The Power of Feminism through Literature
Equality: having the same, balanced status of rights, opportunities, and responsibilities regardless of skin color, gender, social class, or religious belief. This is the concept that drives the University of Louisville’s production entitled, The Taming of the Shrew. The director of this production, J. Ariadne Calvano and dramaturg Janna Segal emphasizes the conceptual recognition of feminism.
Feminism is the belief that women should have economic political and social equality with men. This term also refers to a political movement that works to gain equality within a male and female relationship. In a male and female relationship both the roles of the male and female should be equal. Equal in many ways: they should trust each other, share responsibilities, listen to one another, respect each other, and of course love one another equally. The production captures this message effectively through the usage of scenic transitions within the setting, ground elevations and composition of the stage, and the usage of fabric through the costumes.
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In the beginning, the induction scene occurs in a modern 2018 bar where Christopher Sly is drunk and gets tricked by two reporters named Matt and Josh that he is in a rally at Padua, Italy. After that he is convinced due to his drunkenness, we see how the scenic design converts and shifts back in time to 1963 by using a transition with curtains with yellow flowers, another with a neutral brown patter and red leather sofas that refer to a vintage, old fashioned look. This moment was highlighted when the two men were fighting over the book published by Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique in Act 1, Scene 1.
This book symbolizes the time where feminism was high in action, which makes perfect sense for the director and set designer to have the play reenacted at that specific time period. Not only does this drastic time travel back in time elude to the concept the play wants to portray, but it emphasizes the importance of adaptation of Shakespeare in modern age literature that translates to the audience to realize that women are no longer overseen and discredited.
Back then in Elizabethan society, women were oppressed of being involved in so many things. It was men that was typically had the dominant power and where the ones generally playing roles in Shakespeare’s creations. Yet, we see for this specific production the play is played mostly by women to show that feminism is a breakthrough for equality. It is no longer just about men, it is in fact embracing the power of women as well.
With the addition to the time change within the setting, the production uses ground elevations of the stage to enhance the performance that catches the aesthetic appeal of the audience. On the scenic draft we see that the set designer drew elevations to be varied depending on how high or low the stage is. One platform towards the center of the stage is 12 inches lower were stage right and stage left are, specifically where the work bench is settled are 6 inches high, and another part towards downstage right is drawn to be 3 inches lower.
The contrast of elevations roughly resembles a trophy platform where the 1st place winner is always in the center and leveled higher than the other winning candidates to show their importance. This concept is done similarly in the production. The fact that the center is more lowered than the rest of the stage creates more emphasis on this area rather than any other location on the stage due to its contrasted composition.
That detail being in mind, it also symbolizes the economic hierarchy of social classes back then. For instance, Lucentio occupies the social role of a wealthy young student, Tronia as servant, and Bianca and Katherine as upper-class young maidens. No longer do we view this play as a neutral, one sided representation of the characters but it enlightens the variety and diversity of different people coming into one production that not only effectively elevates the scenes but elevates the concept of equality. I don’t think the set designer intended for this symbolization on purpose, but it definitely adds a deeper meaning to the production that makes it so unique since this play is originally intended to be held in a Thrust theatre.
The decision to hold it in The Playhouse where the frame of the stage is consistently there reminds the audience that it’s still a Shakespeare inspired play with a modern twist. Also, the set designer adds stairs downstage center and on stage left. Doing this adds mobility for characters and creates dramatic entrances and exits that captivates major scene shifts that allows for the audience’s eyes to elude towards those areas and to visualize how each scene of the play has its own meaning due to the different locations they are held in and how a scene may be more captivating than the other.
Regarding costume, I notice how the designer utilizes the acrylic fabric for most of the outfits in the play. The time frame that the production is based upon was the 1960’s and during this time period acrylic fabric was very popular since it was cheap, low-maintenance, and resembled the texture of wool. In Petruchio’s wedding outfit, he is wearing a red acrylic suit. The suit is very flamboyant that attracts Kate’s attention in a negative way, that humiliates her due to the brightness of red, and overall appeal it made.
Petruchio was dressed almost like a clown, yet by this outfit it draws to his authority before the wedding even began since Kate knows if she does not marry him, she will settle to be a maid. This outfit also symbolizes the temporary meaning behind clothing. Petruchio declares that Kate is marrying him, not his clothes, indicating that the man beneath the attire is not the same as the attire itself in Act III. The emphasis on Petruchio’s clothing points out the significance of appearance and performance in establishing a message of identity, showing it to be fluid and changeable towards the audience.
Some may argue that the University of Louisville’s version of this production may have an underlying misogynistic message due to the storyline to be described as a mad women to be tamed into a good wife, although with all aspects in consideration, the scene change, stage elevations, and utilization of fabric in the costumes enhances the tone for the play for the audience as a romantic comedy that enforces real exploration of larger social questions, such as the proper balance of relation between men and women in a marriage. It offers a significant glimpse into the future lives of married couples and the revolution of feminism, one that serves to round out its exploration of the social dimension of love and promotes the power and balance of women that has adapted throughout the years of literature, and society.