There are several plays of Shakespeare’s which contain a play with in a play. Such as Love’s Labour’s Lost and Hamlet. But the Taming of the Shrew is unique in that the play within the play takes up almost the whole play. Within this play The Taming of The Shrew is in fact the title of the play within the play which is put on for Christopher Sly a drunken beggar who is being tricked into believing himself a nobleman. Shakespeare however appears to forget his contrivance and at the end of the play we never return to Sly, never know what he thought of the play he saw or what happened to him next. Curious that he does not give his imagined audience a right to reply!
But the spacial challenge for staging the play within the play is where to place the actors and the ‘audience’ – Sly and his attendants. They may have been seated at the thrust stage corners, so that the actors could perform to them and the real audience at the same time. But that would have been an annoying block to the view of those standing near by in the pit. Although it is worth remembering that it was normal for those standing to jostle about to find the best view for the current scene. It is also possible that Sly and his attendants watched the play from the gallery space above (the same space used for Juliet’s balcony) This is a neat way of getting Sly et al. off stage and easily forgotten about, however it does appear to present a problem of who the play is played to – the audience in front or Sly behind? In fact this is less of a problem than it seems when we remember that the Globe theatre audience stood or sat on all three sides and in fact the best seats, the so called ‘lords boxes’, were above and towards the back of the stage – very near to where we suggest that Sly the fake lord is seated. Perhaps this was even part of the joke?
I hope you enjoyed this series, of which this is the last, which I wrote to help A level students consider the practicalities of original staging and to explore what we think we know about staging of Shakespeare’s plays.