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'THE TAMING OF THE SHREW' was first printed in the folio collection of Shakspere's Plays in 1623. In 1594 'A plesant conceited Historie called the Taming of a Shrew' was printed. This play, it is thought, preceded Shakspere's Taming of the Shrew.' This comedy of some unknown author opens with an Induction, the characters of which are a Lord, Slie, a Tapster, Page, Players, and Huntsmen. The incidents are precisely the same as those of the play which we call Shakspere's. The scene of The Taming of a Shrew' is laid at Athens; that of Shakspere's at Padua. The Athens of the one and the Padua of the other are resorts of learning. Alfonso, a merchant of Athens, (the Baptista of Shakspere,) has three daughters, Kate, Emelia, and Phylema. Aurelius, son of the Duke of Cestus (Sestos), is enamoured of one, Polidor of another, and Ferando (the Petrucio of Shakspere) of Kate, the Shrew. The merchant hath sworn, before he will allow his two younger daughters to be addressed by suitors, that
"His eldest daughter first shall be espous'd."
The wooing of Kate by Ferando is exactly in the same spirit as the wooing by Petrucio; so is the marriage; so the lenten entertainment of the bride in Ferando's G 2
country-house; so the scene with the Tailor and Haberdasher; so the prostrate obedience of the tamed Shrew. The under-plot, however, is different. But all parties are ultimately happy and pleased; and the comedy ends with the wager, as in Shakspere, about the obedience of the several wives. This undoubted resemblance involves some necessity for conjecture, with very little guide from evidence. The first and most obvious hypothesis is, that The Taming of a Shrew' was an older play than Shakspere's; and that he borrowed from that comedy. But we propose another theory. Was there not an older play than 'The Taming of a Shrew,' which furnished the main plot, some of the characters, and a small part of the dialogue, both to the author of The Taming of a Shrew' and the author of The Taming of the Shrew?' This play we may believe, without any violation of fact or probability, to have been used as the rude material for both authors to work upon. Whether the author or improver of the play printed in 1594 be Marlowe or Greene (to each of whom the comedy has been assigned), there can be little question as to the characteristic superiority of Shakspere's work.
But there is a third theory-that of Tieck—that 'The Taming of a Shrew' was a youthful work of Shakspere himself. To our minds that play is totally different from the imagery and the versification of Shakspere.
Shakspere's Taming of the Shrew' was produced in a "taming" age. Men tamed each other by the axe and the fagot; parents tamed their children by
the rod and the ferule, as they stood or knelt in trembling silence before those who had given them life; and, although England was then called the "paradise of women," and, as opposed to the treatment of horses, they were treated "obsequiously," husbands thought that" taming," after the manner of Petrucio, by oaths and starvation, was a commendable fashion.
We are the happier our fortune-living in an age when this practice of Petrucio is not universally considered orthodox; and we owe a great deal to him who has exhibited the secrets of the "taming school" with so much spirit in this comedy, for the better belief of our age, that violence is not to be subdued by violence. Pardon be for him, if, treading in the footsteps of some predecessor whose sympathies with the peaceful and the beautiful were immeasurably inferior to his own, and sacrificing something to the popular appetite, he should have made the husband of a froward woman" kill her in her own humour," and bring her upon her knees to the abject obedience of a revolted but penitent slave :"A foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord." Pardon for him? If there be one reader of Shakspere, and especially if that reader be a female, who cherishes unmixed indignation when Petrucio, in his triumph, exclaims
"He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak "—
we would say,—the indignation which you feel, and in which thousands sympathise, belongs to the age in which you live; but the principle of justice, and of
justice to women above all, from which it springs, has been established, more than by any other lessons of human origin, by him who has now moved your anger. It is to him that woman owes, more than to any other human authority, the popular elevation of the feminine character, by the most matchless delineations of its purity, its faith, its disinterestedness, its tenderness, its heroism, its union of intellect and sensibility. It is he that, as long as the power of influencing mankind by high thoughts, clothed in the most exquisite language, shall endure, will preserve the ideal elevation of women pure and unassailable from the attacks of coarseness or libertinism,—ay, and even from the degradation of the example of the crafty and worldly-minded of their own sex-for it is he that has delineated the ingenuous and trusting Imogen, the guileless Perdita, the impassioned Juliet, the heart-stricken but loving Desdemona, the generous and courageous Portia, the unconquerable Isabella, the playful Rosalind, the world-unknowing Miranda. Shakspere may have exhibited one froward woman wrongly tamed; but who can estimate the number of those from whom his all-penetrating influence has averted the curse of being froward?