Subversive Femininity in the Taming of the Shrew and the Comedy of Errors
The main theme of the current essay involves two of the most known plays of William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew and The Comedy of Errors. These two of Shakespeare’s plays are both comedies, in which women are significantly present as vocal forces both and in the Comedy of Errors and in The Taming of the Shrew. Although women as individual do possess a variety of opinions and many speaking lines in these particular plays, it seems their main reason for existing in the comedy is to talk about and react to men. Also, they do seem to oppose the social norms of feminine models of England, the time which Shakespeare lived. In both occasions’ women seem to have a habit of supplanting the patriarchal state of their everyday lives and at the same time, in a few cases, act as enforcers of the societal/familial norms.
The Taming of the Shrew was written in early 1590. It is the story of a young man from Verona, Petruchio, who marries Padua’s ‘’most notorious shrew’’, Katherine, in order to tame her and get her dowry. The word Shrew was and still, but rarely, is used to describe a woman of violent temper and speech. A young nobleman from Pisa, Lucentio, arrives in Padua to study, along with his servants, Tranio and Biodello. Immediately, he falls in love with Bianca, the younger daughter of a noble of Padua, Batista. Batista, however, does not want to marry Bianca before he first marries his older daughter, Katherine. Although Katherine’s dowry is bigger than Bianca since she is the first, no one wants to marry Katherine because she is an unbelievable shrew through and through. Petruchio, a young man from Verona, who, after his father’s death, is coming to Padua and is looking to marry a lady with a great dowry. He visits his friend, Hortencio, who is one of Bianca’s lovers, and asks if he knows where to find such a bride. Hortencio informs him about Katherine, her big dowry and that she is a big shrew. Petruchio meets with Batista to arrange his marriage with Katherine. He comes to the church dressed like a jester, while throughout the marriage he makes a fool out of himself. This starts the series of the many psychological methods that he will use in order to subdue Katherine to his will. The work reflects the views of the time about how the perfect wife should be.
The Comedy of Errors is one of William Shakespeare’s early plays and it was written in 1594. It’s the shortest among his comedies and the most farcical one, with a major part of the humour coming from puns and a lot of wordplay, also slapstick and a series of mistaken identity occurrences.
It takes place in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus and it tells the story of two sets of identical twins, which were separated at birth by accident. The first set consists of Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse and the second of Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. The beginning of the comedy sparks the visit of Antipholus of Syracuse with Dromio in Ephesus which happens to be the home of their twin brother, respectively. When the friends and the families of the twins respectively are encountered by the Syracusans a variety of shenanigans based on a mistaken identity cases take place. This, in turn, leads to wrongful punishment by beating, an attempt of seduction, one of the twins getting arrested, infidelity, theft and hints of demonic possession. As for the women’s role in the play, which concerns us in the current essay, Adriana, the play’s female character who has the most lines, is a strong woman, but she’s undermined by her husband’s lack of faith in her, which in turn makes her doubt herself as well. The other noticeable women of the play include Luciana, who is the one of the most prominent ones, the Courtesan, the Abbess, and the kitchen maid, Nell. These are significant to a point, but inline Adriana, lack the companionship of a man. Luciana has to learn how to deal with men, the Courtesan and Nell are being underestimated by men and the Abbess had to confine herself in a monastery when she lost her husband. While the women in the play do have their value as independent characters, they also seem relatively incomplete without men to occupy them.
Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare is a controversial play that arouses a debate over the role of Katherine, one could say that she is an anti-feminist protagonist. In this essay however we would focus on her role in this play from a feministic point and analyse the behaviour with which she expressed her freedom and how the society around her provoked it. Although Katherine is considered in the play as a ‘’Shrew’’, one could also refer to her as an intelligent woman who just isn’t afraid or doesn’t mind asserting her views under any given situation.
Her temper is notorious, and she is outstandingly volatile. In Padua, rumour has it that no man can assert control on her and so no one wishes to marry her. Which is very troubling for her father Batista who provides a very generous dowry along with her hand in marriage, but also, he cannot marry his second daughter, Bianca, which is popular and much sought after by the nobles of Padua, without marrying Katherine first. According to Kyle Huang, people use the words ‘’rebellious temper’’ and ‘’shrew’’ in order to describe Katherine, who is not abiding to the current society’s norms, however on the contrary, the obedient Bianca, who conforms to the customs of Padua’s society and people’s gender stereotypes is much more likable and sought after. (Kyle Huang, 2008).
