Classic Shakespeare

Well. What do you know. Who woulda thunk. It’s another blog post. And guess what? It’s about my man Shakespeare.

To kick off this year, our grade 12 year, we began our learning journeys by studying a play written over one hundred eighty thousand days ago. Yes, I’m taking about William Shakespeares play The Taming Of The Shrew. But we didn’t start with this, we began way back in the dreamlike time of summer.

Our first Milestone was to read an entire book. From start to finish, over the summer, but we were given a choice between like 5 books in total. I made the decision to read Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. It was written twenty one thousand, ninety nine days ago, making it pretty old. And yet people still read it? But this is something we had to analyze. We were all reading books that were considered to be classic of some nature, which was meant to get us thinking about the unit we would be diving right into at the beginning of grade 12. I found catch 22 really slow and hard to read, with it being so complicated. But that’s only my opinion and I’m not an English expert in any way shape or form. Reading this book did teach me that literature can be studied way deeper than I thought, especially since this was such a high quality book. I realized how much literature matters to our culture and society as it can make us question our rules and beliefs during our time. This is actually something Catch 22 did when it was written, as it brought up controversies about the war. After all, I gained knowledge that would help me for the next part of this unit. But we did have to write a paragraph on it. It was to explain how we think our book is a classic piece of literature. Below is my paragraph:

In North American culture, it’s likely that one will hear the phrase “Catch 22” used. This is “a phrase to be called upon when there seems no way out of the traps life can set for you and when humour really is the best response” (Neary). The way multiple generations have used this phrase to describe their own dilemmas is quite possibly the best argument to why Joseph Heller’s novel is a classic. John, the main character, is a relatable guy whose desire to survive and leave the war is thwarted by Air Force regulation “Catch 22”. The only way to be discharged from military actions was to be crazy, but if you asked to be discharged on account of insanity then you were proved sane and had to continue on with your duty. When this novel was published in November 1961, Americans at the time were going through anti-war movements to end the Vietnam war. Their ancestors had just come through both world wars. The 1960’s generation were tired of taking orders at face value. The idea that war is a paradoxical absurdity established by insane bureaucrats is a major theme throughout Catch-22. Written in a time where previous war novels were all about heroism, Catch 22 “turned heroism on its head”(Neary). It’s about an everyday man who goes to war with only one intent, to leave with his life. Removing heroism creates an instant human connection with the main character John Yossarian and broadens the range of readers of different backgrounds and levels of experience. A classic novel makes connections to current events in its time, and resonates with the audience for more than one generation. The themes and ideals of this perfectly crafted novel reflect this absolutely.

This paragraph was written once we had started our school year. As I said earlier, it kind of was a mini assignment to get our brains thinking about the next phase of the project. And guess what, it was on Shakespeare. Well, actually on his play, Taming of the Shrew. During this entire unit, we were also thinking and studying the roles of women throughout time from back when Shakespeare was still kickin, to the 1960’s. This was one piece of our entire unit.

But the next step was a big one, we were to write an essay explaining why we think the play Taming of the Shrew is a classic.

This was after we went to see a version of it at Bard on the Beach, where it was set in the Wild West as opposed to its original setting in Elizabethan time. I found this quite interesting, it was really cool to see the play rather than just reading it, which I found helped my understanding of the play a lot. The speech of each character was hard to comprehend, but I tried to just understand the jest of what they were saying, and that helped me. After the play, we began researching our essays. I had trouble coming up with my idea, it took a lot more research than I thought to spark an idea for me, but once I gathered all the research I needed, I was ready to write. I actually learned a lot researching this essay, I was confused with the play at first but after researching it, I understood a lot more about the  themes and character motives and all that fun stuff. I learned about how those ideas make the play so deep and meaningful, and how it can still resonate with people in 2019. This was what my essay was about in a nutshell, how the characters and problems that they wrestle with are still relevant to today. But I’ll let you read my actual essay, not just me talking about it.

