This anonymous play, The Taming of a Shrew – with its title so close to Shakespeare’s – shares both its plot and its subplot with The Taming of the Shrew. Both plays have a framing device involving Christopher Sly, who is tricked into thinking he’s a lord, and watches a play about the taming of a ‘shrewish’ wife and the wooing of her sister(s). But aside from Kate, the characters have different names, and this play is set in Athens rather than Padua.
The Taming of a Shrew was printed in 1594, 1596 and 1607.
Scholars have hotly debated how these two plays might have influenced each other. Some have seen this as an early draft of Shakespeare’s play; some say it’s a source of inspiration. Others suggest The Shrew came first and this is a plagiarism, or a muddled version. Still others say that both plays could be based on a lost older text.
This is complicated by the fact that we can’t be sure when Shakespeare’s play was written. It was first printed in the First Folio (1623), but probably performed in the early 1590s, perhaps before, perhaps after this other play was first staged.
The pages digitised here (sig.F3v–G2v) show the final scene, where men place bets on which of their wives will ‘come soonest’ when they call, and Kate wins the wager for Ferando (the Petruchio character). There are many striking parallels with The Taming of the Shrew (5.2.66–189), but also important contrasts.
In this text, Kate’s controversial speech to the other ‘headstrong women’ (G1r) is based on religious arguments that women should ‘obey’ men, because Eve was formed from Adam’s rib and caused original sin (G1v). Shocked at Kate’s submission, her sister insists that being a rebellious ‘shrew’ is ‘better then a sheepe’ (G2r).
Perhaps most significantly, this text closes the frame narrative, while Shakespeare never does so. Sly is dumped back where they found him and, realising he’s not a lord, he assumes the whole experience was ‘the best dreame’ of his life, a lesson in ‘how to tame a shrew’ (G2v). Sly’s return to his humble status prompts us to reconsider Kate’s transformation in the main drama. Is it serious and permanent, or just part of a drunken dream?