Exploring Sexuality in “Taming of the Shrew”Exploring Sexuality in “Taming of the Shrew”Andrea BlackstenShakespeare PlaysProfessor ChristopherHuman sexuality underlies many of the happenings of “Taming of theShrew. ” It affects the conflicts, theme, and resolution of the play. Itbecomes evident throughout the play that sexual behavior denotes whether acharacter is thought of as good or evil (not necessarily good evil as meant inconventional terms, but rather as a “nice” character versus a “waspish” or”mean’ character).
In the beginning of the play, there is an obvious conflict between Kateand her sister, Bianca. This conflict stems from the fact that their fatherfavors Bianca, as well as the fact that Bianca has many suitors, while Kate hasnone. Kate’s father, Baptista, tries to persuade some of Bianca’s suitors topursue Kate instead. However, they make it clear that none of them could desireKate. “Mates, maid? How mean you that? No mates for you unless you were of agentler, milder, mold” (I,i, lines 58 – 60). From this it is clear that the menin the play prefer a better “mold” than Kate, in other words, she does not carryherself as well as Bianca.
Kate does not play the coy flirting games, and istherefore thought of as harsher than Bianca. Bianca, however, knows how to be flirtatious, witty, and coy around heradmirers, and yet is almost intentionally mean to Kate. For instance, Biancaknows that it hurts Kate to have no suitors while she (Bianca) has several. Bianca uses this to hurt Kate.
When Kate tries to find out which suitor Biancareally likes, Bianca swears that she won’t take the suitor that Kate likes. Shecasually offers Kate whichever suitor she wants. Kate is enraged by thisbecause she knows that the only reason that Bianca has suitors while she hasnone is because Bianca plays the sexual flirtation game. When Kate gets a suitor of her own, Petruchio, there is a lot of sexualtension in their relationship. At their first meeting, they exchange a barrageof sexual comments: Petruchio: Why, what’s a movable?Kate:A joint stoolPetruchio: Thou hast hit it; come sit on me.
Kate: Asses are made to bear and so are you. Petruchio: Women are made to bear and so are you. (II, i, lines 196 – 200)Also, Petruchio decided before he met Kate that he would act as though she wasbeing very kind, and as if she welcomed him and accepted him no matter what shedoes or says. This sets the tone for their entire relationship. Later in the play, Petruchio decides that the best way to change Kate’sbehavior is to act contrary to her.
He uses this to deny her food, sleep, andclothes. For instance, when they are brought dinner, he shouts that the foodisn’t good enough, and sends it away. When she tries to sleep, he rants thatthe bed is not good enough for her, and makes such a fuss about it that shecannot sleep. He does this until she realizes that if she does not appease him,she will not get anything. In contrast, Bianca controls her relationships with her suitors.
Biancarealizes that if she acts nice and flirts with her suitors, they will doanything she asks of them. All Bianca has to do is smile, and then anything shesays after that is accepted without argument by her suitors. For example, whenHortensio and Lucentio are tutoring Bianca in different subjects, and arguingamongst themselves about who should tutor her first, when Bianca steps in. “Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong to strive for that which resteth in mychoice. I am no breeching scholar in the schools.
I’ll not be tied to hoursnor ‘pointed times, but learn my lessons as I please myself. And, to cut offall the strife, here sit we down” (III,i, lines 16 – 21). Hortensio and Lucentio accepted this reprimand from Bianca, however, had Katereprimanded them in the same way, they would have talked amongst themselvesabout the fact that she was waspish. This again is a product of the perceptionof good and evil that Bianca and Kate personify. The final scene is affected by sexuality and its tie in to theperception of Kate and Bianca as good or evil. In this final scene, the men -Lucentio, Hortensio, Petruchio, and Baptista – are sitting around a tabletalking.
Kate, Bianca, and the Widow are in the next room carrying on their ownconversation. The men are discussing their wives; Lucentio and Hortensio arecertain that Petruchio ended up with the worst woman out of them all, Kate isstill perceived as evil by them. Petruchio, however, realizing that Kate haschanged due to his treatment, argues that his wife is the best, while Bianca andthe Widow are not as perfect as perceived by their husbands. The men decide to have a small contest in order to see whose wife isreally more obedient and more accepting of her husband. They each, in turn senda servant to fetch their wife from the next room. Bianca and the Widow refuseto answer the summons, however, Kate responds immediately.
At Petruchio’sbidding, she goes back into the other room and brings the other women back withher to the men. She then delivers a lecture to them about their role as a wife. Her main concept is that since the man does all the work to provide for hiswife, it is really not to much for him to expect for her to be obedient to him,and it is a small price for her to pay in return for him providing everythingfor her. At this point, Lucentio’s and Hortensio’s perception of Kate as amean, crusty, shrew changes, and they notice that she is a desirable woman. Atthe same time, because their own wives were so reluctant to obey their wishes,the image of their wives becomes tarnished.
The desirability of women in “Taming of the Shrew” directly correlatesto their obedience to men. After Kate’s astounding final speech, Petruchio isoverwhelmed. Petruchio is so happy that Kate has so accepted the fact that sheshould not argue with him, indeed, that she should try to please him no matterwhat, that he is stupefied to the point where his only reaction is: “Whythere’s a wench! Come on and kiss me, Kate” (V,ii, lines 179 – 180). We can also see how Bianca’s desirability changed for Lucentio by theend of the play.
Throughout the entire play, Lucentio was very happy withBianca, even going as far as pretending not to be himself in order to spend moretime with her. After they were married, however, and Bianca became less andless accommodating, Lucentio felt less attraction for her. “I would your dutywere as foolish too. The wisdom of your duty, fair Bianca, hath cost me fivehundred crowns since suppertime” (V,ii, lines 126 – 128). While he was courtingher, Lucentio never would have rebuked Bianca in such a way. Shakespeare relates sexual desirability with his character’s actions andmotivations.
“Taming of the Shrew” exemplifies this trait well. It shows howunderlying sexual themes run constantly throughout the play, as well as how itaffects the outcome. By the end of the play, Bianca and Kate have switchedroles, with Kate now being the desirable woman that Hortensio and Lucentio wishthey had married, while Bianca has transformed into a shrew.It would seem that marriage brought out Bianca’s true nature, as she nolonger has to worry about keeping suitors or pleasing them, while Kate has foundsomeone she really loves.