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The Taming Of The ShrewAnalysis Of The

The Taming Of The Shrew:Analysis Of The Relationship Between Katherina & Petruchio Essay, Research Paper

The Taming of the Shrew is known as the story that a husband trains his shrewish wife. Shakespeare illustrates what a husband and wife should be; he describes that a husband should dominate over his wife and a wife should obey to her husband. It seems like that this is the story about sexism. In the book called “Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare?s Plays” by Carol Thomas Neely, Shakespeare?s “created male and female characters articulate tensions in relations between men and women as clearly, and sometimes perhaps more clearly, than does the historical record, with its persistent tendency to erase female voices”1 she says. Moreover “this play satirises not woman herself in the person of the shrew, but the male urge to control woman”2 Coppelia Kahn says in his book ” Men?s Estate”. On the other hand, Hugh M. Richmond argues that the play is dealing with the ?theme of the fragility of human identity?3 in his book called “Shakespeare?s Sexual Comedy: A Mirror for Lovers”. The play begins with two sisters? marriage proposals:

Katherina is known as a shrew and Bianca is just the opposite of Katherina, and the shrew must be married first. After this scene the play consistently describes the process of Petruchio?s wooing to Katherina. Almost the whole play is about Petruchio?s taming of Katherina. Petruchio tries to train the shrewish wife in every conceivable way. For example he takes food, sleep, and dress from Katherina as if he cares about her so much, and he denies everything she says ?? he never allows her to be opposed. Katherina changes her behavior toward Petruchio as she is trained. Here, one question comes up. A shrew means an unmanageable, a wayward, or an unruly girl. Katherina is managed by Petruchio quite neatly. She listens and does what she is told to do. I would like to examine if Katherina is really a shrew, and how she changes by Petruchio?s training through the play.

At the beginning of the play, everyone calls Katherina ?shrew? and everyone treats her as a shrew. However, she is a pretty civil-spoken person; she just quibbles. She looks like a shrew, but she is made up as a shrew. According to Carol Rutter, and author of the book called ” clamorous Voices”, people start living the name if they are called pretty, ugly, or whatever.4 Katherina is a good example of this case. She is told she is a shrew, so she is acting as a shrew. When she meets Petruchio first time, she agrees to marry him easily even though she splits hairs about what he says. If she is really a shrew, she will not accept the marriage. Her personality is strongly influenced by the circumstances that she has been living in. Later in the play she explains how she was raised:

Your betters have endured me say my mind,

And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,

Or else my heart concealing it will break,

And rather than it shall, I will be free

Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.

(IV.iii. 75-80)

She has been living with saying what she wants to say. Kahn argues, “her speech is defensive rather than offensive in origin, and psychologically necessary for her survival”.5 Expressing her thought frankly is her way of living. She was not a born shrew.

In Act 2 scene 1, Petruchio and Katherina meet for the first time, and Petruchio’s taming of Katherina begins. Petruchio’s method of taming Katherina is brutal: he comes late to the wedding, drags her away from her own wedding-feast, forces terrible journey to his own house on her, and food and sleep are denied. Furthermore, he does not allow her to dress in the fashion. Petruchio acts as if he looks out for Katherina’s interest all the time. This is his strategy ‘to kill a wife with kindness’ (IV.i.196). G.R. Hibbard points out that Petruchio is forcing

Katherina ?to see the value of that order and decency for which she previously had no use?.6 He trains her relentlessly. He does not care about her status at all. He describes his method:

My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,

And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged,

For then she never looks upon her lure.

Another way I have to man my haggard,

To make her come and know her keeper’s call:

That bate and beat and will not be obedient.

(IV.i. 178-184)

“Katherina is trained, quite literally, as one would train a hawk”7 Alexander Leggatt says in “Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love”. Petruchio’s taming method is brutal, but it is not physical brutality, but mental brutality. He never lift his hand against Katherina. Later there is a scene where Petruchio beats servants up in front of Katherina. He is trying to show something to Katherina by doing so; he thinks that if he shows her that he is using violence on other people, she will notice that she had better be obedient to him. Petruchio looks awfully violent, but this is his strategy. In the next scene, Katherina, whom food and sleep has been taken away, gets exhausted and starts doubting Petruchio?s contradictory behavior toward her:

And that which spites me more than all these wants,

He does it under name of perfect love,

As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,

?Twere deadly sickness or else present death.

(IV.iii. 11-14)

In this scene she is saying, “I have no idea what?s happening to me. Why is he treating me like this? I have never face starvation, but now I am starving to death. Is it his purpose to kill me by hunger?”. While she is fighting with the hunger, she barely keeps herself being sane, and she is puzzled by Petruchio?s behavior. From when she senses that there is the hidden meaning of Petruchio?s strange behavior, she might start changing her behavior.

There are three scenes where Petruchio and Katherina kiss in the play, and each one indicates the process of Katherina’s change. The first kiss: right after fixing the date of the wedding, Petruchio desires a kiss to Katherina. She does not speak because he kisses her almost forcibly. It is obvious that she does not want to kiss him at all. Her silence displays her rejection of the kiss. Here she never tries to agree with him; she is very obstinate. The second kiss , which comes at the end of Act 5 scene 1, is different. This time Katherina gives Petruchio a kiss in the middle of the street. Actually he asks her a kiss first, then she refuses, and allows.

