Why is the Taming of the Shrew set in Padua? Shakespeare set many plays in Italy. Some academics believe that he wanted to add an exotic touch to his work. According to others, Shakespeare could have been Italian, more precisely Sicilian. His parents were Calvinists and they had to flee, at first in Veneto and then in England. Who knows?
Some of his plays are set in Veneto:
- The Taming of the Shrew in Padua
- In Verona Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona
- The Merchant of Venice and Othello in Venice
Why is The Taming of the Shrew set in Padua?
Padua is home to the oldest Botanical Gardens in the World (now renovated with the addition of the Biodiversity Garden) and the second oldest university in Italy (1222). Here Galileo taught mathematics and Fabricius of Acquapendente constructed the first Anatomical Theatre. It was therefore famous at that time as a city rich in intellectual resources.
Herbert Butterfield, British historian and philosopher wrote about Padua:
If it were possible to assign a single place the honour of having been the home of the scientific revolution – this honour should go to Padova.
The American philosopher J. H. Randall wrote:
What Paris had been in the thirteenth century, and what Oxford and Paris together had been in the fourteenth, Padua became in the fifteenth: the center in which ideas from all Europe were combined into an organized and cumulative body of knowledge.
I guess everyone knows the plot of The Taming of the Shrew (around 1590), La bisbetica domata in Italian. A gentleman of Padua has two daughters: one, Bianca, is sweet and gentle, the other one, Katherina, is… well, a shrew. The father does not want Bianca to get married before Katherina, but it seems an impossible task, given the bad character of the girl.
The best known film version is the one by Zeffirelli with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. The film was shot entirely in the Dino De Laurentiis studios in Rome and therefore it doesn’t include details of the city of Padua. Another version, famous in Italy, is the one in which the beautiful Ornella Muti tames the shrew Adriano Celentano. The title is Il bisbetico domato. The third version I saw is 10 Things I Hate About You with Julia Stiles and poor Heat Ledger.
What Shakespeare wrote about Padova
So why is the Taming of the Shrew set in Padua? Probably because it was a famous city at that time, maybe he even visited (there are no evidences). In fact he defined it “nursery of arts“. This is what Shakespeare writes about Padua in The Taming of the Shrew:
For the great desire I had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts,
I am arrived for fruitful Lombardy,
The pleasant garden of great Italy.
… and am to Padua come, as he that leaves
a shallow plash to plunge in the deep, and
with satiety seeks to quench his thirst.
Did you notice? In these verses there is a mistake, since Padua is in Veneto and not in Lombardy. It seems that Shakespeare based his verses looking at the incorrect Ortelius’ map of Europe. In that map the writing Lombardy occupies the whole Northern Italy.
In via dell’Accademia in Padua you can see a plaque with an extract from Shakespeare’s lines. That’s all I could collect about the subject. I’d be glad to receive more information if anyone should find out something more about the matter.