The Taming of the Shrew, a comedy written by William Shakespeare, is full of irony and lust. Between Katherine’s shrew-like nature, Bianca’s popularity among the men, and Baptista’s business like personality, questionable marriages are formed causing both physical and emotional transformations. The Taming of the Shrew exhibits marriage and gender of the Renaissance through Katherine’s alteration into an obedient and loving wife, and Petruchio’s transformation from a greedy fortune seeker, to a gentle and loving husband.
Amber Zuber’s essay, Gender Roles in the Renaissance: Questions of Gender in Shakespeare’sAs You Like It, describes the very different roles men and women played and how they shaped marriage of the time. The social expectations, value, legal status, and rights of citizenship differed greatly between the sexes as well as among the classes, said Amber Zuber. Women were looked at as property or a prize. They were to be looked at but not heard. (Zuber) Meaning that women didn’t have a voice during the renaissance period. Therefore, women were more valued for physical beauty rather than something with a sense of worth. Women were also valued for qualities that outlined them as submissive, making women such as Katherine in Taming of the Shrew undesirable because of her shrewish personality. However, characters such as Bianca were looked at as the ideal women. The roles of men and women in society were very similar to their roles in marriage; both being clearly defined. The role of a husband was one of authority and dominance, using his knowledge, wisdom, and judgement to maintain himself in the place that God intended him to have (Zuber).The husbands had two main duties in their marriage; to love his wife, and to govern his wife in all duties that properly belong to marriage (Zuber). Whereas, women’s role as a wife was more oriented towards obedience and submission. Women weren’t only supposed to meet the needs of their husbands, but also to avoid activities that were displeasing to him. Overall, women were mostly seen as mediocre in their capabilities to make moral decisions, or run a household.
In the beginning of the story, Katherine is a prime example of the opposite of an ideal wife during the Renaissance. However, we see how she slowly changes into a submissive wife throughout the story; demonstrating the positions women played in a Renaissance marriage. There are many kinds of transformation portrayed in The Taming of the shrew, from Lucentio becoming a teacher to Tranio being a master. However, there are more than just physical changes that take place in the play. For example, Katherine goes from throwing stools at people to telling other women on how they should be a proper wife. Before Katherine marries Petruchio, she is aggressive, hostile, and violent. She would say things such as comb your noodle with a three-legged stole and paint your face and use you like a fool (Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 65-66). She was feared so much that people would refer to her as a devil. Although, her harsh actions and personality were changed by Petruchio after their marriage. Petruchio would starve and patronize Katherine until she would believe that whatever he said was undoubtedly true. Katherine’s shrew like behavior from earlier was broken, and a new compliant wife emerged. Her transformation portrays the roles of women in marriage through aspects such as obedience and inferiority. Whatever Petruchio says is exact, no matter the circumstances. Therefore, Katherine is both obedient by obeying every word and inferior because she isn’t able to speak her own mind in the situation. For example, Petruchio says, I say it is the moon, and Katherine replies with I know it is the moon even though it was already established that the sun was out. (Act 4, Scene 5, Lines 18-19)
Katherine wasn’t the only character to transform in The Taming of the Shrew. For instance, Petruchio was introduced as a greedy man who believed that money was the only way to achieve happiness. As soon as he heard the many rumors about Katherine’s attitude, he felt conflicted in his decision to find her suitable to marry. However, when hearing about the large dowry to which she was entitled he disregarded all doubts of courtship. Moreover, as soon as he received the dowry, he immediately attempted to flee the scene. However, as Katherine questions his responsibilities, he drops the act and becomes authoritative, expressing his views of ownership of Katherine. For example, he says, I will be master of what is my own. She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house (Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 235-236). In relation to marriage of the Renaissance, Petruchio portrays a common husband of the time. From that moment on, Petruchio, begins to frame Katherine into the wife that he desires by starving her and depriving her of common necessities. He was objectifying Katherine, describing her as something lesser than what she was. However, as soon as Katherine changes and is no longer aggressive, but rather obedient, Petruchio begins to realize that their marriage was more than just a dowry. Therefore, his change is a reaction to Katherine’s transformation. When Katherine begins to behave like the wife he was molding her to be, he begins to fall in love with her. Changing his personality from a dominant husband, into an authentic and loving husband.
Both Katherine and Petruchio’s changes in both personality and relationship portray similarities between Shakespeare’ s marriage, and marriage of the Renaissance. Katherine exemplifies a submissive wife, obeying her husband’s every word, no matter how absurd they are. Moreover, Petruchio is an example of a common Renaissance husband, one who takes authority over his marriage and is dominant over his wife. However, he also shows his duties to his wife, by loving her and continuing to govern his wife in the proper way.
- Zuber, Amber. Gender Roles in the Renaissance: Questions of Gender in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.Gender Roles of Women in the Renaissance, https://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/ayli/azuber.htm
- Mowat, Barbara A., and Paul Werstine, editors.The Taming of the Shrew: by William Shakespeare. Folgerdigitaltexts.org.