In the coming school term, my year 10 students will be studying ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and comparing it with the 1999 hit film ’10 Things I Hate About You’.
I started writing notes for them about why Katherina was referred to as a shrew. Those notes evolved into a blog post for Shakespeare Nerd, and then I simplified them again for my students.
It’s so easy to get drawn into the vortex of the language and its richness, and to find oneself admiring the ways in which the social values of the time are embedded so deeply in the tapestry of story, character and theme.
If you have ever wondered what a small furry animal had to do with a sharp-tongued woman, wonder no more.
A shrew is a small mammal with small eyes and a pointy nose. Even though it looks like a mouse, the shrew is actually related to moles and hedgehogs. It has sharp, pointy teeth and eats insects, seeds and nuts. One of the most distinctive features is their odour, created by the multiple scent glands in various places on their bodies. There are numerous species of shrew, of which some, but not all, are venomous.
As far back as the 11th century, shrew was also used to describe a woman who nags, gossips or argues, or is otherwise hard to get along with. This came from the Old English word for the animal: screawa.
This probably came from the popular medieval superstition about shrews because of their aggressive nature and sharp bite.
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