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Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.
Edited by Margaret Dupuis and Grace Tiffany.
Modern Language Association, 2013. 248pp.

Reviewer: Dr. Kerry Spooner, Suffolk County Community College

(December 2017 Issue / PDF)

In the “Preface” of Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Margaret Dupuis and Grace Tiffany immediately identify an enduring puzzle: Shrew “is the Shakespeare play most notorious for its apparently sexist representation of male-female—especially marital—relationships. Yet the play remains undyingly popular with students [and] teachers […].” The play’s violent misogynistic rhetoric coupled with the surfeit of punny, farcical and satirical humor makes—an otherwise more accessible Shakespeare’s piece—a sometimes uncomfortable pedagogical experience or what some might call “pleasurable contentiousness” (21). To confront this dilemma the editors selected a diverse sampling of essays that offer instructors philosophical, historical, performative, and practical pedagogical tools. Given the play’s paradoxical position in the North American academy and theater, it is surprising that this volume did not come sooner. 

In addition to Dupuis and Tiffany’s essays, there are twenty-seven contributions included in this volume. The essays are broadly organized into the standard MLA Approaches to Teaching two parts: “Materials” and “Approaches.” Although in other volumes the “Material” section often seems more suited for advanced scholarship, Dupuis provides a much-needed review of the many printed editions available to introductory literature courses. Notably, for the non-Shakespearean scholars, the subsection “Teaching Resources” offers a number of sources that place The Taming of the Shrew in the “long tradition of wife-taming stories dating back to the oral tradition […]” and background material that “contextualizes the [play] within the cultural milieu of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century daily life” (7, 8). Placing Shrew in its historical context and literary lineage does not only offer nuanced Elizabethan England debates about the social status of women, but also arguments on “modes of early education, the uses of clever rhetoric, intergenerational politics, the power of theater as art in life, class conflict, and social mobility, sibling rivalry, and others” (“Preface”).

The essays selected for this publication of Approaches to Teaching are meant to encourage classroom argument with tried and proven activities. This is often accomplished through the tension produced by the play and its context. In his essay, “Pervasive Contentiousness in The Taming of the Shrew,” James Hirsh shares a practical classroom activity where the students categorize different kinds of conflicts contained within the text, which often include “hostilities or rivalries within households, within social groups, between members of different social groups, between individuals and social conditions, and between city-states” (55). After creating a taxonomy of conflicts, the class examines what “can ignite conflict” and the motives and “dynamics of many particular episodes” (63). Differently, Peter H. Greenfield describes a holistic approach that includes “close readings, exploring options for performance, learning about the values and practices of Shakespeare’s culture” and reading critical analyses (84). He provides lesson activities for the first three classes, which are primarily stimulated by a number of provocative questions. While Joseph Ricke points out in “Kate, the Commonplace: The Framing of the Shrew,” that the important work of finding the hidden lives and stories in the larger narrative requires seeing the development of Shakespeare’s play through history (123). Moreover, the emphasis in the classroom is on “the push-pull between the synchronic and the diachronic” analysis. It is crucial to investigate both the language within a text and examine the context from which that text emerges.          
In the section titled, “Approaches,” Dupuis and Tiffany organized it under the headings “Language and Texts,” “Context,” “Teaching through and about Performance” and “Short Takes.” The essays in the first three sections undertake a number of questions about language, context, and performance for the novice Shakespeare readers, who will likely struggle with the language, cultural materials required to historicize, and varied performances that “radically influence the meaning” (22). In “Reversing the Polarity: Teaching Textual Practices through The Taming of the Shrew,” Laura Grace Godwin recounts a traumatic early educational classroom experience in which her shock and expressed view over the treatment of women in the play was immediately silenced by her peers and teacher’s accusation that she “misread” the “’love story’” (76). Godwin’s story is a starting point for her larger argument, it was not the text she misread; rather, it was the edition in which the play was presented that she misunderstood (77). She advocates for “the instructor’s dissemination of information about the play’s bibliographic background [and] encourage students to explore early printed versions of Shakespeare” (77). For the apprehensive teacher/instructor, Godwin points out that the millennial generation is particularly evolved to adjust to textual variation that such an exploration would undoubtedly produce. After all, this is the generation raised on “computer gaming or cinematic adaptations of well-known books” (77). She offers a blueprint on how to equip students with the skills to undergo their own textual investigations.         

Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew accomplishes the tasks the editors intended for it; that is, it provides undergraduate instructors with a comprehensive pedagogical resource with innovative teaching strategies. Largely, this volume avoids the weighty terminology and extensive critical interpretation that sometimes frustrate access to the actual teaching strategies of the Approaches to Teaching series. While some of the essays and teaching approaches in “Teaching Through and About Performance” is for more advanced, upper-division courses, a few modifications to the lesson activities will accommodate an introductory literature course where additional authors will be read. The subsection called “Short Takes” offers seven short descriptions of lesson activities ranging from the use of food to examine symbolism and material significance to class performances involving cross-dressing to examine “gender conflict and relations of power” (200). The reason for the success of this volume is due in no small part to the co-editors who are clearly well versed in many pedagogical, historical and literary aspects of Shakespeare’s works.   


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