Also A. Yuksel states that ‘’The two sisters Katharina and Bianca stand in binary opposition to each other in that Bianca is the good natured, obedient daughter, who has soon found her match, while Katharina, the shrewish elder sister, rejects the idea of giving in to the ways of the male-dominated world. It is only when she realizes that Petruchio – first her suitor, then her husband – truly cares for her that she agrees to become a proper wife.’’ (Shakespearean Variations of the Female, 2014, page 3).
In this play, our main female character Katherine is subjected to a variety of ‘’rehabilitating’’ methods for her to conform to society’s norms. We ought to refer to some critiques of the methods used on her and how the society in our author’s play viewed.
According to D. Kehler, the play indeed reflects the women’s role and standing in the society that our author grew and lived. The only value these women of the time possessed was evaluated on how much of a ‘’good’’ house wife they were, in other word how obedient they were and their capacities to please other people’s needs. The value they had was mainly through their husbands. In her works Echoes of the Induction in the Taming of the Shrew she supports that some of the daily issues that affected Shakespeare’s female audience had to with arranged betrothal, the total authority that fathers asserted upon their daughters and husbands for their wives vice-versa, the economic dependence women had on the husbands etc could be detected on this play. While people who attempt to analyse this play in the modern day might support that it is just a satirical comedy, they don’t mention the fact that men, not exclusively on stage, wrote this play and assigned the particular roles, they made the rules and had the authority to assign label to the females both in the a societal and on a theatrical context (Kheler, 2986).
Also, as reported by Annabel Patterson, women, in this society, that the author chose to create (based on his own) are viewed as mere stuff, like furniture or merchandise. Specifically, she picks up the words used by C. Sly, the word comonty is replaced by ‘commoditie’ — which can refer to goods, merchandise, or an item of possession. She supports tthat Sly’s mistake, is actually his conclusion in defining Katherine’s marriage to Petruchio. (Patterson, 1994). In a similar manner, C. Kahn in her work, describes the fact that women are being viewed as commodities through the eyes of Kate’s father, Lord Batista. Her father is willing not to marry he much more popular daughter Bianca, until he gets an offer for the shrewish Kate, not for the sake, however, of conforming to tradition, but out of the merchant’s tendency to sell all the good in his warehouse. (C. Kahn, 1997).
A very prominent feature of this play, which also has been subject of many critics was the way Petruchio treated Katherine, in order to tame her and turn her into the obedient wife that is shown to be in the conclusion of Shakespeare’s work. Petruchio treated Kate with tyrannical methods.
According to Lise Pederson in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew VS. Shaw’s Pygmalion, Petruchio adopts the role of an abusing bully in his relationship with Katherine, which is also the reason why he succeeded in ‘’taming’’ her, in turning her from a shrew to the obedient well-tempered wife that he envisioned her to be. Not only does he irritate her and goes against her every wish, but he also subjects here to mental anguish. Firstly in the humiliation that he brings upon her with his ridiculous attire and behaviour at their wedding, then with causing her horse to dump her into the mud (which can be considered physical abuse), also he torments here with preventing her from sleeping night after night and also starving her into submission (Pederson, 1977).
Joseph Candido in his work The Starving of the Shrew provided an interpretation for the scene were Petruchio, firstly, denies his wife of food. Specifically, ‘’A common response to Petruchio’s harsh treatment of Katherina at their first meal together is to see his behaviour as little more than an elemental assertion of male dominance, aptly located in a sort of Darwinian great house where the stronger animal always prevails. to Brian Morris, who by no means takes so extreme a view of the matter as this, nonetheless clearly outlines the metaphorical structure on which such interpretations are based. He points out that the play evolves from two primal images, of the shrew and the hawk, and that these are “the basic raw material from which story, character and poetic structure are formed. This is no easy statement in which to locate the seeds of romantic comedy; yet a good deal of the Petruchio-bashing that characterizes so much of the criticism of the play fails to take into account one important aspect of the tamer’s abusive program for ensuring marital harmony-the fact that he subjects himself to exactly the same physical deprivations he inflicts upon his wife. I2 Jan Harold Brunvald, who effectively traces the origin of Shakespeare’s taming plot to oral tradition, notes that in narrative folk tales on the taming of shrewish wives the husband customarily asserts his dominance by starving his wife while dining heartily himself.’’ (Joseph Candido, 1990, The Starving of the Shrew, pages 10-11)
When William Shakespeare makes a point, he seldom makes it in a straightforward manner. In consonance with Sheri Thorne (2004). Shakespeare does not support the tyrannical treatment of women, but nor does he walk through the streets of London campaigning for equal opportunities for the sexes. Instead, he chose to write a comedy with the title ‘’The Taming of the Shrew’’ and weaponize his sense of humour in order to gain the attention of his audience.
