Here you can find the program notes for last week’s screening of Deliver Us From Eva.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Although we are accustomed to thinking of Shakespeare as the author of The Taming of the Shrew, this title is first formally established in reference to an anonymous play entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1594. The Stationers’ Register comprises the records maintained by the Stationers’ Company of London, which was a guild which has operated under royal charter since 1557 to regulate practices within the book trade, from printing to bookbinding and bookselling, and in this case it alerts us to what appears to be the first printing of a ‘bad’ quarto version of Shakespeare’s play, probably reconstructed from memory by actors of The Taming of the Shrew. The date of The Taming of the Shrew is a complex question, as there are only scant records about early performances, including a reference again from 1594 to a play called ‘The Tamynge of A Shrowe’ in Philip Henslowe’s Diary which was intriguingly played in the same week as Andronicus which may well have been another early Shakespearean work, Titus Andronicus. However, whilst the first known official attribution of The Taming of the Shrew to Shakespeare comes to us through the First Folio of 1623, the combination of printed and manuscript archival records strongly suggest that this is one of his earliest dramatic creations, and scholarly consensus currently points to a composition date between 1590 and 1591.
As one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it is interesting that The Taming of the Shrew draws extensively upon Renaissance comedic pop culture for its narrative: although very few direct sources have been identified for the play’s main characters, the forthright and unforgiving Katherina and her would-be suitor Petruchio, the idea of woman-as-shrew, or scold, was a stock subject for jestbooks in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ‘scolding of a shrew’ is listed as one of the ‘six ill sounds’ of the world in a joke book in the mid-seventeenth century, the Merry Drollery of 1661 offers guidelines on ‘how to choose a shrew’ in its ‘Advice to Bachelors’, whilst in 1693 a ‘merry Poet’ recalls a tale in which a ‘newly married man’ offers his ‘shrewd wife’ as the best form of torture to punish a wolf who has been ravaging local villagers. Along with Shakespeare’s own Katherina, these examples represent an intriguing combination of deep-rooted misogyny with humor in a way which can be deeply unsettling to modern audiences. It is worth considering the fact that in Richard II in 1597 Shakespeare uses the adjective ‘shrewd’ to indicate the danger of a very sharp sword, and for modern spectators, the shrew may yet be able to transform from a standing joke into a cunning and worthy opponent for her male detractors.
Deliver Us From Eva directed by Gary Hardwick (2003)
In this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, Eva Dandridge (Gabrielle Union) is a Los Angeles Health Inspector whose career attributes of perfectionism, directness, and bouts of officiousness are not well-received when she applies them at home to minister to the personal lives of her three sisters. Each of the three younger sisters’ plans are thwarted by Eva’s interference, and by reconfiguring Shakespeare’s sisterly dynamic between Katherina and Bianca in relation not only to Eva’s personal qualities but also her professional life, Hardwick’s film begins to elucidate a slightly different picture of the modern-day shrew than that put forth on the early modern stage. For although Eva is, in her own words, ‘uncompromising’ and ‘wear[s] it as a badge of honor’, she is true to her word when she states of ‘principle’ that ‘maybe the world is in short supply, but I am not’. Indeed, Eva takes the concept of the early modern shrew and uses it to launch a stinging attack in a battle of the sexes as she describes ‘women who aspire to culture, and men who aspire to scratch themselves’. In keeping with the source material, Eva hits so hard with her sweeping critique of all men that her words venture into misandry, but as director Hardwick has stated, she emerges as a ‘turbo-feminist’. As in Shakespeare’s play, a potential suitor is recruited for Eva, the ‘Master Player’, Ray Adams (LL Cool J), who is paid by Eva’s three brothers-in-law to distract, seduce, and then dump her. The brothers-in-law hope that Ray will be a sufficient diversion to stop Eva from interfering with their lives. However, after a rocky beginning, it is Eva’s very resolve and intelligence which seduce Ray, and when their relationship blossoms the brothers-in-law find that the newly-content shrew poses an even greater problem than she did before.
Deliver Us From Eva is an African-American Shakespearean film adaptation, and Hardwick stated that one of his greatest motivations in making the movie was ‘to see Eva on screen. [He had] never seen a woman, much less a black woman, like her in a movie’, and in Eva’s sharp-tongued, witty exchanges the shrew appears less and less like an irritating scold and more and more like an empowered hyper-achiever. Indeed, not only is Eva herself a powerful female character, but her three sisters, Kareenah (Essence Atkins), Bethany (Robinne Lee), and Jacqui (Meagan Good) are likewise outspoken and forthright, allowing this adaptation to suggest that a modern incarnation of shrewishness may actually be more shrewd than shrew.
Dr. Emma Annette Wilson