Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew": An Analysis of a Tamed Kate
Taming of the Shrew Essay
In The Taming of the Shrew, Kate goes through a fantastic transformation from a harsh spitfire to a spirited yet submissive wife. This transformation is due to Petruchio’s over-the-top kindness towards Kate and cruelty towards all others. Although her development is very evident from an outside perspective, she is essentially the same person after Petruchio’s taming as she is before. The real difference between the Kate that Gremio refers to as a “fiend of hell” (I.i.89), to the Kate that Baptista gives “another dowry to” (V.ii.120), is that she has learned to look beyond herself and begins to express love. It’s Kate’s desire for love with Petruchio’s help that leads her to show love and empathy without losing her feisty attitude.
Taming of the Shrew: Petruchio and Kate
Kate's Desire for Love
Kate desires love, regardless of how unloving and unlovable she begins. In Act Two, Scene One, when Kate ties her sister’s hands, she questions Bianca of all the suitors that are after Bianca. Bianca recognizes this cruel act as jealousy and a desire to be loved when she states, “Is it for [Gremio] you do envy me so?” (VII.i.18). It is not Gremio or any other suitor that Kate feels jealousy towards; she feels jealous of Bianca and how everyone, even their father, views her as the preferred sister. Kate voices these feelings when she snaps at her father as he comes to Bianca’s defense by saying, “[Bianca] is your treasure” (II.i.32), which reflects Kate’s belief that her father views Bianca as someone valuable. In contrast, Kate does not believe that he feels the same way towards her.
Then when Petruchio arrives, Kate finally finds someone who gives her compliments. His sincerity is in question because he plans to “woo her with some spirit when she comes” (II.i.170) and praise her with the opposite of her actions. Regardless, this is the first time she hears such flatteries as being called as “sweet as springtime flowers” (II.i.247) or being told “thy beauty that doth make me like thee well” (II.i.275) then eventually requesting her hand in marriage. Although she states that she’d “rather see thee hanged…” (II.i 300) than get married to him, she does show up to the wedding and further feels grieved when he does not arrive on time. If she had not wanted to marry him, she would have thrown the same kind of fit as she was accustomed to prior. She did not, which shows Petruchio’s effect on her.
Despite his flattery, she still seeks to find love from him, although she seeks it in juvenile ways. For instance, once the marriage ceremony ends, she desires to stay for the reception, whereas Petruchio wants to leave. She argues her case through a childish plea stating, “Now if you love me, stay” (III.ii.204). This question is much like what a child would ask their mother or best friend. The immaturity of this act reflects her lacking the basic necessity of being nurtured and feeling cared for. Because of this, she seeks it through childish means such as petty questions and fighting.
Petruchio: The Worst Shrew
Who Is Petruchio?
Her quarrelsome behavior is not entirely due to her lack of being loved, but also her self-absorption. For the first time in Kate’s life, she sees others being verbally abused by someone other than herself, as Petruchio presents himself as an even worse shrew than herself. A turning point in her selfishness occurs when the servants bring out the “burnt” meat (IV.i.151). Despite Petruchio’s criticism of the meat, she insists that it is okay. Due to his harsh words towards the servants, Kate tries to reason with him by stating, “I pray you, ‘tis a fault unwilling” (IV.i.153). In one sense, she is hungry and will say anything to be allowed to eat the meat, regardless of its state. On the other hand, she does not refer to her own need of hunger but defends the cook’s mistake. This willingness to step outside of herself to defend someone else reflects her ability to empathize.
As her awareness of others grows, so does her ability to show love. One example of this new love being for Petruchio is when Kate first arrives at her father’s home. Petruchio beckons a kiss. When she refuses the first time, he asks if it’s because she is embarrassed of him. She responds with, “But no sir, God forbid, but ashamed to kiss” (V.ii.137), which signifies more the feelings towards public displays of affection during this time rather than her feelings of kissing Petruchio. Her initial resistance may also be because she is not used to showing affection due to the lack of love she has felt previously.
This statement is also significant because it expresses her sincerity towards Petruchio as a husband. She uses the expression “God forbid,” which emphasizes her feelings against being ashamed of him. Through her word choices, one can see that she has indeed fallen in love with Petruchio. In the next line, Kate again proves her growing love for him. Petruchio playfully hints that since she won’t kiss him in public, they should go home. Her response is, “nay I will give thee a kiss. Now, pray thee, love, stay” (V.ii.139). Kate’s willingness to kiss Petruchio is more than just a desire to stay at her father’s house; her word choice proves this, which she reveals when she calls him “love,” before she kisses him. This affectionate term further signifies that she has fallen in love with Petruchio.
Taming the Shrew
Just as the word “love” is chosen, her word choices in the final speech prove she is genuinely in love with Petruchio and sincere in what she says to the two women. As she describes a husband to Bianca and the widow, she states, “thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / thy head thy sovereign, one that cares for thee” (V.ii.153). The first three things reflect the views of marriage in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The last part of her description shows the sincerity in what she is saying. The “one that cares for thee,” indicates her acknowledgment, despite Petruchio’s crazy antics, that he genuinely cares for her. If she had meant it to be sarcastic, this admission of being cared for would seem out of place and misguided.
Not only has her love for Petruchio ultimately blossomed, but her ability to empathize has as well, which again is seen through her word choices. In the last scene, as she gives her speech to Bianca and the widow, this new compassion is again revealed. During this scene, she begins chiding the two women about their childish behavior towards their husbands. She shows this by explaining this behavior through a husband’s eyes. Kate recognizes that her husband is working hard for her to have food on the table and a safe home. This admission goes further than just recognition of a husband’s willingness to work hard and to provide for his wife; she also claims that her desire to be submissive and loving is “too little payment for so great a debt” (V.ii.160).
