Shakespeare’s comedy “The Taming of the Shrew” shows the two sisters, Katherine and Bianca, as complete contrasts to eachother. He uses various techniques to achieve this effect. Many of these techniques are the same for both sisters; however their outcomes are different, therefore creating two completely different characters. We first see some of these techniques in action in Act I scene 1 when Kate and Bianca are first introduced. Our perception of the sisters is formed by what the men say about them and to them. Baptista, Kate and Bianca’s father, tries to persuade Gremio and Hortensio, Bianca’s suitors, to woo Kate, as she has no suitors yet.Order now
Gremio’s first comments on Kate paint a picture of her in our minds, “To cart her rather! She’s too rough for me”. Already we have a bad first impression of her and it becomes worse when Hortensio insults her, “No mates for you unless you were of gentler, milder mould”. These nasty comments show that the men are scared of her and obviously don’t think she is marriage material. Kate then says marriage is the last thing on her mind and wittily thinks of a comeback, “to comb your noddle with a three-legged stool”. She threatens to hit him with a piece of furniture. It is now clear in our minds that Kate is obviously the Shrew.
In contrast to Kate, however, Bianca is presented as very different. When we hear how the men speak of Bianca it is in an entirely different way. Everything said about her is not only flattering but elevates her; men worship her like a goddess, “the love I bear my sweat Bianca”. She acts sweetly in front of her father. This is a technique that is used to carry on the theme of deception and disguise used throughout the play. When told to go inside she does, “Go in, Bianca”. When given instructions she obeys. When Men speak to her they are polite and courteous, “madam, my instrument’s in tune”. She is seen as the “perfect” woman of Elizabethan times where as Kate is seen as the woman
of today, much more independent and stands up for what she believes in. But she is seen as absolutely dreadful in Elizabethan times. By the end of act I scene 1 Shakespeare has used the same techniques to present the sisters but their behaviour, language and attitude are perceived as complete contrasts. Kate is seen as a shrew. She is feared and appears depressed. Bianca is pictured as the ideal woman, worshipped and adored throughout Padua.
Shakespeare brings us back to the sisters in act II scene 1. This is a crucial part in the play as it is the only scene that presents Kate and Bianca alone with no one else around. You could say this is the ideal moment for Shakespeare to show their true colours. Kate has tied up Bianca and is trying to get who she likes most out of her suitors out of her. This confirms her shrewish character with the violence and aggressiveness she shows, “Minion, thou liest!”. Bianca this time, however, is not the kind hearted, mild, polite woman we thought she was; she is now not being watched by men so her “real” character shines through. She is smug to Kate, “I know my duty”, and this would annoy Kate putting her in her place. Bianca talks most out of the two sisters, which is unusual for her as we have already seen she does not talk much and only when spoken to.
But what is most interesting is the fact that when Baptista enters the room Bianca starts to cry and shuts up immediately. This is reinforced when Kate says, “Her silence flouts me”. This may mean that Kate knows the real Bianca that may not be what we first thought. We don’t only see a change in Bianca’s character but also Kate’s. We believed before that Kate didn’t care what anyone thought of her but now this may not be the case, “What will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see she is your treasure”. This shows Kate may actually have feelings under her hard strong independent exterior, as Kate is upset that Baptista favours Bianca.
Kate is wooed by Petruchio later in act II scene 1. Once Petruchio’s character is established in detail he goes off to woo Katherine the Curst. There is a verbal battle between them, “Asses are made to bear, and so are you”. Kate’s witty, raucous, sexual, aggressive side is shown here. Kate wins the battles between them but ultimately loses the war as Petruchio reveals to Kate that her father has already agreed the dowry (sum of money) needed for their marriage. Bianca is wooed in Act III scene 1. She quickly takes charge, “I’ll not be tied to hours nor ‘pointed times”, and allows Lucentio and Hortensio to woo her, “here sit we down”. She allows this even though her father forbids it. We see a few new attributes come through in Bianca’s character.
She appears not as obedient and also not as submissive, revealing to the audience that what we saw earlier in the play of Bianca was misleading. “Farewell, sweet masters both, I must be gone”, says Bianca at the end of her wooing scene. She comes across to be flirting with them, but she is not interested in either of them and is confusing them. Shakespeare uses this as a technique by way of what others think about Bianca. After Pertruchio and Kate’s wedding, Petruchio is beating his servant. Kate prays that Petruchio stops this violent act, “Patience, I pray you. ‘Twas a fault unwilling”. This also shows a new character for Kate becoming weaker and having to beg which we have never seen before in her.
Shakespeare continually switches between the two sisters which enables the audience to compare and contrast their developments as people. It is as if he is presenting them side by side. Bianca, now showing signs of deception and deviousness, is also becoming more dominant. Kate, now talks a lot less of her opinions and speaks when spoken to and is also showing signs of sympathy towards others.
Now by act IV Kate appears to be tamed, “I pray you, husband, be not so disquiet. The meat was well, if you were so contented”. But it makes the audience wonder, is she really tamed or has she just learned how to play petruchio’s game? In act V Bianca and Lucentio have sneaked to get married against both their father’s wishes. At the banquet in scene 2, when Bianca joins in the conversation she is rude and also is out of tune with the high-class setting, “Head and Butt!”. She has obviously changed from the worshipped goddess she was to a confident woman who makes smutty puns which were not acceptable to the Elizabethan audience. The real change in the sister’s characters is clearly noticed at the end of the play. The sisters are chatting with Hortensio’s wife. The 3 husbands; Petruchio, Lucentio and
Hortensio set a wager for whose wife would come to them if called. Lucentio goes first and sends Biondello to, “bid your mistress come to me”. Bianca does not return with Biondello which must shock the audience as they believed she was obedient. Hortensio goes next and once again his wife does not return to him. Finally Petruchio confidently, “commands”, Kate to come. She returns almost immediately which blatantly shows her new character lifting the audience’s opinion of her and lowering theirs of Bianca.
Kate then fetches her sister after being told to by her husband. She also speaks much politer and poetically, “A woman moved is like a fountain troubled”. While Bianca speaks in a way that would have shocked the Elizabethan audience, “The more fool you for laying on my duty”. Lucentio’s attitude also changed due to his embarrassment, “But a harsh hearing when women are forward”. Shakespeare is using the same techniques in this scene as he did in the opening scene to present the two sisters, however this time Bianca is seen as the shrew whereas Kate is seen as the “perfect” wife.
Now at the end of the play Kate is perceived as the ideal woman; she is obedient, fetching her sister, and submissive, she comes when called. Her language is also much more polite and refined which nicely complements her calmer personality. Bianca is now much more shrewish than she was at the start of the play. The deception and disguise through out the play has played a big part with Bianca as now we see her “true colours”. She also appears to have no conscience for what she has done. Shakespeare has used techniques like how the sisters behave, speak and react to show their characters but also he’s used other people’s perceptions of the sisters to round up their full characters, therefore effectively presenting Katherine and Bianca.