“The Taming of the Shrew” is a play written by William Shakespeare which comments on the role of Woman in the Renaissance period. Woman were expected to act as a moral support for their husbands whilst running the domestic sphere, and were not expected to voice there opinions or behave in an unsavory manner. If they did, they would be considered a “Shrew”. The plot of “the Taming of the Shrew” sees a loud and unwanted “Shrew”, Kate (also referred to as Katharina), being wed to a man named Petruchio. Petruchio seemingly just craves the large dowry offered by Kate’s father. To ensure that Kate will marry him, Petruchio must tame his wife into obedience, as to discontinue the shrewish behavior.
During the play, Shakespeare cleverly incorporates two simultaneous notions to allow the audience to question the role of woman in his play, and to develop their own opinions. The most obvious idea is that Kate, the labeled “Shrew”, had her spirit broken by the ruthlessness of Petruchio’s taming tactics. The second idea suggested by Shakespeare is that Kate’s submission is totally ironic and false. Rather than accepting the role she was expected to take, she ridicules the role of woman in her society using sarcasm. Both suggestions are apparent throughout the play, and the text can be interpreted in either way to explore Shakespeare’s presentation of woman.
William Shakespeare puts forward the idea that Kate was brutally broken down by Petruchio, and forced to discontinue the shrewish behavior on account of his extravagant actions. From Act II, scene I, it is made clear of the extent of Kate’s shrewish behavior, as she ties up Bianca and strikes her. This in itself is pure shrewish behavior. However, reasons for Kate’s immoral behavior come apparent immediately. Kate and Bianca, her ‘good’ sister is bickering over their marriages. Kate appears to desire a husband, whilst Bianca has already suitors, despite being younger than her. This is seen from when Kate asks Bianca, “Whom thou lovest best”, as some spite and jealousy can be seen from Kate due to Bianca having many suitors. Furthermore, as Baptista, Kate and Bianca’s father, enters the room, it is clear he has hatred for Kate whilst he shows much love to Bianca, as he refers to Kate as a “devilish spirit”.
Kate may only be acting in a shrewish manner for these reasons, but she may not be an actual Shrew. This becomes more obvious as the play draws on. Since Kate is not a shrew in the first place, her spirit can be broken by Petruchio. After just meeting Kate, Petruchio confirms his authority, after she tells him her name is “Katharina”, he deliberately calls her Kate, and Shakespeare uses much repetition of the name “Kate” to emphasize the authority he commands. Moreover, Petruchio objectifies her by using a food metaphor, “super dainty”. All the way through there first meeting, it is clear of Petruchio’s taming methods, and it can be seen how he ‘wins’ the argument with Kate and even at this early stage begins to break down her resistance and tame her.
These harsh tactics are continually used by Petruchio and become largely evident during the wedding scene. He turns up late to the wedding, and when he does come he is wearing ridiculous clothes, mocking the wedding ceremony. The breakdown of Kate starts becoming more apparent as she is upset by the circumstances, “Would Katherine had never seen him though! [exits weeping]”. Though later she tries to assert herself, “not till I please myself”, Petruchio is clearly in control.
Petruchio continues to treat her badly, by not giving her food, clothes and begins forcing her to agree with him, whatever ridiculous things he may be saying. This is particularly apparent in Act IV scene V, where Petruchio forces Kate to say the moon is the sun and vice versa. Shakespeare particularly displays his idea that woman should be obedient to their husbands in this scene by using a famous analogy. The moon and the sun was a common analogy used to describe the ideal relationship between a husband and his wife. This is because the moon was seen to follow the sun in behavior, and was compared to a wife being expected to follow the husband’s behavior. Since Petruchio forces Katharina to agree with him, she starts to “follow his behavior” and is starting to behave as expected.
In Act V, scene II, the men all place a wager on which of their wives are the most obedient, and Kate proves herself by coming when Petruchio summons her. She then makes a speech about how wives should obey there husbands. She particularly uses war imagery such as “wound” to show that she has lost the battle, she was tamed by Petruchio. In this speech, Kate also mimics Petruchio’s way of speaking, “thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign”. By copying Petruchio’s way of speak, it shows how she has been made submissive, and starts taking on her husbands voice. In this respect, Shakespeare conveys Kate’s submission as true, whilst her spirit brutally broken by Petruchio to make her entirely obedient.