What Martin Chuzzlewit owed to Measure for Measure

Now we’re finding the footprints of Shakespeare everywhere. Several months ago (see this post), we mentioned something that various scholars have observed: the main plot of The Old Curiosity Shop follows that of King Lear. In Lear, of course, the old king rashly gives up everything to his unworthy elder daughters, then finds himself a homeless wanderer and a fugitive, stripped of his reason. He’s restored to peace and sanity by a reunion with his youngest daughter Cordelia before first she, then he, dies.

Charles Dickens

Something a lot like that happens in The Old Curiosity Shop. Little Nell’s grandfather foolishly fritters away everything in gambling dens and lapses into senility, then becomes a wandering fugitive, protected by Little Nell. In a small Shropshire village, the old man finds peace and follows Little Nell to the grave.

We hesitate to think we’re the first to notice that the main storyline in one of Dickens’s less popular novels, Martin Chuzzlewit, is even more closely related to a Shakespeare play. And by no means have we surveyed the vast field of Dickens criticism. But we haven’t seen the relationship between Chuzzlewit and Measure for Measure noted anywhere else.

In Measure for Measure, the Duke of Vienna, blaming himself for letting morals decline during his lenient rule, and also quietly outraged by the hypocrisy of one of his chief deputies, concocts an elaborate plan for putting things right. He starts by announcing that the deputy, Angelo, will take over his job (absolute ruler of Vienna) while he’s gone on a long trip. Everyone else thinks Angelo is a paragon of virtue, but the Duke knows better; he’s disgusted with Angelo for jilting a young woman and meanly casting aspersions on her character — all because a dowry he had expected from her family had been lost.

Angelo and Isabella

The Duke arranges to stay around town in disguise. Sitting in the Duke’s chair, the self-righteous Angelo takes a hard line against fornication and sentences young Claudio to death for bedding his fiancée before they could be married. But when Claudio’s sister Isabella comes to Angelo to make a personal plea for her brother, Angelo himself is overcome with lust. He refuses to pardon Claudio unless Isabella yields herself to him.

Isabella tells Angelo that to save Claudio, she’ll come to his bed, but the duplicitous deputy gives secret orders for Claudio to be executed anyway. In the nick of time, the watchful Duke emerges from the shadows, springs into action, saves Claudio from the chopping block, exposes Angelo as a hypocrite, and oversees a series of weddings.

The main plot of Martin Chuzzlewit (of course there are various minor plots) has striking parallels. Old Martin Chuzzlewit, wealthy and powerful, is regretting some of his failings (especially his relationship with his grandson and heir, young Martin Chuzzlewit); he’s also revolted by the hypocrisy and pretensions of his relative Seth Pecksniff. He concocts an elaborate plan for putting things right in which he pretends to withdraw from the scene by seeming to fall into senility, pretends to trust Pecksniff as his only friend, and lets Pecksniff speak and act for him. Pecksniff has a great reputation for benevolence and for skill as an architect, but old Martin knows Pecksniff for a colossal hypocrite and a fraud.

Pecksniff rises to the bait. To ingratiate himself with old Martin, he drives away young Martin, who had been his architectural student and who had become engaged against old Martin’s will to the old man’s young secretary and companion, Mary Graham. Found out by his faithful assistant and greatest admirer, Tom Pinch, Pecksniff expels him as well on the lying pretext that Pinch has improper intentions on Mary.

Old Martin gives Pecksniff his comeuppance in an illustration by Wray Manning from our Heritage Press edition of Martin Chuzzlewit

Pecksniff then makes unwelcome advances toward Mary Graham (Victorian sensibilities required Dickens to be far less explicit here than Shakespeare was with Angelo and Isabella). He blackmails Mary by threatening harm to young Martin if she complains of him to old Martin. In the ripeness of time, old Martin emerges from his feigned state of incapacity to expose Pecksniff publicly as a liar and a hypocrite. He reconciles with young Martin and gives his blessing to a series of weddings.

At the heart of both Shakespeare’s play and Dickens’s novel, therefore, is a morality tale of the exposure and punishment of a hypocrite. Parallels abound, but the most important are these:

(a) in each story a powerful senior figure appears to leave the arena, but in fact continues to manipulate people and events from the shadows, like a Greek god;

(b) he confers authority to act for him on a supposed paragon of virtue who is in fact a hypocrite, expecting that the hypocrite will expose himself by abusing his authority,

(c) in the course of his stewardship, the supposed paragon lusts after a virtuous, much younger woman and blackmails her with threats of harm to someone she loves, and

(d) the senior figure reappears and presides over an melodramatic, orchestrated denouement in which he exposes and disgraces the hypocrite.

