The Play “The Taming of the Shrew” by Shakespeare
The Taming of the Shrew is one of the most famous comedic plays in English literature. The story revolves around the conflict between representatives of two different planets, the sons of Mars and the daughters of Venus. The main character, Kate, is the headstrong eldest daughter of a wealthy Italian nobleman who is courted by Petruchio and slowly “tamed.” In the final act, she is transformed into an exemplary wife who delivers a long speech about how her commitment to her husband is similar to what “the subject owes the prince” (Shakespeare 160). Scholars are still arguing whether this is meant to be read as an ironic farce or a literal celebration of female subjugation. Kate’s last speech in The Taming of the Shrew indicates that the play is meant to be considered a serious commentary on gender and marital relationships.
Relationships in The Taming of the Shrew
Firstly, it is necessary to contextualize the play within its historical period. While it is tempting to project a twenty-first-century feminist perspective onto Shakespeare, doing so divests the play of its power. Gender roles were very restricted in the Elizabethan-Jacobean era; women’s only socially tolerable positions were marriage or the monastery (Shahwan 159). They were considered the inferior, weaker sex whose purpose in life was limited to house management, chastity, silence, and obedience (Shahwan 159). These sentiments are exemplified in Petruchio’s objectification of Kate once she becomes his wife: “I will be master of what is mine own; she is my goods, my chattels” (Shakespeare 118). Given this historical perspective, Kate’s initial status as a stubborn shrew makes her the object of the author’s ridicule because of its inherently humiliating nature. Therefore, her transformation into a “respectable” wife is also meant to be interpreted as a genuine redemption arc according to the standards of Elizabethan society.
Secondly, Kate is vilified for her initial stubbornness and willfulness, particularly in contrast to her sister, Bianca. She is described as “curst”, a “wildcat”, “an irksome, brawling scold”, and “a shrewd ill-favored wife” (Shakespeare 82, 84, 79). On the other hand, Bianca is presented as the ideal submissive maid, a “treasure” whose popularity among men will make her sister weep “til [she] can find occasion of revenge” (Shakespeare 89). However, in the final act, Kate wins the wager as the most obedient wife since Bianca refuses to listen to Lucentio’s command and come to him. Therefore, Kate’s final speech is also her moment of triumph over Bianca, with the metric of success being wifely subservience – “bound to serve, love, and obey” (Shakespeare 160). Petruchio is celebrated for having successfully tamed the cursed shrew, while Lucentio laments that Bianca is not as docile as she first appeared. Shakespeare presents marital relationships as a game of tame-or-be-tamed: men are either praised for being strong enough to uphold the traditional dynamics of power or ridiculed for losing it.
In conclusion, The Taming of the Shrew should be read and duly criticized as a serious commentary on upholding traditional gender roles. Although it could be interpreted through the lens of twenty-first-century ethics, women in the Elizabethan-Jacobean era were treated as secondary citizens whose purpose in life was limited to being chaste, dutiful wives. The play’s comedy stems from Kate’s inherently humiliating status of a “shrew”; therefore, her transformation into a submissive wife should be interpreted as a literal redemption arc. Furthermore, by contrasting how Kate and Bianca are perceived at the beginning and end of the play, it becomes apparent that a husband’s dominion over his wife is considered an admirable triumph. Consequently, Kate’s speech is a serious commendation of men who are strong enough to tame their wives.
Shahwan, Saed. “Gender Roles in The Merchant of Venice and Othello.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2022, pp. 158-164. Web.
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew, edited by Ann Thompson, Cambridge University Press, 2003.