any of its poetry and subtext. The play is broken down to its simplest parts, and the end result, to me, was a flat, uninspiring, and confusing story. I wonder though, if this were used in conjunction with the true text of the play – could it help to break down the language comprehension barrier? I wouldn’t want to use it alone; if anything could rob students of a latent love of the Bard, it’s this, but I certainly see how it could have its uses.

8 thoughts on “The Taming of the Shrew (Saddleback’s Illustrated Classics), William Shakespeare (adapted)

  1. I agree that you wouldn’t want to distract your students from the beauty of the original. Perhaps once you’ve finished studying it in class, they could, like you, explore how the story has been incorporated in modern storytelling: one group presenting this fascinating graphic adaptation, another presenting a modern film version, etc. Hmm, an interesting dilemma. Sounds like you’re a great, thoughtful teacher, though!

    1. I strongly support the idea of student reinterpretation, especially with a difficult text like this, since I have seen time and again that it’s a great resource for learning. One of the major challenges though is helping the kids who don’t have context or vocabulary to comprehend it in the first place, which I think is where something like this book comes in. So hard to strike a happy medium between the beauty of the original and reaching the new (and sometimes impatient) audience!

  2. Maybe less people are familiar with The Taming of the Shrew because it’s a rather horrifying view on male-female relationships?
    When I encountered Shakespeare with my classmates, I found a lot of them just shut down over the language. So even if the abridged version is a little flat, it’s probably a good idea to work it in.

    1. I know! I took a Shakespeare class in high school and college, and it was like sitting with a bunch of irritable zombies. I don’t think most people even bothered to try to read the material; it drove me mad. I realize in retrospect that they probably just felt intimidated or frustrated by the language barrier. I always figured it would be better if those classes included more theatre, since these plays were meant to be performed and it might have encouraged discussion and excitement…sadly my professors did not agree.

      1. Many people have teeny tiny vocabularies, little reading experience to hone their understanding of context clues–basically, no tools to translate the language.
        I bet it feels like the first time someone hands you Beowulf in the original language.
        This in English? Are you sure!?

  3. Have you looked into the”No Fear Shakespeare” books at all? They have the original text from the Bard on one page with a modern interpretation on the facing page. (Not sure if they offer this for The Shrew though–sorry!) I found the No Fear Hamlet helpful to pull out when I sat in on a friends lecture where she compared some of Hamlet’s soliloquy style to Eminem’s in 8Mile.

    I have not read the interpretation of the play you mention above, but I imagine a similar version to it can be found in Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales From Shakespeare.” It was written in 1807 so the language tends to feel a bit more rich than a lot of modern interpretations (if only because of the creeping influences of the early Victorian era), but it is still written “for the use of young people” and so remains accessible to most high school students that have not experienced Shakespeare before.

    One of my favorite modern *movie* interpretations of Taming of the Shrew is “10 Things I hate About You” with Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. The actors capture the teen angst and rebellion of Shakespeare’s characters beautifully, though the bullying of Petruchio/Ledger comes across more as the moping of a wounded rebel/hero than the manipulative mechanisms of a desperate man to get cash (and a bride). I also love that Bianca is not portrayed as just a “little angel” in the movie, but shows a somewhat petulant selfishness in her approach to the dating scene.

    A more traditional movie rendition of The Shrew that I fell in love with when I first saw it in high school is Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s 1967 version. Burton is delightfully vulgar and scraggly as Petruchio and Taylor shows the extremes and depth of Kate’s character in her fiery outbursts that just barely cover the deep insecurity and desire to be accepted/wanted below (like many pre-teens, I suspect).

    As a side note, while Petruchio acts an insensitive jerk in the beginning of the play, I do think he grows to respect Katharina and her strong will by the end, even if he brags to have broken her. It almost seems like Petruchio and Kate are in on some mutual joke at the expense of the others with the results of the wager at the end. But that’s just my $0.02

    And…. now I’m done. Needless to say, I am a big fan of this play (even if some claim it seems more like Marlowe’s style than the Bard) and would love to hear if any of your students blossom into Shaxnerds as I did in late middle school. (‘Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so!)

    1. I haven’t read any of the No Fear interpretations, but I will definitely check them out! Also, I have to say I love “Tales from Shakespeare,” I was literally obsessed with “10 Things” when it came out (and for years after), and I also really enjoy the interpretation of the Burton/Taylor film.

      It wasn’t until I sat down and watched the original film (from 1929) with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and learned the story behind their horrific divorce (taking place simultaneously with the filming of the movie) that I really witnessed the potential for misogyny that existed in the play. The director, Sam Taylor, ganged up with Fairbanks to ruin Pickford (a huge star and a powerful woman in Hollywood at a time when there weren’t many) emotionally and from a commercial perspective.

      I didn’t believe their relationship would have an effect on the play until I witnessed for myself the vitriol behind some of the lines. Even in the first meeting, when Petruchio calls her “Kate,” rather than by her name, the name she prefers to be called – just imagine for a second – her identity is taken from her and laughed at mere minutes after they meet. It can be taken comedically, of course, but when I put myself in her shoes, being told repeatedly that my name is not my own, and that my own opinions are not only invalid, but unheard by the man who wants to marry me, my father, and the whole town…it’s terrifying! She was powerless – her mind, her body, and her life were commandeered by a stranger.

      I do believe it’s possible to tell the story from a comedic perspective, but I also don’t think I can ever go back to reading the original play without a “bullying” taste in my mouth. Fortunately, Shakespeare has many other plays I love without reservation, and this one makes for a VERY interesting study. Thanks for joining the conversation (and letting me ramble :) If you’re ever curious about that old movie version, it’s available (I think for free) on Amazon streaming.

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