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Analytic Play Review Of The Taming Of

The Shrew Essay, Research Paper

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 marriage. 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 to 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. Although

she assumes the role of the obedient wife, 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.