Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Clue in The Taming of the Shrew: a question for Isabel Gortázar

We caught up with veteran Marlovian researcher Isabel Gortázar, whose exceptional work has appeared in the Marlowe Society Newsletter and Marlowe Society Research Journal. After a lifetime in publishing, Isabel is now attempting to retire from business in order to spend more time researching the Marlowe-Shakespeare connection. Isabel shares her time between Spain and England.

Q: Isabel, your 2004 article, "The Clue in The Shrew" (Research Journal, Dec. 04), which you have recently revised and is now available in the Marlowe Society Research Journal (Vol. 6, 2009), presents a fascinating examination of The Taming of the Shrew's rather unusual Induction scene. Your brilliant exegesis makes a most compelling case that the Deptford incident, or "farce" as you call it, is strongly alluded to in the prelude, which you see as a kind of riddle containing clues about Marlowe's staged death on May 30, 1593. What triggered this reading of The Shrew for you, Isabel?

Isabel: I have great difficulty in accepting that any work of art by a major artist may be seriously flawed. In my experience, every time you come across a work of art that seems to be illogical or unfinished, all you need to do is to allow yourself an exercise in lateral thinking. This has never failed me so far. For example, Mozart has one allegedly “flawed” major opera, The Magic Flute, but there is nothing flawed about The Flute; all you need is to ask yourself the right questions. This is just one example of many.

When I re-read The Shrew by chance, previous to attending a performance in Stratford, I realized I was up against one of these “flawed” masterpieces; clearly the Induction made no sense, so lateral thinking was required. I knew there was an answer somewhere waiting to be found and, frankly, I was shocked by the absurdities that the critics of all times have offered as explanations for the “unfinished” Induction and the “disappearance” of Christopher Sly.

In these cases, my habit is to strip the – apparently - nonsensical part to its bare essentials. In this case: A man called Christopher Sly, after a quarrel with a Hostess in a Tavern over a bill is left in a ditch appearing to be dead. But Christopher is not dead at all; he is rescued by a Lord and his Servants, and invited to dine and watch a “comedy”. While this comedy is being performed and our attention distracted, Christopher Sly disappears and is never heard of again.

Once you focus on this abridged and simplified reading of the Induction, provided of course you are prepared both to question the authorship of William Shakespeare and the possibility that Marlowe did not die in Deptford, the so-called flaw disappears and the message of the farcical Induction becomes crystal clear.

After hitting on the basic message, it has taken me years to get to the bottom of the clues, and I am sure I am still missing something. In that respect, the recently revised version (2008) includes a few fascinating clues that I had not found four years ago.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, February 2009

Isabel Gortázar can be reached at

Editor's note: Click here for an excellent article by Isabel on the authorship issue, originally printed in the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia de Barcelona and now available online at the Spanish website

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.


Anonymous said...

Makes me want to read the Shrew's Induction scene right now.

Anonymous said...

very interesting and a great blog

Anonymous said...

Marlowe leaves many clues!

Unknown said...

In Shakespeare's 'Shrew', Christopher Sly presents Marlowe as a dreamer with ideas above his social station.This is Shakespeare's retaliation to Marlowe's 'Taming of a Shrew', which portrayed Shakespeare as a hen-pecked social opportunist. These plays were written for the entertainment and patronage of the Earl of Southampton, who employed both writers in competition for his favour whilst investigating the theatre underground for the political benefit of the Earl of Essex.

Anonymous said...

Isabel’s intriguing remarks on the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew have led me to reread the text with a more inquisitive eye. Since we share the belief that Marlowe wrote the play, the Induction may contain more hidden clues than one would suspect.

First, the text of The Taming of “the” Shrew was first published in the First Folio of 1623. The earlier, unpolished version, known as The Taming of “a” Shrew, was published in 1594 and, according to Henslowe’s Diary, was performed in that year by the Lord Chamberlain’s servants at Newington Butts. I suspect that the First Folio text was prepared by Marlowe himself for inclusion in Blount’s compilation. But was the First Folio version ever performed before 1623? Does anybody know?

The Induction takes up the first two scenes of the play. It is a kind of farcical warm-up to the actual play which begins in Scene 3. Several things in the Induction struck me. The Christopher Sly character is the butt of an elaborate joke played by a nobleman who finds him in a drunken sleep and has him carried to his “fairest chamber” where it will be pretended that Sly is actually a great lord who has awakened from a fifteen-year coma.

To compound the joke, the nobleman engages a troupe of actors to pretend they are Sly’s servants. He also has his page--named Bartholomew--disguise himself as a woman to play Sly’s wife, assuming the “grace, voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman.” Which begs the question: Did young Christopher Marlowe ever play a woman’s role in a theatrical production? Also, note the nobleman’s skill at stage direction, instructing a player how to induce tears by using an onion wrapped in a napkin. Which reminds one of Hamlet’s very professional instructions to his players.

Since I am of the belief that Christopher Marlowe, at age eight, became a page and served Philip Sidney on his two-year tour of the continent, the name Bartholomew is significant, since both young Christopher and Sidney were in Paris during the famous St. Bartholomew Massacre in which the Catholics slaughtered thousands of Huguenots. During the massacre they took refuge in the house of the English ambassador, Sir Francis Walsingham, under whom Marlowe later served as a spy.

In Scene 3, we are transported to Italy where Lucentio and his servant Tranio have arrived in “fair Padua, nursery of arts,” to “suck the sweets of sweet philosophy.” They discuss the academic curriculum, and Tranio advises his master to “study what you most affect.“ Padua, of course, is where Walsingham attended the University during his Marian exile. Also, Philip Sidney and his page spent time in Padua during the continental tour. The descriptions of Italy in that scene reveal an intimate knowledge of the country. And in that same scene the author makes allusions to Ovid and Dido. In other words, Marlowe’s fingerprints are all over this play.

No doubt, more can be found to comment on in the rest of the play, but we shall leave that to another time.

Bastian Conrad said...

What an interesting story ! I was not aware of the remarkable introduction scene in the "Shrew" before, with such an amount of possible hidden clues to Marlowes biography.(in particular his direct hints of absence ).Thanks