Barnard's portrait of Pecksniff

Not coincidentally, the schemes for exposing Angelo (in Measure for Measure) and Pecksniff (in Martin Chuzzlewit) as hypocrites both seem unnecessarily complicated. Why couldn’t the Duke simply have stripped Angelo of his position and made him marry the girl he had jilted? And why did old Martin need to pretend to be taken in by the unctuous Pecksniff — why should he have had anything to do with Pecksniff at all? One can only assume that the Duke conferred authority upon Angelo — and that old Martin did the same with Pecksniff — so that their falls would be all the greater.

The schemes of the puppet-masters also seem shockingly unkind; the games go on too long. Even if one grants that Claudio has done wrong by bedding his fiancée before their marriage, Claudio’s punishment seems disproportionate. Claudio is made to believe that he is to be executed at daybreak, and the Duke himself, in the guise of a clergyman, visits Claudio to assure him that he is going to die.

In the same way, in Martin Chuzzlewit, though we rather enjoy seeing selfish young Martin taken down a peg, we feel that old Martin’s “tough love” has gotten out of hand when young Martin comes within an ace of dying of malaria in the swamps of America.

But it’s the blameless — the women and the womanish — in both tales who get the worst of it. Neither the Duke (in Measure for Measure) nor old Martin (in Martin Chuzzlewit) seems to care about the collateral damage flowing from their schemes. It’s bad enough that the Duke blithely lets Isabella believe that her brother is truly in danger of execution. But the Duke also lets Isabella bear the insult of Angelo’s demand for sexual favors, and he seems not to care that she must face the moral dilemma of whether to sacrifice her virtue to save her brother’s life. Claudio’s betrothed, Juliet, is another victim; she is actually in labor when she is told that her lover and the father of her unborn baby is about to be executed.

Pecksniff with old Martin Chuzzlewit

In the same way, old Martin makes the innocent Mary Graham believe that she and young Martin will never be married; worse yet, he lets Mary endure Pecksniff’s groping and leering and the insult of his blackmailing. Like Isabella in Measure for Measure, Mary too is made to face a moral dilemma: should she expose the old goat to old Martin, as justice and her honor requires, when to do so will harm young Martin, to whom she owes her love and loyalty? The decent Tom Pinch is another collateral victim; old Martin Chuzzlewit stands passively by while Tom is stripped of his employment and driven from Pecksniff’s doors.

William Charles Macready. This portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Knowing that Measure for Measure wasn’t especially popular in Dickens’s day, any more than it is now, we got to wondering how the play came to make such an impression on the novelist. As a young man Dickens was constantly at the theater, but he was only twelve years old in 1824, the last time Measure for Measure was played in London before Martin Chuzzlewit was written. One can assume that Dickens was familiar with all of the Shakespeare plays, but the references to the plays in his novels suggest that as a creative writer Dickens was impacted mostly by the dozen or so Shakespeare plays that he saw performed, the ones frequently performed at Drury Lane or Covent Garden, like Macbeth and King Lear.

We think, after a little research, that the answer probably has to do with Dickens’s close friendship with the distinguished actor William Charles Macready. As we noted in an earlier post, Dickens was even more than usually immersed in Shakespeare during the period (1837 to 1843) when he was writing Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Martin Chuzzlewit. And on June 16, 1837, Dickens was introduced to Macready, the leading figure in London theater, a pre-eminent Shakespearean actor, and a student of Shakespeare. They promptly became close friends.

Over the next 40 months, Macready recorded in his journal at least 31 occasions in which he spent time with Dickens — dining with him and sometimes Mrs. Dickens too, going here and there with Dickens, consulting with Dickens about Macready’s theatrical projects, reading new plays recommended by Dickens, being visited by Dickens in his dressing room after performances, being toasted by Dickens at the Shakespeare Club. (Among other things, Macready advised Dickens of the “utter impracticability” of adapting Oliver Twist for the stage.) Dickens clearly reveled in his friendship with Macready; he dedicated Nicholas Nickleby to Macready and sent him an inscribed copy.

