More Than Shakespeare
A Note from the Dramaturg of The Tamer Tamed
Dramaturg Aaron C. Thomas argues on behalf of the wild and bawdy John Fletcher: While Uncle Willy is the most prolific and beloved of the Renaissance playwrights, he certainly isn’t the only one – and he might not be the most fun either.
Interest in the writings of William Shakespeare has grown exponentially over the last four hundred years. His plays are done all over the world and in every conceivable language. Productions range from modern re-imaginings to classical adaptations. In the midst of all of this excitement about the Bard, however, the work of many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries has faded into the background. One such writer is the man who took over Shakespeare’s job as chief playwright for the King’s Men when the Bard retired: John Fletcher.
For the first hundred and fifty or so years after his death, John Fletcher was immensely popular, but the reputations of Fletcher and his partner Francis Beaumont began to wane in the 19th century, when British society under Queen Victoria saw Fletcher’s work as altogether too irreverent, too morally lax, and too sexy for stiff-upper-lip theatre patrons.
All that changed in 2002 when the Royal Shakespeare Company in London began to mount Fletcher’s plays, beginning with The Island Princess and following it up with The Tamer Tamed. Their 2003 production was the RSC’s first staging of the play in its history. In the United States, productions of The Tamer Tamed have been equally rare. Florida State is only the second American university ever to stage the play.
The truth is we’ve all been missing out! Partially based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, an ancient Greek comedy where the women of Athens refuse to satisfy their husbands’ sexual desires until they stop the Peloponnesian War, The Tamer Tamed is a triumph. Fletcher’s play, it turns out, is a clever, endlessly funny turning of the tables on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. For in Fletcher’s play, instead of taming his scolding bride, Petruccio is himself tamed.
But is The Tamer Tamed a feminist play, or is Fletcher making as much fun of the women as he is of the men? Scholars divide on the issue. Certainly a lot of the laughs in the play are at the women’s expense, but (without giving away the ending) perhaps audience members can judge for themselves how much of a feminist John Fletcher is. The questions I’ll pose are these: Which of the sexes is cleverest in the play? Which of the sexes gets more of what they want?
Whichever you decide is the answer, it’s hard to deny that the play is hilarious, raunchy, and smart. As our love for William Shakespeare continues, we can perhaps find room for a few more plays by Mr. Shakespeare’s contemporaries. They’re certainly out there. The Tamer Tamed is just one such gem in a treasure-trove of Renaissance riches.
So what’s The Tamer Tamed all about?
A synopsis of Fletcher’s play
By Aaron C. Thomas
In the early 1600s, about twenty years after William Shakespeare penned The Taming of the Shrew, John Fletcher wrote a sequel to that woman-taming play and turned the tables on Shakespeare’s main character. In Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, Petruccio’s shrewish wife Katharine has died and Petruccio has decided to marry Maria, a young, quiet woman who loves him very much. But Maria has other plans for Petruccio. Aided by Katharine’s sister Bianca and the other townswomen, Maria sets out to tame her husband and to fight for equality between the sexes. The women fortify the house and keep Petruccio and his friends out, refusing to make love to the men unless they agree to their terms.
Of course, it couldn’t be that simple – nor would it be a Renaissance comedy – without more romantic complications. Maria’s sister Livia and her young lover Roland want to marry, but Livia’s father wishes her to wed Gremio, the rich old man from The Taming of the Shrew. However, the clever and industrious women always triumph in The Tamer Tamed; Bianca and Livia cunningly trick the older men and true love conquers all.
Since Shakespeare was still writing his own plays when Fletcher penned The Tamer Tamed, it is more than likely that the Bard himself saw the play. Shakespeare and Fletcher, in fact, wrote three plays together after The Tamer Tamed premiered in London. And though Shakespeare’s original, The Taming of the Shrew, was popular in its day, London theatregoers enjoyed Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed even more, and it’s easy to see why: The Tamer Tamed is bawdy, witty, and fun, and the comic battle of the sexes is as timeless as Shakespeare himself.
Think The Tamer Tamed sounds like fun? Here are a few other works you may enjoy:
Lysistrata by Aristophanes: Resourceful women cunningly withhold sex from their warring men, who foolishly refuse to succumb without a fight. The result is an uproarious battle of the sexes in this classical Greek comedy.
The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare & John Fletcher: Their first collaboration is a play about two friends named Arcite and Palamon, who fall in love with Emilia, the sister of Hippolya, queen of the Amazons. The two friends then fight to the death in this late romance.
Adam’s Rib: This 1949 film starring Hollywood’s royal couple, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, is a classic battle of the sexes from director George Cukor.
The Witches of Eastwick: John Updike’s classic novel, the 1987 film with Jack Nicholson, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon, as well as the 2000 West End musical starring Ian McShane, all paint a picture of women who find inner strength by battling a he-devil.
The First Wives Club: Starring Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn, this movie is the story of three women who enthusiastically take revenge on their ex-husbands and their new trophy wives.
10 Things I Hate about You: Director Gil Junger’s modern film adaptation of Taming of the Shrew starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles (as Patrick Verona and Kat Stratford) takes place at Padua High and is chock-full of witty banter.
A Word from the Director
The Tamer Tamed’s director, William Martin, tells us what drew him to the project.
The play was Cameron Jackson's idea. It is he who first suggested the play to me. I had never read it, although I, of course, knew of John Fletcher. It was a perfect fit for me, because of my experience with directing Shakespeare and my interest in his work. I think I was particularly drawn to the show because of my love for Taming of the Shrew and its characters, which make their reappearance in Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed.
Coming Attractions on the SOT Blog....
Each Monday a new entry will be added, so be sure to bookmark this blog and check back frequently for more fun and informative postings about what’s new at FSU! Future entries will further illuminate the SOT’s continuing work on The Tamer Tamed and may include:
• Fun facts about Shakespeare and Fletcher’s London
• A “What’s On” of the 17th century London theatre scene: what people were seeing and
where they were seeing it
• Gender relations and the role of the “shrew” in early modern England
Mark your calendars!
• February 22 – March 2, 2008: FSU’s production of The Tamer Tamed
• February 23, 2008, 1-4 p.m.: Symposium for The Tamer Tamed at FSU
• February 25 & 26, 2008: Actors from the London Stage present William Shakespeare's
Taming of the Shrew at Turner Auditorium at Tallahassee Community College