The question of identity is the main theme being challenged by Shakespeare and in different ways all the characters in the play are used as devices to question aspects of human identity and perceptions of identity. This question arises in the induction, with Sly’s transition from “drunkard” to “Lord”, and concludes in the final scene, with Kate’s transition and submission from “shrew” to a dominated wife, ” Thy husband is thy lord”.
Shakespeare deliberately built Petruchio in layers, so that the audience, producer and actor could have their own representation of him, this all adds to his complex and ambiguous nature. Petruchio does not meditate on a reasonable level, nor should he, he is not intended as a ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Macbeth’, he is an exaggerated character with exaggerated features, however Shakespeare can present a overriding reality through him, as he (as well as Kate) is ‘tamed’ to love.
The play is a boisterous farce therefore it is wrong for an audience to expect too much from the characterization. It is a comedy of character with implications and hidden stories beyond the notional story of the title and because of this the character of Petruchio is more of a caricature than a rounded, psychologically believable character. However, William Shakespeare has created more than a simple caricature in his presentation of Petruchio. Although the characters in the taming of the shrew add to the farce of the play they also represent a reality in their relationships and in their ‘human’ behavior to which any theatre audience can respond. The characters act as manifestations of Shakespeare’s ideas. The presentation of characters in the Taming of the Shrew is therefore a lot more complex and deliberately complicated than it appears to be when the farce is in full flow in the theatre.
The simplest interpretation of Petruchio is to view him as a ‘tamer’; he ‘tames’ Kate into becoming a reliable wife. Where once she was an anomaly; loud and raucous an “intorable curst”- she is composed and moulded by Petruchio to fit his detailed and socially acceptable specification for a wife. At the end of the play her identity has unquestionably altered into that of a woman who obeys adage, “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper”.
To an extent it is difficult for the modern audience to get past viewing Petruchio as a fundamental chauvinist. Today, perhaps more so than in any previous period when the drama was played out, Petruchio is a controversial and ambiguous character whose theatrical presentation can be manipulated by producer and actor alike. A modern – post feminist audience also perceives the character of Petruchio and his behavior in a different light to audiences whom have gone before. Petruchio, a gentleman of Verona, who comes to Padua in search of a wife, became the aggressive suitor of the obstinate Kate and “thrusts” his intentions from almost immediately after his arrival “I have thrust myself into this maze, happy to thrive as best I may”. He uses an analogy of a “maze” to expose life’s complexities and explore ideas of fate, “maze” stands as a symbol of trivial games, therefore implying that he treats the marriage as a game.
He ultimately intends to get a wife on his terms; he reveals that initially his soul purpose for marriage was to gain money, therefore concluding his character to be on the surface mercenary rather than passionate and genuine “Thou rich enough to be Petruchios’ wife”. In addition much of Petruchios’ speech can be interpreted in a number of ways conveying his character (depending on the directions) as either ironic or literal. Petruchio desires a reflection of himself in a wife, one whom is rich in personality and “fiery” in charisma. In conjunction he sees Kate’s wealth as a luxury, it is her wealth that attracts him to her initially, and to be comfortable he needs luxury therefore his actions could be viewed as practical and not greedy, “If wealthily then happily in Paudua”.
However after his wedding to Kate he deprives his new wife of all luxury and tries to teach her that love and passion are luxuries within themselves, ones which are rarely found, but all conquering in comparison to physical luxuries, “for ’tis the mind that makes the body rich.” This is where the divide in interpretation occurs as a different producer could portray him as cruel chauvinistic, in interpretation occurs as a different producer could portray him as a cruel, chauvinistic, control freak who destroys all of the fiery ‘masculine’ qualities in a strong, confident woman, “I am starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep.”