Shrew got some ‘splaining to do!

10/25/2018

It’s been over a month since we finished our fifth and final performance of the “Taming of the Shrew” at Saint Columba’s amphitheater in Inverness. Although in certain ways we were just getting warmed up, I joked with my fellow cast members that if we were to continue performing, I’d need a team of professionals to keep me intact—a chiropractor, a massage therapist and a vocal coach. 

Playing Kate was not unlike playing a high-impact sport: channeling her energy required a remarkable amount of strength and endurance. It was an exhilarating ride from start to finish, and though it took some time to fully understand her character arc, once I did, playing her became one of the most rewarding artistic experiences of my life.  

Since then, I’ve had the chance to talk with many of you about the play and, in particular, Kate’s transformation. I would have loved to have a formal talk-back after the show, with the actors and audience on hand, but we were already stretched thin. Instead, I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts here in hopes they might lend insight into my approach to Kate and the play itself.

“The Taming of the Shew” is based on a stock play from the period that tells the story of a young woman who refuses to play by societal rules and violently rejects anyone and anything that attempts to “tame” her wild spirit.  The drama begins when she meets her match, Petruchio, an equally outrageous rogue individual, and they begin a relationship that defies all convention. That said, women of the time were considered the property of their fathers and then their husbands, so it gets complicated. 

In light of our political climate, the play is especially triggering for many of you. Some questioned why we chose to do it all; others who appreciated our production still remained unconvinced by Shakespeare’s seemingly anti-feminist ending. 

I was initially nervous about how to navigate Kate’s trajectory. I was particularly uncomfortable with her last speech, in which she declares, “I am ashamed that women are so simple to offer war where they should kneel for peace, or seek for rule, supremacy and sway when they are bound to serve, love and obey.” 

I worked with the speech for weeks before I fully understood and appreciated what I believe to be its true sentiment. Having played many of Shakespeare’s heroines over the years, I have come to believe that the playwright loves women, and that his plays do not betray them. In fact, they do quite the opposite: they celebrate women as powerful, eloquent, brilliant representations of the divine feminine. Though many of you may feel that Kate gets the rug pulled out from under her, I would offer another interpretation. 

In my view, Kate assumes her full potential as a woman by choosing love over fear. She is only capable of making that choice because she has so fully explored and painfully realized the alternative. At the start of the play, we witness her frustration and aggression, and though we have compassion for her circumstances, we see she is also troubled in no small part due to her own internalized anger. Every woman can relate to her primordial rage, but that state is not sustainable. If Kate is to survive, she must find another way to channel her energy.  

Stephen—my husband who both directed the play and portrayed Petruchio—and I agreed from the start that I would play the last speech straight from the heart and without irony. Anything less would be insincere. Taking the teeth out of Shakespeare does no one any favors, least of all Kate.  

And while many directors might have tried to downplay the ending and even cut parts of the speech to soften it, Stephen encouraged me to go right at it. He placed me center stage, standing for a good portion of the speech several feet above everyone else on the wedding feast table. We wanted Kate to assume her full glory, reigning unapologetically and undeniably over all in her vicinity. 

This choice literally elevated her above everyone, including Petruchio. She is so empowered by her decision to choose love that she publicly, and without fear, offers her hand to be placed under her husband’s foot. This gesture is so profoundly humble it could easily be mistaken for submissiveness; in fact, it is a demonstration of her supreme confidence in love itself. Kate stands radically grounded and in stark contrast to her earlier fits of rage, in which she railed violently against everyone and everything, including herself. 

Kate has transformed from an angry, isolated, spoiled child into a fully realized and empowered woman. She is no longer in violent reaction to patriarchal oppression; rather, she rises like a phoenix above it, defining for herself what “true obedience” and “honest will” look like. 

In classic Kate style, she is ruthless in her declaration of love and spares no one, least of all women, who would go against it. She challenges women to assume their natural position of power by serving and obeying the path of love. For Kate that path is Petruchio. I have no doubt that he would have a nasty surprise in store should he ever decide to actually step on Kate’s hand for no other purpose than to exert his authority. 

In the end, Shakespeare has left her in command of her own life and destiny. Now, in my opinion, that’s a happy ending!

 

Katie Jay lives in Inverness Park with her husband, Stephen Horvat, and their son, Luke. She is a yoga teacher, actor and co-producer.