Petruchio’s Method of Taming the Shrew

One reading of The Taming of the Shrew may cause women to shake their heads in disbelief of Kate’s changed behavior for the pleasure of her husband. A closer reading and an analyzing of the methods used by Petruchio in taming his wife, however, provide an opposing view. Perhaps Petruchio seems cruel in his treatment of Kate, but does he really have any other choice? In what other ways could he possibly have approached Kate and her temper? His method is unique and is obviously tailored with Kate’s demanding ways in mind. In fact, this uniquely crafted method chosen by Petruchio himself is not only perfect for “taming” Kate, but also proves his love for his wife.Petruchio, from the first mention of Kate, has an obvious desire for a challenge. One of the first things he mentions is that he is determined to find a wealthy wife. Hortensio points out, perhaps recognizing Petruchio’s desire for challenge and playing on that desire for a better chance to win Bianca, that Kate is so shrewd that he would not recommend her to such a good friend (1.2.62-3). If he really did not wish to recommend her, he would not have even mentioned her as a possibility. Petruchio, however, demands, “if thou know / One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife – / […] / Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love, / As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd / As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse, / She moves me not, or not removes, at least, / Affection’s edge in me” (1.2.64-72). Surely there are other wealthy women in the area that are more like Bianca, but Petruchio wants no other woman besides Kate. Recognizing that taming Kate will be a challenge, he longs for her.The method employed by Petruchio is unique. In his soliloquy, Petruchio explains this method to the reader. He keeps her hungry and unable to sleep well, but in a manner that appears that he is looking out for her best interests. As for the meat they are to eat and the sheets on the bed, he finds “some undeservèd fault” with each (4.1.188). He states that “this is a way to kill a wife with kindness, / And thus […] curb her mad and headstrong humor” (4.1.197-8). By appearing to overprotect her and overindulge her, he will be annoying her to the point of obedience. Because Kate is so headstrong and does not respond well to criticism, this method is well tailored to her specific needs.Kate does not respond well to this method at first. She reacts angrily towards him, which only makes him act more kindly. He refers to her as “pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous, / But slow in speech, yet sweet as springtime flowers” (2.1.246-7). In return, she continuously throws out sarcastic replies. He gives her no option of whether to marry him or not, but simply walks away from her stating that they will marry on Sunday, acting as though she has agreed (2.1.325). When the two are getting married, he shows up in old clothes and even swears at the priest during the ceremony (3.2.155-63). After the wedding, she attempts to defy him by stating that she will remain behind at her father’s house for the marriage celebration while he returns home. He does not allow her to linger, however, and on their way home he even leaves her fallen horse on top of her while cursing at the servant for allowing it to happen rather than helping her. This causes even his servants to question whether he is not shrewder than she (4.1.76). Her defiance and anger, she soon realizes, will get her nowhere. She soon realizes that she simply needs to agree with anything he tells her, even if she knows that he is wrong, in order to find freedom. One may question whether Kate is merely acting the part of a submissive wife in order to get what she wants. This is most likely and almost certainly her plan. After attempting to resist him and by being defiant, she realizes that she will not be able to continue in this manner. Instead, she comes to the realization that it is better for her to agree with him, if only to please him. Her transformation comes on her way to her father’s house. She states, after a short disagreement about whether the sun or moon is out, that if Petruchio says the sun is out then “henceforth I vow it shall be so for me” even if it truly is the moon (4.5.15). She realizes that by simply agreeing with him, or at least pretending to agree with him, he is much nicer and easier to please. Petruchio may appear to be cruel in his treatment of Kate, but it is most likely an act. His servants are surprised to see how he is acting, proving that he does not normally act like this. For example, Nathaniel asks, “Peter, didst ever see the like?” to which Peter replies, “He kills her in her own humor” (4.1.169-70). He tests her new found submissive nature by telling her that the man approaching them on their way to her father’s is a maiden. She humors her husband by praising the man’s feminine features and only apologizes for herself when her husband points out that the traveler is indeed a man.The method itself also appears cruel, but perhaps it is the only choice he has. Kate may have never responded to any other method. First, to be beaten into submission usually only causes the victim to become timid and terrified of the abuser. Had Petruchio beaten Kate, she would have hated him and would have never become the woman he wanted her to and knew that she could become. Second, Kate proved that she cannot be taught like the average person. After