Shakespeare created the character of Petruchio, the man who became interested in Katherines mainly for her large dowry, as to give us an example of the patriarchal husband and Katherina as the noisy, irritating shrewish wife. By focusing to the inordinate nature of both Petruchio’s extreme, torture like, methods of taming and Katherine’s quarrelsome temperament, he coaxes the audience into reconsidering its ideas about the treatment of women in the current era. Skilfully, Shakespeare uses his satire in order to notify society of its flaws and uses comedy in order to show the positive qualities of a respectful and affectionate relationship over a dominated one. (Sheri Throne, 2004).
Although the word ‘’feminism’’ didn’t exist until the 1890’s and gender equality was not a common topic of conversation (Janet Price, 1999.). One, due to the earlier statement as per Shakespeare’s intentions for the play, can consider him as a feminist, because it does actually correlate with the intentions of the feminist theory the way it is expressed today. Which is a range of ideologies and social movements that aim in establishing socioeconomic equality of the sexes. (Hawksworth, 2006).
Comedy of Errors
Another one of Shakespeare’s works, in which we can say a lot about the way he portrays he women characters, is the Comedy of Errors. It was written in 1594 and is one can say that largely deals with the concept of identity coming from the farcical mistaken identities of twins Antipholus and Dromio and also from the roles of the women that surround them. The key women in the play, which are Adriana, Luciana and Emilia, it is safe to assume that they have been conditioned to draw their sense of self and their value in the play, all from the men that surround them. However, the most prominent woman role among them, Andriana, seems to differentiate from the rest of them. She seeks to challenge her place in marriage though continuous and deliberate questioning of the power disparities and the place of adultery in marriage. She is insecure about the effects the passing years have one her physical appearance and she spends much of the play in continued frustration and questioning her role as a wife, because she fears that her husband might have begun to seek the comfort of other women. The other female characters of the play, for the most part, do not share her shrewish like characteristics and they openly accept their status of obedience to their men.
An important analysis about the differences of Andrianna and her sister Lucianna is stated in Women in Shakespeare’s Comedies by V. Korolovych et. al ‘’ In this play, we can clearly observe that the identity of the woman is fringed upon that of her husband, in fact the woman was seen as an extension of the man. Women were objects of male desire and dependent on that desire for their status, livelihood and even their lives. They accepted their husband as teacher and master. And this can be represented by several female characters in Shakespeare’s plays…. Adriana’s marriage is not happy, though she undoubtly loves her husband even when she believes him to be unfaithful. She thinks that it is unhappiness because her love is so possessive that she is torn apart by his absences. When Antipholus of Ephesus spends a good deal of time with her Courtesan, Adriana feels that she has lost her attractiveness to him. This character has an important role in the comedy, because she enters in the game of errors. In fact, she mistakes Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband and drags him home for dinner, leaving Dromio of Syracuse to stand guard at the door and admit no one. Adriana is the anti-feminist; her life is wrapped around her husband and her role as wife. She appears to be an overprotective, annoying, shrewish wife. Luciana’s sense of identity within marriage, in her way, contrast with Adriana’s. She believes that men are naturally lords over their wives, and wants to learn to obey before she learns to love ‘Ere I learn love, I’ll practise to obey’. At the end, she pairs up with Antipholus of Syracuse. He offers to take a submissive role in the relationship, he wants her to teach him how to think and speak.’’ (V. Korolovych, Women in Shakespeare’s Comedies, 2006, page 5).
A simpler comparison of the two is given by A. Yuksel (2014), where he states that when Shakespeare wrote the comedy of errors in 1594 he borrowed the plot from Plautus’s The Manaechmi Twins and he replaced the quarrelsome and bad-tempered wife of the original played by the mentioned author with two other females. Firtsly, Andriana who is a married woman that demands the love and attention of her husband and, secondly, Lucianna, who while blaming her sister for not acting like a proper wife should, is more obedient and ends up with a happy and romantic marriage.