In the latter part of 1837 Macready took over the management of the Covent Garden Theatre and made Shakespeare a staple of its repertoire. Macready’s journal indicates that Dickens became personally involved with Macready’s work at Covent Garden, which included revivals of Macbeth, King Lear, The Tempest, Henry V, and other plays. It also records that Macready wrestled with whether some of the lesser-known Shakespeare plays could be effectively performed as written; he studied The Winter’s Tale closely and mounted it at Covent Garden in the latter part of 1837, but rejected Timon of Athens outright.

One of the plays that Macready was considering was Measure for Measure. The play was not nearly as obscure as Timon; in fact, Macready himself had played the part of the Duke at Drury Lane in 1824. On several dates in August 1837, Macready noted in his journal that he was laboring over the task of memorizing (or perhaps re-memorizing) the Duke’s lines.

In the end, Macready didn’t revive Measure for Measure at Covent Garden after all, nor, apparently, did he ever perform the role of the Duke on stage again. But given the new intimacy between Macready and Dickens at this time and for the next several years, it is no stretch to infer that Macready and Dickens discussed Measure for Measure and the character of the Duke, vetted ideas as to how the play might be staged, and perhaps even rehearsed lines together, thus impressing the story of the play on Dickens’s creative subconscious.

Measure for Measure wasn’t played again in London until 1846 (without Macready). In the meantime, Dickens picked up the threads of Macready’s aborted project and transformed the sixteenth-century story of the Duke, Angelo, and Isabella into the nineteenth-century story of old Martin, Pecksniff, and Mary Graham. The first of 20 monthly installments of Martin Chuzzlewit appeared in January 1843.

The establishment strikes back: Contested Will

A statue intended to represent William Shakespeare adorns the gardens of the Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario

Nothing changed in 2010: the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Stratford, Ontario) still doesn’t grant that William Shakespeare, the actor from Stratford, England, might not actually have written Richard III, King Lear, or the other “Shakespeare” plays.   The programs for Shakespeare plays still recite the same stale “facts” about the life of the Stratford man and still blithely credit him with the plays.  As we wrote in this space a couple of years ago, the question of who wrote Hamlet just doesn’t seem to be up for discussion. 

We don’t blame Stratford General Director Antoni Cimolino for keeping mum on the subject — how better to keep people from being mad at  you!  Still, we must point out that on the other side of the continent, Oregon Shakespeare Festival executive director Paul Nicholson has now joined the long list of theater luminaries on record as doubting that the Stratford man deserves credit for writing Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice.  (Nicholson runs the largest Shakespeare festival in the United States, nearly up to the scale of the Stratford Festival.) 

Paul Nicholson

According to a September 23, 2010 article in Southern Oregon’s Mail Tribune, Mr. Nicholson has noticed how implausible it is that the Stratford man could have had the intimate knowledge of law, falconry, life at court, and English history that the playwright clearly did.  Mr. Nicholson also points out that William Shakespeare was only in his twenties when the sonnets were written; most of the sonnets, of course, are poems written from the standpoint of a man of mature years in relation to a much younger man.  Mr. Nicholson is one of several other actors and directors at at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival who recently signed the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare,” which has been circulating online since it was drafted in 2007. See this website. (Presumably the Oregon Shakespeare Festival itself takes no official position on the question of authorship.)

What Mr. Cimolino, Des McAnuff, Lucy Peacock, Martha Henry, Brian Bedford, and others at the Stratford Festival really think about the authorship question, we’d love to know.  Some of them, we suppose, think it doesn’t matter and don’t take any interest in it; we’ve met a a surprising number of Shakespeare lovers who feel that way.  Personally, we think it does matter.  A work of art has so much more interest when you know a bit about its creator and his life. 

At any rate, we are gratified to see that the debate over who wrote Shakespeare is heating up, as evidenced by this well-written, well-researched new book by James Shapiro.  To the author’s credit, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare gives Shakespeare lovers something different from the usual Shakespeare “biographies,” which invariably rehash familiar material about the historical and cultural climate during which the plays were written but have little to say (because little is known) about the Stratford man. Contested Will gives us, instead, a history of the controversy over who really wrote the works of Shakespeare.

It’s a good story, with plenty of colorful characters. There was William-Henry Ireland, who in 1794 first began “discovering” correspondence to and from William Shakespeare (including a letter to him from Queen Elizabeth!), then manuscripts of the plays (King Lear!), then “lost” plays of Shakespeare. (We were reminded of P.D.Q. Bach, whose compositions, like The Short-Tempered Clavier, the “Erotica” Variations for banned instruments and piano, and the opera A Little Nightmare Music, have been “discovered” by Peter Schickele over the course of the last 40 years.) James Boswell was among those taken in by Ireland before he was exposed as a fraud (though not until a new “Shakespeare” play, Vortigern, was debuted in London).

