The play “The Taming of a Shrew” is an intricate interrelationship between characters each with her or his own agenda. The characters act towards certain stimulus and reasons, often these reactions were misunderstood hence the play beautifully placed masks in their characters. Ironically, behind these masquerade is Shakespeare’s courageous undressing of the truth behind every man’s motives and actions and the possible effects to others. In 1589, William Shakespeare’s very first comedy and in fact his very first play was published.
The Taming of the Shrew, received a loud response form the conservative Victorian society. The primary theme of the story was the depiction of how husbands tamed their shrewish wives through several unkind means. This play was set in Padua, Italy, although there was a wide consideration that in fact the play was a depiction of the place where Shakespeare lived in Warwickshire. The language used in the play is a center of many critiques. Firstly, Katherina Minola is the “shrew” in the story. She is characterized as a woman with a sharp tongue full of insensitive words.
Although she is portrayed as a self-motivated woman, what gave her the description of a shrew is her unladylike and coarse manners making her appear as an immature lady who is unable to control herself. In the course of the play, Petruchio endeavored to tame her into a better a woman using his rhetoric. These rhetoric were, on the other hand, are in fact manifested psychological cruelty. Critics suggested that this play displayed clear dissimilarity and categorized the male and female use of language.
Female language was represented by the contrasting phase of good and bad as embodied in the difference between Bianca and Katherina, respectively. This act of portraying both the aspect of a female personality will make it easier for the audience to justify the description in the Induction of the female weakness. Moreover this justification will ease up the acceptance of male cruelty against female, since an established idea about females was established in the Induction.
Katherina and her being a “shrew” could be a symbolism of a woman who is courageous enough to defy how Elizabethan society defined how a woman should act. Since an Elizabethan society regarded men as leaders and woman as the inferiors, more often than not the repressive effects of these standards allowed women especially those who were as high spirited and as determined in life as Katherina came to develop a certain distinct manners and characteristics in order to react and protect themselves against these suppressions.
Much of what we learned about Katherina in the play was from the description of other characters in the story, especially among the male characters. In the first part of the play, in Act I, Katherina (Kate) showed up for a short time and talked less, yet the audience already has a clear view of what she is. Another point highlighted by this idea is that, the perception of a woman and the first judgments people around has on her can be strengthened and made more valid once a man speaks about it.
Bianca’s suitors often referred her as “fiend in hell (88)” and describing her as being too “rough” (1. 1. 55) for a man. In addition to that, Gremio asserted that “though her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell (124–126)”. These lines in the play, adds to the cruelty and biasness on how men saw woman during those times; when in fact as I have described previously these reactions could possibly be mere results of their own subjugation. In Act II of the play, Kate’s motivations were starting to clear up.
She was in fact responding vehemently to the favoritism displayed by Baptista (her father) towards her sister Bianca. This jealousy or disgust towards this preference led her to drag her sister in a very inhuman fashion. Again, what is pointed here is the proposal that cruelty against someone can lead to the development of feelings that can burst up suddenly in a horrific fashion. Despite Kate’s very mean character, a closer look in the play will reveal subtle points that explain why she possessed such traits, and often the audience grows a feeling of empathy towards her.
Petruchio, showed as complicated a character as his bride and a distinct way of portraying unkindness mostly in the form of words. In the first part of the story, the initial reaction towards him would be a man who marries certainly not for love but for material reasons. In this line “come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily then happily in Padua (I. 2, 74–75)”, his intentions were obviously shown. Men and their constant search for power and alliances would oftentimes disregard affection in favor of it.
But as the story unfolded, so was the character of Petruchio. One can see his efforts to “tame” and subject his wife in accord with the standards, even if it will require him to use harsh words. Shakespeare in this story portrayed an unconventional man. Unlike Lucentio who fell in love for Bianca for her superficial traits and characteristics, Petruchio realized that he desires to be loved and to loved in return, hence his act of “taming” Kate was in fact a way to keep the marriage and at the same time an effort to change Kate for her own betterment.
What was different about him was being able to see behind the mask Katherina has been wearing in order to cover her inner self, which is like him a person who desired to be valued and loved. He passed through seeing her outward tough behavior and admired much of her inner strength as a person whom he felt needed polishing in order to reveal the real woman Kate really was. Shakespeare also went beyond the traditional concepts when he created a man like Ptruchio who, like Katherina, defies the social norms particularly social decorum.
In the 15th century European culture, both man and woman were pressed in “ethical” standards that were to some extent unfair to both sexes. An example is treating a woman as gallantly as possible regardless of whatever she is and most importantly in accordance with her social status. Kate who is the daughter of a wealthy man commands every inch of respect, yet Petruchio treated her not according to her status but in concurrence with how she behaved. For example, Petruchio arrived late in their wedding ceremony, which is far from the conventional in an elite society.
His behavior ultimately set the comparison between men and how they perceive respect towards woman and to everyone in general. There were those who comply with what is conformist, while others clearly set a self standard closer to morality and ethics. A very significant and obvious theme in the plot of the play is the prevalence of cruelty. Even at the beginning of the story, the unpleasant practical joke of the Lord seems to prepare the audience for the persistent of cruelty as the play will unfold.
Although most audience especially in the type of audience there was in the 15th century, those lines were seen to be comical but a closer comparison to it with reality would reveal that those were more or less disgusting. Several scenes that pointed this point include the blatant physical cruelty displaced by the main character Katherina and the more psychological unkindness predisposed by Petruchio. Katherine tied her sister’s hands together and striking Petruchio with her lute. What was manifested in the story id the cruelty not only in the realm of gender inequality but human spite as a whole.
More the evident physical cruelty, the play was also dominated by the thought and feelings of disgust and anger. Literary experts have it, that these feelings were reflections of William Shakespeare’s emotions that he cannot express publicly, hence was illustrated through his creation of this play. Different centuries, societies and cultures treated The Taming of the Shrew in a different way. With the rise of the feminist movement in the 20th century and together with the reformation of the new social status of woman, responses towards the play changed as well.
Male dominance is another concept central to this play. Again, the height of male dominance was obvious in the story as a result of the not only by the unconcealed deep thoughts and provocations projected by some lines from male characters but also obvious in most of their physical actions. In the following lines from the play’s Induction, the portrayals of a male character giving low regards to womanhood explain the perceived dominance of the male counterpart. With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy / And say, ‘What is’t your honour will command
Wherein your lady and your humble wife / May show her duty and make known her love? And then, with kind embracments, tempting kisses, / And with declining head into his bosom, Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed / To see her noble lord restored to health, Who for this seven years hast esteem’ed him / No better than a poor and loathsome beggar. And if the boy have not a woman’s gift / To rain a shower of commanded tears… The line above is simply the male perception of the roles woman have in the society. This received attention from the audience and critics because it ultimately set the taboo of female inferiority.
A woman is definitely more than how she was perceived here as described by the Lord. Although the conservative British society (from which society this play w created) set standards called “woman’s etiquette”, one cannot deny society’s double standard and discrimination. The lines above also portrayed woman as an emotional being – woman’s gift – and knowing that being emotional often is labeled as a sign of weakness (of which men were not allowed to show), the play’s Induction therefore sets the mode for showing the grave disparity by men and women.
Katherina’s speech in the last scene gained several interpretations; it could be that after all of Petrochio’s taming mechanisms, Kate was able manage to retain her real self and therefore delivered the last part insincerely with a cast of sarcasm. While on the other hand, a group of critics actually claimed that the last speech is the sign of Kate’s submission to her husband, therefore ending the conflict in the story with triumphs of his goals and the change of Kate from the “shrew” into a tamed and obedient wife.