John Wolfson, the Honorary Curator of Rare Books at the Globe, presented his fifteenth annual talk in the Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre with the assistance of regular actors at the Globe, David Oaks and Philip Cumbus.
Wolfson introduced the history of The Taming of the Shrew to the audience and commented on its lack of popularity after 1642. Shrew is a play that has proved very popular through adaptations such as the burlesque Sawny the Scot and David Garrick’s Katherine and Petruccio. Garrick removed most of the scenes not involved the title characters and this version ran strong for one hundred years in English theatres.
The purpose of this lecture was to reignite the argument that a lot of The Taming of the Shrew was not written by Shakespeare. This view is often ignored by modern critics and recent editions of this play avoid any discussion of dual authorship unlike plays such as Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles which are accepted to be a collaborative effort.
In the eighteenth century, critic William Warburton first began to advance the theory that some of the scenes in Shrew were ‘spurious’ and unlikely to have been penned by Shakespeare. In the nineteenth century, John Payne Collier was convinced that the scenes in the play which did not feature Katherine and Petruccio could have had even had multiple other authors which Shakespeare may have edited for inclusion with his own scenes. Reverend Flay believes that the play alternates between Shakespeare’s Katherine and Petruccio scenes, and the scenes of another writer for Bianca and her suitors’ scenes. Modern writer F.J. Furnivall agrees with Flay and further adds that he believes the Induction scenes are also the work of Shakespeare.
From the example of Pericles, it can be seen that Shakespeare likes to pick up the plot where it begins to interest him, and this could apply to Shrew as well. The inclusion of two characters in Shrew with such similar names: Grumio (Petruccio’s servant) and Gremio (Bianca’s suitor) seem to provide further evidence that more than one playwright had a hand in writing this play. The use of Italian phrases in Act I of Shrew is something unseen in any other Shakespeare play despite Italy being a common location choice.
Wolfson’s talk provided a fascinating and witty insight into an often-neglected area of Shakespeare scholarship with fabulous reading from Compass and Oaks. Next year Wolfson’s talk will undoubtedly be one to look forward to.
The Taming of the Shrew is currently part of 2012 season at the Globe. Directed by Toby Frow and starring Samantha Spiro as Katherine and running until 13 October 2012.