Another forger, John Payne Collier, produced so much phony Shakespeare memorabilia in the 1830s and 1840s that it took Shakespeare scholars decades to sort it out from the real thing. And then there was Delia Bacon, the first major proponent of Francis Bacon as the author of Shakespeare, a pioneer (as a woman) in the field of literary scholarship who got the attention of Hawthorne and Emerson, but whose monomania and paranoia (she was afraid to publish her findings for fear that others would steal her ideas) eventually led her to the madhouse.

It wasn’t until we were halfway through Shapiro’s book that we realized that we’d been taken in ourselves. It gradually dawned on us, as we were reading about what Emerson, Mark Twain, and Freud thought about Shakespeare authorship, that Shapiro had an agenda: he intended, ultimately, to portray Oxfordians and other anti-Stratfordians as mere dabblers in the subject (Twain), or perhaps a little neurotic (Freud), or caught up in passing trends like the “Higher Criticism” that had challenged traditional notions of authorship of books of the Bible.

Edward de Vere

Not till the latter pages of Contested Will does Shapiro get to the present-day groundswell of support for the authorship of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.  By then, though, his mask is off and the book’s pages drip with scorn and ridicule. True it is that there has been no shortage of nutty ideas associated with the question of who wrote Shakespeare. Here we think, for instance, of those who not only maintain that Oxford wrote the plays and sonnets, but also insist that the Earl of Southampton (presumed subject of the homoerotic sonnets) was also the love child of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth. Personally, we don’t have much trouble telling the loony stuff from the solid arguments for Oxford; Shapiro, clearly a smart guy and a scholar, ought to have been able to do it too. But he chose not to.

For the last couple of decades, the main tactic of Stratfordians has been simply to ignore the doubters (and the Oxfordians) and to marginalize the whole issue by preserving a chilly silence. Now, clearly feeling the heat, they’re starting to fight back. Contesting Will represents one of the first open counter-attacks.

Meanwhile, in southern Ontario just seven miles east of Stratford, a new controversy is brewing that may end up affecting more lives that the debate over who wrote Shakespeare. We gather (solely from the evidence of a number of lawn signs) that transportation officials are proposing to widen that part of Highway 7/8 that runs through Shakespeare from two lanes to five. (This is the route most folks take to get to the Stratford Festival.) A number of houses and shops are already pretty close to the highway, and some are clearly going to have to be torn down or moved if the project goes through. We sympathize with the locals, but take no sides.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Stratford Festival

We’d never seen The Two Gentlemen of Verona on stage and had no particular expectations, but it was easy to see that the Stratford Festival’s production was trying something new with it.  It worked well, and we thought it was a lot of fun.

Dean Gabourie

The plot of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is thin (even by the undemanding standards of Shakespeare comedies), the situations are formulaic, and some episodes don’t really have anything to do with the story.  Director Dean Gabourie’s bright idea was to suppose that Shakespeare conceived Two Gentlemen as a variety show, with song-and-dance numbers, comedy skits, animal acts, and scenes from well-known plays, and so on.  This sort of entertainment was apparently usual in the late sixteenth century, as it was 200 years later when Nicholas Nickleby joined Vincent Crummles’s troupe of players (see this recent Emsworth post; we’ve been reading Dickens) and through the vaudeville era (see this post). 

In this show the two young “gentlemen” and the women they love appear as vaudeville performers; the show opens with bosom friends Proteus (Gareth Potter) and Valentine (Dion Johnstone) dancing in striped suits, tophats, and canes.  Valentine is on his way to Milan to get on in life and make new friends; Proteus is content to stay in Verona because of his infatuation with Julia (Sophia Walker).  

Once in Milan, Valentine promptly falls for Silvia (Caire Lautier), whose father wants to bestow her on another man, the wooden Sir Thurio (Timothy Stickney).  When Proteus follows Valentine to Milan, he too falls in love with Silvia, forgetting all about Julia, with whom he exchanged rings before he left. 

