The Taming of the Shrew
Meaning Behind a Meaningless Induction
Perhaps the unknown purpose behind an induction, which even the most experienced readers have failed to explain, has finally come to light. Christopher Sly, the principal character in the brief Induction of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, acts as a drunken tinker tricked by a mischievous nobleman into thinking that in reality he is a lord. These characters and their short introductory story manage to depict all of the major themes of the entire play in just the first few pages. However, spotting these themes has proven difficult for many readers, who remain confused after reading this brief introduction and who overlook the big picture it presents. Indeed, the induction in this play-within-a-play has an oft-neglected yet important purpose in the comedy.
The first important topic covered in the prelude is power, a concept which becomes a preoccupation of the play’s characters. The Nobleman’s decision to entertain himself at Sly’s expense by using the tinker’s poor condition hints at how power is used during the rest of the narrative. Some characters decide to take their authority to the next level, in such a way that they abuse it. For example, Petruchio, a gentleman from Verona, beats a serving man for accidentally spilling water and throws food at his servants because he finds fault with his dinner. However, others refuse the taming attempts from their superiors. When Petruchio announces his intent to court Katherine Minola, the fiery and spirited daughter of Baptista Minola, a wealthy man from Padua, Katherine protests by acting out with aggression and telling him to “get out of here, fool, and give orders to your servants, not me.” (II. I. 248) Her “shrew”-like behavior illustrates the defiance of power relations presented in the literary work. Within the plot, power comes as a form of control or dominance which becomes either used, abused, or subverted by every character, according to their intentions.
At the time that Sly partakes of the job of being a nobleman just with a change of clothes, the crucial role of both physical and psychological disguise is introduced, only to continue through the play. When Katherine uses the obedient, loving wife facade to mask her true, bad-tempered self, she manages to put on a cognitive guise. Likewise, Tranio, Lucentio’s servant, goes through a change of identity when the young and rich student from Pisa orders him to “be me…—live in my house, instruct the servants and do everything in my place just as I would” (I. i. 172-173) as part of Lucentio’s plan to get Bianca Minola, younger daughter of Baptista. When Tranio follows his master’s orders to impersonate him while pretending to woo Bianca, he, much like Sly, goes through a change of identity by simply altering his physical appearance. The servant finds himself forced to take on the duties and tasks of those from the higher class and to act like one of them. Certainly, Tranio rising to the powerful position of an aristocrat like Lucentio mirrors Sly’s own donning of a lord’s manner. All characters must act accordingly to a role even when it serves as a disguise.
The type of comedy to which this play pertains to is called slapstick. Such comedy is merely part of the fun in the play and is enjoyed for the sheer silliness of it. The reader might notice the category’s characteristics from the beginning, with Sly’s exaggerated and hostile behavior due to alcohol intoxication. Within the farce, one may find plenty of humorous misunderstandings, such as when Petruchio and Grumio enter the play. When the master asks his servant to “knock” at the door of his friend Hortensio, Grumio twists the meaning of “knock” as to “slap” and asks: “Knock, sir? Whom should I knock? Is there any man has rebused your worship?” (I. ii. 6-7) In true comic fashion, Petruchio fails to notice that Grumio has mistaken what he meant and simply continues to insist. Grumio clearly directs a potential threat of attack at the audience, since there are no other actors onstage. This would be considered slapstick and made even more fun by the proximity of and potential danger to the audience.
The Induction introduces essential aspects of the play, such as the slapstick genre and themes like power and disguise. Here, not only does Shakespeare present context and genre, but he also utilizes the action as a catalyst for foreshadowing events within the main plot. By making the audience familiar with several crucial features since the beginning, the narrative’s Induction unconsciously prepares the reader for the play, making its significance within The Taming of the Shrew fundamental.
She Will Be Tamèd So
In the comedy The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare deconstructs common adages regarding the essentials of building a healthy relationship. He does so through the unconventional pairing of Katharina, an “ill-seeming” shrew whose disobedience and argumentative nature act as defense mechanisms in building relationships with others, and Petruchio, a sarcastic bachelor who seeks a worthy, equally witty wife and companion. Through their courtship and early married life, readers understand that “[m]otive and action are connected in an oblique, sometimes puzzling way” (Leggatt 149). Petruchio, upon hearing throughout all of Padua about Katharina’s infamous reputation as a shrew, aims to “tame” her through arguably extreme methods. However, “[w]henever Shakespeare’s comedies challenge the limits to sexual equality, they end by strenuously reaffirming those limits…” (Bamber 163), thus deviating from the socially acceptable and politically correct to urge readers to dig deeper into such portrayed social extremes and uncover the underlying messages buried beneath.
