~by Kate Eastwood Norris
currently in the role of Katherina Minola for Folger Theatre
As I write this, we are about two weeks from our first audience for the Folger’s production of The Taming of the Shrew and I still have no real idea how to say Kate’s final speech without offending somebody! After almost twenty years as a professional actress, I have learned that individual audience members will interpret what they see the way they want to. If they watch that final speech with their arms crossed and a scowl ready on their faces before I even begin to speak, that is something I have no control over. The most I can do is try and remain consistent in the portrayal of my own ideas about the character and by following clues within the text, I have a powerful weapon in my arsenal.
What is commonly known as “the sun and moon scene” (Act 4 sc 5) is perhaps the clearest textual clue toward Kate’s behavior in the last scene of the play. Petruchio has spent most of his time with Kate employing the tactic he references in Act 2 sc1 lines 178-179
”Say that she rail, why then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale”
It is finally in the sun and moon scene that Kate finally learns the lesson that choice of words can be a game and the naming of a thing is arbitrary to the truth of what it is. In this scene, Petruchio names the sun the moon, and in order to continue their journey, Kate not only agrees with him but goes so far as to treat Vincentio, an old man they meet, as a “young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet” (41)
To take this lesson learned and apply it to the troublesome lines in the last speech such as
“Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;” (171-2)
can serve to take the sting a modern woman might feel in such submission by applying the logic that Kate does not mean what she is says and is basically calling the sun the moon throughout the entire last speech.
While this is one way to go about it, and there are a few lines Kate speaks that I like to think she doesn’t necessarily believe, our production is focusing on the love Kate has developed for Petruchio and his in return. Since my actual husband, Cody Nickell is playing Petruchio, it is not in the least difficult to find the motivation to say to all present, the audience included:
“Place you hands below your husbands foot;
In token of which duty, if he please
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.”
I would help Cody and give him a lift up in the world any way I could and never could conceive of that sort of love until I found him. Now, as an actress, I would of course need to play this with whichever actor was across from me, but having Cody there sure makes it easier.
So the true love Kate found with Petruchio combined with a textually supported healthy sense of wordplay have ended up as my particular weapons against stubborn audience members who are determined to be offended. Whatever they think, all will certainly see a happier Kate at the end of the play, and to me, that’s a story worth telling.
What questions do modern students have for Katherina Minola? Post them in the comments and Folger’s Kate and her compatriots on the ED blog will respond!