The Taming of the Shrew
This comedy was likely written between 1590 and 1591. (See Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (2nd edition, 2005).)
The play follows the wooing of two rich, young, and beautiful sisters from Padua: the “shrewish” Katherine by the equally ornery Petruchio and the milder-tempered Bianca by a number of suitors. Eventually Petruchio marries and successfully “tames” Katherine, and Lucentio marries Bianca.
Textual References to Dance
Text excerpts and their act, scene, and line numbers follow Folger Digital Texts unless otherwise noted.
Act I, scene 2, 66-77
PETRUCHIO: Signior Hortensio, ’twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice. And therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife
(As wealth is burden of my wooing dance),
Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not, or not removes at least
Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas.
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.
Act II, scene 1, lines 34-39
KATHERINE: What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband,
I must dance barefoot on her wedding day
And, for your love to her, lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep
Till I can find occasion of revenge.
Dance References in The Taming of the Shrew
While dance is not a central theme in this play, there are two speeches that reference it. In Act I, scene 2, Petruchio refers to the act of courtship as a dance. He also makes a musical pun on “burden,” and an additional reference to movement (“she moves me not”) in the same speech. Dancing was a common activity for courting couples in Shakespeare’s day, as well as a metaphor for love and/or sexual intimacy, so these references would have made sense to playgoers then as now.
In Act II, scene 1, Katherine, while accusing her father of favoritism towards her sister, declares that she “must dance barefoot” at her sister’s wedding, and “lead apes in hell,” referencing a supposed tradition of unmarried elder siblings at a younger sibling’s wedding (Slights, p. 49), and an expression alluding to a supposed punishment for unmarried or celibate women (Needham). While leading in the latter example does not necessarily refer to dancing, it nonetheless builds on the prior reference to dance in the same speech. Both references invoke dancing to distort or subvert expectations, referring to examples where dancing is humiliating rather than celebratory.
– Emily Winerock (October 4, 2019)
Winerock, Emily. “Dance References in The Taming of the Shrew.” The Shakespeare and Dance Project, edited by Linda McJannet, Amy Rodgers, and Emily Winerock, October 4, 2019. shakespeareandance.com/plays/taming-of-the-shrew. Accessed [date].
Isenberg, Nancy. “Feminist Movement and the Balance of Power in John Cranko’s ballet, The Taming of the Shrew (Stuttgart, 1969).” In Shakespeare and European Politics, edited by Dirk Delabastita, Jozef De Vos and Paul Franssen, pp. 169-178. Newark, DE: Delaware University Press, 2008.
Needham, Gwendolyn B. “New Light on Maids ‘Leading Apes in Hell’.” The Journal of American Folklore 75, no. 296 (1962): 106-119.
Slights, Camille Wells. “The Raw and the Cooked in The Taming of the Shrew,” pp. 32-56. In Shakespeare’s Comic Commonwealths. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.