Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare. Specifically, it will show how the play demonstrates the comedic aspect of thematic concern with love and beauty. In Shakespearean Comedy, a shallow, often narcissistic type of love at the start is not only grounded too heavily in "beauty" of the conventional sort, but also leads to a mistaken notion of what beauty really is.
LOVE AND BEAUTY IN "TAMING OF THE SHREW"
Taming of the Shrew" is a classic Shakespearean comedy in every sense. It is not only funny and amusing for the audience; it contains themes they can connect with, basic themes such as love and beauty. Early in the play, Katherine appears anything but beautiful, for she is sharp-tongued and disagreeable, arguing with anyone who might show the slightest interest in her, including the newly arrived Petruchio.
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp, i' faith you are too angry. Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting. Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out. Katherine: Ay, if the fool could find where it lies. Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail. Katherine: In his tongue. Petruchio: Whose tongue? Katherine: Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell. Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail? (Shakespeare, II.i.207-214).
Love of course is a central theme in the play, but from the first, Shakespeare shows this is not your "typical" love match. "At times Petruchio behaves like a bully and a brute, and his tactics with Katherine can be read as gratuitously severe and prolonged tormenting of her" (Brown, 1995, p. 286). Kate does not want to marry, and Petruchio seems to be more interested in the lands he will acquire than specifically in Kate's hand. Yet, he sets out to tame her, and is taming her, he falls in love with her.
The sub-plot, between Kate's beautiful sister Bianca and Lucentio also clearly illustrates the theme of love. All Lucentio has to do is look at the beautiful Bianca and he is madly in love, which is silly at best. "Tranio, I saw her coral lips to move, / And with her breath she did perfume the air; / Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her" (Shakespeare I.i.169-171). He knows nothing of her, simply what she looks like, and matches like these are often doomed. Indeed, at the end of the play, it is Bianca who refuses to obey her husband, while Kate meekly comes at Petruchio's command. Shakespeare seems to be saying that beauty is certainly not the only thing to consider in a marriage, for indeed, beauty is only "skin deep," and what is underneath is often much less than beautiful. True love grows, and with love comes the beauty from within, the beauty that Petruchio sees after they marry. "Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn, / For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty -- Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well -- " (Shakespeare, II.i.261-272).
Initially, love is not the issue for Petruchio or Kate, but because they come to respect each other, they come to love each other. When love is based on looks instead of respect, there is no foundation to the relationship, it is built on air, and when the air collapses, there is nothing. Kate and Petruchio, through their feuding and emotional outbursts, have exhausted their differences, and come to respect what they have in common. They are both very strong characters, and in the end, they respect each other, which is why Petruchio never allows Kate to place her hands under his feet in a show of complete subordination.
If Kate indeed places her hands under Petruchio's foot, then patriarchal dominance is confirmed. Most critics, however, have assumed that Petruchio does not allow Kate to do so. Her speech is, after all, only an offer. And Petruchio responds to the offer, not by asking her to humiliate herself, but by asking her to kiss him - "Come on, and kiss me, Kate" (184) -- which emphasizes mutual affection rather than servile devotion (Beck, 1998, p. 10).
Petruchio's domination was not about breaking her will, that is part of what he loves about her, it was about breaking down her walls of defense so she could allow herself to love and be loved. Kate seems insecure and unhappy in the opening of the play, and that is why she covers up her insecurities by her brash and loud-mouthed personality. It takes Petruchio to see through her, and recognize the beauty and love that lie within.
This is not of course, the easiest road to love, and this is another form of Shakespeare's adherence to his theme of love and beauty. The road to love is not always easy, and that is proved by the short courtship of Kate and Petruchio. Kate is truly a "shrew" with her sharp tongue and quick wit, but Petruchio is a match for her, with his equally quick wit.
Kate is the ultimate representation of the "wife from Hell" in Shakespeare's time, and the characters all comment on it early in the play. "Gremio: I say, a devil. Thinkest thou, Hortensio, though her
Father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell?" (Shakespeare I.i.122-124).
The most difficult part of the play are the areas when Petruchio breaks Kate down, and it is here that Shakespeare's idea of love is tested. The true ideal of love means that you accept the person the way they are. While Kate is surely spunky, no one accepts her as she is, and even Petruchio has to mold her into what is the perfect object of a wife at the time. Is this really love? In the end, Kate accepts him, and loves him, but has Petruchio broken her spirit, and thus altered who she is forever? At one point when they first meet, she becomes so incensed she hits him, but he continues to bait her, informing her he will marry her whether or not she is willing: "will you, nill you, I will marry you" (Shakespeare, II.i.263). Today, their early relationship would not be looked at as funny, and Shakespeare's audience viewed it. It seems more like the prelude to disaster and marital abuse by both parties.
Above all, Petruchio loves money, and it is this reason he first agrees to marry Kate, sight unseen. This is the opposite of his friend Lucentio, who falls head over heels in love with the beautiful Bianca. It is clear Petruchio does not care for beauty, but he also does not care for love. He cares for money, and Kate is his ticket to more of it. Although their relationship seems to turn out all right in the end, this is no better basis for a marriage than is a romance based solely on beauty. Petruchio does seem to have affection for her by the second act; she is probably the only woman who has given him a run for his money, so to speak. "For she's not forward, but modest as the dove. / She is not hot, but temperate as the morn" (Shakespeare, II.i.285-286). By the end of the play, he has even endowed Kate with his love of money, and she lectures the other wives on how to control it, which could mean the reason Petruchio is so addicted to money, is that he cannot manage it on his own.
At the end of the play, Kate lectures her sister and the widow on a wife's debt to her lord, to whom, says Kate, the wife owes her maintenance (V.ii.146-156). The questions that the play raises about Petruchio's financial competence give this last lecture…