The issue of forced marriage is inherently tragic. 

Forced marriage is the central issue of The Taming of the Shrew that we can no longer ignore. Katherina’s words moments before her wedding ceremony MUST be heard. “No shame but mine. I must forsooth be forced to give my hand opposed against my heart.” That sounds pretty simple. She is being forced to marry against her will. Stop trivializing her truth with excuses like “She’s really in love with Petruchio, she just doesn’t want him to know that.”

Aristotle says Tragedy must “excite Pity & Fear” from its audience. “Pity is evoked by undeserved misfortune. Fear by the misfortune of a {person*} like ourselves.” Nobody deserves to have their rights and autonomy stripped by being forced to marry against their will. Forcing a comedic love story onto the play’s plot allows a production to ignore that forced marriage also means forced, non-consensual sex. Is there any more terrible, more undeserved, more dehumanizing misfortune than rape? Forced marriage is society and religiously sanctioned rape. I feel gut-wrenching Pity & Fear for anyone facing such a fate.

Current production trends for The Taming of the Shrew appear to be to keep it set in a vague “Before Times” with Elizabethan inspired costuming and set design. (If there’s even much attempt at set design. “Sparse” seems to be the prevailing aesthetic for some reason I do not understand.) I believe that many productions make the choice to keep the play set in a “time long ago” to convince themselves that there is distance between the treatment of women Then & Now. It is as if to say, “That sexism stuff is all over, a thing of the past. We don’t have to worry about all that today, so, it’s okay to act like this is funny.”

Lies! Forced marriage is not an antiquated, foreign problem that no longer exists in contemporary society. It is a very current, very real problem. According to the non-profit advocacy group, Too Young To Wed;

Every TWO seconds, a girl is married against her will. 

EVERY TWO SECONDS?!? This terrifies me and fills me with such sorrow, anger and frustration, I can barely contain it. This is Pity & Fear. This is Tragedy. Too Young To Wed envisions a world where girls are simply free to be children and determine the course of their own lives.” Is that so much to ask for? And yet, why does that vision still feel like a far-off fantasy so often?

Productions make the choice to set the play in the Before Times to comfort themselves and excuse the misogyny. Stop doing that! Stop trying to force humor and hilarity onto the issue of forced marriage and the breaking of a human spirit.

WHY do so many Shrew productions tie themselves in knots trying to justify Petruchio’s actions to “tame” his wife? 

Because acknowledging abuse makes you uncomfortable? 

Because you want to believe sexism is over? (Now, that’s funny.) 

Because you don’t want to believe Shakespeare was a misogynist? I don’t believe he was either. I think The Shrew shows he was, yet again, way ahead of his time and a big, fat feminist. But guess what? Shakespeare’s personal beliefs, whatever they may have been, are completely irrelevant. 

We know he lived in a misogynist, white male dominated world. His words reflect that world and the circumstances of a world that forces anyone to marry against their will are fundamentally tragic. 

We know we live in an unequal, racist and misogynist world. Let’s acknowledge it and do better. 

Let’s be the change we want to see and STOP pushing COMEDY onto domestic abuse!

How about we lean into the discomfort the play provokes rather than trying to soften and cover it up? How about we listen to the actual text?

“I must forsooth be forced to give my hand opposed against my heart,” is not that difficult to understand!

What if we let Katherine speak her truth? What if we respect that truth instead of insisting that she’s hiding her real feelings, playing a game or in on some private joke? Like I said, forced marriage isn’t funny.

Just ask India’s “Bandit Queen” Phoolan Devi. Oh wait, you can’t cuz she was assassinated in broad daylight in 2001.

You could ask Malawi Tribal Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, who is fighting to end the practice which sends 42% of girls in her country into marriage before the age of 18. Or you can hear directly from the girls Kachindamoto fights for in the forthcoming documentary, The Bride Price, from filmmaker Jennifer Enskat.

Young Evelyn was married at 12 to an abusive husband and now has two children. From “The Bride Price” film.

See this picture? That’s not a young girl playing with her siblings. Evelyn is their mother.

Are India and Malawi too far away to feel real to you, here in the U.S? How about looking in our own backyards? KNOTS: A Forced Marriage Story follows “three forced marriage survivors – Nina, Sara, and Fraidy – on a journey through their lives and fight alongside advocates, experts, and lawmakers to end this human rights abuse in the U.S.”  YUP. Forced marriage is a First World problem and it is long overdue for abolishment.

For some, Katherine’s tragedy may seem obvious. They can accept that the play is about forced marriage and the inherent tragedy involved. However, in my many years of research and study on the play and how it is often presented, directed and taught, I’ve been forced to accept that there are many out there who will refuse to consider The Shrew as anything but a farcical love story.  They are dead set that it has to be a Comedy. They swear both Katherina and Petruchio are in love with each other at the end of the play. They are wrong. If the above argument hasn’t swayed those resistant to change, I have more arguments. Please come back as I continue to prove to you that The Taming of the Shrew is indeed a tragedy.

THE SHREW REVIEW EPISODE 1: “Why is Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ Relevant Today?”

 

Please support these films and organizations fighting to end forced and child marriage in the United States and around the world.

Unchained at Last

Unchained At Last is the only organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States through direct services and advocacy.

Unchained provides crucial legal and social services, always for free, to help women, girls and others in the U.S. to escape arranged/forced marriages. At the same time, Unchained pushes for social, policy and legal change; the organization started and now leads a growing national movement to eliminate child marriage in every U.S. state and at the federal level.

Click HERE to find out your STATE’s stance on child marriage.

Too Young To Wed 

https://tooyoungtowed.org

Child, Bride, Mother: Guatemala

 

Knots: a Forced Marriage Story  

The Bride Price

The Bandit Queen Movie Trailer 


*Edited from “man” to “person.”

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