Book Review: Modern Critical Interpretations on The Taming of the Shrew

Harold Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations series is a godsend for anyone interested in the latest and greatest criticism on classic literature. Each volume of this series centers on a particular work and features several samples of the very best academic writing about it. In each, Bloom does an excellent job of choosing pieces that represent the most compelling statements and interesting aspects of a variety of possible viewpoints on a given work. The literary criticism contained in this particular volume, on Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, is no exception to that rule.

After a brief introduction by Bloom himself, we are treated to a fascinating exposition of the use of the idea of dreaming in the play, through which treatment Marjorie Garber links the under-appreciated induction to the play proper (or play-within-a-play) which is the story of the Shrew. Marianne L. Novy then explores the relationship between the patriarchal social norms of the society in which the play is set and the playfulness of Petruchio and, eventually, Kate. Novy believes that it is this playfulness in defiance of convention that enables the final denouement, the reconciliation of Petruchio and Kate and the beginning of a very happy marriage. Ruth Nevo continues this discussion in her piece “Kate of Kate Hall,” in which she explains “the metamorphosis of folly into wisdom” which is at the heart of all of the plots and sub-plots of the play.

Coppelia Khan, however, takes a slightly different turn and opts rather to defend the position that Petruchio is indeed attempting to establish his dominance over Kate, but that because it is through this establishment of dominance that Petruchio derives his masculine identity, this is in itself a sort of admission of the power of women, a type of submission of men to women. This meditation upon the derivation of identity through the other is one of the very best essays in this volume.

In “Metamorphoses,” Jeanne Addison Roberts explores the Ovidian connection of the play and its various transformations of one thing into another. Carol F. Hefferman provides us with a look at issues of class and status in the play in her “The Bourgeoisie in Love.” In his piece, Robert A. Burt argues that this play and other “problem plays” of Shakespeare are not really problems at all, but, rather, that resolution by force is a standard factor Shakespearean comedies, Shrew providing but one interesting example.

The final and, I believe, least helpful essay of the book is Joel Fineman’s “The Turn of the Shrew.” While Fineman provides some interesting insight and context, I was mostly disappointed with his contribution, laden with deconstructionist jargon and ultimately unhelpful for developing an understanding and appreciation of the play itself.

For those who love great literature, whether involved in academic literary criticism or, more sensibly, pure fans of the art, I recommend this and all of the other volumes in this series. You will not be disappointed.