The point in this part of the essay, is that in this particular play out author portrays one woman with a bad-tempered attitude who doesn’t seem to find much happened while the story plays out, and the other one, that while obedient and faithful to the societal norms of the time finds somewhat of a happy ending. It is important in order to justify their roles to give a few examples of their dialogues inside the comedy and provide an interpretation. ADRIANA
Why should their liberty than ours be more?
Because their business still lies out o’ door. (2.1.10-11)
Early on the play, we see that Lucianna accepts that a womans place it at her home, however Andrianna doesn’t really go along with that. She believes that wives should have as much freedom as their husbands. We can conclude from here that Lucianna is a lot more submissive in accepting the social norms and the feminine duties’ of the current society, in comparison to Andriana.
Why, headstrong liberty is lashed with woe.
There’s nothing situate under heaven’s eye
But hath his bound, in earth, in sea, in sky.
The beasts, the fishes, and the wingèd fowls
Are their males’ subjects, and at their controls.
Man, more divine, the master of all these,
Lord of the wide world and wild wat’ry seas,
Endued with intellectual sense and souls,
Of more preeminence than fish and fowls,
Are masters to their females, and their lords.
Then let your will attend on their accords. (2.1.15-25)
This part of the play suggest that Lucianna willingly subjugates the women under men in a made ‘’hierarchy of importance’’ in the society and seems to have rationalized that this is very similar to the chain of being in the animal kingdom. She indeed proves that she defines women as subjects of to men’s whims, but she does not give us her opinion whether this is something fair or not. We do not know if she has considered her situation with deeper thinking, or merely accepted the reality that laid before her.
Ay, ay, Antipholus, look strange and frown.
Some other mistress hath thy sweet aspects.
I am not Adriana, nor thy wife.
The time was once when thou unurged wouldst vow
That never words were music to thine ear,
That never object pleasing in thine eye,
That never touch well welcome to thy hand,
That never meat sweet-savored in thy taste,
Unless I spake, or looked, or touched, or carved to thee. (2.2.120-129)
This is a part that is contrasting what we have said up until that point about Andriana. In light of a recent conversation they had about men being their own masters we can conclude from this particular piece that Andriana maybe actually enjoy being driven solely by her husbands preferences. When, in the beginning, she criticizes his it is not because of faithless net or a feeling of injustice but because of a childish jealously as she’s not receiving Antipholus undivided attention. It’s not only as E. Antipholus’s wife that she expects this attention, but because that’s how she thinks a beloved woman is treated. (Marriage seems subordinate to the special role she crafted for herself as a woman in the relationship with E. Antipholus)
Unfortunately, in the Comedy of Errors we did not possess the abundancy of references and the variety of critiques from different perspectives that were maybe on The Taming of the Shrew. We can draw however our own conclusion about the feministic context that surrounds the play. Basically, as one could guess there are two opposites here, very common to Katherine and Bianca in the previous analysis, in this one we have Andriana and Lucianna. Specifically, Andriana embodies some of the qualities and principles that the modern feminism possesses as she is indeed frustrated with the fact that her husband in the current societal norms enjoys more freedom than her and she believes that she should have the same rights, she does is not afraid to speak her mind and she strives the prove her points constantly even if this behaviours labels her as quarrelsome (Beasly, 1999). Lucianna, on the other hand who the one who believes that women’s fates are indeed defined by men’s whims and preferences is also the one, who we can say embodies the antifeminist context of the play. She has solely accepted the reality that she has met with not much of a fight, and while the story progresses she talks about he principles to Andriana and both directly and indirectly advises her to change her behaviour, in order to suit more that one of a ‘’good wife’’ (Clatterbaugh, 2004).
In both plays there seem to be a contradiction between female model and another one. In Taming of The Shrew Katherines displays the rebellious behaviour which contradicts her sisters, Bianca’s. And vice-versa in the Comedy of Errors, with Andriana and Lucianna. The duality can also be interpreted by the social climate which conducted England at the time, as stated by A. Yuksel ‘’At this point we should keep in mind the contradiction that while in Shakespeare’s time, the generally accepted model for the ideal woman was that of the loving and obedient wife, the good mother and house manager, England was on its way towards becoming the leading country in Europe under the rule of Queen Elizabeth, a mighty female with a powerful mind. This double standard concerning the definition of women did not seem to disturb the male-dominated world, however, so long as the wives were kept where they ought to be’’ (Shakespearean Variations of the Female, 2014, page 30).
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