Petruchio Having Fun at Kate's Expense
Kate Still Feisty
With her new understanding, Kate’s actions and words begin to change, but not her personality. She may have stopped her temper tantrums and her cruelty towards others, but she is still feisty. One of the best scenes to reflect this would be before Kate’s arrival at her father’s house as Petruchio and her are on their walk. He tries to make the point that she should be in submission to him as he refers to the sun as the moon and the moon as the sun. She recognizes his argumentativeness as playfulness, and she reacts with a similar elaborate rant of her own. This speech addresses his absurdity by saying, “But sun it is not when you say it is not, / And the moon changes even as your mind” (V.i.20-21). If she were utterly broken of spirit, she would have simply agreed without an elaborate speech. But instead, she made a show of the nonsensicalness. If this is not evidenced enough, you see her still argumentative nature when she says, “And so it shall be still for Katherine” (V.i.22). By not accepting the nickname Petruchio has given to her, she proves that she still is independent of him. She is capable of being a submissive wife but be her own person, as well.
Later in the same scene, the playfulness is further shown as they approach Lucentia’s father. She does not need to say anything when Petruchio makes the ridiculous claim that the man is really a woman. Instead, she plays the game with Petruchio by calling the man a “young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet” (V.i.36). The fact that she is willing to go along with his outlandish remarks and humiliate a man she has never met proves she has not lost her spunk.
The Play Taming of the Shrew
Few women, now and especially during Shakespeare’s time, would be willing to risk humiliation for themselves or others, unless they have a strong personality. Then again, in her final speech, Kate talks at length with a strong presence that captivates her audience, further proving she is still the feisty woman she had been at the very beginning but with new understanding. She recognizes marriage as a partnership. While in this society, a woman is asked to be obedient, it is not without men serving women as well. She demonstrates this when she states,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body,
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe;
This refers to what men of this time had to do for their wives. When she expresses her feelings towards a woman’s obedience, it is not only a representation of what is expected of a woman but what men are expected to do for their wives as well.
This same spunk is reflected other times in the same speech, despite its strong patriarchal message. At the beginning of her monologue, she begins with the sharp rebuke, “Fie, fie, unknit that threat'ning unkind brow” (V.ii.142). The fact that neither her sister nor the widow immediately argue back is a reflection of Kate’s continuing authoritative demeanor. Later she uses further piercing words, such as “foul contending rebel” and “graceless traitor,” which again are not met with an immediate challenge (V.ii.165-166). Also, the speech’s length is further proof that she is as full of strength as she is in the beginning, if not more. She is talking amongst both men and women, yet all listen. She rebukes, yet no one interrupts. The speech is long and does not end until she decides it ends, which is emphasized by the couplets. Only someone who could demand such authority would have been able to give such a robust lengthy speech.
Despite Kate’s apparent anti-feminist talk, Kate has not become a completely broken, weak-willed woman. She still has the passion and energy she began with, but with a realization that her actions affect others. Kate also has learned how to love by being loved. Though she evolves in her ideas and actions, her personality is essentially the same as it is in the beginning but shaped by empathy and love. Kate still is able and willing to fight, which is apparent in her monologue. However, she does it with tact and poise, which is no longer met with a dispute. Though it is Petruchio who helped her along the journey, if she hadn't desired for love, in the beginning, her transformation would not have occurred.
Questions & Answers
Is it a possibility that Kate from Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" is putting on a complying act because she knows that by pretending to submit, she can get what she wants?
Yes, that is definitely a good interpretation of what is going on. I believe both Kate and Petruchio are putting on an act towards the end, but I do believe that they both know that the other is acting and they are doing so out of mutual respect.Helpful 11
Why did Petruchio want to marry Katharine?
Keep in mind that Petruchio wanted to marry a wealthy woman. His "friend" Hortensio adored Katharina's sister Bianca, but they could not marry until Katherina was married, therefore, Hortensio tried to convince Petruchio to marry Katharina. Petruchio is very interested in Katharina's money. He convinces her father that they are madly in love despite Kate's dislike of him.Helpful 6
Should we still study and celebrate this play?
Any answer to this would be someone's opinion and therefore is up for debate. I personally believe that yes, we should definitely study this play as it helps give insight into the past.
As far as celebrating it, it was a well-written play that should be recognized and appreciated. I think I know what you are trying to get at. Personally, I believe that the husband and wife have a symbiotic relationship. Their life is richer as a result of one another. Many people get stuck on the Bible stating that a woman is supposed to submit to their husband and miss the rest of that verse where it states that a man should love the wife as Christ loves the church. That is essentially saying that a man should lay his life down figuratively and literally for his wife.
Submitting is not the same as obeying. Children should obey their parents. Submission is more about respecting than obeying. Women are allowed to disagree with their husband. They are allowed to bring up their concerns, but they should do so in a respectful way.Helpful 4
What do you think is the main moral of the story?
I believe the moral of the story is to about true character. Sometimes we have to look beyond our first impression of people to truly know them and their character. That answer probably will not be in any textbook on the Taming of the Shrew, but that is my own personal opinion.Helpful 3
Is Petruchio's methods of taming Kate funny or cruel?
I personally believe that Petruchio is unkind and disrespectful. That being said, humans love to watch Home Alone and laugh at the cruel treatment of the two thieves, so it was intended to bring humor by being way over the top.Helpful 3
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz