Taming Of The Schrew Essay, Research Paper
The Taming of the Shrew: A Perceptual Ability Test
A recurrent theme In Shakespeare?s plays is the idea that things are not always what they seem. The Taming of the Shrew shows a good example of this theme. In this play we find many discrepancies between what seems to be and what is. The main theme of this play is knowing what a person is really like is more important than how they appear to be. This is shown by Petruchio’s relationship with Katherine; the changing roles of Tranio, Lucentio, and Hortensio; and the true characters of Bianca and Katherine. All three of these situations help to enrich the theme.
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 landowner, Baptista Minola, attempts to have his two daughters married. One appears to be very shrewish, Katherine, while the other, Bianca, is the beautiful and gentle one. 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 (Saccio 40). 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. Leo Hughes provides the reader with a reasonable and rationale purpose of the play, by saying:
Its object is to provoke the spectator to laughter, not the reflective kind which comedy is intended to elicit, but the uncomplicated response of simple enjoyment.
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 maintains her assertiveness. Most of the play’s humor 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, a microcosm with in a macrocosm if you will, Shakespeare immediately lets the audience know that the play is not real thus making all events in the play false realities (Righter 104). Almost all characters in the play take on identities other than their own at some point of time during the play.
The first predicament that supports the theme is Petruchio’s relationship with Katherine. 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. Petruchio ?does not become what others pretend him to be, nor does Katherine?(Oliver 38). When we first meet Petruchio, he is only after the money of Katherine, and accepts her harshness as simply a goal he must overcome. He is mistaken for a person who is only after money, not love at all. Yet, when he meets Kate, he begins to fall for her. While he still argues and attempts to train her, it is solely for his own benefit. He wants her to be less harsh so she will be willing to fall in love with him. Petruchio ends up truly caring for and loving Kate, despite the front he puts up having his true identity revealed. It is only at and after his wedding that he chooses to hide his real nature. He pretends that he is as shrew as Katherina. This is somewhat like the parent who lies down on the floor next to his kicking and screaming child and starts kicking and screaming right along side him. While onlookers might find this bizarre, it grabs the child?s attention and reveals to him just how foolish his own actions really are. By his actions then, the parent wins the child into a more reasonable attitude and behavior. As a result of this Katherine, whom we thought would never love anyone; at the end of the story is the only wife who comes when she is beckoned by Petruchio. The other wives only make up excuses not to come. This shows how Kate has a mistaken identity because she appears rude and unreachable, when in fact she is not. This situation is one of the ways Shakespeare uses mistaken identity to display this reoccurring theme.
Another part of the theme is that when a person changes outfits and roles in an effort to deceive someone else, their personalities and attitudes stay the same. In the main part of the play, we see two main story lines: one the wooing of a daughter of Baptista, the other the “taming” of her sister. Both involve suitors who disguise themselves as what they are not and both involve women who are not what they seem on the surface. Let us first look at the men who wish to wed Bianca and their assistants. First is Lucentio, who is deceiving himself when he believes that he wants more than any thing to devote his present life to education, and his servant Tranio. In Act I, Scene I after a long discourse with his man Tranio declaring his desire to come to Padua to attend the university, which he eventually forgets all about and commences on a quest to win the love of Bianca. At this time he conspires with Tranio regarding how he might go about creating a deception that will allow him to get close enough to win her love. Lucentio disguises his servant Tranio as himself and he himself changes into a language tutor named Cambio, which incidentally means “change” in Italian, according to Barron?s Book Notes as they appear on the World Wide Web. This disguise of Tranio as Lucentio is also an interesting reflection of Christopher Sly as the servant who rules over the master. Tranio is also interesting as he, from the start, speaks very poetically, revealing that he is not a common man.
Another character, Hortensio also disguises himself in order to gain access to Bianca for the purpose of wooing her. His disguise is as of Lutio a music master. He too becomes a tutor for Bianca, but is eventually rejected by her. Before the changing of clothes, Hortensio is in competition with Lucentio for Bianca, and still is despite the change in clothes. These are examples of men who are knowingly disguising themselves in order to be able to pursue marriage. They are trying to deceive the family of Baptista by behaving in such a manner that they are something they know they are not, and their deception cannot, and is not meant to, go on forever. They even pull a complete stranger into the game when they persuade the Pedant to stand in as Vincentio, Lucanio?s father. Like the disguise of Bartholomew, these are intended to last only for a short time and are for a specific purpose, to woo and wed Bianca. What Shakespeare is trying to convey is that although one is able to change clothes to deceive someone else, one cannot change the person who wears them.
The most effect most effective way Shakespeare demonstrates this theme is through Bianca and Kate. Bianca practices a much deeper form of deception, perhaps so deep that she herself does not see it. She is presented as one who is consistently referred to as “sweet”, “fair” and “virtuous”, a false precept, devoting herself to her studies and never wanting anything else out of life. Yet, as David Daniel points out in his essay “Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy”, ?at the end Bianca shows herself petty, and even shrewish? (106). G.R. Hibbard says of Bianca, ?deception is a woman?s most effective weapon? (25). Her more true nature comes out when she no longer needs to put on a facade in order to win the love of a man.
In contrast to the shrewish nature revealed in Bianca, we find a gentler nature revealed in Katherina as she finds her self. According to the essay by David Daniel, “Kate?s loss of her false identity, and recovery of her true self, changes her and everyone around her?? (106). Perhaps it is because of the way she is treated by others that she is so contrary. Her father obviously favors Bianca, though he loves Katherina and does not want her to become and old maid (or does he just want her out of his house?) Perhaps Kate is a bit like the spoiled child who keeps throwing tantrums becoming more and more belligerent until someone finally loves the child enough to say, “No, you can?t act this way. I love you too much to let this go on.” When the parents put their foot down and stand their ground through the child?s testing, the child looses the need to push against the boundaries of acceptable behavior to see if they are still there. In the same way, when Petruchio resists Kate?s attempts to continue in her shrewishness, she relaxes and becomes her true, secure self. She becomes someone who does not always have to be “right” to be happy. This is evident in Act IV, Scene V when she determines that she will be content to go along with whatever Petrucio says. She has learned that some-times it is better to be “wrong” for the sake of harmony than “right ?for the sake of pride. 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. (Shakespeare 198)
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.
Mistaken identity is the main conflict of this play, yet it also serves to tell the reader or audience what the theme is. Through appearance changes, character relationships, and inner personalities, the theme is displayed, the theme being that what someone’s real identity is more important than what they seem to be. This is proved by a tremendous manipulation of characters and plot with examples magnifying the theme brilliantly and with great emphasis.
Barron?s Book Notes on the WWW (I could not get the documentation information as when I tried to access the information on October 22, 2000, access was denied.)
Daniel, David. ?Shakespeare and the traditions of Comedy.? The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Hibbard, G.R. The Taming of the Shrew. Harmondsworth, 1986. 8.
Hughes, Leo. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Ed. Alex Preminger. Princeton, 1974. 271.
Oliver, H.J. The Taming of the Shrew. Oxford, 1982. 57.
Righter, Anne. Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play. 1962. 104.
Saccio, Peter. Shrewd and Kindly Farce. Shakespeare Survey. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Shakespeare, William. ?The Taming of the Shrew.? The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton & Company, Inc. 1997.