Shakespeare’s Taming of the shrew is an infamous Elizabethan play which has caused a lot of controversy. Act two, scene one is a key section of the play as it confronts many issues such as women’s passive position in society, the importance of dowries, patriarchal society, among many other pressing concerns of the time. In this scene Petruchio sets out to ‘woo’ Katherina, who at the beginning is tying up her younger, prettier and more favoured sister.
Following this Bianca’s suitors, disguised as tutors, arrive along with Petruchio who demands to go out with the ‘fair and virtuous’ Katherina. Baptista and Petruchio then discuss the most crucial part, the dowry he will receive; and after this conversation Petruchio decides to marry her. Shakespeare uses many dramatic and poetic devices in this part of Taming of the Shrew; these include sexual puns, imagery, stichomythia, disguise, violence and manipulative language.
Katherina is well known for being violent and shrewish at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Taming of the shrew; she is seen tying up her younger sister; this very dramatic stagecraft and is an eye-catching opening as a woman from such a respectable background would not have dreamed of being as violent and angry as Katherina. Her father even admits to her being like this in this scene as he proclaims she is “hilding a devilish spirit” (line 26).
Many others, such as Hortensio and Gremio, talk about Katherina as if she was a devil and worry if Petruchio is making the right decision in marrying her as they say “any man is so very fool to be married to hell”. This is very extreme imagery and quite significant because in the Elizabethan times (when the Taming of the Shrew was written) there was a link between shrews and hell; these animals were commonly known for being gloomy and many people of the time believed that they were injurious to humans.
For instance the Swedish word for shrew is skrugge also means devil. At the end in Act five, scene two the actions become quite ironic as she lets Petruchio step on her hand at a family feast just like men used to do at their weddings around forty years previous to the composition of this play, this shows Shakespeare’s views on social and historical tradition; Katharine’s violence is also used to make this contrast at the end even greater.
Tranio thinks Katherina is not like normal woman at the time as he calls her “stark mad” which mirrors others feelings about her violent shrew like nature. Katherina’s violence could be due to Baptista’s obvious favouritism towards Bianca; for instance at the beginning of the scene (around line 23) holds hands with her, while telling Katherina off for making her sister cry, this could be why Katherina is so violent, because she is always striving for attention from her neglecting father.
There is more violence when Bianca hits Hortensio (who she thinks is Litio) over the head with a Lute; which is quite ironic as the lute is a symbol of love, although this is quite aggressive behaviour from Bianca it is also slapstick comedy which should make the audience laugh and thus make the play less serious. In the Taming of the Shrew there is a light hearted sub-plot where suitors come to ‘woo’ Bianca; these suitors disguise themselves as tutors, which has huge comedic effect.
Shakespeare uses disguise in a number of different characters in various plays this suggest that he uses it as a motif, these characters including Iago, from Othello, and Viola, from Twelfth Night. The motivation behind Hortensio and Lucentio to disguise themselves as ‘Litio’ and ‘Cambio'(in fact the name Cambio means exchange), respectively, in this scene is for many selfish reasons; the main factor being money and the huge dowry they would receive if one of them managed to ‘woo’ and marry Bianca, other motives include sex and lust.
This shows that Shakespeare is challenging strict social conventions by disguising rich gentlemen as servants and visa versa, which on another level creates comedy for the audience. There is also the motif of disguise in the induction when Sly is transformed from a drunken fool into a lord as a practical joke by another local lord, however this is a different type of disguise as all the others have been for self-gain where as the Sly’s disguise was just to generate laughs from the audience.
There is also talk of disguise in act 3 scene 2, at the wedding of Katherina and Petruchio; Petruchio exclaims ‘to me she is married not unto my clothes’ meaning that it is not what he is wearing that matters it is who he is, I feel this is a very important message especially as there were very strict class boundaries at the time, however Shakespeare only gives the entitlement to disguise themselves to men because they have a lot more social freedom than women; such as, men have control over their identity whereas the females in this play and at the time it was written did not, other social freedoms include financial independence, the vote, professions among others; very similar to in the play.
In the Taming of the Shrew and in European society at the time this play was written, money was a prerequisite for marriage; it was expected for the bride’s father to give the groom a dowry so he can look after her properly. Dowries usually contained money, estates and valuable items. The way Shakespeare uses marriage as a financial contract in this play shows to such a great extent how Elizabethan women were so powerless in their marriages, the woman basically becomes the husbands property, marriages are supposed to be the bond of love.
Petruchio and Baptista have conversations in Act 2, scene 1 about the dowry he will receive on marrying Katherina; for instance Petruchio gets right to the point by asking “What dowry shall I have with her to wife? ” (Line 116) then Baptista presents him with a very generous offer “after my death, the one half of my lands and in possession twenty thousand crowns”.
This shows very strongly that this union was a more of a business contract than a declaration of their love, and it objectifies Katherine as if she was livestock being sold at market. Overall we know that Petruchio’s incentive for marrying Katherina was the large amount of money he would receive