In the article “51 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship,” Alice Boyes states that a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship is if your partner “does not respect when you say ‘no’ to something.” The importance of mutual respect between a couple—a key factor in a healthy relationship—is demonstrated through adequate communication. In refusing to respect a partner’s decision or wishes, one displays selfishness and a refusal to understand a partner’s point of view. However correct this may be in some situations, Shakespeare provides a prime example as to how a refusal to respect a partner’s “no” is, in actuality, crucial for demonstrating mutual respect.
In Act III, Scene II, after Petruchio and Katharina’s wedding, Petruchio insists that they both cannot stay for the celebration, and must head home at once. Katharina argues that she is her own person and that she will do what makes her happy. With every one of Kate’s “gallant-will” arguments, Petruchio incessantly demands the opposite. Once she asks him directly if it is alright that they both stay, readers observe a change in the newlywed’s tone, nearly allowing the couple to stay for the banquet:
GREMIO. Let me entreat you. PETRUCHIO. It cannot be. KATE. Let me entreat you. PETRUCHIO. I am content. KATE. Are you content to stay? PETRUCHIO. I am content you shall entreat me stay, But yet not stay, entreat me how you can. KATE. Now if you love me, stay. PETRUCHIO. Grumio, my horse! (3.2.200-208)
Through this exchange between Kate and Petruchio, Shakespeare demonstrates the unconventional, “loving-lord” method which Petruchio follows to show his wife the importance of making decisions together. By not respecting his wife’s refusal to leave and showing a change in mind after she asks him to stay, Petruchio aims to coach her in understanding the development and the basis of a trusting relationship while demonstrating his own understanding and patience toward her argumentative, “goodly-speech” character: an important stance against the headstrong woman he married in order to encourage the new couple to learn to consult and confide in one another as true companions.
With the goal of reaching this true companionship in mind, respecting a partner’s “no,” as stated in Alice Boyes’ “51 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship,” may appear to be a key factor in a relationship where both individuals are considered equal to one another. Allowing a partner to say “no” discernibly mirrors common relationship morals that members of society are taught throughout all walks of life. Because of this, making decisions based on a partner’s “yes” or “no” is seen as of the utmost importance in a healthy relationship.
Shakespeare, on the other hand, disputes this cliche once again in Act IV, Scene V, when readers find Petruchio testing Kate once more on her judgments as a partner in order to decipher the extent to which their relationship has grown. The couple, accompanied by Hortensio, journeys back to Padua in the daytime to attend the marriage of Kate’s younger sister, Bianca. Although it is obvious that the sun is out, Petruchio exclaims that the moon is shining brightly. When Kate disagrees, Petruchio threatens to stop traveling back to Padua until she says to him that it is, in fact, the moon:
PETRUCHIO. I say it is the moon. KATE. I know it is the moon. PETRUCHIO. Nay, then you lie. It is the blessèd sun. KATE. Then God be blessed, it is the blessèd 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 named, even that it is, And so it shall be so for Katherine (4.5.16-23).
When Kate submits, Petruchio then tests her once more by telling her to greet an old man along the path by saying that he is a beautiful, young woman. Once she approaches and greets him as Petruchio has told her to, Petruchio jokes at her saying that she has gone mad, for the person she had greeted was obviously a man. Kate, letting go of her “woman-moved” qualities, apologizes to the man, who is then revealed to be Vincentio, the couple’s soon-to-be father-in-law.
Petruchio notices his wife falling prey to this mistake of blind submission, and playfully teaches her that in doing so, she simply makes a fool out of her spouse, which is not the outcome he seeks in their developing relationship. By simply letting a partner’s “no” dictate and influence one’s own views and understandings—especially in a case in which one’s partner is factually and irrefutably incorrect—there is no mutual respect involved; blindly following a partner’s choice clearly shows a lack of companionship, in which one person’s thoughts and decisions are placed higher than the other’s. Through Petruchio’s “harsh-hearing” attitude and dissatisfaction toward Kate’s submission, Shakespeare aims to teach the audience that, indeed, respecting a partner’s decision to say “no” is crucial, but not if doing so jeopardizes one’s own character or that of one’s partner.
