A (white) woman's (ironic) places in Kiss Me, Kate and post-war America

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Kiss Me, Kate, a 1948 musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Sam and Bella Spewack, responded not only to Shakespeare’s play’s gender conflict, but also to post-war discourses concerning the return to domesticity of women mobilized into the wartime workforce, anxieties around female fidelity for returning servicemen and issues of racial equality and integration. By setting up contrasting onstage and offstage storylines, the former all-white, focussed on domesticity and full of double entendres, the latter multiracial, focussed on professional life and characterized by plain speaking, the musical-within-a-musical format accommodated conflicting approaches to theatrical, political and social integration, suggesting the viability, for white Americans at least, both of an ironic performative assimilation to hegemonic social norms as a cover for an unassimilated lifestyle, and the creation of an open society in which individuals negotiate their own paradigms for living with others. In the process, the musical also draws attention to the role of cultural products in maintaining a white hegemonic order and in the ‘taming’ of women. The radical nature of the original production is emphasized by the changes imposed for the highly conservative 1953 Hollywood film version.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-186
Number of pages14
JournalStudies in musical theatre
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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