In this show the story moves along briskly despite interspersed songs and comic vignettes from the gentlemen’s servants, Speed and Launce, whose dog Crab is played by a lethargic, short-legged, decidedly male beagle.  As a bonus, Mr. Gabourie throws in a melodramatic rendition of the murder of Desdemona from Othello, in which Timothy Stickney plays Sir Thurio playing Othello and Stacie Steadman plays Silvia playing Desdemona). This interpolation was purely Mr. Gabourie’s idea, but it’s undoubtedly Shakespearean (think of the play scene in Hamlet) and fully in the vaudeville tradition.

The entire cast is fine, but the characters we found the most fun were Julia’s mildly disrespectful maid (Trish Lindström), Silvia’s strutting, self-important father (John Vickery), the quipster Speed (Bruce Dow), who pronounces that “love is blind,” and the philosophical dog-owner Launce (Robert Persichini). 

Robert Persichini

Despite its vaudevillian trappings, this production gives us Shakespeare’s language in full flower, especially as it comes from the mouths of Ms. Walker (Julia has the most poetic lines in the play) and Mr. Persichini, who delivers the play’s wonderful comic monologues to the dog Crab.  (These really come alive in performance; the lines seem disjointed on the printed page.)  One of the things that make some of the Shakespeare comedies difficult for some people, including Emsworth, is that the jokes tend to be based on wordplay involving words that aren’t part of our vocabulary anymore.  But a reasonably acute playgoer is likely to “get” the puns and malapropisms of the comic characters in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as when Launce refers tells us he has received his “proportion,” like the “prodigious son.”

Several years ago, here in Rochester, we saw a community theater version of Edward Albee’s bizarre play The Goat, or Who is Silvia?, which is about a man who falls in love with a goat.  We now realize for the first time that the title of the play was taken from a song Proteus sings under Silvia’s balcony, “Who Is Silvia.”  But we still don’t get the connection.

Who wrote Hamlet? Not up for discussion at the Stratford Festival

Edward de Vere

Nibbling on our breakfast scone at a B & B in Stratford, Ontario last weekend, we were pleased to learn that two of our fellow guests, a couple from Dearborn, Michigan, were fellow Oxfordians. That is, they shared our view that the plays traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare were probably — no one will ever know for sure — written by Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.

This led us to wonder, in turn, how many other Stratford Festival patrons share our irritation every time they open their play programs to find the five canned paragraphs that purport to sum up the life of William Shakespeare.

For most playwrights, biographical blurbs in theater programs have to be greatly condensed. Not so with William Shakespeare. So little is really known about him that at least half of the material about him in the Stratford Festival’s 2008 programs is filler — educated guesses about his life and career. We detect the dramaturge’s struggle for hard facts about the playwright from such speculative phrases as these:

“The exact date of his birth is unknown . . . .”

“[T]radition has it . . . .”

“The young Shakespeare is assumed to have attended what is now the Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford, where he would have studied . . . .”

“Nothing further is known of Shakespeare’s life until 1592 . . . .”

“Possibly as early as 1610, the playwright retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon . . . .”

Conspicuously absent from the Stratford Festival’s programs is any hint that this man of whom we know so little may not actually have written The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Love’s Labours Lost.

Francis Bacon

But surely the powers-that-be at the Stratford Festival are aware of the issue. And they are surely also aware of the new evidence pointing to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth, as the true author — far more evidence, both in quality and in quantity, than was ever brought forward in decades past to support the candidacies of Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or other Elizabethans.

Emsworth does not complain that the Stratford Festival has not come out in favor of Oxford. This is a matter on which reasonable minds can differ.

As it stands, though, the Stratford Festival is effectively siding with the actor from Stratford. Have the Artistic Director and the dramaturge decided simply to leave things as they are until someone actually produces a draft of Macbeth in Oxford’s handwriting? What will it take for the Stratford Festival to acknowledge that there is at least a serious question as to authorship?

In the meantime, simply ignoring the case for Oxford is not what one might expect from the most influential Shakespeare organization in North America.

Emsworth refers curious readers to the website of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, which outlines the principal reasons to doubt that the actor from Stratford wrote the Shakespeare plays, along with the facts that point to Edward de Vere as the actual poet and playwright. (We are not connected with this organization.) Emsworth has just noticed that Wikipedia now includes an extensive and seemingly objective entry on “Oxfordian theory,” which sets forth arguments both for and against authorship by de Vere.

The Taming of the Shrew at the Stratford Festival (a review)

Emsworth is glad he didn’t skip The Taming of the Shrew, as originally planned. This show is a joyride, a high-spirited show with as fine a cast as the Stratford Festival can muster. It kept us laughing and entertained from beginning to end.

