This is Elizabeth Taylor as “Katherina” in Zeffirelli’s 1967 film adaptation of Taming of the Shrew: a violent, angry hag who lashes out at everyone around her like a sadistic child. With the lack of an obvious oppressor, Katherina’s fury seems uncalled for. Where is the man who will declaw her? She is a lioness on the loose.
That’s where Richard Burton’s “Petruchio” comes in, the ruffian, set on removing her sting. He manhandles her and humiliates her and puts her in her place. Has Katherina just been playing hard to get? (You can see that Taylor lusts for him with every eyelash she possesses. “Oh, you big brute!” she says with her flushed complexion with mussed-up hair. “Are you strong enough to be my man?” Oh, sorry, that was a Sheryl Crow song, not Shakespeare.)
There is one question at the end: Is Katherina, who finally extols her husband as her lord and life and sovereign, being snarky or sincere? There was never any context for her anger before. It was just a question of “When is this violent wench going to come to her senses?” What if she were to fight for a cause (besides being choleric)? We never sense that she has a serious grievance. Her elderly father bends to her hotheadedness at every turn. Why does she beat her sister (an angelic blonde) with a switch? (That’s the kind of thing a fiery brunette would do…)
She must be daft! The problem is that her anger seems senseless and has no appropriate target. I wonder more at where her anger begins than at where it ends (snuffed out). Is she a rebel without a cause? If so, her anger has as much meaning as a stomach flu and her shrewishness exists in a vacuum. From violent hag to obedient wife…just add water.
If someone is out there reading this, thank you! The blog for the next two months (April and May) will comment on Shakespeare on film. My opinions on a few lines of Shakespeare here and there are about as exciting as a couple of stray hairs on a bald head. It’s more fun to explore the ways Shakespeare has been interpreted on the big screen. Cheers!