William Shakespeare is believed to have penned The Taming of the Shrew around 1590, a few short years after Elizabeth I had seen off the Spanish Armada. It seems a range of factors (including the inclement English weather) were to account for Philip II of Spain's fleet but all conspired to help cement Elizabeth's position as queen with, in her own words, the 'body of a weak and feeble woman' but 'the heart of a king; and a king of England too'.
Shakespeare's Shrew, the capricious and obdurate Katherina was, in contrast to Elizabeth, to be the butt of an elaborate set-up whereupon clever and witty men would manoeuvre and manipulate 'Kate' for their own ends. In this play within a play, Petruchio of Verona, in Padua seeking his fortune, was thus drawn into a plot to 'tame' the shrew. His friend, Hortensio and his co-conspirator Gremio, are keen to pair Petruchio with Kate in order to get their hands on her younger sister Bianca.
These themes, of deception, obedience and women bending to the will of men, are starkly (and controversially) opposed to modern values and slated as misogynistic by some. One wonders what Elizabeth would have made of it. She probably would have approved of the premise of a play within a play, the complexity of the plot and the subterfuge. Her Majesty may have been less enthusiastic about the denouement in which Petruchio is heartily congratulated for his taming of the shrew Kate.
Irrespective of any misogynistic motif, The Taming of the Shrew is ostensibly a love story - a romantic comedy - and remains one of Shakespeare's most popular and enduring plays. It is fast-paced and funny and familiar to many from Cole Porter's version, Kiss Me Kate.
Following her acclaimed production of Julius Caesar in 2009/10, Lucy Bailey directs Shakespeare's exploration of sexual politics and the art of illusion at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford from January 2012.
Tickets for the 15-date run went on sale this morning at 10AM, priced £14 to £58. Concessions are available.