Evan Biulung and Irene Poole as Petruchio and Katherina; in the background, Adrienne Gould as Bianca

The dilemma in this comedy is how Baptista Minola (Stephen Ouimette) of Padua is to marry off his two daughters. For his pretty, good-humored younger daughter, Bianca (Adrienne Gould), Baptista has solid options in young Gremio (Juan Chioran) and long-in-the-tooth Hortensio (Randy Hughson).

However, for his elder daughter, Katherine (Irene Poole), an irascible, sharp-tongued girl with a limp (in this production, anyway), he has no takers. On principle, like Laban in Biblical times, Baptista will not marry his second daughter until he has found a husband for the first.

Gremio and Hortensio make common cause and agree to find a husband for Katherine so they can get on with their competition for Bianca. The situation is complicated when Lucentio (Jeff Lillico) arrives from Pisa, happens to spy Bianca, and becomes a third suitor.

Biulung and Poole

But a solution appears, and the show moves into overdrive, when Petruchio arrives in town from Verona, hoping to “wive it wealthily in Padua.” He learns from Hortensio and Gremio about Katherine and her dowry and sets out to make her his wife.

As Petruchio, Evan Buliung is a dynamic, irrepressible spirit who sweeps all before him; Irene Poole, as Katherine, is a worthy foil. The more Katherine gives him tit for tat, the more Petruchio values her and the more he revels in the tasty game of subduing her. Their scenes together are first-rate, from the saucy repartee of their opening skirmish to the hilariously cruel scenes in which Petruchio snatches sleep, food, and clothing away from his wife to reduce her to submission. (In this production, Petruchio and Katherine come to enjoy a decidedly kinky, dare we say, sado-masochistic, relationship. For Emsworth’s take on this, see this post.)

Persons considering this show should be aware that it has a good deal of disquieting and gratuitous cruelty. The people of Padua dunk Katherine in the river for her shrewish behavior. Katherine ties up her sister Bianca and whips her. And not only does Katherine strike Petruchio, but Petruchio strikes her back.

Barbara Fulton as Queen Elizabeth

At any rate, we were entertained by the extravagant, brilliantly colored period costumes and by the Elizabethan songs interpolated throughout the play and performed by various members of the cast. We admired the scrumptious Adrienne Gould, as Bianca, played here as a man-tease, nearly as much as we liked her as Ophelia in this year’s Hamlet. The comic performances of Stephen Oimette as Baptista and Patrick McManus as the flamboyant Biondello were exquisite.

And we especially enjoyed the performance of Ben Carlson as Lucentio’s servant Tranio, who like Mr. Pickwick’s Sam Weller is wittier, more voluble, and more worldly-wise than his master.

So why did we hesitate to see The Taming of the Shrew? It was not that we were necessarily put off by the unenlightened sixteenth-century treatment of women in the play. Those were different times, and Emsworth has no patience for those who cannot get past the fact that sixteenth-century England was not organized on politically correct principles.

No, we hesitated because we thought The Taming of the Shrew, which we had never seen performed until now, was one of our least favorite Shakespeare plays. Reading it, we thought the prologue scene was superfluous, and we could not see how the “lord and master” speech at the end fit with the rest of the play. And seen on the page, the play’s humor was hard to appreciate.

Company of "The Taming of the Shrew"

Company of "The Taming of the Shrew"

We also worried, frankly, about our ability to keep everyone straight. There are plenty of characters, some with similar names (Grumio and Gremio), and to further confuse his audience, Shakespeare has many of them trade identities. Emsworth is happily accustomed to the imposters that litter the novels of P. G. Wodehouse, but there are so many imposters in The Taming of the Shrew that it is not easy to remember who is pretending to be who.

But we worried for nothing. The direction of Peter Hinton gave this production such shape and momentum that we never felt lost or confused, even at moments when we might not have been able to give an accurate account of the characters.

For Emsworth’s take on the nastiness between Petruchio and Katherine, see this post.)

For Emsworth’s review of All’s Well That Ends Well in the 2008 season of the Stratford Festival (Stratford, Ontario), see this post for the Emsworth review of Hamlet at the Stratford Festival in this post). Other Emsworth posts include reviews of shows in the 2008 season of the Shaw Festival (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario), including Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married (see this post), Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes (see this post), Leonard Berstein’s Wonderful Town (see this post), and J. B. Priestley’s The Inspector Calls (see this post).