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Katharina or Kate, the shrew of William Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew is sharp-tongued, quick-tempered, and prone to violence and violent outbursts, especially to anyone who tries to win her love. This is shown from the beginning in Act One with the scene among Hortensio and Gremio and her. When Gremio proclaims her “too rough” (I.i.55) and Hortensio claims that they want mates “of gentler, milder mould” (I.i.60), she strikes back with such words as “To comb your noddle with a three-legg’d stool and paint your face and use you like a fool.” (I.i.64-65)


Her hostility and anger towards her suitors is infamous within the town of Padua. Her anger and rudeness actually hides her deep sense of insecurity, not to mention her jealousy towards her sister, Bianca. She speaks these words to her father; “What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see she is your treasure, she must have a husband; I must dance bare-foot on her wedding day and for your love to her lead apes in hell. Talk not to me I will go sit and weep till I can find occasion of revenge.” (II.i.1-6). Clearly she is spiteful because he has more love for Bianca. They feel that she may become an old maid with no husband or children, and she herself believes it to be a possibility.


The Elizabethan era was a hard time for most women. When you are born and raised in a society that is male dominated, you have no choice but to come to terms with it. Mary Wroth states in her writings “a seventeenth-century woman was usually dependent on men for self-respect and survival, no matter what her talents or his feelings” (Swift 16). A woman of that time not only did not have the individuality and independence that we today take for granted, apparently she didn’t even have rights to her own children. According to Mary Beth Rose of the Shakespeare Quarterly, “a mother had no legal rights over guardianship of her children unless explicitly appointed as guardian by her husband in his will…According to the law, in sum, the married woman did not exist” (Rose ).


Society’s expectations concerning a woman’s role in a marriage during Shakespeare’s lifetime were that a woman should sacrifice her individuality in submission to her husband. Such a sacrifice is totally unacceptable to Katharina, who enjoys her independence.


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Most of Shakespeare’s society believed that the woman should submit to her husband, and yet they did not necessarily expect the wife to sacrifice all of her independence and sense of self. “During the Renaissance the nature of womankind was a major topic of debate. Numerous dialogues, defenses, paradoxes, and tributes devoted to sustaining woman’s excellence were published, and in them history was rewritten to include the achievements of womankind. Often these texts demonstrate that women are capable of acting with prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and thus are capable of being independent of male political and moral authority”. (Benson 8)


I imagine Katharina to be a very beautiful girl. But her foul temperament is offsetting to so many that she is known as an untamable shrew with no hope for marriage even in spite of her large dowry. The fact that Katharina’s dowry is just as large as Bianca’s has no bearing with the suitors Hortensio and Gremio, as shown in Act One, Scene Two says Hortensio, “why, man, there be good fellows in the world, an a man could light on them, would take her with all her faults, and money enough.” (I.ii.14-16). To which Gremio replies, “I cannot tell; but I had as life take her dowry with this condition, to be whipped at the high-cross every morning.” (I.ii.17-18). He’s basically saying that he’d rather be publicly beaten before marrying Katharina, money or not.


The dislike of Katharina by the townsfolk may be a natural reaction to her behavior. She is referred to as “Katharina the curst” (I.ii.1). People talk about her more than they listen to her, and with the accumulation of gossip comes more and more dislike of her. Some, like Hortensio and Gremio, speak about her in the third person rather than addressing her directly. Maybe they do this because they are terrified of what she would say back to them if they spoke directly to her.


If you look at the women in Shakespeare’s plays such as Viola in Twelfth Night or Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, you see that these women too are outspoken and independent, and the happy endings of those plays depended upon whether or not the men listened to what the women had to say. I think that Katharina’s rage reflects her struggle to be seen as a person rather than an object.


The play shows that Katharina was tamed by Petruchio, but was she? Is it possible to change the behavior of a person in such a short amount of time? After all, she was very young and set in her ways. “What, shall I be appointed hours, as though belike I knew not what to take and what to leave? Ha!” (I.i.10-104). Her attitude would have taken much longer to adjust.


