Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Shakespeare seems to be teasing us again.
This post is about my own frustration with the sexism in this play. It seems that by act 3, Katherine is “tamed” by Petruccio. Their playful, tense sparring upon meeting saw her asserting herself against his advances, and then, upon their marriage, Katherine watches as Petruccio boldly proclaims that she is his property and vows to protect her from other men (3.3.100-110).
Katherine seemed like a much stronger character in the beginning, albeit a little violent and unruly. But, in my opinion, not unjustly so, given the circumstances. Preceding Petruccio’s proclamation is Katherine’s assertion “I will be angry. What hast thou to do? [footnote: What business is it of yours?],” and then her statement “Gentleman, go forward to the bridal dinner./I see woman may be made a fool/If she had not a spirit to resist” (3.3.84 & 91-92). These statements may be as impassioned as Katherine’s previous, more cartoonish comportment, but they demonstrate Katherine’s capability of acting with conviction and composure at the same time, in place of excessive violence and unruliness. These few lines hold so much potential.
And then Petruccio deigns himself fit to speak for her. His response to Katherine’s assertion is kind of unruly and definitely disrespectful. He responds to Katherine directly—“They [the gentleman, the attendants] shall go forward, Kate, at thy command”—allowing her the authority she had already asserted. He then proceeds to direct the attendants himself through proclaiming his ownership of Katherine, invoking the Ten Commandments, and using language that shows he fancies himself a hero: “I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he/That stops my way in Padua…Fear not, sweet wench. They shall not touch thee, Kate./I’ll buckler thee against a million” (3.3.105-106 & 109-110). This is pretty ironic, considering Katherine’s previous reputation as an undesirable woman. In fact, she isn’t called “woman,” by the characters—just “shrew” or “wife” or her name, and by Petruccio mainly through its diminutive, “Kate.”
The preposterous speech is left hanging when Katherine, Petruccio, and Grumio exit, and Katherine presumably says nothing in response. Even Katherine’s family and Gremio and Lucentio acknowledge that she has probably made a mistake in marrying Petruccio.
I don’t blame Katherine for acting like a so-called “shrew.” She might be well aware of the fact that no one takes her seriously as a person, so she would rather speak her mind in ways that risk reinforcing this fact, than stay quiet and automatically reinforce this fact. Is Shakespeare making a commentary here?


Steph Cryan said...

As I sat here reading your post, I found myself nodding and agreeing with almost all of it. We do see Katerine being a strong willed woman who fights back in the beginning but by the end, she has been tamed by this man, making her a weaker character than she was at the start, possibly depending on how you read her last speech. I also fully agree with your wondering of whether or not Shakespeare is making commentary and it appears to me that he is, though I wonder if it isn't more a commentary on the double standard, as we discussed in class. Katerine found herself being forced to marriage for the sake of her sister being able to marry, if I was her I would have spoken out too!

Ben Burgholzer said...

I agree with both of these posts. Throughout the play, we are given very little background information on Katherine. This leads me to infer that Shakespeare is commenting on the difficulty that some women surely had with their lack of rights at the time, but cleverly disguised as a tale of a man who "tames him shrew."

Cyrus Mulready said...

I'm persuaded by what you write here, Molly--that Shakespeare might be showing us the limited roles for women in his society (wife, shrew, scold, widow) as a way of uncovering the problems of society. So, I'm curious to know which of the theses we discussed in class on Friday is closest to your viewpoint?

molly said...

Ben- The idea that the play is a "clever disguise" is pretty intriguing. To read the play this way might be to try a little too hard to redeem Shakespeare, but it's so tempting!

Steph- I definitely see the possibility for a double standard commentary. I think the way I interpret Katherine's "shrewishness" may be a more personal reaction to the role of the female in Shakespeare's society and today's society.

Professor Mulready: I'm still unsure of which thesis I agree with, but I think for now I'm leaning toward the "Shakespeare doesn't really hate women" thesis. Looking at the historical context, I would agree that Katherine and Petruccio are probably a good match. They are equals, even if Petruccio doesn't see it. There is a lot of potential in their union.