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.