The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tam’d was written by John Fletcher (1579–1625) as a radical sequel to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (c.1590–1592). While Shakespeare’s Katherina is subdued by her bullying husband Petruchio, Fletcher turns things on their head by letting women tame men.
Although it was not printed until 1647, Fletcher’s play was written c. 1604–1617, probably during Shakespeare’s lifetime. It shows that the treatment of women in The Taming of the Shrew was already raising questions, as it still does centuries later.
What happens in The Woman’s Prize?
Fletcher’s play is set in London after Katharina’s death, and Petruchio is remarried to Maria. However, he still has nightmares that Katharina will haunt him as a ghost (p. 230) and he resolves to be even firmer with his new wife. But instead, Maria defeats him by denying him sex and locking him out of the bedroom (pp. 231–33).
In Shakespeare’s play, Petruchio uses the language of falconry to describe how he will tame his female hawk or ‘haggard’ (4.1.193). Here, Maria compares herself to a ‘free Haggard’ who has the ‘Spirit’ to fly away and ‘knows it’ (p. 231).
At the end of The Woman’s Prize, Petruchio tries to gain sympathy by playing dead in his coffin. But Maria only weeps at the thought of his ‘unmanly, wretched, foolish life’ (p. 253). When Petruchio is revealed to be alive, they resolve to make a new start. The epilogue declares that the play aims ‘To teach both Sexes due equality’ (p. 254).
What did Coleridge write in this copy?
The play is part of the Comedies and Tragedies of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, two playwrights who worked in close partnership in Shakespeare’s day. Their collected works were first printed in 1647, and this expanded edition appeared in 1679.
This particular copy was passed between two famous 19th-century writers. It belonged to Charles Lamb (1775–1834) who, with his sister Mary, wrote popular children’s versions of Shakespeare. Lamb lent it to the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), who added a number of handwritten notes, including one which shows that Coleridge thought he was dying: ‘N.B. I will shall not be long here, Charles! – I gone, you will not mind my having spoiled a book in order to leave a Relic. S. T. C. – Octr 1811’ (p. 8, part 2).