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Shakespeare teases Daventry - and the comedy carries on

Shakespeare’s whip-smart farce is on the bill for weary travellers in search of refreshment… but it’s not for the purists, as actor David Garrick has adapted the comedy, all in the best possible taste...

In the 17th century, Daventry was a major stopover point for stage coaches, giving rise to the number of coaching houses and makers of whips in town.

Taming of the Shrew (c) Folger Shakespeare Library

Shakespeare himself would have known the town because of its proximity to Stratford on Avon.

And he may well have had a Daventry hostel keeper in mind in when he wrote this line in Henry IV Part 1 - "to say the truth, was stolen from my host at St Albans or the red nosed innkeeper of Daventry!" (Act IV, Sc II).

The full 1837 playbill

Courtesy of The British Library

This British Library playbill from 1837 urges people to go along to see Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew on stage in the New Theatre, Daventry.

Here though it is playing second fiddle to the main entertainment of the evening which is the popular Love in a Village, composed by Thomas Arne and described as a ballad opera in three acts.

And this version of Taming of the Shrew is not purely Shakespeare’s work . ‘Catharine and Petruchio’ is a reworking of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” by the British playwright and actor David Garrick. It was written in 1754, and was performed far more often than the original ‘Shrew’ through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The play is condensed into three acts, although its subject, like the original play, is the mastery of a stubborn woman. But in Garrick’s version the ending is more clear-cut: Catharine has been tamed, although Petruchio has a speech saying he'll be a loving husband.

The play is finishes with Petruchio’s lines:

How shameful ‘tis when
Women are so simple
To offer war where they
Should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy,
And sway,
Where bound to love, to honour and obey

(Act III - lines 63-66)

About Shakespeare on Tour

From the moment they were written through to the present day, Shakespeare’s plays have continued to enthral and inspire audiences. They’ve been performed in venues big and small – including inns, private houses and emerging provincial theatres.

BBC English Regions is building a digital picture which tracks some of the many iconic moments across the country as we follow the ‘explosion’ in the performance of The Bard’s plays, from his own lifetime to recent times.

Drawing on fascinating new research from Records of Early English Drama (REED), plus the British Library's extensive collection of playbills, as well as expertise from De Montfort University and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Shakespeare on Tour is a unique timeline of iconic moments of those performances, starting with his own troupe of actors, to highlights from more recent times. Listen out for stories on Shakespeare’s legacy on your BBC Local Radio station from Monday 21 March, 2016.

You never know - you might find evidence of Shakespeare’s footsteps close to home…

Craig Henderson, BBC English Regions

Catharine & Petruchio

Academic researcher Hannah Mantlekow is studying playbills connected to Shakespeare from within the British Library’s extensive collection.

Hannah Manktelow from British Library

She supports the view that this was the only version of The Taming of the Shrew on stage in Britain and America between 1754 and 1844. Even after this adaptation fell from favour, the knockabout farce continued to influence performances of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew...

Garrick’s Catherine and Petruchio is The Taming of the Shrew with a lot of the complexity – and the more troubling aspects – stripped away. The subplots of the original are removed, and when the play begins Bianca is already married (to Hortensio, rather than Lucentio in the original). Although Petruchio still seeks to tame Catherine, she similarly plans to tame him once they are married.

In new dialogue written by Garrick, they each explain their motivation to the audience. Most appealing to audiences at the time was the unambiguous ending – in Shakespeare's play they are left to decide for themselves whether Catherine has truly accepted her fate, but in Garrick’s version the audience can go home content with the knowledge that Catherine and Petruchio will, after all, have a happy marriage - thanks largely to Catherine’s humility and obedience.

Related Links

Shakespeare on Tour: Around Northampton

Shakespeare on Tour: Around the country