O tempora o mores!

This summer’s Shakespeare in High Park offers two plays, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew, in an outdoor setting that’s close to the action. I saw The Taming of the Shrew last night and can report that it’s a popular romp of a production that drew a sellout crowd including lots of families with young children. I am not sure, however, that it is family fare.

The Taming of the Shrew has never been among my favourite Shakespearean plays. While the work has spawned Broadway and other iterations, its theme of taking the rebellious Kate and bending her into the obedient wife has always seemed out of place to me. I first read the play in the 1960s and the tone and temper of the text is even less suitable today.

This ribald production distorts the original in ways that, to my mind, make it even less likeable. One character is played as a flaming gay. I don’t mind the updated activity where he regularly makes runs to Starbucks and delivers various concoctions to the cast on stage, but his overwrought acting wore thin after a while, and did little more than mock gay men in general.

In Shakespeare’s time, women weren’t permitted on stage. That’s why there are lots of disguises in The Bard’s plays. So having Lucentio played by a woman is an interesting idea. Except that Lucentio takes on a “disguise” as Cambio, a tutor, to woo Bianca, Kate’s younger sister. There is no attempt to make Lucentio look like a man in either guise so their loving and kissing looks outright lesbian. Does all this sound like something your eight-year-old granddaughter should see?

And yet. Among the hottest items on YouTube these days is the unrated version of Robin Thicke’s new hit, Blurred Lines. Thicke and the other two male singers are fully clothed. The female participants are naked except for a tiny, well-placed and flesh-coloured g-string. The video is available to anyone with a computer, which these days covers all ages. By comparison, the Shakespeare I saw last night was a walk in the park.

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