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Text. The earliest text of The Taming of the Shrew is found in the Folio of 1623. From this text, which is not infrequently corrupt, was printed, with a few corrections and many additional misprints, a Quarto for John Smethwicke in 1631. The text of the present edition is based upon that of the first Folio.
Date of Composition. The date of The Taming of the Shrew is most uncertain. The usual external indications are entirely absent. There is no entry in the Stationers' Register, no early quarto, no immediate contemporary reference. That Shakespeare here adapted an older play, The Taming of a Shrew, aids us but little in the problem of date, as this earlier drama was probably known to the stage several years before the period of its first extant version, 1594. Our comedy is not mentioned in the famous list of Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, 1598, unless, as has been often suggested, it can claim the title, Love's Labour's Won. But such an identification is extremely hazardous. If we dismiss this conjecture, we are not, however, justified in pressing the negative argument of Meres's silence in favor of some date after 1598, as our play may have been intentionally omitted by him either because it conflicted with his desire to balance six comedies against six tragedies, or because it was not entirely from Shakespeare's hands. The tests of meter and language help us very slightly in fixing the date of a work
of such composite origin. The consensus of recent critical opinion would assign it to the period between 1594 and 1597.
Sources of the Plot. - The Taming of the Shrew represents a fusion of three distinct elements: an Induction in which a drunken tinker is persuaded that he is a mighty lord; a main plot in which a shrew is roughly wooed and bravely mastered; and an underplot full of the intrigue of Latin and Italian comedy. All these elements, duly blended, were ready for the master's hand in "A Pleasant Conceited Historie called The Taming of a Shrew," which is preserved to us in Quartos of 1594, 1596, 1607. Unlike other old plays from which Shakespeare wrought, A Shrew is no mean thing. Its forceful characterizations, effective situations, and ready give-and-take, won for its author the too eager superlatives of Swinburne, "Of all the preShakespeareans incomparably the truest, the richest, the most powerful and original humorist" — perhaps overpraise for one whose style is so often stiff and cold and heavy. Who this writer was, we shall probably never know. Some point to this or that among Shakespeare's predecessors, Greene, Peele, Kyd, or whom not; others, greatly daring, to Shakespeare himself, either alone or with aid from Greene and Marlowe. The old playwright has surely some ten or twelve bits of Marlowe in him, flaunting these borrowings in season and out of season
- often, indeed, so inaptly that not a few have deemed him parodist rather than imitator.
Shakespeare, working with A Shrew before him, infused new life into each of its parts. Slie of the earlier
Induction, a faint enough figure, becomes in his hands a full-blooded Warwickshire peasant, prattling of men and taverns and hamlets around Stratford; and the lord and his men are freed from their pompous Marlowesque diction. The older writer keeps these "presenters" in view throughout the play; Shakespeare abandons them when they have served their turn. In the story of the Taming all the characters except Katherina are named anew, and the scene is changed from Athens to Padua, yet all essential incidents are retained, the arrival of the tamer, the wooing and departure, the lesson on the lute, the bridegroom's return for the wedding in ridiculous apparel, the enforced homeward journey, the scenes at the husband's home, the restraint put upon the shrew in matters of food and sleep and clothes, the lady's acquiescence in the misnaming of sun and moon, the breaking of a jest upon a chance companion, the wager on the wife's obedience, the surrender of the final speech. In three scenes - those of the homecoming, the denial of food, and the braving of the tailor — the relation of the two plays is so close that even verbal resemblances are many. Yet everywhere there is a gain in flow of verse, in fluency of dialogue, and in richness of character. To invert, with a few critics, these "understood relations" and to regard A Shrew as the copy, not the model, is to ignore all the probabilities of progressive workmanship.
In the treatment of the underplot of love intrigue, the author of this part of our comedy - whether Shakespeare or another ranged far from his prototype. A Shrew had made some use of Ariosto's play, I Suppositi,
acted at Ferrara in 1509,- through the medium of George Gascoigne's translation, Supposes, presented at Gray's Inn in 1566, but had resisted the appeals of many complex situations in this Italian drama. To their call the writer of our underplot responded fully. Rivalries and disguises, impostures and deceptions — the conventional motives of classical comedy — are reproduced with great skill, and stock types, pantaloon, pedant, and wily slave, are cleverly rewrought. From Gascoigne's list of persons Shakespeare borrowed the name of his tamer and the pseudonym "Licio." Two other names, those of Tranio and Grumio, he probably drew from the Mostellaria of Plautus.
Authorship. - Doubt was early cast on Shakespeare's authorship of certain portions of this play; and, though there are even now a few that ascribe all parts to him, it seems pretty well settled among the critics that, while the Induction and the main plot of Petruchio and Katherina are certainly Shakespeare's, the underplot of Bianca's lovers is mainly the work of another. This conclusion is based on the evidence not only of characterization and dramatic structure, but also of such internal marks of style as metrical peculiarities and nonce-usages. It finds perhaps its best expression in the words of Grant White: "A play in Shakespeare's day was as often written by two, or three, or four persons as by one; each theatre had several poets and playwrights in its pay, if not in its company, ready to write or rewrite, as the spirit moved or occasion required; and Shakespeare's own company was, of course, not an exception to the general rule. Our
Taming of the Shrew is an example of the result of this system. In it three hands, at least, are traceable; that of the author of the old play, that of Shakespeare himself, and that of a co-laborer. The first appears in the structure of the plot, and in the incidents and the dialogue of most of the minor scenes; to the last must be assigned the greater part of the love business between Bianca and her two suitors; while to Shakespeare belong the strong, clear characterization, the delicious humor, and the rich verbal coloring of the recast Induction, and all the scenes in which Katherina and Petruchio and Grumio are the prominent figures, together with the general effect produced by scattering lines and words and phrases here and there, and removing others elsewhere, throughout the rest of the play."
Later scholars freely admit the presence of another hand than Shakespeare's in the Bianca intrigue, yet favor a theory, not of collaboration, but of an intermediate adaptation in which the underplot assumed its present form through a large use of the Supposes. The divisions of the play thus challenged are as follows:- I. i, ii; II. i. 1-168, 327-413; III. i, ii. 126-150; IV. ii, iv; V. i, ii. 186-189. Certain modifications of the general view have been recently registered. That Shakespeare was acquainted with the Supposes the name Petruchio, borrowed, as we have seen, from Gascoigne, clearly shows; and, that, even though the internal evidence against his single authorship be strong, he assisted in the planning of the Bianca scenes and in the welding of these with the main story, the happy union of the different elements renders highly probable.