Taming Essay, Research Paper

The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare is

probably one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies. Its plot

is derived from the popular ‘war of the sexes’ theme in

which males and females are pitted against one another for

dominance in marriage. The play begins with an induction in

which a drunkard, Christopher Sly, is fooled into believing

he is a king and has a play performed for him. The play he

watches is what constitutes the main body of The Taming Of

The Shrew. In it, a wealthy land owner, Baptista Minola,

attempts to have his two daughters married. One is very

shrewish, Katherine, while the other is the beautiful and

gentle Bianca. In order to ensure Katherine is married,

Baptista disallows Bianca to be espoused until Katherine is

wed, forcing the many suitors to Bianca to find a mate for

Katherine in order for them to vie for Bianca’s love. Many

critics of the play condemn it for the blatant sexist

attitude it has toward women but closer examination of the

play and the intricacies of its structure reveal that it is

not merely a story of how men should ‘put women in their

place’. The play is, in fact, a comedy about an assertive

woman coping with how she is expected to act in the society

of the late sixteenth century and of how one must obey the

unwritten rules of a society to be accepted in it. Although

the play ends with her outwardly conforming to the norms of

society, this is in action only, not in mind. Although she

assumes the role of the obedient wife, inwardly she still

retains her assertiveness.

Most of the play’s humour comes from the way in

which characters create false realities by disguising

themselves as other people, a device first introduced in the

induction. Initially this is accomplished by having

Christopher Sly believe he is someone he is not and then by

having the main play performed for him. By putting The

Taming Of The Shrew in a ‘play within a play’ structure,

Shakespeare immediately lets the audience know that the play

is not real thus making all events in the play false

realities. Almost all characters in the play take on

identities other than their own at some point of time during

the play. Sly as a king, Tranio as Lucentio, Lucentio as

Cambio, Hortensio as Litio and the pedant as Vicentio are

all examples of this. Another example of this is Katherine

as an obedient wife.

In The Taming Of The Shrew, courtship and marriage

are not so much the result of love but rather an institution

of society that people are expected to take part in. As a

result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are

judged, not by their love for a woman, but by how well they

can provide for her. All suitors compare the dowry each can

bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer

‘wins’ the woman’s hand in marriage. This competition for

marriage is like a game to the characters of the play.

While discussing the courtship of Bianca with Gremio,

Hortensio says “He that runs fastest gets\ The ring” (Act I,

scene i, l. 140-141) likening receiving permission to wed

Bianca to winning a race. In the game, however, women are

treated like objects that can be bought and sold rather than

as human beings. This is expected since the society is a

patriarchal one. For example, Lucentio, Tranio and

Petruchio are all defined with reference to their fathers

and all the elderly authority figures, like Baptista and

Vicentio, are men. The taming of Katherine is not a women’s

shrewishness being cured as much as it is a woman being

taught the rules of the ‘patriarchal game’. Katherine has

learned how to be assertive and with this knowledge is able

to control men, and a woman controlling a man is considered

‘against the rules’ of the game.

The play ends with Katherine proving that she is

truly cured of her ’shrewishness’ and is the most obedient

of the three newlywed wives at the end of the play. This is

demonstrated in her soliloquy when she lectures the other

wives on the proper way in which a woman should behave:

I am ashamed that women are so simple

To offer war where they should kneel for peace,

Or seek rule, supremacy, and sway,

When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

(Act V, scene ii, l. 161 – 164)

Although most critics interpret the play as being

that of a woman finally acting the way in which she is

supposed to act, it is difficult to believe that a character

as vibrant and strong-willed as Katherine is changed so

easily. Following with the device of false realities that

Shakespeare set in place so early in the play, it would seem

more logical that Katherine would simply be acting the part

of ‘the obedient wife’ in order to be accepted in the

society in which she lives. Katherine can ‘play a part’

very well and can even enjoy doing it. This is shown on the

road to Padua from Petruchio’s house when Kate is forced to

address Vincentio as a woman and says, “Young budding

virgin, fair and fresh and sweet” (Act IV, scene v, l. 37).

The Taming Of The Shrew is a light-hearted comedy

that is better seen than read. This is especially true

since a lot of the humour in it is physical or ’slapstick’

humour which is possible only on stage. The complexity of

the play is refreshing, as many of the modern plays of today

are quite linear and do little to keep a reader’s attention.

Another favourable aspect of it is the subplot involving

Lucentio and Bianca which lends itself as the basis for many

humourous moments, most notably between Lucentio, Hortensio

and Bianca. The obvious sexist attitude of the play does

not hinder it because of the reasons stated above. One must

also take into account the attitudes of sixteenth century

England and the fact that the play is a comedy and is not

meant to be taken seriously.


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