“Why, there’s a wench. Come on and kiss me, Kate.”
We were having a chat here the other day about Shakespeare, and as usual it ended with me arguing for the comedies over the tragedies. One thing led to another, and I pulled out my copy of The Taming of the Shrew. It had been years since I last watched it, and I wondered if it was as good as I remembered.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt of their day–the celebrity couple who intrigued audiences everywhere. That said, Taylor and Burton flaunt their considerable talents in this colourful Zeffirelli production, and flexing those often-atrophied acting muscles, they show audiences just how capable and talented they were. The Taming of the Shrew showcases both Taylor and Burton at the peak of their talents, and it’s a film that allows both of these seasoned performers some of the best roles ever. If you have any doubt that either Taylor or Burton couldn’t hack Shakespeare, well just get your hands on this DVD and watch.
And while you are at it, think of Jolie and Pitt in Shakespeare….The image doesn’t work for me. More evidence that Hollywood is firmly in the toilet these days. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Jolie and Pitt–I do. I’m still chuckling over Pitt’s role in Burn Before Reading, but something tells me this pair couldn’t stretch to Shakespeare.
Taylor and Burton were married at the time The Taming of The Shrew was made, and somehow the two of them do seem comfortable on the stage with each other. It’s even amusing to see them fighting and watch the sparks fly as Petruchio (Burton) courts the firebrand Katerina (Taylor). I think most people should know what the story is about, but just in case:
A wealthy merchant has two daughters, Katerina, the elder, and Bianca, the younger (Natasha Pyne). While Bianca has several suitors, Katerina’s fearsome reputation (well-earned) has frightened all the men away. Since the father will not marry off Bianca before her elder sister, the suitors concoct a plan in which they persuade Petruchio to woo the wilful heiress. The rowdy courtship sequences between Burton and Taylor have to be the high point of the film.
The Taming of the Shrew is one of Taylor’s best roles–although it’s hard to beat Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? (Burton and Taylor) or Butterfield 8 (Taylor and Laurence Harvey). Taylor looks gorgeous here and the sumptuous costumes accentuate her dark beauty. The supporting cast is impressive and includes Michael York, Alfred Lynch, and Cyril Cusack.
The film’s tagline is: “A romantic film amorously devoted to every man who ever gave the back of his hand to his beloved…and to every woman who deserved it.” That sort of statement strikes a nerve these days and the film’s message probably went over well in Shakespeare’s time–after all Queen Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII dispensed with wives as easily as tossing aside a pair of underwear. The film’s underlying message: obedience to one’s husband no matter what (even if he’s insane, for example) is a bit nauseating and certainly hasn’t stood the test of time. But that aside, if you want to get a ‘feel’ for the play, then don’t read it (Shakespeare is meant to be performed). The Taming of the Shrew is a glorious, lively, amusing homage to Shakespeare, and if you haven’t seen it because you think it might be cheesy, then cast your doubts aside and grab the DVD.