Conventional wisdom holds that spanking business in productions of The Taming of the Shrew is a thing of the past, a venerable stage tradition now buried by changing tastes. In the last century, it would not be uncommon for a Shrew production’s defining image to be something like this one, from Iowa in 1950:
But nowadays you’re much more likely to see something like this:
Let’s not be ungrateful: OTS can be nice, especially in a modern dress production.
And with Kate bottom-up over his shoulder, it’s not uncommon for Petruchio to seize the opportunity that presents itself.
Nor is it unknown for him to punctuate the line in the wooing scene about where a wasp wears his sting – by giving Kate a momentary sting in her own tail.
And in Connecticut, 2oo9, the Shakespeare in the Grove production made extensive use of physical theater and stage fighting skills, and at one point Kate found herself turned into a human wheelbarrow, whereupon Petruchio seized his chance to land a quick smack on the seat of her panties:
But the modern Petruchio seems to have difficulty when it comes to putting Kate across his knee.
Even when he achieves the right position, it’s not always for spanking purposes.
And just when things seem to be looking up… well, the fight scene must have been very energetic!
Anything to avoid an onstage spanking scene?
Sometimes a production might chance a bit of interesting imagery on the poster, as in this example from Auckland in 2007:
But even posters are policed: here’s one that was proposed for a 2004 production – but the writing tells you the reception it got!
Horrible? So there we are. Goodbye, Shrew spanking, it was fun while it lasted, but now it’s over; and we have no real cause for complaint because, of course the spanking scene was never really there in the first place.
Well, that’s the conventional wisdom. Now for the truth.
In 2005, well into the 21st century, The Taming of the Shrew was staged at Zwettl in Austria, and featured the following business:
In 2006, California’s Shady Shakespeare Company staged the play in a Wild West setting, and not only did Petruchio (John Sabine) spank Kate (Lucinda Dobinson) onstage…
… but the scene featured in the production’s publicity.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, Fernando Sureda spanked Cecilia Andrada, for the publicity photographer…
… and onstage:
In 2007, there was a Shakespearian period production at Blue Ridge Community College, North Carolina,
and also a Swinging Sixties Shrew in the same state.
(See here for more about the groovier of the two productions.)
In 2008, the Italian reality show Amici, which tested and trained budding performers, set the contenders a challenge: to perform a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. To be precise, this scene:
In 2009, there was a production in Cyprus, starring Richard Didonian and Lucy Georghiou:
Yes, Lucy got shouldered. And she also got spanked:
Here are two productions from 2010, from two sides of the Atlantic:
2011 saw shrews being spanked in Denmark and (yet again) North Carolina.
In 2012, spankings were administered in Glendale, California, and London, England
John McKerrow starred with his real-life spouse, Mary Anne McKerrow, in a Florida production of January 2013.
He got rather excited about it:
‘I’m going to spank my wife on stage! We’ve been fighting for 20 years to prepare for these roles!’
Here they are preparing for the roles in the more usual theatrical way:
And posing for the publicity photo:
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, at the nerve center of the American Bard industry, another Petruchio was spanking another Kate at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre:
2014 saw this utterly spectacular spanking administered in LA to Melissa Chalsma by Luis Galindo:
And there were various goings-on in Brazil from 2014 to 2016, which you can read about here.
The shrewing continued in San Pedro, California, in July 2017, and Morgan Hill found herself over the knees of Bryson Jones Allman:
Should he spank her? It’s the perennial dilemma of the modern Petruchio risking denunciation from our modern breed of joyless neo-Puritans. Of late there have been signs of a slight shift of attitudes in that camp, but to see it we must step momentarily away from Shrew and consider another bugbear of the illiberal wing (which is not the only wing) of the feminist movement: ‘sexist advertising’.
Late in 2016, the Indian actor Ranveer Singh appeared in this clothing advertisement:
This provoked predictable expressions of unrestrained, aggressive outrage; some people wished they could ‘unsee’ it, while other poor dears claimed to have experienced physical nausea. The Danish clothing company withdrew the ad and took down the billboards, and Ranveer Singh was forced to apologise. And in case you’re in any doubt that the overreaction was grossly disproportionate, the humorless bullies also talked about trying to prosecute him. Criminal charges – for appearing in an advertisement?!
You might infer from this particular case that things are getting worse. But another way of looking at it perhaps emerges from a minor oddity of expression in a review by Mary Rickard of a 2017 Shrew production in Louisiana. As now seems obligatory, she included the following disclaimer:
While Shakespeare’s script never indicated manhandling in order to tame the tempestuous Kate, dramatic interpretations often include bullishness, such as spanking or even Petruchio flinging Kate over his shoulder.
What strikes me as curious is the way she talks about her two examples of ‘bullishness’. It’s almost as if she’s got them the wrong way round, as if she meant to say that Petruchio often flings Kate over his shoulder, or even spanks her. But what she actually says chimes with all that nasty ire that was unleashed against Ranveer Singh the year before. She clearly implies that it would be, however marginally, less unacceptable for Kate to be spanked than for her to be flung over a man’s shoulder. So could it possibly be that attitudes are on the move, and that, as far as feminist fury is concerned, OTS is the new OTK?
We’ll have to wait to see the end of that story, but we can answer the question of whether Petruchio would dare to spank Kate in a current production. Video evidence shows us that Morgan Hill didn’t get spanked in San Pedro: the fight just happened to break off with her in that position at the very moment her father came in. (It’s a bit like the ‘humping on the table’ business at the same moment in Kiss Me Kate.)
But before we despair, or else look forward to a diminished future in which the only Shrew spanking is in the form of visual puns, here’s a production from Massachusetts in August 2017, just over four months before this article was published.
So it really looks as if we haven’t seen the end of the Shrew spanking phenomenon, not by a long chalk.
Happy New Year!