The Taming Of The Shrew


The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare is probably
one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies. Its plot is derived
from the popular 'war of the sexes' theme in which males
and females are pitted against one another for dominance in

The play begins with an induction in which a drunkard,
Christopher Sly, is fooled into believing he is a king and
has a play performed for him. The play he watches is what
constitutes the main body of " The Taming Of The Shrew". In
it, a wealthy land owner, Baptista Minola, attempts to have
his two daughters married. One is very shrewish, Katherine,
while the other is the beautiful and gentle Bianca. In
order to ensure Katherine is married, Baptista disallows
Bianca to be espoused until Katherine is wed, forcing the
many suitors of Bianca to find a mate for Katherine in
order for them to vie for Bianca's love. 

Many critics of the play condemn it for the blatant sexist
attitude it has toward women but closer examination of the
play and the intricacies of its structure reveal that it is
not merely a story of how men should 'put women in their
place'. The play is, in fact, a comedy about an assertive
woman coping with how she is expected to act in the society
of the late sixteenth century and of how one must obey the
unwritten rules of a society to be accepted in it. Although
the play ends with her outwardly conforming to the norms of
society, this is in action only, not in mind. She assumes
the role of the obedient wife, but inwardly she still
retains her assertiveness. 

Most of the play's humour comes from the way in which
characters create false realities by disguising themselves
as other people, a device first introduced in the
induction. Initially this is accomplished by having
Christopher Sly believe he is someone he is not and then by
having the main play performed for him. By putting " The
Taming Of The Shrew" in a 'play within a play' structure,
Shakespeare immediately lets the audience know that the
play is not real thus making all events in the play false
realities. Almost all characters in the play take on
identities other than their own at some point of time
during the play. Sly as a king, Tranio as Lucentio,
Lucentio as Cambio, Hortensio as Litio and the pedant as
Vicentio are all examples of this. Another example of this
is Katherine as an obedient wife. 

In " The Taming Of The Shrew", courtship and marriage are
not so much the result of love but rather an institution of
society that people are expected to take part in. As a
result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are
judged, not by their love for a woman, but by how well they
can provide for her. All suitors compare the dowry each can
bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer
'wins' the woman's hand in marriage. This competition for
marriage is like a game to the characters of the play.
While discussing the courtship of Bianca with Gremio,
Hortensio says "He that runs fastest gets\ The ring" (Act
I, scene i, l. 140-141) likening receiving permission to
wed Bianca to winning a race. In the game, however, women
are treated like objects that can be bought and sold rather
than as human beings. This is expected since the society is
a patriarchal one. For example, Lucentio, Tranio and
Petruchio are all defined with reference to their fathers
and all the elderly authority figures, like Baptista and
Vicentio, are men. 

The taming of Katherine is not a women's shrewishness being
cured as much as it is a woman being taught the rules of
the 'patriarchal game'. Katherine has learned how to be
assertive and with this knowledge is able to control men,
and a woman controlling a man is considered 'against the
rules' of the game. The play ends with Katherine proving
that she is truly cured of her 'shrewishness' and is the
most obedient of the three newlywed wives at the end of the
play. This is demonstrated in her soliloquy when she
lectures the other wives on the proper way in which a woman
should behave: 

I am ashamed that women are so simple
 To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
 Or seek rule, supremacy, and sway,
 When they are bound to serve, love, and obey. (Act V,
scene ii, l. 161 - 164) 

Although most critics interpret the play as being that of a
woman finally acting the way in which she is supposed to
act, it is difficult to believe that a character as vibrant
and strong-willed as Katherine is changed so easily.
Following with the device of false realities that
Shakespeare set in place so early in the play, it would
seem more logical that Katherine would simply be acting the
part of 'the obedient wife' in order to be accepted in the
society in which she lives. Katherine can 'play a part'
very well and can even enjoy doing it. This is shown on the
road to Padua from Petruchio's house when Kate is forced to
address Vincentio as a woman and says, "Young budding
virgin, fair and fresh and sweet" (Act IV, scene v, l. 37). 

The " Taming Of The Shrew" is a light-hearted comedy that
is better seen than read. This is especially true since a
lot of the humour in it is physical or 'slapstick' humour
which is possible only on stage. The complexity of the play
is refreshing, as many of the modern plays of today are
quite linear and do little to keep a reader's attention.
Another favourable aspect of it is the subplot involving
Lucentio and Bianca which lends itself as the basis for
many humourous moments, most notably between Lucentio,
Hortensio and Bianca. The obvious sexist attitude of the
play does not hinder it because of the reasons stated
above. One must also take into account the attitudes of
sixteenth century England and the fact that the play is a
comedy and is not meant to be taken seriously. 


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