For a piece of literature to be defined as a classic, it must be judged by many critics to be worthy of that title. For this to happen, it must be relevant over a long period of time, thus appealing to a broad spectrum of audiences. What the Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare does so well is connect with its audience through a significant emotional transformation. Several characters in the play go through changes, some physical and comedic, while others are meaningful as they grapple with love and identity. But nevertheless, the appeal of emotional transformation is evident in the suitors false identities, Kate’s escape of entrapment, and the strong influence of Petruchio. 

The physical transformations of Lucentio, Hortensio, and Tranio serve both a comedic and thematic purpose. Encountering their fake transformations at the beginning of the play sets the audience up with the theme of appearance and reality. Lucentio and Tranio trade positions, and together with Hortensio, they set out to attract the same woman, who seems to be the perfect virtuous woman. Shakespeare adds physical comedy into the pursuit of Bianca.  Disguised as a music tutor, Hortensio desperately tries to get Bianca to listen to his music as seen when he interrupts Lucentio’s poetry reading and says “Madam, my instrument is in tune” (3:1:36).  Not being an actual musician, Hortensio cannot truly compete and Lucentio, disguised as a poetry tutor, taunts him by saying “spit in the hole, man, and tune again” (3:1:39). They may change clothes and namesake, but they haven’t changed who the are. They are still the same people underneath their disguises as tutors and instructors, and seek the hand of Bianca, a woman who looks to be the perfect catch, through slyness and trickery. Tranio also changes his clothes to become a “master”. This is funny to the audience who knows who he really is and enjoy seeing a “servant” compete on a higher social level.  However, the fact remains that the change in clothes is only that, a physical transformation. The audiences in the Elizabethan era, as well as modern audiences, find identity switching entertaining. Shakespeare included comedic strategy in the play to directly contrast the real transformation of Kate. Lucentio, Hortensio and Tranio remain the same characters at the end, while Kate does not.  

Kate’s feelings of entrapment and longing for change speak to audiences universally and gets them emotionally involved in her transformation. In the beginning of the play, Kate is frustrated by her lack of respect from her own townspeople, her father's harsh treatment, and her snobby sister.  Audiences understand the pain of being left out and see how it has her torn up inside. Kate is made fun of by the people around her for her brash behaviour. She is talked down often, and publicly, as Tranio remarks “that wench is stark mad or wonderful froward” as Kate approaches them (Act 1:1 69). Her father favours Bianca, and does so in front of Kate. Kate’s own father, Baptista, leaves her out unchaperoned in the street while he goes inside to talk with Bianca, something that was disgraceful in the time. As he goes into his home he instructs Kate to stay outside,  “Katherina, you may stay, for I have more to commune with Bianca” (Act 1:1 101-102). Her sister is the one Baptista really wants to make happy, as he only wants Kate to wed for Bianca's benefit. Bianca is a character the audience starts to despise. Her appearance is a perfect feminine idea of a woman during the time, but in reality she's extremely spoiled and manipulative. Her beauty is her weapon, and she uses it well, using her looks and tears to get her way. An example of her manipulative ways can be found in act three, scene one. She cuts off Lucentio and Hortensio’s bickering and tells them she’s in charge. “I’ll not be tied to hours nor ’pointed times, but learn my lessons as I please myself” (Act 3:1 19-20). She then proceeds to sit with Lucentio, pushing Hortensio away, as she is more fond of Lucentio. In a comedic way Lucentio, Hortensio and Tranio appear to be someone else instead of themselves, and in more serious and emotional way, Bianca’s appearance does not match who she really is.  It is made clear to the audience that Kate is unhappy, and she shows it through her behaviour.  Kate’s situation appeals to anyone who has a heart, as people begin to start rooting for her to become happy. Shakespeare writes in a way where the audience identifies with Kate and wants her to change because they see the reasons behind her behaviour. Her need to escape entrapment and to find change appeals to a vast and diverse audience who recognizes that society can be oppressive, regardless of the time period, and in this case, the lack of women’s basic rights and freedom.