She kisses him of her own accord. Here she hesitates whether she should kiss him or not; however, she finally kisses him. She is changing her behavior little by little. She starts showing the fruits of Petruchio’s teaching. It is a trial to test the success of his training. The third kiss, which comes at the end of the play, indicates the completeness of Petruchio’s taming of Katherina. When Petruchio kisses Katherina, she does not speak again. However, her silence here is totally different from the silence at the first kiss. She even looks that she kisses him with pleasure. It is an expression of her honest obedience to her husband.

We can see the process of taming Katherina in other scenes, too. In Act 4 scene 5, Petruchio and Katherina are on their way Baptist’s home in Padua, and they stop for a rest in the middle of nowhere. Petruchio and Katherina argue over whether they see the sun or moon above them:

Petruchio I say it is the moon.

Katherina I know it is the moon.

Petruchio Nay, then you lie. It is the blessed sun.

Katherina 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 shall be so for Katherine.


Katherina knows it is the sun, not the moon. However, if she disobeys what her husband says, she can never go home. Then she decides to follow what he says.

She recognizes at this point that instead of always saying ‘no’, she can try saying ‘yes’. It does not matter to her whether she calls it the sun or moon because she has got nothing to lose. Here she finds the way to be comfortable with Petruchio. Linda Bamber argues about this scene in her article called “Comic Women, Tragic Men”. “Kate has learned to maintain her independence through ironic exaggeration; if Petruchio says it is the moon, Kate knows it is the moon” and ” she feels blessed at having finally learned how to keep a pocket of freedom for herself within the limits of Petruchio’s dominion over Kate”8 Bamber says. Moreover, “Kate is smart enough to recognize fully and finally that mere terminology in itself is not worth quarrelling over”9 Richmond says. According to Bamber and Richmond in this scene Katherina is being smart.10 She is not only smart but adaptable as well. Richmond describes a good point of Katherina is that she can keep her flexibility even when her nurses are in tatters. Actually, from the beginning of the play she has displays her wit. In Act 2 scene1, when she meets Petruchio for the first time, she answers fire with fire. On the other hand, Leggatt says, “here Katherina finally displays the fruits of Petruchio’s teaching. Her

obedience is signalled by submission to her husband on the most basic of matters”.11 Is Katherina really obedient to Petruchio in good faith? She seems to be acting an obedient wife. Katherina has changed to be flexible, she is not stubborn any more ?? she is no longer a well-known ’shrew’.

At the end of the play Katherina shows her obedience to her husband again. Petruchio, Lucentio, and Hortensio play a game ?? they start betting on their

wives. Each of men calls his wife and they bet if their wives obey their summons. The husband of the woman who complies the summons wins. First, Lucentio tells Biondello to take Bianca to Lucentio, but she replies she is busy so she cannot come. Next, Hortensio calls Widow; however, she does not come, and she even bids him to come to her. Finally, Petruchio calls Katherina and she shows up shortly. Petruchio tells Katherina to bring Bianca and Widow, and Katherina does that. She even instructs them how wife as it ought to be,

Thy husband is thy lord, they life, thy keeper,

Thy head, thy sovereign: one that cares for thee,


Such duty as the subject owes the prince,

Even such, a woman oweth to her husband;

And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,

And not obedient to his honest will,

What is she but a foul contending rebel

And graceless traitor to her loving lord?

I am ashamed that women are so simple

To offer war where they should kneel for peace;

Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway

When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

(V.ii. 147-148, 156-165)

Now, Katherina is less powerful, less wealthy, less cheerful ?? less everything than Petruchio. She loses herself, and she is not a person as she was before. Petruchio’s taming of Katherina seems to be successful; however Katherina has learned how to please her husband by his taming.

Baptista and other men congratulate freely about Katherina’s growth at the end of the play because her submission speech has them believe that she has been totally tamed and Petruchio dominates over Katherina. But, the fact of the matter is that Katherina has found the way of living not to be denounced her as a ’shrew’. At the beginning of the play, Katherina is stubborn and living as she pleases. Since she has met Petruchio, her behavior and way of thinking has been changing. As Petruchio?s training is being in progress, Katherina is trying to get over his plot with her wit. The whole play pretty much focuses on Katherina. Many critics say

that the play is about Petruchio?s taming of Katherina, but she has not really been tamed ?? she has changed the way of expressing herself. She changed people?s points of view toward her as well. The play is not about taming of Katherina, but a growth process of Katherina.


1. Neely, Carol Thomas. Introduction. Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare?s Play. (New

Haven: Yale UP, 1985), pp.21

2. Kahn, Coppelia. Men?s Estate. (Barkley: U of California P, 1981), pp.104

3. Richmond, Hugh M. Shakespeare?s Sexual Comedy. (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-

Merill Co. Inc., 1971), pp.87

4. Evans, Faith, ed. Clamorous Voices. (New York: Routledge/Theatre Arts Book,

1989), pp.8

5. Kahn, Men?s Estate, pp.108

6. Hibbard, G.R. Introduction. The Taming of the Shrew. (Harmondsworth: New

Penguin, 1968), pp.21

7. Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare?s Comedy of Love. (New Fetter Lane:

Methuen&Co. Ltd., 1974), pp.56

8. Bamber, Linda. Comic Women, Tragic Men. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1982),


9. Richmond, Shakespeare?s Sexual Comedy, pp. 95

10. Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men, and Richmond, Shakespeare?s Sexual


11. Leggatt, Shakespeare?s Comedy of Love, pp. 58


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