If you’re lucky enough to see a production of The Taming of the Shrew that includes a spanking scene, the chances are you’ll see something like this:
But there’s also a chance that it might look something more like this:
Modern-dress Shrews began in 1928, in the Barry Jackson production which also saw the earliest known Bianca spanking, and since then the play has been set in many different times and places. Inevitably the Wild West is a perennially popular choice, as in this 2014 Californian production, with Miguel Torres and Jessica Boles:
Modern interpretations of mid-twentieth-century women’s history led the 2015 Savannah Shakespeare production to home in on the years immediately after the Second World War. Here’s a returning serviceman Petruchio (Zach Burke) trying to put a Rosie the Riveter Kate (Deanna Greif) back in her pre-war place:
The Fifties have also had a lot of attention recently. Here’s Elena Pellone getting carried away in the 2015 Venice Shakespeare Company production, which she also directed:
Petruchio has also been known to carry off Kate slung across his lap on a motorbike, as in the 2010 Virago Theater Company production starring Angela Dant:
And the play’s rough wooing can translate into any generic modern period:
For those who don’t want to risk showing the audience their panties, a modern-dress Kate can also wear pants:
Or maybe the pants are a form of self-assertion, if she’s still fighting the gender wars of the Seventies?
And there we get close to the issue. The Taming of the Shrew is widely perceived by contemporary directors as a ‘difficult’ play, because nobody nowadays wants to be accused of sexism or misogyny. In fact, it’s not an issue that only arose in relatively recent times, after the great feminist shift of taste in the 1960s: in the century before last, in 1897 to be precise, Bernard Shaw called the play a ‘vile insult to womanhood’. So productions in modern dress are bound to run into modern sensibilities about male dominance and shrew-taming in the most acute way possible. You might think that astronomically ups the odds against modern-dress Shrew spankings. And yet in 1996, Peter Temple did this to Alison Wright at the Next Stage Theatre, San Francisco:
In an Argentinian production of 2006, Cecilia Andrada got this across the knees of Fernando Sureda:
And in 2011, in the open-air theater at the Danish provincial town of Stevns, look what happened to Dorte Nielsen at the hands of Anders Dyrholm:
You might answer that these are productions playing off cultures, from African-American to Latino, that have much less of a problem with spanking than does liberal urban America, and you’d be right. (The Stevns production was even played in the thick local dialect of Danish spoken on the island of Zealand, as if acknowledging and embracing a kind of Euro-hick status.) But what then of this next one?
That’s a publicity shot for a 1993 production in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, Paris – to be precise, at the Théâtre de Chaillot with Jacques Weber and Christine Bouillon. Was the production really endorsing the need to spank wives into submission? The only answer, fittingly, is a Gallic shrug!
But if you really want to get something of the immediacy that comes with modern dress, whilst also evading the tricky questions about sexual politics, and have a spanking too… then your best bet is probably to set the play in recent but not contemporary times, and this was the approach taken by director Chris O’Neil in his 2007 production for Carolina Shakespeare. Petruchio was played by John Hartness, but the name of the actress who played Kate is mislaid in the mists of time. But here she is:
The production was set in the Swinging Sixties, and opened in April at Rock Hill, South Carolina:
It played for six outdoor performances, then was remounted indoors in June for another seven at Theatre Charlotte, North Carolina. So for Kate that meant thirteen of this:
Well, actually, that’s a rehearsal photo, with the actors out of costume and wigless. (More than thirteen spankings, then… Rehearsals come extra!) What she wore the production was this:
It’s a costume that entails certain hazards…
So that although, when they played the key scene for the photographer, it looked like this…
… on the nights when her performance was, shall we say, more vigorous, she was, as the saying goes, self-prepared:
Applause please for Shakespeare Carolina and the cast of their Fab Sixties Shrew!