Shrew Survey: The Spitfire’s New Clothes

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:

01 2012 Shakespearience Glendale California

But there’s also a chance that it might look something more like this:

Ben Morgan spanks Shirley Alderman in a 1965 production at Chattanooga, Tennessee

Ben Morgan spanks Shirley Alderman in a 1965 production at Chattanooga, Tennessee

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:

03 2014 Central Coast Shakespeare Festival

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:

04 2015 savannah shakes w Zach Burke and Deanna Greif 1

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:

05 2015 Venice Shakespeare Co Elena Pellone

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:

06 2010 Virago Theater Company w Angela Dant

And the play’s rough wooing can translate into any generic modern period:

07 2015 Philadelphia Shakespeare Co 1-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse10809 2015 Shakespeare Schools Festival 2

For those who don’t want to risk showing the audience their panties, a modern-dress Kate can also wear pants:

10 2015 Threshold Repertory Theatre

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:

11 1996 Peter Temple & Alison Wright

In an Argentinian production of 2006, Cecilia Andrada got this across the knees of Fernando Sureda:

12 2006 Argentina

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:

13 2011 denmark

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?

14 Paris

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:

15 2007 Carolina Kate

The production was set in the Swinging Sixties, and opened in April at Rock Hill, South Carolina:

16 2007 shakespeare carolina poster

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:

17 2007 carolina rehearsal 1

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:

18 2007 Carolina19 2007 carolina20 2007 carolina a

It’s a costume that entails certain hazards…

21 2007 shakespeare carolina22 2007 Carolina23 2007 Shakespeare Carolina

So that although, when they played the key scene for the photographer, it looked like this…

24 2007 carolina25 2007 carolina

… on the nights when her performance was, shall we say, more vigorous, she was, as the saying goes, self-prepared:

26 2007 shakespeare carolina

Applause please for Shakespeare Carolina and the cast of their Fab Sixties Shrew!

3 thoughts on “Shrew Survey: The Spitfire’s New Clothes

  1. jimc says:

    Boy what great costumes and positions. I prefer otk, but do enjoy over the shoulder as well. I do think the costume designers for these shows deserve a lot of credit. I never really looked at the costumes until this article and really did start thinking more about them as their drape and lifting if that be the case does make part of the spanking experience as well. Great research and article as always. Thank you and have a great day.


  2. Petruchio says:

    What a very excellent piece of research. You may be interested to know that Katherine was also spanked in a 1955 Old Vic production that toured Australia (for some reason, it wasn’t played in London) and the Katherine concerned was no less a personage than Katharine Hepburn.

    This is from “Shakespeare in Production: The Taming of the Shrew (ed Elizabeth Schafer, Cambridge University Press, 2002)”; and, as it’s an academic work, it presumably has been thoroughly researched: “The production was one of great excess: Hepburn was tipped upside down so that her bloomers showed, spanked with a slipper and made obediently to trot ‘around the stage jumping over furniture’ while [Robert] Helpmann [as Petruchio] ‘cracked his whip’.” (Helpmann and the director Michael Benthall were a gay couple, by the way.)

    I have quite a number of books on the history of the Old Vic but so far have found no photos of this production. There must be some – I wonder if any of your Australian readers could help?


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