Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

"Kate the Curst"

~by Kate Eastwood Norris
currently in the role of Katherina Minola for Folger Theatre 

Kate Eastwood Norris and husband Cody Nickel as Katherina and Petruchio

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!


  • Go, Kate! By the way, what’s it like to play a character who shares your name?

    Since Shakespeare never feared being provocative and controversial, why should you when you’re performing him?

    Another question I have is to hear more about the dialogue between you, other cast members, the director, and the dramaturge about how you resolve especially difficult matters of interpretation. Have thre been previous interpretations of Kate’s role that have especially influenced you?

    When the time comes, could you tell us a little about how the audiences’ reactions during preview week lead you to tweak your character further?

    Finally, could you tell us about putting your hands under Petruchio’s feet? Where did that come from? We know about stomping on a glass in Jewish weddings. And I just watched a film (Rana’s Wedding) that ends in a Muslim wedding, where the bride puts out candles under her feet after the groom holds them on the ground.

    • Thank you for your scholarly questions, Richard,

      We’re saving questions as they come in for distribution to Kate and the production staff – the technical rehearsal process for this production has been especially extreme, and we didn’t want to add essay composition on top of all their hard work! Thank you for being so prompt, and please stay tuned for more Questions from Students who are seeing the production after it opens next week, and Answers from Kate et al.

    • Responses to certain questions from Dramaturge Michele Osherow and Director Aaron Posner follow.

      RW: Since Shakespeare never feared being provocative and controversial, why should you when you’re performing him?

      MO: I don’t read Kate’s post as a few of being provocative – in fact, I’d argue that the choice to represent a truly loving relationship in SHREW is provocative to contemporary audiences. I think Kate [Norris]’s struggle is trying to perform something about which folks have preconceived, hostile notions. A number of people – not just women – who know the play arrive at the theatre knowing they’ll object to its final moments. That’s a difficult hurdle for the actor. Kate’s Kate is bold and strong but also very human – she wants the kind of loving relationship all humans want. The terms in which she describes that love, though, are as excessive as she (and Petruchio) are.
      It’s the excess that’s hard to take and difficult for the actor who wants to generate a performance of something genuine, sensitive (not usually marked by the flourish of excess).

      RW: Finally, could you tell us about putting your hands under Petruchio’s feet? Where did that come from? We know about stomping on a glass in Jewish weddings. And I just watched a film (Rana’s Wedding) that ends in a Muslim wedding, where the bride puts out candles under her feet after the groom holds them on the ground.

      AP: There were not previous ways of handling the final scene that particularly influenced me. It was much more a matter of trying to find a way to handle it with some kind of complexity and integrity. Does it seem truthful and connected to these characters? Does it help us ask interesting questions of ourselves and our lives? That is what we were most focused on. As an actress, Kate Norris has to make sense of it for her character, which I think she has done

      MO: I think Kate’s willingness to put her hand beneath Petruchio’s foot is a sign of her humility and willingness to serve. I don’t know of specific early modern rituals to this effect, but I do know that similar acts and images appear in the Bible: see Psalm 8, for example, in which the Psalmist celebrate’s man’s superior place in the world because God “hast put all things under his feet.”
      (The breaking of the glass comes from a different tradition: there’s a number of readings of this act, but the most common interpretation is that it recalls the destruction of the temple, so that even in moments of joy the Jewish people are instructed to recall a difficult past.)

    • Hello Richard! Your questions are very interesting and Michelle and Aaron certainly responded with just as interesting comments. I agree with everything they said, so I will respond to some of your more personal questions.
      Being a Kate and also playing someone named Kate is actually pretty great. In rehearsal, actors are often called by their characters’ names to avoid too many names floating around and in this case, I found it quite efficient! But sometimes, I had to clarify which Kate I was talking about with Aaron when discussing something. If Kate (Katerina) is unhappy with an event taking place on stage, that is an entirely different matter than when Kate (Norris) feels that way, and a little specificity is sometimes needed. I’ll tell you it’s a lot better than when I played the fool in “King Lear” and had to respond to “Hey, Fool!” for two months.
      In answer to your question about other Kate’s that have influenced me, I really try to avoid seeking out examples of other actor’s work on the same role, especially in Shakespeare, because I consider my primary task as an actor to be a part of the world the specific group of actors and the director are trying to create for each show. Everyone has preconceived notions about the great iconic roles, especially from movies, and in the case of the Shrew, I am as far as a person can be from Elizabeth Taylor, even though I did have people asking me if I would have to dye my hair brown in order to play the part! I think my Kate is more broken and in need of help than most Kate’s are commonly played and the audience has mixed responses about that, as with the final speech where I have gotten everything from applause to hissing. It’s all great and I never know from night to night, how people will respond. That’s part of the beauty of the live experience!

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