With these questions in mind, it is easy to assume that possibly she may have acted as if she were tamed in order to get everyone off of her back and also win a husband. This idea is not so far-fetched. Some plays today portray the character of Katharina winking over her shoulder after her speech in Act V. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign”(V.ii.146). Katharina is supposedly very intelligent, so it is possible that she only played the act of a tamed shrew.


In Act Two, there is a turning point for Katharina when she fails to refute Petruchio’s claim that they are engaged. In the beginning of the talk between Baptista, Gremio, Katharina, Tranio and Petruchio, she was steadfast in her will not to marry. “I’ll see thee hang’d on Sunday first” (II.i.1). But Petruchio’s persistence and his words pay off in the end. “We will have rings, and things, and fine array, and, kiss me, Kate, we will be married o’Sunday.” (II.i.15-16). Her silence at the end of the scene is surprising. In the past, she has used her words to get her way and now that she is basically forced into the idea of marriage, something that will affect the remainder of her life, she is silent! Is the idea of having a husband and family what she is really after? I think so.


The wedding between Katharina and Petruchio is a test of her patience with him. Although she supposedly doesn’t want to marry him, she arrives on time. He, however, does not. For one to be left waiting at the altar is an embarrassing situation. Also, his refusal to allow her to enjoy the Bridal party is another embarrassing situation. He denies Kate her one day of happiness, mocking the idea of being a doting husband. “Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret; I will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, my household stuff, my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing; and here she stands, touch her whoever dare; I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he that stops my way in Padua. Grumio, draw forth thy weapon. We are beset with thieves. Rescue thy mistress, if thou be a man. Fear not, sweet wrench, they shall not touch thee, Kate! I’ll buckler thee against a million (III.ii.8-). This kind of humiliation of a difficult wife was accepted in the Elizabethan Era. He enjoys mocking her and their marriage.


But, consider this, “if Petruchio were a female, he would be known as a shrew and shunned accordingly by men. Behavior desirable in a male automatically prohibits similar behavior in a female, for woman must mold herself to be complementary to man, not competitive with him” (Kahn 45).


Another theory is that maybe she was merely liberated in a sense by Petruchio’s actions. In the movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the ending is presented with the widow and Bianca refusing to come at the request of their suitors. But Katharina does come out, to everyone’s surprise. She comes out with Bianca under one arm and the widow under the other, forcefully, aggressively, just as a shrew would be expected to behave. If she were truly tamed, it is more likely that she would have come out alone and asked of her husband just what it was that he required of her. Maybe her true intentions are to be true to herself, having her own thoughts, ideas and opinions but also allowing herself to be more submissive to her husbands needs so that she doesn’t die an “old maid”.


Kate’s proven herself to be capable of standing up to her father and other suitors. Surely, if she did not want to marry Petruchio, she wouldn’t have. I think that she believes Petruchio to be less chauvinistic than many think. After all, in Act Three, Scene Two, he does give a different opinion of married life when Baptista asks him to change his clothes. “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. Could I repair what she will wear in me as I can change these poor accoutrements, ‘Twere well for Kate and better for myself.” (III.ii.110-11). His true feelings lie somewhere between wanting Kate to think that he demands total submission and truly wanting a lover, friend, wife. Somewhere along the line, I think that Kate picked up on this.


Whether she finds satisfaction in her relationship with Petruchio or she is simply playing the game with him is not known. We can only assume. Most likely, she does suspect that he is only trying to tame her with the best intentions. She indicates this when she says that he torments her “under name of perfect love,” implying that the “name” and the reality do not always match (IV.iii.1). Maybe she just doesn’t want to stand up to him at this point. After all, she is powerless with him and the shame of leaving him would be too great.


