Female Power and Desire in Shakespeare after #MeToo

Leonora Carrington

After King Henry VIII divorced and executed several of his wives, there was an Elizabethan concern in England about resolving marital issues, and anxiety about “shrews” who challenged male authority and the institution of marriage. Enter Katherine, the allegedly “stark mad or wonderful forward” shrew of Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew, who Petruchio sets out to “tame” in exchange for a monetary reward. Gremio exclaims, “She’s too rough for me,” and Hortensio chides that she will have “No mates” unless she “were of gentler, milder mold” (1.1.55-61). Katherine’s story has been told over and over again on screen, from Zeffirelli’s 1967 adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor to the popular ’90s rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Unfortunately, a story about a man who wishes to “wive it weathily in Padua” by taming a woman appears to be timeless. The 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate is back again, running now on Broadway in New York, and recently an all-female cast performed Taming in the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park series. Why is taming women back?

In this Olio, we will examine three themes that the #MeToo movement and Shakespeare’s Taming have in common: anxieties regarding female power (any amount of power, including equal power), how female desire is frequently dismissed or erased, and the realness of sexual violence against women and men. We will discuss anxieties about saying or doing The Wrong Thing in the wake of #MeToo, and the pervasiveness of sexual and domestic violence informed by #WhyIStayed. At the same time, we will celebrate sex positivity, body positivity, and “wonderful forward” femininity. Warning: there will be sex puns! Fountains of them! Every Katherine, Kate, and mate is welcome. We will ask when, in a comedy, do we stop laughing? Why do we laugh when Katherine beats Petruchio but we go quiet when Petruchio screams at his servants? Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking why a play about taming an empowered woman is still relevant, and, instead, ask ourselves what we’re still doing wrong making more Petruchios? Is “wrong” behavior policed by law or by society?

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