“The Taming of the Shrew” is set in the late 1500s in a market city named Padua in Italy. Now a day the play can be seen as controversial to feminists as well as others. This is because it is set during Elizabethan times, a time when women were seen as the property of their fathers until they were married. Then they become their husband’s property. Women had no rights, couldn’t vote and had no status. The only women with status were queens. There was a chain of being in late 1500s society this was god – queens – lords – peasants. The play is labeled as a comedy, although sometimes this is not very clear to the modern reader.
The first impression you get from Katherina when you meet her is that of a disobedient, rebellious, spirited and fiery person. Men of that time may have found this intimidating. Her sister, on the other hand, is on the outside a model woman of the time by being very sweet, quiet, obedient and demure. This is why their father greatly preferred Bianca and didn’t care about upsetting or humiliating Katherina in public. “And let it not displease thee, good Bianca, for I will love thee ne’er the less, my girl” Baptista says this to Bianca because he’ sorry that her sister is such a shrew and that no one wants her. This means that Bianca can’t marry either of her suitors until Katherina has found a husband. He doesn’t even feel sorry or upset for Katherina that no one wants her. What kind of father does this to his child?
Bianca’s suitors are desperate to wed her so decide to team up to find her a husband. Luckily for them, Hortensio’s friend, Petruchio, turns up in Padua looking to find a wife and have a family. Petruchio is very masculine and shows bravado by saying, ” I have come to wive it wealthily in Padua; if wealthily, then happily in Padua” after he finds out that Katherina’s father is very rich, although this shouldn’t really matter as he is very rich himself. As he has heard of Katherina’s temper and spirit, he tells us in his soliquiy, just before he meets her, that he will confuse Katherina by saying the exact opposite of what she expects to hear, “if she do bid me pack, I’ll give her thanks. As though she bid me stay by her a week”
The conversation between Katherina and Petruchio is fast paced and exciting. Katherina seems to appreciate that he doesn’t mock or tease her and that he doesn’t treat her contemptuously, but seems to respect her. He seems to appreciate her fiery spirit. They are both quick witted, use a fast pace and clearly enjoy each other’s company. I also think she appreciates him not humiliating her in public, something most men she knows seem to do to her. He shows appreciation and love of her by saying:
“For by this light whereby I see thy beauty- Thy beauty that doth makes me like thee well- Thought must be married to no man but me, For I am here to tame you Kate,” At first, though, she refuses, but Petruchio outwits her by telling everyone how her wildness is an act that is just for show, but when she is alone she’s tame and loves him greatly. On their wedding day, Katherina was at first excited and happy, but her excitement and happiness soon turn to sadness as Petruchio is extremely late. Even when he does finally turn up he is dressed in rags and smells. His justification is, “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes.”
He then embarrasses her further in the church by swearing, slapping the priest, getting drunk on the communion wine, throwing the wine in the sexton’s face and then kissing her in an undignified manner. He is using shock tactics as part of his taming strategy, being cruel to be kind. Also he is showing her he is in charge. If this isn’t enough, he then goes and insults her father by not going to the wedding feast and when Katherina begs him to stay he embarrasses her further. Unfortunately he has the attitude of the man of those times as he feels “she is my goods, my chattels…” The guests then smugly mock them as if they were mad.
When they arrive home Petruchio abuses the servants in front of Katherina. Then he deprives her of food, saying it is burnt when in fact it is perfectly done. “And ’tis my hope to end successfully. My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, And till she stoop she must not be full- gorged… She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat; Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not.”
He is doing all this in an effort to tame her. By the way he acts around her you would think that he enjoys it and thinks she deserves it, but, in actual fact he says; “He that knows better how to tame a shrew, now let him speak- ’tis charity to show.” When he says this, you realize how much he hates doing this because he loves her and how much he would do anything to “curb her mad and headstrong humor.” in any other way, but he sees this as his only option. The way he tames her makes modern readers uncomfortable because it is very much from a time where men were in charge of what and how women behaved which is definitely not the case today.