Listening to the Language
It could be argued that the effect and significance of The Taming of the Shrew more than any other comedies by Shakespeare, are largely dependent upon director choices and actor interpretation of the language. The way the audience views the characters is informed by the way directors and performers use Shakespeare’s words.
The language of The Taming of the Shrew is full of energy and vigor which is very appropriate for a play that explores themes of aggression and physicality. Shakespeare uses this wordplay throughout the text to reinforce key themes. For example, in 1.2.1-20, the word knock is used over ten times exploring different meanings and allowing for a fair degree of physicality. Puns are also heavily used by Tranio, Biondello, and Grumio which reinforces the idea that some characters in the play view marriage as a playful game.
Shakespeare also uses language to reflect character. Petruchio in the scene in which he first appears, establishes his forceful personality and powerful self-confidence, "I come to wive it wealthily in Padua" (1 2.73). Later, when at his home, he exerts his powerful position by insulting and humiliating his servants, asking questions and barely waiting for response before barking another. Whether or not the actor resorts to physical violence, the language itself creates a tense and volatile atmosphere.
During the quickfire exchanges between Petruchio and Kate ( 2.1.178-268), there is a heavy use of alliteration using words beginning with hard consonants (crest, coxcomb, craven, crab). An extensive use of animal imagery is also used, which increases the tension and again opens the scene up for a fair degree of physicality.
Finally, Shakespeare deliberately chooses to have Katherine, Petruchio, Baptista, and Bianca speak only in verse. This provides them with natural but elevated communication and increases the scene’s energy and tension.
It's All in the Way It's Played!
Many interpretations have had to evolve around certain plays to make them more appealing to a modern audience. The beauty of the play, however, is that there’s room for interpretation of the characters – each actor who takes on the role can decide anew what made Kate behave this way, why Petruchio’s treatment works, and how they respond to each other.
Modern actresses have discovered reasons like Kate’s motherlessness, a feeling of being unloved, of wanting to have the chance to be seen without being compared to the perfect Bianca. She could be frustrated by her home life, or feeling unchallenged by anyone she knows before Petruchio. She could enjoy the power being unruly gives her, but feel very lonely when everyone she knows fears her. Each actress who plays Kate can find new ways to say each line and make decisions for Kate based on their own experiences.
Within the text there are little hints from Shakespeare about how Kate must feel – for example she’s called by at least three different names: Katharina (by others), Katherine (by herself), and Kate (by Petruchio). Not having a single name to go by could show her to be confused about her own identity. Her behavior isn’t always just aggressive, either, but at times immovably stubborn. So who is she lashing out against with violence? What does that say about her relationships with these characters?
Every new production of Taming shows the audience a new side to Kate. Is she misunderstood? Violent? Lonely? Devilish? How would you interpret her character?