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My Shakespeare: Morgan Freeman on The Taming of the Shrew

Updated Friday 13th March 2015

Morgan Freeman rediscovers Shakespeare with the play that would become a template for all the “battle of the sexes” comedies to follow - The Taming of the Shrew.

Morgan Freeman Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Sky / Blakeway Productions

About the episode

Morgan Freeman first discovered Shakespeare in school in Mississippi. And he, like Shakespeare, was born a country boy with big ambitions! He went on to play the hero of this play – Petruchio – in a famous production for Shakespeare in the Park in New York in 1990.

It’s a love story between two unlikely characters. The Shrew is Katherine (or Kate) - a woman who is not prepared to accept any of the conventions of her time and so is “unmarriageable”. Her sister is a kind of Tudor Barie Doll and the contrast is striking. Petruchio is after a wife, and the wealthier the better; he takes up the challenge of “taming” the Shrew.

16th century England and the Old West had a lot more in common than you might think - Morgan Freeman

It’s a role that we discover has appealed to many men, Richard Burton, Brian Cox, John Cleese and Raul Julia. And we reveal some Kates: such as Elizabeth Taylor, Fiona Shaw, Sinead Cusack and Meryl Streep. Morgan’s Kate was Tracey Ullman and they reunite to re-examine their own “wild west” production of the play.

For many this play is an uncomfortable watch. It was one of Shakespeare’s very first plays and perhaps it seems too brutal and sexist for modern audiences. It ends with a speech about how women should “obey” their men. But is this quite the sexist propaganda that it first seems to be – or is there something more complicated (and more interesting) going on?

Morgan investigates and concludes that beneath the apparent cruelty there is a genuinely modern message about equality in relationships – and we discover that one of the great “voices” of modern feminism, Germaine Greer, agrees with him.

Finally Morgan discovers – what he always suspected – that this is the play that set the template for all the “battle of the sexes” comedies that would follow over the next 400 years, and so every Hollywood screwball comedy has The Taming of the Shrew running through its veins.

My Shakespeare starts on Monday 22nd September at 9pm on Sky Arts 1 HD.


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