KEATS once said that great writing is all about “being in uncertainties”. Shakespeare himself often seems uncertain about patriarchy and the family.
In Othello – now playing in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens – he shows this at its worst, bullying, capricious and murderous.
Yet in The Taming Of The Shrew, he writes a famous apology for male power in marriage, showing the young shrew Katherine subdued by her bold new husband Petruchio, after a few days of starvation. It’s a shocking image, both in the full-length play and in Sandy Nelson’s tight, perfectly-shaped 50-minute version for the Oran Mor Classic Cuts season; and what’s most shocking is how well it works, in terms of drama and character, all but convincing us that given a husband as witty and exuberant as Petruchio, we women should just give up.
In Rosie Kellagher’s sharp, witty and beautifully-paced production, Iain Robertson, Rebecca Elise and Sandy Nelson create three superb cameos as Petruchio, Kate, and her father Baptista, backed by three fine student performances; at the end, a great weight of sorrow seems to descend on Elise’s Kate, as she bows to her husband’s will. Yet the idea that there might be some happy balance to be struck, between absolute male dominance and merciless female nagging, never seems to cross Shakespeare’s mind; unless it’s to be found in the sheer erotic energy and wit of Kate’s exchanges with Petruchio, which suggest that any system of power is bearable, where there is real love and desire, and a shared sense of the absurd.