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Shakespeare & Beyond

The dinner table as classroom: Home-schooling gone wrong in 'The Taming of the Shrew'

The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew, act 4, scene 1. Fr. Schwoerer, del. ; G. Goldberg, sc. 19th century. Folger Shakespeare Library. ART File S528t1 no.42 (size M)

Since schools closed in her area, a friend of mine has been posting her family’s new home-schooling courses on Facebook. They include “Loading the Dishwasher: An Introduction” and “Interactive Dog-Walking.” Welcome to home-schooling under quarantine. Here in our house we are focusing on “Bread-buttering 101.” A low bar, perhaps, but you can’t argue it’s not important.

Shakespeare too was greatly concerned with teaching in the domestic setting. In fact he more frequently dramatized pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) in home environments than in places we traditionally associate with teaching, like the schoolroom.

Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew showcases one of the earliest and thorniest examples of teaching in a home environment—thorny both because of the way pedagogy in the play is full of cynicism and brutality, and because, on the surface at least, it seems to succeed.