While frustration certainly plays a part in her final submission, she doesn’t allow him to have his way with her out of desperation. After kissing him in the street she says, “Now pray thee love, stay” (V.i.1). She calls him “love”, not in her usual tone, but with a true desire for his companionship despite his treatment of her.


Throughout the play, Kate accepted Petruchio’s courting and taming although she could have denied him. This suggests that she says one thing and means another. Despite her resistance in the beginning, she now seems to see her marriage as a chance to find happiness and even a social status.


She has done what was needed to exist in her world. The life that she led while living with her father was one of unhappiness. By leaving and taking Petruchio as a husband, she is able to manipulate him with kindness. And Petruchio is happy to prove to his friends that he has successfully tamed “the shrew”.


Kate’s victory over Petruchio in the final scene is subtle, and as Bloom notes, “it requires a very good actress to deliver this set piece properly, and a better director than we tend to have now, if the actress is to be given her full chance, for she is advising women how to rule absolutely while feigning obedience”(Bloom ). “At the conclusion of the play, what we see is not a quiet and submissive Kate, but the same energetic and linguistically powerful Kate with which the play begins” (Newman 14).





Katharina or Kate, the shrew of William Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew is sharp-tongued, quick-tempered, and prone to violence and violent outbursts, especially to anyone who tries to win her love. This is shown from the beginning in Act One with the scene among Hortensio and Gremio and her. When Gremio proclaims her “too rough” (I.i.55) and Hortensio claims that they want mates “of gentler, milder mould” (I.i.60), she strikes back with such words as “To comb your noddle with a three-legg’d stool and paint your face and use you like a fool.” (I.i.64-65)


Her hostility and anger towards her suitors is infamous within the town of Padua. Her anger and rudeness actually hides her deep sense of insecurity, not to mention her jealousy towards her sister, Bianca. She speaks these words to her father; “What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see she is your treasure, she must have a husband; I must dance bare-foot on her wedding day and for your love to her lead apes in hell. Talk not to me I will go sit and weep till I can find occasion of revenge.” (II.i.1-6). Clearly she is spiteful because he has more love for Bianca. They feel that she may become an old maid with no husband or children, and she herself believes it to be a possibility.


The Elizabethan era was a hard time for most women. When you are born and raised in a society that is male dominated, you have no choice but to come to terms with it. Mary Wroth states in her writings “a seventeenth-century woman was usually dependent on men for self-respect and survival, no matter what her talents or his feelings” (Swift 16). A woman of that time not only did not have the individuality and independence that we today take for granted, apparently she didn’t even have rights to her own children. According to Mary Beth Rose of the Shakespeare Quarterly, “a mother had no legal rights over guardianship of her children unless explicitly appointed as guardian by her husband in his will…According to the law, in sum, the married woman did not exist” (Rose ).


Society’s expectations concerning a woman’s role in a marriage during Shakespeare’s lifetime were that a woman should sacrifice her individuality in submission to her husband. Such a sacrifice is totally unacceptable to Katharina, who enjoys her independence.


Most of Shakespeare’s society believed that the woman should submit to her husband, and yet they did not necessarily expect the wife to sacrifice all of her independence and sense of self. “During the Renaissance the nature of womankind was a major topic of debate. Numerous dialogues, defenses, paradoxes, and tributes devoted to sustaining woman’s excellence were published, and in them history was rewritten to include the achievements of womankind. Often these texts demonstrate that women are capable of acting with prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and thus are capable of being independent of male political and moral authority”. (Benson 8)


I imagine Katharina to be a very beautiful girl. But her foul temperament is offsetting to so many that she is known as an untamable shrew with no hope for marriage even in spite of her large dowry. The fact that Katharina’s dowry is just as large as Bianca’s has no bearing with the suitors Hortensio and Gremio, as shown in Act One, Scene Two says Hortensio, “why, man, there be good fellows in the world, an a man could light on them, would take her with all her faults, and money enough.” (I.ii.14-16). To which Gremio replies, “I cannot tell; but I had as life take her dowry with this condition, to be whipped at the high-cross every morning.” (I.ii.17-18). He’s basically saying that he’d rather be publicly beaten before marrying Katharina, money or not.