Works Cited/ConsultedBamber, Linda. “Sexism and the Battle of Sexes.” The Taming of the Shrew. New York: Stanford, 1992. 163-68. Rpt. in The Taming of the Shrew. By William Shakespeare. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. N. pag. Print. Signet Classics Shakespeare Series: The Comedies.Boyes, Alice, Ph.D. “51 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship.” Psychology Today. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
Petruccio and Katherine: Mutual Love within Hierarchy
Petruccio and Katherine: Mutual Love within Hierarchyby, AnonymousMarch 14, 2004Petruccio and Katherine: Mutual Love within HierarchyIn her famous speech at the end of The Taming of the Shrew the formerly shrewish Kate proclaims:Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,And for thy maintenance commits his bodyTo painful labour both by sea and land […]Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,And craves no other tribute at thy handsBut love, fair looks, and true obedience. (5.2.150-3,156-7)Shakespeare’s much debated comedy features the quarrelsome, disobedient Kate, who slowly comes to see the value of loving submission to her husband Petruccio. Or does it? Is the above quotation sincere or sarcastic? Some understand Kate’s conformity as the clever disguise of a woman left with no alternative; others, look upon Kate as a tragic figure and see the ending as misogynist and unsettling rather then relieving. The later critics hold the opinion that efforts to insert a feminist agenda into a sixteenth century popular play have obvious shortcomings, not the least of which is that they rob the play of its true warmth and value. To them, the love between Katherine and Petruccio is sincere and deep is bolstered by the reality that, despite the farce and satire that dominate the script, it ultimately focuses on explaining true love within its historical context, namely as a mutual devotion within a limited hierarchy. William Shakespeare drew on a variety of sources for the composition of his work, and The Shrew is no exception. For instance, both his adherence and departure from the folk tales he used as a base for The Shrew highlights the creative message he sought to convey in the piece. According to Leah Scragg in her article “Shakespeare Modifies Folktale Material” there are over 400 extant versions of folk tales which follow the shrew-taming motif (93). But, it is important to note that Kate is unlike the typical scold because she is presented with sympathy (Scragg 98). In fact Kate’s first line elicits sympathy by placing her in a position of weakness, “I pray you, sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me amongst these mates?” (1.1.57). As the plot develops, more elements of Kate’s resentment for her father and derision towards her suitors become apparent, adding a level of complexity that is absent in most of the ordinary shrew-taming tales. Kate does not appear to need simple “taming”; she is presented as needing to find a relationship where she is treated properly. To some critics, the play deals with her success in fullfilling this need as her relationship with Petruccio develops.The other major deviation from standard folk tales in The Shrew noted by Scragg is that Kate is not a nasty, disobedient hag, but a pitiable, isolated spirit who needs to be educated (99). Petruccio’s behavior and flouting of social norms does not beat her into submission; instead, it “not only affords Kate a mirror image of her own behaviour, but brings her to recognize her own dependence on the orderly conduct of day-to-day life, and on the conventions which she had previously scorned” (100). Kate eventually sees that if she lovingly fills the role society expects from her, and her husband fills his own role with equal love, joy can be found.It is important to come as close as possible to understanding the exact paradigm of love and marriage with which Shakespeare operated. For example, in her essay “Love Wrought These Miracles,” Margaret Lael Mikesell presents an illuminating connection between the message of The Shrew and a genre of literature of Shakespeare’s time; apparently, similar visions of love are found in the Protestant conduct books and domestic tracks which were so popular in Shakespeare’s time (Mikesell 106). The ideal marriage according to this genre is a mutual, devoted love that expresses itself through “reciprocal obligations” and “strict observance of hierarchy” (107). When compared with the quotation in the opening paragraph of this essay and the following one, clear similarities in the reverence for hierarchy and customs can be established: “place your hands below your husband’s foot. / In token of which duty, if he please, / My hand is ready, may it do him ease” (5.2.178-80). This paradigm of mutual love within hierarchy brings instant meaning to the actions in The Shrew. While New Comedy demands defiance of hierarchy and complete mutuality, the common shrew-taming stories demonstrate brutal dominance without love; Shakespeare resolves The Shrew with a perfect balance of both. Petruccio and Kate come to play different roles, but they are “temperamentally