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Taming of the shrew is one of the most memorable and prominent Shakespearean comedies. It revolves around patriarchic themes such as taming of wild woman, a man's domineering character, female subjugation etc. But while many critics feel that the play chronicles the domination process in a marriage where Petruchio, the male lead finally overpowers his wild and aggressive wife, Katherine Minola, closer analysis of the play reveals that this is not exactly true. The play actually deals with equality of power issue. It shows that in a successful marriage, both husband and wife must come to terms with shifting of power from one spouse to another. In this play too, Katherine successfully overpowers Petruchio on many occasions while it may seem that Petruchio was the one who had been trying to dominate Kate. Their courtship and marriage, while it may appear, as one-sided domination spree in fact characterize fluid exchange of power positions. We see both Kate and Pet trying to outsmart each other and on many occasions, while it may not appear to be the case at first reading, it is Kate and not Pet who manages to beat her husband at his own game.
In Act 2 of the play, Pet feels that wooing would calm Kate down and help in taming her "Though little fire grows great with little wind, / yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all; / so I to her, and so she yields to me" (2.1.134-36). He feels during the courtship, Kate would either become very aggressive or stay quiet but he would be able to dominate her for if she rails he would "tell her plain/She sings as sweetly as a nightingale" and if she decides to stay silent he'll "commend her volubility" (2.1.170-71, 175). But all his plans are wasted and prove quite unproductive when we see Kate dragging Pet into a casual discussion on the role of husband and wife and prove that she is absolutely unwilling to change. Pet first gives his/her idealized version of a wife:
Hearing thy mildness prais'd in every town,
Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,
Myself am mov'd to woo thee for my wife.
But Kate remains unmoved and without railing, she intelligently draws him into an uncomfortable argument where she overpowers him completely:
Kath. Mov'd! In good time! Let him that mov'd you hither
Remove you hence. I knew you at the first
You were a moveable.
Pet. Why, what's a movable?
Kath. A join'd-stool
Pet. Thou hast hit it; come sit on me.
Kath. Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
Pet. Women are made to bear, and so are you.
Kath. No such jade as you, if me you mean.
In this banter, while Pet is trying to prove his dominance by showing that he could woo Kate at will, Kate on the other hand leaves her mark when she calls him moveable them reducing her status to that of a commodity that she could reject as and when she wanted.
Kate refuses to bow down to his caustic remarks and continues with her aggressive yet extremely intelligent behavior as she stamps her authority:
Kath. If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Pet. My remedy is then to pluck it out
Kath. Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Pet. Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?
In his tail.
Kath. In his tongue
Pet. Whose tongue?
Kath. Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Pet. What, with my tongue in your tail?
Kate's younger sister Bianca is by far the more subdued and well mannered of the two but her courtship and her marriage both lack the energy of Kate's relationship. This shows that while conforming to patriarchic demands of the time might have helped Bianca in a certain manner, it had certainly robbed her relationship of the energy that Kate's relationship radiated. Kate and her marriage thus appear more alive than Bianca who is a conformist as she submits to her father's will: "Sir, humbly I subscribe to your pleasure" (1.1.175, 81) in an attempt to win his blessings. Bianca's mild presence, it appears, was precisely meant to accentuate the aggressive and non-conformist behavior of Kate. Bianca's submission similarly highlights Kate's rejection of societal norms and gender-specific roles.
Kate who was very wild and rarely ever submitted to anyone was dragged into a marriage against her wishes. One wonders then, how and why did she ever let her father take this action if she was actually so outspoken. We must understand that while she didn't have much choice in the case since it was a time when arranged marriage customs were rife her behavior earned her the right and respect that she deserved. This is very clear when we read the betrothal scenes of both Kate and Bianca and compare them to each other. In Kate's betrothal scene, her father Baptista, makes it absolutely clear that he wants Pet to win her daughter's love before he could hope to have her money while in Bianca's betrothal scene, she is objectified as Baptista feels he could hand her over to anyone he found suitable enough. Pet demands to know about financial arrangements in these words:
Signior Baptista, my business asketh haste,
And every day I cannot come to woo.
Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love,
What dowry shall I have with her to wife?
Let specialties be therefore drawn between us,
That covenants may be kept on either hand.
(2.1. 114-15, 119-20, 126-27).
Baptista shows more love and respect for his daughter Kate as he declares: "Ay, when that special thing is well obtain'd/That is, her love, for that is all in all." (2.1.128-29). However the same respect is lacking in Bianca's betrothal scene when Baptista says:
Faith, gentleman, now I play a merchant's part,
And venture madly on a desperate mart.
[He] ... [t]hat can assure my daughter greatest dower
Shall have my Bianca's love.
Bianca's love is thus not something that the suitor needs to earn but instead it is something that could be given by her father: "Now ... shall Bianca/Be bride to you, if you make this assurance; / If not, to Signior Gremio" (2.1.395-97).
Even though Bianca goes on to marry someone of her own choice without her father's consent, we notice that she is a meeker character compared to her sister Kate. This is evident from her constant concern for her father's reaction as Lucentio comforts her: "Look not pale, Bianca, thy father will not frown" (5.1.138). But Kate has no such concerns. She doesn't mind speaking her mind and stamping her authority over Petruchio, despite the latter's loud declaration of his dominance: "I am he born to tame you, Kate,/and bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate/Conformable as other household Kates" (2.1.276-78).
It is through Kate that we see absurdity of wifely submission that was expected of all females at that time. While Kate is an intelligent woman with a mind of her own, Petruchio expects her to follow his commands and do as he wants her to do. She is expected to be meek and docile like her sister Bianca and that is something unacceptable to Kate. To reveal the utter absurdity of this notion, Kate starts practicing this habit in extreme- following Hortensio's instruction of: "Say as he says, or we shall never go" [4.5.11]). Katherine responds to this direction quickly and when Petruchio tells her that the moon is indeed "the blessed sun" (4.5.18), she meekly accepts his claim and even goes on to support it vehemently:
Then God be blest, 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 nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.
Katherine must been seen as the device through which the author chose to mock wifely subjection and social inequalities. One particularly interesting example of it is the scene where Petruchio calls old Vincentio a" [y]oung budding virgin" and Katherine reiterates it. Then just as casually as he mentioned this, Petruchio also goes on to term his own claim absurd: "Pardon, I pray thee for my mad mistaking" [4.5.49]) thus mocking obedience that was expected of women in those times.
But while we claim that Katherine was shown as an intelligent woman who mocked obedience and submission, critics argue that Kate's last speech at the banquet makes mockery of this claim. It is this scene, they maintain that, "which testifies to the 'taming of the shrew'." (Weller: 321). But if we carefully analyze the speech, we notice that Kate has not failed to perform her role as an enlightened woman in this scene as well. She stresses the role and duties of a husband…[continue]
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