“The Taming of the Shrew” is a farcical comedy written by William Shakespeare around 1590 and it seemed the most elaborate play of that time. The main plot is rather simple: Petruchio, “a gentleman of Verona”, courts Katherina, the well-to-do Baptista Minola’s elder daughter, whose sole “feeble” drawback is that she constantly tortures everyone around her with her inborn maliciousness. Initially, Katherina is a rough unwilling participant in the relationship, but the skillful Petruchio manages to temper her with innumerable psychological torments until she becomes an obedient wife.
The excerpt that is to be analyzed depicts the first overheated encounter between the two explosive characters. In fact, this is the scene with which the “taming” process leads off. After having settled a certain agreement with Kate’s father regarding his future wedding and dowry, the suitor eventually meets his bride and her tempestuous nature.MAJOR THEMES REFLECTED IN THE EXCERPTAs it is easy to infer from the entire dialogue, the main theme is the battle of the sexes with the subsidiary struggle for mastery in marriage. Throughout the whole fierce polemics, one can easily observe that each remark is a stroke for gaining superiority over the other.
However, beyond the battle of insults, it’s obviously that Shakespeare conceals the issue of domination in man-woman relationship. In the Elizabethan age a woman was expected to be obedient to her husband, only that the afore-mentioned vision led to an abusive situation, if we are to judge by nowadays mentality: women were treated as “commodities” by their fathers and husbands.In our excerpt, there are two major conspicuous exemplifications of this fact. First, during his speech Petruchio demands that Katherina, though only as a mockery, take a few steps in order for him to analyse whether she limps or not – “O, let me see thee walk!”. She remarks Petruchio’s superiority claims and strikes back: “Go, fool, and whom thou keep’st command.
” The second situation which proves men’s leader attitude towards women is at the end of the text, declaimed as an implacable matter of fact – “And therefore, setting all this chat aside,/ Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented/ That you shall be my wife your dowry greed on;/ And will you, nill you, I will marry you.” Thus, men patently triumph irrespective of women’s will and objection.The second motif we are facing with within our fragment is related somehow to the dumb creatures – perceiving women as wild animals which have to be tamed. The sequence under the debate abounds with such allusions.
The very title of the play contains two of them. Therefore, Kate is portrayed as a “shrew” and her adaptation to the new authority is metaphorically called “taming”. The meeting itself between the characters could be compared to the first interaction of a patient tamer with an untamed animal, inside a cage. If we are to analyse the facts through this point of view, we could find an explanation for two gestures.
While arguing with Petruchio, all of a sudden, Katherina strikes him, but the “gentleman of Verona” choses not to hit her back. She is the animal that bites, due to its wild nature and due its fear of the unknown, whereas Petruchio is the tamer who knows that physical violence against his “pet” whould only amplify the gap between them, bringing about hatred, mistrust and an almost certain failure in the domestication process.In regard to the animal imagery, besides the “shrew” appellation, Petruchio labels Kate as well “wasp” and “turtle”. On the other side, Katherina fires back with offences such as: “ass”, “jade” or “buzzard” and warn him in a “waspish” manner to beware her sting. Only that Petruchio decodes the meaning of the “sting” as being nothing esle but her sharp tongue. Furthermore, he comes up with a retort to Kate’s every affront, mercilessly twisting the meanings to his advantage – “K: Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
/ P: Women are made to bear, and so are you.”; “K: Well ta’en, and like a buzzard./ P: O, slow-wing’d turtle, shall a buzzard take thee?”; “P: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
/ K: In his tongue./ P:Whose tongue?/ K: Yours, if you talk of tales; and so farewell./ P: What, with my tongue in your tale?”; “K: Yes, keep you warm./ P: Marry, so I mean, sweet Katherine, in thy bed.
“.Through all these witty replies, Shakespeare foregrounds Petruchio as a worthy suitor for Baptista’s daughter, capable of suppressing Kate’s “uprisings”. After their heated exchange, it becomes manifest that they are destined to marry.Another theme of primary importance consists in using reverse psychology.
Apart from distorting Kathrine’s shrewish replies, Petruchio naturally annoys her by pretending that every harsh thing that she says or does is kind and gentle. In his “maiden speech” delivered to the future bride at the beginning of the wooing sequence, Petruchio deliberately renders an almost chaste image of the “shrew”. He hypocritically claims he overheard people describing her in eulogistic words: “bonny Kate”; “the prettiest Kate in Christendom”; “super-dainty Kate”. Moreover, he declares that “..
. thy mildness prais’d in every town,/ Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded”. After the verbal fireworks, convincing himself of her “benevolent” reputation, he humorously contradicts “the world”, telling that “…I find you passing gentle./ …For thou art plesant, gamesome, passing courteous,/ But slow in speech, yet sweet as springtime flowers./” and so forth.