The catalyst for Kate’s transformation is the complex character of Petruchio.  First, Kate must be wed, and so when Petruchio comes along wanting Kate’s hand, Baptista doesn’t hesitate. Petruchio is warned beforehand about her shrewish behaviour, how she is tempered, rude and bossy. But that is no problem for Petruchio, as he says “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua” (Act 1:2 70-71). His only intentions are to wife someone who is rich, and wealth is enough for him. Even Grumio knows that a shrew is not a problem for Petruchio,  as he says “for he fears none” (Act 1:2 204). Petruchio will not be scared off by Kate’s behaviour. At first, modern audiences would be disgusted by Petruchio but as Act 1 goes on, they realize that Petruchio is the perfect catalyst for Kate’s transformation. Act two scene one shows how Kate and Petruchio are perfectly matched. They have a long conversation where Petrucio matches her wit and cleverness with quick thinking and smooth talking. 

“PETRUCHIO. Come, come, you wasp!

KATE. If I be waspish, best beware my sting. 

PETRUCHIO. My remedy is then to pluck it out.” 

(Act 2:1 211-213). 

As an audience, the chemistry between them becomes clear, but at this time Kate is still closed off towards everyone else. This is meant to make the audience wait in anticipation to see what will unfold. When Petruchio arrives to his wedding in his ragged, torn up clothes, he shocks everyone. He does this to show Kate that she's marrying him for his true character, and the same goes for him. Petruchio goes on to act out against Kate and his suitors, which reflects Kate’s own bad behaviour. She shows compassion towards the suitors which Petrucio sees. Petruchio finally brings out what the audience has been wanting to see from the start. The transformation of Kate. The appeal of finding out what happens to Kate with Petruchio is what draws the audience in, and is what has been drawing people of all experiences in since the day this play was first performed.

The Taming of the Shrew is a play that has been around for a long time, and for good reason. Audiences of different times are drawn in again and again, because of the deep and meaningful connections the characters make to our human nature, something that has remained the same for centuries. We are attracted to the emotions and feelings the characters wrestle with throughout the play, as we have all felt them ourselves. With the father daughter tensions of Kate and Baptista, to the feelings of entrapment Kate feels within her society, there's something that resonates with everyone.  Anyone with a heart can relate to any one of the many characters and feel a connection. This play appeals to so many different people, of any gender, race, or time period that it remains a classic piece of literature. It creates connections through the characters and problems they face, where even though people may not face the same problems, we connect to their emotional transformations in the play. 

And now, for the final product of this entire unit. We were split into groups of three and tasked with creating an animation, which we haven’t really done before. Each group had a different time period assigned to them and my group got the Victorian era. We would set our version of Taming of the Shrew in that time period, and make an animation of the play. We would only do act 1 however, and other groups would do the other 4 acts. Doing this would show that we understand the perspective of people in the Victorian era as we would change the themes and language to match their values and beliefs. But what we found is that we didn’t have to change much, language wise because of how close together the time periods are.

Our first draft wasn’t too great. We only took out a few lines from our act, which made our video a painstaking 17 minutes of extremely bad animation. Here it is:

But after viewing other quite similar animations from our classmates, we all realized what we had to do to improve. For my group, we created characters that we’d all use, we recorded our voices for individual characters rather than whole sections, and we focused on getting different camera angles. We also shortened the script. A lot. So we reduced the time of our whole animation by a lot which made it a lot more bearable.

Final Product:

Reflection Time

I can easily say that this unit has not been my favourite, but I can say I did learn, which is typical in school. But this unit was really eye-opening for me in terms of literature. Researching for hours for stuff to write about for my essay really showed me how much literature can be interpreted. There were many opinions on Taming of the Shrew, and all with good arguments. It makes you think what Shakespeare really meant when he was writing the play, or if he wanted it to be wide open for anyone to interpret. I think it was the latter, as there’s no way to know for sure. But even if I didn’t enjoy reading or listening to Shakespeare, this unit taught me how to break down language and really understand it. I got better at analyzing text with historical perspective, which I’ve been trying to get better at, and I’m happy we brushed up on our animation skills to start off this year. Overall: Solid project. Learned much.

Thats all,


See you

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