The dislike of Katharina by the townsfolk may be a natural reaction to her behavior. She is referred to as “Katharina the curst” (I.ii.1). People talk about her more than they listen to her, and with the accumulation of gossip comes more and more dislike of her. Some, like Hortensio and Gremio, speak about her in the third person rather than addressing her directly. Maybe they do this because they are terrified of what she would say back to them if they spoke directly to her.


If you look at the women in Shakespeare’s plays such as Viola in Twelfth Night or Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, you see that these women too are outspoken and independent, and the happy endings of those plays depended upon whether or not the men listened to what the women had to say. I think that Katharina’s rage reflects her struggle to be seen as a person rather than an object.


The play shows that Katharina was tamed by Petruchio, but was she? Is it possible to change the behavior of a person in such a short amount of time? After all, she was very young and set in her ways. “What, shall I be appointed hours, as though belike I knew not what to take and what to leave? Ha!” (I.i.10-104). Her attitude would have taken much longer to adjust.


With these questions in mind, it is easy to assume that possibly she may have acted as if she were tamed in order to get everyone off of her back and also win a husband. This idea is not so far-fetched. Some plays today portray the character of Katharina winking over her shoulder after her speech in Act V. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign”(V.ii.146). Katharina is supposedly very intelligent, so it is possible that she only played the act of a tamed shrew.


In Act Two, there is a turning point for Katharina when she fails to refute Petruchio’s claim that they are engaged. In the beginning of the talk between Baptista, Gremio, Katharina, Tranio and Petruchio, she was steadfast in her will not to marry. “I’ll see thee hang’d on Sunday first” (II.i.1). But Petruchio’s persistence and his words pay off in the end. “We will have rings, and things, and fine array, and, kiss me, Kate, we will be married o’Sunday.” (II.i.15-16). Her silence at the end of the scene is surprising. In the past, she has used her words to get her way and now that she is basically forced into the idea of marriage, something that will affect the remainder of her life, she is silent! Is the idea of having a husband and family what she is really after? I think so.


The wedding between Katharina and Petruchio is a test of her patience with him. Although she supposedly doesn’t want to marry him, she arrives on time. He, however, does not. For one to be left waiting at the altar is an embarrassing situation. Also, his refusal to allow her to enjoy the Bridal party is another embarrassing situation. He denies Kate her one day of happiness, mocking the idea of being a doting husband. “Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret; I will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, my household stuff, my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing; and here she stands, touch her whoever dare; I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he that stops my way in Padua. Grumio, draw forth thy weapon. We are beset with thieves. Rescue thy mistress, if thou be a man. Fear not, sweet wrench, they shall not touch thee, Kate! I’ll buckler thee against a million (III.ii.8-). This kind of humiliation of a difficult wife was accepted in the Elizabethan Era. He enjoys mocking her and their marriage.


But, consider this, “if Petruchio were a female, he would be known as a shrew and shunned accordingly by men. Behavior desirable in a male automatically prohibits similar behavior in a female, for woman must mold herself to be complementary to man, not competitive with him” (Kahn 45).


Another theory is that maybe she was merely liberated in a sense by Petruchio’s actions. In the movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the ending is presented with the widow and Bianca refusing to come at the request of their suitors. But Katharina does come out, to everyone’s surprise. She comes out with Bianca under one arm and the widow under the other, forcefully, aggressively, just as a shrew would be expected to behave. If she were truly tamed, it is more likely that she would have come out alone and asked of her husband just what it was that he required of her. Maybe her true intentions are to be true to herself, having her own thoughts, ideas and opinions but also allowing herself to be more submissive to her husbands needs so that she doesn’t die an “old maid”.


