Notes from the SHREW Rehearsal

I’m giving Poetry a rest today in order to share an insightful, humor-related blog post by Dan McCleary, Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the Tennessee Shakespeare Company. (This article was originally published on


Dan McCleary

Dan McCleary

I was once speaking over the phone with a man I had never met in person, yet he had given every indication to me that he bordered on lunacy. He rambled and ranted, but as he approached the end of his one-way conversation he offered to me that, in the end between two people in a relationship, what truly mattered was that they were able to laugh at the same things.

Foolishly, as things unfolded later in life, I did not consider this deeply enough at the time it was shared with me. Shakespeare‘s madmen and fools usually carry the belly of the play with them — the chaotic, ugly truth. I knew this but didn’t apply it.

Sharing the same sense of humor can be blissful unusualness between two people. It can save two people, personally and professionally, I have observed, and it can provide a touchstone of faith. Humor bespeaks intelligence, and wit. It frequently tells us about ourselves, tells others about us, and can be inexplicable. It can be psychic medicine, and it can be the first unconscious progress toward weeping. An uncontrolled laugh can wear you out.

We might sometimes laugh quietly at knowing our partner will laugh. Then it is sometimes the substitute for words. I suggest it is perhaps the quickest way to come to know another person.

My sense currently in rehearsals with TN Shakespeare Company‘s Petruchio and Kate is that what too many of us define as a “battle of the sexes” (an all-too-frequent marketing slogan which I find misguided about the relationship in The Taming of the Shrew) is potentially a perfect match waiting to happen. And that perhaps what provides the match is the singular sense of humor of these two people heretofore destined, each, for a single life.

The famous wooing scene between the two actors is finding its romance and even sexiness in each person discovering what makes the other laugh, despite him/herself. (Below is an excerpt from that scene. For the complete text of Act 2, Scene 1, click here. )

KATE: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

PETRUCHIO: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.

KATE: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies,

PETRUCHIO: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.

KATE: In his tongue.

PETRUCHIO: Whose tongue?

KATE: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.

PETRUCHIO: What, with my tongue in your tail? nay, come again, Good Kate; I am a gentleman.

KATE:  That I’ll try. (She strikes him)

PETRUCHIO: I swear I’ll cuff you, if you strike again.

KATE: So may you lose your arms: If you strike me, you are no gentleman; And if no gentleman, why then no arms.

PETRUCHIO: A herald, Kate? O, put me in thy books!

KATE: What is your crest? a coxcomb?

PETRUCHIO: A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen.

KATE: No cock of mine; you crow too like a craven.

PETRUCHIO: Nay, come, Kate, come; you must not look so sour.

KATE:  It is my fashion, when I see a crab.

PETRUCHIO: Why, here’s no crab; and therefore look not sour.

KATE: There is, there is.

PETRUCHIO: Then show it me.

KATE: Had I a glass, I would.

PETRUCHIO: What, you mean my face?

KATE: Well aim’d of such a young one.

PETRUCHIO: Now, by Saint George, I am too young for you.

KATE: Yet you are wither’d.

PETRUCHIO: ‘Tis with cares.

KATE: I care not.

PETRUCHIO: Nay, hear you, Kate: in sooth you scape not so.

KATHARINE: I chafe you, if I tarry: let me go.

Making someone laugh is a palpable victory. Allowing oneself to submit to being the butt of the joke is a special gift to the other.

Humor is a way in. And right now, we are discovering that the way in then cannot always be the way through. That’s a cover. But the hearts of Kate and Petruchio have longing in them, and poetry, and capacity. They just haven’t been exercised.



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