Friday, October 9, 2009

The Taming of the Shrew - Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton-- Petruchio woos Katharina (1/2)

I thought I'd celebrate Ms. Elizabeth Taylor's apparently successful recent heart surgery by showing a clip from my favorite of the several films she made with her most famous past husband, Richard Burton.

This clip from the 1967 film (directed by Franco Zefferelli) features part of one of the most famous and funniest scenes (Act II, Scene I) of Shakespeare's play, written in 1594.

Katharina is an ill-tempered woman but the conceited nobleman, Petruchio, takes on the challenge of taming and marrying her. After a bad start, the suitor with his work cut out for him redoubles his efforts and uses some reverse psychology to win her heart. If you watch this scene carefully, you'll notice she at least starts to entertain the idea that he's a match for her.

I think this is one of Shakespeare's great "battle of the sexes" plays, right up with Beatrice and Benedict's verbal sparring from the comedy "Much Ado About Noting" and the heavy emoting and power-playing of Anthony and Cleopatra written about a decade after this work.

The film is sumptuous to look at, and has a great supporting cast, including Michael York as a young swain, Michael Horden as a befuddled father, and Victor Spinetti doing a fine comic turn as a harassed music tutor. However, if you want a more faithful adaptation of the play, I'd recommend looking for a DVD copy of the 1980 BBC version of the play with John Cleese and Sarah Badel, directed by Jonathan Miller.


  1. This is one of my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, and I always love to see it in any version, including Kiss Me Kate. Elizabeth was such a wonderful Kate!!

    One of the best things I did in High School was get involved in Drama. I had so much fun with it, and one of my best friends and I even entered a Shakespeare contest of all the area High Schools, doing the famous scene which ends with "Aye, there's a wench! Come on and kiss me, Kate." It's still dear to my heart!!!

  2. Indeed she was--a fine performance. Thanks for sharing those experiences Christy. Sounds like you were a pretty spirited Kate yourself.

  3. The chemistry they shared may be unmatched, To bad they could not keep it together off the stage and screen. I love the Taming of the Shrew. I read it in high school and have seen a couple of variatiosn on the screen as well as tv. Thank you for sharing

  4. I'm sorry Doug I don't seem to be getting alerts that you have loaded an item.

    You've got to give it to Kate she was pretty swift on the escape. We all know that he tames her to some extent. This is a brilliant Shakespeare, play. It shows he knew a thing or two about
    women. :-)

  5. Loved her in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolff. ..

  6. I agree its great fun, Fred, and seems to score well with audiences of both sexes. And I agree its too bad Taylor and Burton didn't settle down and go old together--they had incredible chemistry together on screen as you say. Maybe their films and plays weren't always as good as this one, but I would have loved to see the two of them on stage reading the phone book together.

  7. Yes, I know there is so controversy about whether Kate was really "tamed" in the last part of the play, or if her last speech (when she comes to Petruchio's call at the banquet ) is better played tongue in cheek or whatever.

    Personally I think it can play right either way, Cassandra, depending on the moment in time and the realtionship as the audience understands men and women in their respective time: and, to me, that's part of Shakespeare genius and his theatrical immortality.
    To me, Kate is such a flesh and blood woman--difficult, yes, but REAL and not simply a stage-woman of farce. She lets Petruchio into her life I think not because he's better at "taming" than the other men who've wooed and lost, but because she thinks he's sharp enough in wit and fancy to give her an enjoyable time when all this courting is done.

    And, yes, reading the play a few years back I was struck by the same thing; our Willliam understands something about women!

    What a rare chap he must have been! :-) (Either that or he took his first drafts to his "Dark Lady" or home to Stratford and wife Anne, and one of the ladies made the necessary "corrections".)

  8. Another outstanding film, Frank. It must have been fun for both to sport about in these roles after the rigors of being Professor George and Angry Martha for that long and dismal night in a New England college town.

  9. Check my REVIEWS section for my Top 122 Movies of All time. ..

  10. Good clip Doug, I never knew Elizabeth Taylor was still alive, so good for her... plenty of husbands has long been known to give evolutionary advantage, which is a subject I have blogged on myself in the past.

    Slightly perversely I sometimes wonder about such intimate relationships that were written about at a time when attention to personal hygiene was so scant by contemporary standards.

    I've never seen the film nor the play, but I enjoyed the clip so thanks for sharing it and your succinct analysis of the plot.

  11. Yes, Liz Taylor is indeed alive, and I understand from a recent picture that The Queen is also in the pink, despite her alarming inability to dump her one and only husband, that guy who shoots grouse or whatever ... Phil of Something, Lord of Richenbacher? No, that's the name of a guitar, right? Or is he the Duke of Earl? No, that's not it....crumbs! ... The name escapes me.

    I'm not sure about evolutionary advantages, but I imagine Ms. Taylor has had both a bumpier and more enjoyable ride with her multiple match-ups. ;-)

    Shakespeare could be a bawdy fellow when it came to writing romantic byplay, and later on in this scene its gets quite graphic .... no wonder he had to be bowdlerized by the Victorians. I imagine the censor would have climbed right up his back were he luckless enough to have written in the era of Shaw and Wilde.

  12. A fine list, Frank. Good balance of the old and the new.

  13. Glad you like. Feel free to tack your Top 20 in there if u like.

  14. I don't think anyone like Kate could be really tamed, passion courses through her veins.
    Any man attempting to woo this woman had better have great poetic clout and also the ability to eat a large slice of humble pie!

    Yes indeed, Shakespeare travels through time very well.

    Kate must have every woman wishing she could let go like that and trash every bit of china in the house. I remember when I was a child tearing a book when I was upset about something. After, when I calmed down, I sat in a heap with the book in my lap and sobbed. Of course my father repaired it for me, but I learnt that the only person to hurt was me. I don't think they had super glue in Kate's time, did they?:-)

    Thanks Doug.

  15. You're right, Cassandra. In real life, Kate wouldn't be tamed. The fireworks would've just begun with those two lovebirds!

    Kudos to you for understanding early that when you "lose it" emotionally over small matters, the real person that is hurt the most is yourself. It took most of us a bit longer I'm afraid.