Can the shrew of act 1 scene 2 credibly be tamed to become the loyal wife of act 5 scene 2? How does Shakespeare make the transformation of Katherine believable? How could language and staging be used to convey this? The taming of the shrew is a play within a play. In the induction a drunken beggar called sly has a trick played on him by a Lord. When Sly awakes from his drunken sleep those around him pretend that he is a Lord. He is given a wife and together they watch a play. This fact has to be remember through all of the taming of the shrew. It is actually being performed in England by English strolling players as a comedy.
The story of this play within a play is about Katherine, a rude shrewish unmarried women. When she is married to Petruchio he sets about trying to tame her into a good wife. In a short while she is tamed from a rough, rude, bitter and angry women into a loving, submissive, and obedient wife. We can trace Katherine’s change through the play by looking at quotes said by her or by others around her. At the beginning of the play we are told by gremio that ‘she’s too rough for me’. Soon after Katherine is described by Tranio as ‘that wench is stark mad, or wonderful forward.’ However, when Petruchio meets her he tells Katherine ‘thou art pleasant, gamesone, passing courteous.’ In this he was being sarcastic, as she was angry and yelling at him at the time.
At the wedding we are told, ‘why she’s a devil, a devil, the devils dam!’. But Petruchio, Katherine’s husband, is also ‘a devil, a devil, a very fiend!’ This is the first indication that Katherine has met her match. ‘Tut, she’s a lamb, a dove, a fool to him!’. This is the start of Petruchio taming, which has some effect at the plays end. Katherine is called ‘my sweet Kate’ by Petruchio, after she obeys one of his commands. Katherine has changed so much by the end of the play that the other characters are very much surprised. She used to be very different from the Elizabethan ideal of a wife.
The Elizabethan idea on a woman’s role in marriage is very different from today. The wife would not go out to work and so was totally dependant on her husband for food, clothes and money. In return a wife was meant to be quiet, obedient, and submissive. As the lord says in the induction when giving a lecture on how to be a good wife, ‘ask, what is’t your honour will command, wherein your lady and your humble wife may show her duty and make known her love?’ Wives were meant to be loving and loyal, no matter what their husbands did. Not only was a husband a husband, he was also their lord and master. Marriages were organised between the husband and the brides parents. Suitable husbands would be judged on their wealth and connections. The women would have little choice and could have been totally ignored if she was not a ideal, soft-spoken women. This is definitely not what Katherine was when the play first introduces her.
When she is first met she is angry and rude. She has tied her sister up and is calling her names. Even when their father tries to stop her she still swears revenge on Bianca, her younger sister. Katherine is always bad tempered and aggressive, but at the same time she is very unhappy. When she says ‘I will go sit and weep’ ,she is upset about her fathers favouritism of Bianca. Katherine is publicly humiliated by her father, and other people either ignore her or make fun of her. Katherine’s only defence is to act like ‘Katherine the curst’.
Katherine’s shrewish personality has disappeared completely by the end of the play. In act 5 scene 2 Katherine is the obedient loving wife who throws her hat away on Petruchio command, and delivers a long speech on the duty of women to their husbands. The Katherine who says ‘thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper’. Is totally removed from the hating Katherine of old. Another change in Katherine is that she is now happy and content.
She has settled into her role in life and is no longer so aggressive. In fact Katherine has undergone a complete character change. But is this change too much? Could a person really change so much in such a short while? IF these two scenes are the only looked at then the change seems impossible. But if we look at what happens in-between these scenes then the changes doesn’t seem as unbelievable. She is convincingly tamed from a shrew into a loving wife in the space of two weeks. There are four steps in Petruchio taming of Katherine: during their wedding, o the journey to Petruchio house, when Petruchio and Katherine re together at Petruchio home, and the journey back to Biancos house.
When the wedding occurs Katherine and Petruchio have only met once. This meeting did not go well. Petruchio and Katherine engaged in a word fight, which surprised Katherine as usually the men around her ignored her comments, while Petruchio argued back. In this meting Petruchio told Katherine plainly what he was going to do. He did not try and persuade her in any way but told her she would be tamed ‘from a wild Kate to a Kate conformable to other household Kate’s’. Katherine does not fight against this, showing that she does actually want to be tamed into a nicer, more happy person.
Later on, when Petruchio says ‘we will be married on Sunday’, she stays silent and does not disagree, showing she does want to be married, as she is scared of becoming an old spinster. At the wedding Katherine is on time, as she is eager now to be married. Petruchio is late however and this lateness makes Katherine feel very humiliated as she has been left alone on her wedding day. This is how Petruchio shows her how bad it feel to be humiliated by someone else, something she often does to other people. When Petruchio does show up he is wearing very strange clothes, which embarrasses Katherine, just as she has embarrassed others. Petruchio says that it is enough for him to be here, and that no-one cares about clothes that much. When he promises to explain further he means he will one day tell everyone about his taming idea and how he did it.