Introduction : Gender and Power in Shrew-Taming Narratives
A decade ago materialist-feminist and historicist criticism of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew had reached something of an impasse. In 1996, summarising the fortunes of the shrew over the previous ten years, Paul Yachnin argued that modern opinion on Shakespeare’s play could be divided between the two dominant schools of thought in contemporary Shakespeare criticism, ‘knowledge’ and ‘power’.1 ‘Power’ readings see literature as ‘merely reproductive’ of the ‘social formation’ and its ‘ideological complex’ (Yachnin para. 1); ‘knowledge’ readings adopt the rationalist view that ‘Shakespeare’s plays are alive in some uncanny way, persistently conscious of their own production of meaning and therefore free of the history in which they were produced and in which their meanings are constantly being revised’ (para. 3). In this latter perspective The Taming of the Shrew is a document of enlightenment, which resolves the harsh discords of its crude ‘taming’ materials, to produce visions of reciprocal accommodation and free mutuality between the sexes.