The Taming of the Shrew


Although there is no direct literary source for the Induction, the tale of a tinker being duped into believing he is a lord is one found in many literary traditions.[1] Such a story is recorded in Arabian Nights where Harun al-Rashid plays the same trick on a man he finds sleeping in an alley. Another is found in De Rebus Burgundicis by the Dutch historian Pontus de Huyter, where Philip, Duke of Burgundy, after attending his sister's wedding in Portugal, finds a drunken "artisan" who he entertains with a "pleasant Comedie." Arabian Nights was not translated into English until the mid 18th century, although Shakespeare may have known it by word of mouth. He could also have known the Duke of Burgundy story as, although De Rebus wasn't translated into French until 1600, and into English until 1607, there is evidence the story existed in English in a jest book (now lost) by Richard Edwardes, written in 1570.[2][3]

A similar situation exists with regard to the Petruchio/Katherina story; there are various general possible influences, but no one specific source. The basic elements of the narrative are present in the fourteenth century Libro de los ejemplos del conde Lucanor y de Patronio by Don Juan Manuel, Tale 44 of which tells of a "young man who married a very strong and fiery woman." However, although the text had been translated into English by the sixteenth century, there is no evidence Shakespeare specifically drew upon it.[4][5] Indeed, as with the Induction plot, the story of a headstrong woman tamed by a man was a universal and well known one, found in numerous traditions. For example, according to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Noah's wife was such a woman ('"Hastow nought herd," quod Nicholas, "also/The sorwe of Noë with his felaschippe/That he had or he gat his wyf to schipe"'; The Miller's Tale, l. 352–354), and it was common for her to be depicted in this manner in mystery plays.[6][7] Historically, another such woman was Xanthippe, Socrates' wife,[8] who is mentioned by Petruchio himself (1.2.70). Such characters also occur throughout medieval literature, in popular farces both before and during Shakespeare's lifetime, and in folklore.[6][9]

In 1890, Alfred Tolman conjectured a possible literary source for the wager scene may have been William Caxton's 1484 translation of Geoffroy IV de la Tour Landry's Livre pour l'enseignement de ses filles du Chevalier de La Tour Landry (1372). Written for his daughters as a guide on how to behave appropriately, de la Tour Landry includes "a treatise on the domestic education of women" which features an anecdote in which three merchants make a wager as to which of their wives will prove the most obedient when called upon to jump into a basin of water. The episode sees the first two wives refuse to obey (as in the play), it ends at a banquet (as does the play) and it features a speech regarding the 'correct' way for a husband to discipline his wife.[b][10] In 1959, John W. Shroeder conjectured that Chevalier de La Tour Landry‍ '​s depiction of the Queen Vastis story may also have been an influence on Shakespeare.[11]

In 1964, Richard Hosley suggested the main source for the play may have been the anonymous ballad "A merry jeste of a shrewde and curst Wyfe, lapped in Morrelles Skin, for her good behauyour".[12] The ballad tells the story of a marriage in which the husband must tame his headstrong wife. Like Shrew, the story features a family with two sisters, the younger of whom is seen as mild and desirable. However, in "Merry Jest", the older sister is obdurate not because it is simply her nature, but because she has been raised by her shrewish mother to seek mastery over men. Ultimately, the couple return to the family house, where the now tamed woman lectures her sister on the merits of being an obedient wife. The taming in this version is much more physical than in Shakespeare; the shrew is beaten with birch rods until she bleeds, and is also wrapped in the flesh of a plough horse (the Morrelle of the title).[c][13] "Merry Jest" was not unknown to earlier editors of the play, and had been dismissed as a source by A.R. Frey, W.C. Hazlitt, R. Warwick Bond and Frederick S. Boas.[14] Modern editors also express doubt as to Hosley's argument.[14][15]

Most contemporary scholars tend to agree with the theory that Shakespeare probably adapted the archetypes from the popular tradition, fashioning them to fit his own story, rather than from a specific source or sources. A major factor in the dominance of this theory is the work of Jan Harold Brunvand. In 1966, Brunvand argued the main source for the play was not literary, but instead the oral folktale tradition. Specifically, he argued the Petruchio/Katherina story represents an example of Type 901 ('Shrew-taming Complex') in the Aarne–Thompson classification system. Brunvand discovered 383 oral examples of Type 901 spread over thirty European countries, whereas he could find only 35 literary examples, leading him to conclude "Shakespeare's taming plot, which has not been traced successfully in its entirety to any known printed version, must have come ultimately from oral tradition."[16][17] Most contemporary critics accept Brunvand's findings.[18][19][20][21]

Unlike the Induction and the main plot, however, there is a recognised source for Shakespeare's sub-plot, first identified by Alfred Tolman in 1890; Ludovico Ariosto's I Suppositi (1551), which Shakespeare used either directly or through George Gascoigne's English prose translation Supposes (performed in 1566, printed in 1573).[22] In I Suppositi, Erostrato (the equivalent of Lucentio) falls in love with Polynesta (Bianca), daughter of Damon (Baptista). Erostrato disguises himself as Dulipo (Tranio), a servant, whilst the real Dulipo pretends to be Erostrato. Having done this, Erostrato is hired as a tutor for Polynesta. Meanwhile, Dulipo pretends to formally woo Polynesta so as to frustrate the wooing of the aged Cleander (Gremio). Dulipo outbids Cleander, but he promises far more than he can deliver, so he and Erostrato dupe a travelling gentleman from Siena into pretending to be Erostrato's father, Philogano (Vincentio). However, when Polynesta is found to be pregnant, Damon has Dulipo imprisoned (the real father is Erostrato). Soon thereafter, the real Philogano arrives, and all comes to a head. Erostrato reveals himself, and begs clemency for Dulipo. Damon realises that Polynesta is truly in love with Erostrato, and so forgives the subterfuge. Having been released from jail, Dulipo then discovers he is Cleander's son.[23] An additional minor source is Mostellaria by Plautus, from which Shakespeare probably took the names of Tranio and Grumio.[24]

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