and dramatically equal,” especially in that they are both often referred to as “mad” (Mikesell 108, 116). There are additional noteworthy differences between the sources and the play that demonstrate how aptly suited this paradigm is for the play. The first, is that while in other versions of the story, the husband eats a hearty meal while the wife is starved, in The Shrew, Petruccio and Kate starve together, and the comic role of taunting others with food is, instead, given to another character (117). The second difference involves the way that the play ends because the usual conclusion involves the husband finally forcing his wife into submission. However, Shakespeare uses education, as opposed to direct physical abuse, to bring about “the same kind of reciprocity within hierarchy celebrated in the conduct books as the foundation for a healthy marriage, family, and society” (117). The evidence cited thus far strongly favors interpreting Kate’s transformation as genuine, her final speech as sincere, and the result as true love. For one, it would be very difficult to ignore the reality that Kate’s final speech closely resembles the Protestant domestic tracts that were prevalent in England during Shakespeare’s day. Added to this evidence is the happy ending, during which Kate and Petruccio lovingly kiss and immediately depart to enjoy their marriage. There is no explicit reason to assume that the love is a sham or that Kate is being insincere; any considerations outside of the text – such as a bias against the portrayal of women as submissive – can therefore be refuted by the mutual love within hierarchy paradigm that was so common at the time.It is important to note, however, that not all critics are convinced by the aforementioned evidence. Coppelia Kahn, for instance, argues in “The Taming of the Shrew Satirizes Male Attitudes Toward Women” that Petruccio’s outlandish behavior shows how absurdly men act toward women (127). She states, “The overt force Petruccio wields over Kate by marrying her against her will in the first place, and then by denying her every wish and comfort, stamping, shouting […] is but a farcical representation of the psychological realities of marriage in Elizabethton England” (124-5). Kahn also claims that Petruccio’s assertion that Kate is his “goods, my chattels” is too strong to not take seriously (4.2.228). She fails to recognize, however, that the context in which the latter comment was made clarifies that it was meant to embarrass, not to state an absolute truth. In Kahn’s analysis, Kate finds herself compromising her intellectual freedom for obedience, and her final speech is a mockery of her husband’s moralistic stance; she maintains her “mischievously free” spirit until the end (129). Furthermore, both she and Petruccio assume false, unhappy roles in an effort to live an unattainable fantasy (130-1). In any event, this analysis seems to have something other than the text and the historical considerations as its basis: the assumption that Shakespeare could not possibly have approved of a loving hierarchical relationship. Brian Morris provides another explanatory argument in his introduction to the play. He believes that the elements of falsehood in the work occur only at moments, and that the theatrical tradition has made farce into a bigger element in most performances than in the actual text (141). In reality, The Shrew transcends farce because comedy serves a purpose beyond laughter. Petruccio’s ridiculous wedding attire, for example, teaches Katherine that her approach to marriage is inappropriate, and the tirade upon their arrival to his estate teaches her the way of household order. Because their relationship is meant to be serious and true, all of the most farce is reserved for the servants (142). In turn, Gareth Lloyd Evans sheds light on the nature of farce in the play from a different angle when he suggests that little quips scattered through the play hint that Petruccio and Kate long for deep love and are in fact, not mocking or lying. Such moments occur when Katherine advises her sister to marry the suitor she loves the most and Petruccio defends his wedding garb by stating that Kate loves him for more than his clothes. Such hints, dispersed through the work, highlight that “the reality of love is more important than outward word or show” (73). Evans also observes that Kate’s final speech is powerful precisely because it is her character that delivers it. In other words, she has come to discover that within the truths of love “such things as honour, obey, and submit, are not bits and snaffles but wings” (73). His observations, in turn, bolster the love within hierarchy theme explained earlier.Despite being a brilliant writer and playwright, Shakespeare was still very much a man of his time and his conceptualization of marriage most likely resembled reflected that by placing a great emphasis on power, structure, and hierarchy. It is logical to assume, because of the aforementioned evidence, that The Taming of the Shrew seeks to express that, though grounded on order and submission, Kate and Petruccio’s marriage is one of mutual love and respect.