The Woman's Prize

The Woman's Prize

"The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed" is a Jacobean comedy written by John Fletcher. Its initial publication occurred in the first Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647, though it was obviously written much earlier (Fletcher died in 1625). There is no doubt that the play is the work of Fletcher alone; his highly distinctive and characteristic pattern of linguistic preferences is continuous through the text. [Hoy/Erdman, pp. 204-23.]


The play is a sequel and a reply to Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," in which (as the subtitle indicates) the gender tables are turned and Petruchio the "tamer" is "tamed." As a proto-feminist work, "The Woman's Prize" was controversial in its own day and has attracted critical attention in later generations and centuries.


The date of the play is very uncertain and has attracted a large body of dispute and opinion. A reference to the siege of Ostend in Act I, scene iii has led some commentators to date the play as early as 1604 (the siege ended on Sept. 8 of that year) [Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 222.] — though this is significantly earlier than the generally-recognized start of Fletcher's dramatic career. Some scholars have argued for an early date, on the reasoning that a date closer in time to Shakespeare's play makes more sense than a later date. The non-Shakespearean or pre-Shakespearean version of the story, "The Taming of a Shrew", was reprinted in 1607, [Q3, printed by Valentine Simmes for the bookseller Nicholas Ling.] and may have influenced Fletcher to make a reply. Other critics have favored a date as late as 1618-22 for the original version of the play, based on internal characteristics of Fletcher's evolving style. [Logan and Smith, p. 61.] Scholars who see a debt in the play to Ben Jonson's "Epicene" favor a date c. 1611.

The question of date is complicated by the matter of revision. The characters all have Italian names, and the original was likely set in Italy — but the existing version is set in London instead. [Oliphant, pp. 155-6.] The date of revision and the identity of the reviser are equally unknown, though a reasonable conjecture holds that the revision was likely done just before the 1633 revival of the play by the King's Men, when the play was acted in conjunction with Shakespeare's.

The 1633 revival

The 1633 revival provoked the wrath of Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels and the overseer of London theatre in the Caroline era. On Oct. 19, 1633, Herbert ordered the King's Men not to perform "The Woman's Prize" that day, because of the "foul and offensive matters" it contained; the company acted the Beaumont/Fletcher play "The Scornful Lady" instead. Five days later, on Oct. 24, John Lowin and Eliard Swanston, two of the leading actors in the company, came to Herbert's office to apologize personally for having given offense; their fellow actors Joseph Taylor and Robert Benfield were also present at the meeting, but apparently uninvolved in either the original offense or the apology. In regard to the same matter, Herbert addressed an Oct. 21 letter to Edward Knight, the "book-keeper" or prompter of the King's Men, on the subject of "oaths, profaneness, and public ribaldry" in the company's plays. [Halliday, p. 268.]

Fletcher's play was cleaned up in time for a Court performance the next month: "The Taming of the Shrew" and "The Woman's Prize" were acted before the King and Queen at St. James's Palace on Nov. 26 and 28 respectively. According to Herbert, Shakespeare's play was "liked" but Fletcher's was "very well liked." The existing Prologue and Epilogue, perhaps by the unknown reviser, may date from this performance; the Epilogue claims that Fletcher's play urges "both sexes due love mutually" (lines 7-8).

The manuscript

A manuscript of "The Woman's Prize" also survives, dating from this era. The editing of the manuscript has been interpreted by some scholars as showing that Herbert had other goals besides suppressing "public ribaldry." The original text of the play had some blatant anti-Catholic elements, which, according to this view, Herbert wanted to suppress out of deference to the Queen, Henrietta Maria.) [Dutton, pp. 13, 42, 56-60.]

In the Restoration

The play was popular and was revived early and often in the Restoration era. Samuel Pepys saw it performed at the Cockpit Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 1660; it was played at the Vere Street theatre in Dec. 1661, and at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in Nov. 1668. It was revived once in the next century, at Drury Lane on April 30, 1757. [Downes, pp. 159-60.] When Fletcher's sequel and Shakespeare's original were revived jointly, in 1633 and in the 1660s, Fletcher's proved the more popular work; around 1667 "The Shrew" was adapted by John Lacy to make it a better match with "The Woman's Prize". [Dobson, p. 23.]


Petruchio's stormy marriage to Katherine ended with her death. Petruchio is now married to Maria, who is even more resistant to domination than Katherine initially had been. Petruchio's tactics and manipulations are no longer effective, and Maria has some resourceful tricks of her own. Maria refuses to consummate their marriage till Petruchio changes his ways; she bands together with other women in abstension from sex with their husbands. The women barricade themselves with provisions in the upper floor of Maria's house, to the displeased surprise of their husbands below.

In the play's subplot, Livia joins in the protest of the married women, though her primary motive is to avoid an arranged marriage with the old and unpleasant Moroso and marry her own choice of husband. Both Maria and Livia succeed in attaining their wishes by the play's end.

Finding a proto-feminist play in Fletcher's canon has surprised more than a few readers and commentators. Fletcher's attitudes, as expressed in his oeuvre as a whole, are standard for his era, and show little resembling enlightenment. Critics have debated whether and to what degree Fletcher's play shows any actual sympathy with women and with greater equality between the genders. The play may have been simply an opportunistic attempt to score a success with the audience on an always-controversial topic.

Fletcher's play shows influence from the "Lysistrata" of Aristophanes.


After more than two centuries of absence from the stage, "The Woman's Prize" was revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company in early 2004; their production ran from January 15 to March 6 of that year.


ee also

* "Swetnam the Woman-Hater"


* Chambers, E. K. "The Elizabethan Stage." 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
* Deliander, Celia R. "Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage: Transcendence, Desire, and the Limits of the Visible." Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
* Dobson, Michael S. "The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769." Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995.
* Dutton, Richard. "Licensing, Censorship, and Authorship in Early Modern England." London, Palgrave, 2001.
* Downes, John. "Roscius Anglicanus." original edition, London, H. Playford, 1708. Montague Summers, ed., New York, Benjamin Blom, 1929; reprinted Ayers Publishing, 1968.
*Fischlin, Daniel, and Mark Fortier. "Adaptations of Shakespeare: A Critical Anthology of Plays From the Seventeenth Century to the Present." London, Routledge, 2000.
* Halliday, F. E. "A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964". Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
* Hoy, Cyrus. "The Shares of Fletcher and His Collaborators in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon." "Studies in Bibliography" VIII (1956), pp. 129-46. Reprinted in: "Evidence for Authorship: Essays on Problems of Attribution," edited by David V. Erdman and Ephim G. Fogel. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1996.
* Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. "The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama." Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
* Oliphant, E. H. C. "The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher: An Attempt to Determine Their Respective Shares and the Shares of Others." New Haven, Yale University Press, 1927.

External links

* [ "The Woman‘s Prize"] . From the Rare Book Room.

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