Kate’s proven herself to be capable of standing up to her father and other suitors. Surely, if she did not want to marry Petruchio, she wouldn’t have. I think that she believes Petruchio to be less chauvinistic than many think. After all, in Act Three, Scene Two, he does give a different opinion of married life when Baptista asks him to change his clothes. “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. Could I repair what she will wear in me as I can change these poor accoutrements, ‘Twere well for Kate and better for myself.” (III.ii.110-11). His true feelings lie somewhere between wanting Kate to think that he demands total submission and truly wanting a lover, friend, wife. Somewhere along the line, I think that Kate picked up on this.


Whether she finds satisfaction in her relationship with Petruchio or she is simply playing the game with him is not known. We can only assume. Most likely, she does suspect that he is only trying to tame her with the best intentions. She indicates this when she says that he torments her “under name of perfect love,” implying that the “name” and the reality do not always match (IV.iii.1). Maybe she just doesn’t want to stand up to him at this point. After all, she is powerless with him and the shame of leaving him would be too great.


While frustration certainly plays a part in her final submission, she doesn’t allow him to have his way with her out of desperation. After kissing him in the street she says, “Now pray thee love, stay” (V.i.1). She calls him “love”, not in her usual tone, but with a true desire for his companionship despite his treatment of her.


Throughout the play, Kate accepted Petruchio’s courting and taming although she could have denied him. This suggests that she says one thing and means another. Despite her resistance in the beginning, she now seems to see her marriage as a chance to find happiness and even a social status.


She has done what was needed to exist in her world. The life that she led while living with her father was one of unhappiness. By leaving and taking Petruchio as a husband, she is able to manipulate him with kindness. And Petruchio is happy to prove to his friends that he has successfully tamed “the shrew”.


Kate’s victory over Petruchio in the final scene is subtle, and as Bloom notes, “it requires a very good actress to deliver this set piece properly, and a better director than we tend to have now, if the actress is to be given her full chance, for she is advising women how to rule absolutely while feigning obedience”(Bloom ). “At the conclusion of the play, what we see is not a quiet and submissive Kate, but the same energetic and linguistically powerful Kate with which the play begins” (Newman 14).








Benson, Pamela. The Invention of the Renaissance Woman The Challenge of Female


Independence in the Literature and Thought of Italy and England. University Park,


Pa Pennsylvania State University Press, 1.


Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare The Invention of the Human. New York Penguin


Putnam, 18.


Boose, Lynda E. “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds Taming the Woman’s Unruly


Member.” Shakespeare Quarterly 40. (11), 17-1.


Detmer, Emily. “Civilizing Subordination Domestic Violence and The Taming of the


Shrew.” Shakespeare Quarterly 48. (17), 7-4.


Kahn, Coppelia. Coming of Age Marriage and Manhood in The Taming of the Shrew.


Critical Interpretations William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Ed. Harold


Bloom. New York Chelsea House Publishers, 188. 41-51


Newman, Karen. Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the


Shrew. Renaissance Historicism Selections from English Literary Renaissance.


Ed. Arthur F. Kinney and Dan S. Collins. Amhearst University of Massachusetts,


187. 11-145.


Rose, Mary Beth. “Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender


Representation in the English Renaissance.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 4. (11),


1-14.


Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. Paul Negri, Adam Frost. New


York Dover Publications, 17.


Swift, Carolyn Ruth. Feminine identity in Lady Mary Wroth’s Romance Urania


Women in the Renaissance Selections from English Literary Renaissance. Ed.


Farrell, Kirby, et al. Massachusetts University of Massachusetts Press, 171. 154-


174.


Works Cited, Continued


Websites


www.hofstra.edu/PDF/DD_SHREWstudyguide.pdf


www.nexis.com


www.shakespeare-online.com


www.shakespeare.org


Videos


The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Per. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard


Burton. Columbia Pictures, 167.


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