trying to teach her music, Hortensio states that she will make a better soldier. When her father asks why this is, Hortensio replies:I did but tell her she mistook her fretsAnd bowed her hand to teach her fingering, When, with a most impatient devilish spirit,“Frets, call you these?” quoth she, “I’ll fume with them.”And with that word she struck me on the head, […]While she did call me rascal, fiddler,And twangling jack, with twenty such vile terms (2.1.150-9)It is obvious through this experience that she does not have the patience of the average person to learn in an average way. Finally, if she had been allowed to continue in her ways – even while others hoped that she would grow out of her shrewdness – she would have never changed. Her father does not know what to do with her or how to handle her because it has gotten so out of hand. He even warns Petruchio to be prepared for “some unhappy words” from his rebellious daughter (2.1.140). By exploring the different methods that could have been used, it becomes clear that Petruchio’s method is the only one that would work with Kate. Some may argue that Petruchio’s goal is to make Kate more like Bianca, but this is not the case. Bianca is conniving in her own way and not the submissive wife that Petruchio is trying to make Kate. Bianca pretends to be absorbed in her studies, as when she tells her father, “My books and instruments shall be my company, / On them to look and practice by myself” (1.1.82-3). Although it is impossible to know for sure whether she has any intentions of studying, one may argue that she only agrees to make her father happy. Later when Lucentio is “teaching” her, he tells her who he really is and that he is not a teacher. Unable to face Hortensio and tell him that she is not interested in him – such as Kate would have done – she allows him to continue his failing attempt to play his instrument. She even reads aloud his notes scale in which he makes each note an acronym proving his desire for her (3.1.72-7). Once again, however, she is unable to tell him that she loves another, but instead simply states that she does not like improved scales and that the old one suits her best (3.1.78-80). By the end of the play, it is obvious that Petruchio has succeeded, yet Kate has won a battle of her own. His plan to make her submissive appears to him to have worked, but Kate finds freedom in being submissive. She encourages Bianca and the widow to also follow suit and “place [their] hands below [their] husband’s boot” in order to show their submissiveness (5.2.183). She degrades her own previous behavior and asks: Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, Unapt to toil and trouble in the world, But that our soft conditions and our hearts Should well agree with our external parts? […] My mind hath been as big as one of yours, My heart as great, my reason haply more, To bandy word for word and frown for frown (5.2.171-8).She recognizes that she lives in a society that places specific demands on her as a woman, as does Petruchio, and eventually matures to the point that she can accept those demands. She tells the women that although she used to fight the way things are she now realizes that “our lances are but straws, / Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare, / That seeming to be most which we indeed least are” (5.1.179-81). If women would only submit to their husbands, accept their own weaknesses, and allow their husbands to provide for them, then there is freedom. Petruchio is obviously pleased with her speech, that he did not force upon her, and invites her to bed (5.2.190). Apparently, her submissive behavior is a turn-on to her husband and impresses her father to the point that he agrees to give Petruchio a second dowry for a second, or changed, daughter. Through the entire process of taming Kate, however, Petruchio genuinely proves his respect, and ultimately his love, to her. First, if he does not love her he would not bother with changing her behavior. If the only reason he wants to change her is to please society, he could simply lock her up in the house and rarely allow her in the public view. Second, as mentioned before, he does not resort to beating her into submission, but still respects her as a person. He asks her to kiss him in the streets, but does not force her to (5.2.134-7). Once again, he invites her to bed. He also refers to his and Kate’s relationship as a marriage and the other two – Bianca and Lucentio and the widow and Hortensio – as failing marriages since there is no submission from the women (5.2.191). In return, Kate also respects him, and as her last speech proves, loves him. Although Petruchio may seem cruel throughout his “taming” of Kate, he really has her best interests in mind. He sees her potential and helps her fulfill that. Kate puts up a struggle for quite a while until she realizes she cannot change her situation. If she just accepts her position as the submissive wife, however, she will be respected by her husband and provided for. Her speech at the end reveals to the reader a completely transformed Kate that appreciates her husband and respects him properly. The fact that the plan was so clearly and precisely devised with Kate’s temperamental ways in mind proves that Petruchio really does love Kate.Works CitedShakespeare, William. “The Taming of the Shrew.” The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Orgel and A.R. Braunmuller. New York: The Penguin Group, 2002. 147-180.

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