Shakespeare?S Social Themes In Taming Of The Screw Essay, Research Paper
English 283 sect. 08
Shakespeare’s Social Themes in Taming of the Screw
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Screw is widely viewed as a comical play. But are the views and topics that are expressed really intended to be funny or are they more of a serious concern of Shakespeare’s that women are mistreated? Throughout this paper I will try to explain that the perspective that Shakespeare is showing is one of concern over sexism and the treatment of women.
To understand the sexism and its context is to understand when the play was written and the history of the social system at the time. The play was first presented in the late sixteenth century, the role of the women was not much more than that of service. The privileges of women were virtually non-existent in terms of political and personal rights. The chief purpose of women was to provide children and care for the household. Most marriages were pre arranged or won, and initially had no love based relationship. The women were in a sense used and taken advantage of, they were expected to do what the husband said and agree completely with them.
In the play Taming of the Screw, Kate represents a strong minded and individual person who shows no sign of calming. Petruchio, Kate’s suitor, is a strong minded man bent on controlling and taking away Kate’s sense of individuality. When the two meet for the first time there doesn’t seem to be any attraction between the two. This is illustrated in act two scene one. The conversation of the two is filled with bickering and disagreement. Later in the scene Petruchio plainly states that his purpose is to tame Kate.” For I am he am born to tame you, Kate, And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate conformable as other household Kates,(Shakespeare 47)”
This statement alone claims that Kate is to forget her own individuality and to conform to the norms of society and preferred behavior. Petruchio’s aim is to control Kate and develop her mentality and actions to that which pleases him. These actions for the time are not unusual. It was common practice to display control and dominance over your wife at this time. Is Shakespeare merely poking fun at this practice or is he putting it on display and trying to expose the problems with it? If Shakespeare was to more directly show his concern it could have hurt him both personally and professionally, maybe he was all right with the status quo but would have liked to see it changed.
As the play goes on Petruchio continues to try and break down Kate in to the women he wants. Petruchio goes on to publicly humiliate Kate and deprive her. He controls her socially, economically, and physically. She is not free to her own decisions and must at least agree with Petruchio. He goes as far as to deprive her of sleep and food. The battle between the two is underway. Which sex will win is at no point is in favor of Kate. It is her father’s will for her to marry Petruchio and to like it as well. Kate is faced with a dilemma, give in and be under Petruchio’s control or lead a life that will eventually find her dead.
Indeed Petruchio’s sexism is tearing Kate apart. She refuses to be dominated by her husband and continues to fight Petruchio’s dominating nature. This continues until the fourth act. Then while on a journey back to Petruchio’s home there seems to be a change of events. Petruchio makes reference to the sun as the moon, Kate initially disagrees but then breaks down in to telling Petruchio that she believes it is whatever Petruchio says it is.” Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun. But sun it is not when you say it is not, and the moon changes even as your mind. What you will have it named, even that it is. And so it will be for Katherine.(Shakespeare 92)” How is it that something that is so obviously in Kate’s favor turns around and ends up favoring Petruchio. Maybe a turn around is starting to occur, or perhaps Kate is falling victim to society and its warped view of the household. From this point on Kate’s feistiness is depleted slowly, but surely not forgotten.
The ugliness of this woman loosing her personality and will is no less sad as that of a captured slave. Kate is commanded to do everything and has turned into a well trained dog, but is that really what is happening here. Is Kate turning into property or is she exploiting the social system for all its worth. It is obvious that Kate posses some intelligence, is she manipulating Petruchio? This looks as if it could be a possibility. This would certainly go against the social order of the time and expectations of the audience. Kate could be positioning it so socially it seems like Petruchio has tamed her and she does as he says, but privately Kate’s demeanor is one of individuality and discontent. Kate’s mind is still with her and her defiance comes from within the house and into Petruchio’s head. Where is the victory though, Petruchio still gets what he wants and everyone thinks she is trained as a conventional wife. That’s where the subtlety and undertone comes into play.
At the very end of the play in act five it seems like the just married men have made a wager on their wives and their obedience. Between the three men it is understood that Kate has the least chance of winning between them, but Petruchio makes the bet with a curious sense of confidence. When the wives are summoned it is only Kate who responds. Petruchio has won the bet everyone is certain he had lost. In the ensuing moments Petruchio continues to order around Kate as if to prove his point. A great sense of wonder fills the room. Is the wonder because a screw has fallen down and finally been tamed, another victim of society and it way it has put complete dominance on the female sex. Or is their a difference sense of wonder, that between Petruchio and Kate, one that no one else sees. “ Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign one that cares for thee, and for thy maintenance commits his body to painful labor both sea and land, to watch the night in storms, the day in cold, Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe, and craves no other tribute at thy hands but love, fair looks and true obedience.(Shakespeare 108)” This statement appeals to the fact that she has been socialized and made obedient, but it seems as if Kate would have offered a wink to Petruchio after her little speech. Maybe she has won the battle of the sexes. Socially it looks as if Petruchio is the dominating party but privately both know that Kate hold the upper hand, for she can always go back to being a screw.
This play offers a different way of looking at marriage, if it were in now a day terms this relationship would look to be abusive and detrimental to Kate, but at the time it was written this offers a stark contrast in the ways of the wife. Kate is not trying to be a subordinate to her husband but has no choice, at least publicly, she is trying to encourage her individuality in the home. Shakespeare seems to be ahead of his time with his thought of the women and what their roles could be in the house as equals, but he doesn’t let it come out more straight forward due to the fact that it could embarrass him and hurt his career. I believe that Shakespeare was addressing this issue in the form of a comedy because when we are afraid of something or want to protect against it we blanket it by laughter. He might have been ok with the status quo but he might have also wanted to put this seeming problem on center stage to expose it.
Whatever the case might be Shakespeare does an excellent job of putting the home on center stage. His ideas of the home and it operation is completely similar to the times he lived in. Whether or not this is just a comical play or one with serious undertones of distress and or of concern one can only speculate, but it is understood that the complete meaning went to the grave with Shakespeare himself.
William Shakespear Taming of the Screw