Petruccio and Katherine: Mutual Love within Hierarchy

January 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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