Drunk in Love & The Shrew

Curator's Note

Rhetorically, the artistry of ‘Drunk in Love’ (‘DL’) is in the complex intertextuality of the lyrics and visuals—producing multiple, literate readings of the art. The clearest reading of ‘DL’ is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (‘TS’).

The man and woman (portrayed by Beyoncé and Jay-Z) negotiate the terms of their involvement. The language is explicit, drenched in images from the street, references from literature, and allusions to real-life incidents.

The most controversial part of the project, “eat the cake Anna Mae,” is emblematic of domestic abuse. Taken from the film ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ it references violence toward Tina Turner (born, Anna Mae). Many question why the real-life power couple perpetuates violence toward women.

In ‘TS,’ Petruchio seeks a wife and Baptista Minola wants a husband for his daughter Kate. She is loud, physically aggressive, and hot tempered. She tells it like she sees it and her verbal repartee puts everyone off. Despite her “faults” that make her “an irksome brawling scold,” Petruchio woos her. It is a challenge he takes on despite the teasing and disbelief of others that he can tame the shrew. Petruchio employs abusive strategies to achieve his goal.

Like ‘TS, ‘DL’ is criticized for its portrayal of violence. Kate and the female in ‘DL’ are boisterous and forward. They talk openly about subjects considered unladylike. “That wench is stark mad or wonderful forward,” says Tranio of Kate. The male character in ‘DL’ says to the female: “Time to back up all of that mouth. That you had all in the car, talking 'bout you the baddest bitch thus far.” Both men accept the forwardness of their love interests: “I wanna see all the shit that I heard,” says the man in ‘DL.’ To tame, they meet the women where they are.

Kate is finally tamed, calling the sun the moon, and the moon the sun at Petruchio’s whim. The female in ‘DL’ mouths the words, “eat the cake, Anna Mae,” demonstrating her acquiescence. The twist that audiences miss in ‘TS’ and ‘DL’: The women submit to the relationships, not patriarchy. The men submit as well. Pertruchio says: "I am as peremptory as she proud-minded; ... So I to her and so she yields to me; For I am rough and woo not like a babe."

The trophy is marriage equality (see video intro).


For centuries women have struggled for equality in every culture. And violence against women remains a serious global problem. Historically, art is used as a vehicle to confront or perpetuate the social ill. Twenty-first century audiences have less tolerance for abuse of women in entertainment products they consume. In January, 2015, Beyoncé won Grammys for both the Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song for 'Drunk in Love.' The song, featuring her husband, Jay-Z, was praised widely and criticized extensively too. Absent statements from artists, audiences are left to make sense of products that cross the paternalistic line. Exploring 'Drunk in Love' as a derivative work of Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew' provides a way to understand the Knowles-Carter project as subversive. What parallels do you recognize?

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