The Issue Of The Inequality In The Marriage And Domestic Violence In The Taming Of The Shrew By William Shakespeare
The language Petruchio chooses in this monologue is full of imagery which is related to Falconry. It is important to ponder to the fact that hunting with falcons or falconry has always been a privilege or pursuit of the powerful. His grip over the knowledge of it is a symbol of his social status, as well as his confidence in his ability to tame nature. His social standing along with his knowledge appears to form the basis of the patriarchal dominance he has the intentions to impose on Katherine. He goes on to makes direct comparison between the methods used by falconers and the methods he would use to domesticate or tame his wife Katherine as he says in Act 4, scene 1 “Another way I have to man my haggard” or to tame his shrewish, disobedient wife. This to be a model for a marriage, or any other relationship seems to be an alarming and disturbing comparison which can be interpreted as, a bird, which is considered to be very powerful, is being deprived of its natural freedom.
Apart from that, Shakespeare also appears to be drawing attention toward the inequality in the marriage where the husband who is free and rational brings the wife under control, just like an animal, and has her access to food and sleep under control. Petruchio also aims to “To make her come and know her keeper’s call”, indicating that his wife Katherine will know her place to be submissive and be obedient to her “keeper’’, her husband.
The diction, related to hunting that Shakespeare has used in the play, leads to the belief that he has made an attempt to indicate an uncomfortable relationship his male characters create between the sport of hunting and the handling and treatment of those inferior to them in gender or social status.
This obvious and clear caricaturing of these behaviors and outlook shows that Shakespeare is, what would be appropriate to say, criticizing the patriarchal mindset and attitude rather than advocating or supporting the methods and tactics used on Katherine by Petruchio.
Later on in the play, Petruchio makes an attempt to exercise his power over his wife by trying to control what she wears. In Act 4, before the newlyweds leave for Bianca’s wedding, Petruchio causes anuproar over the custom made hat and clothes for Katherine. He asserts that the clothes are not good enough and insists on him and Katherine wearing old rag to the wedding. This infuriates Katherine, who like a child, is not even allowed the wear the clothes of her choice. In addition to this, she also can’t complain about all this, the reason being Petruchio having threatened her to either zip it or they’re not going to her sister’s wedding otherwise.
The play goes on and as mentioned before, Petruchio uses strategies like starving her and confined to the home in addition to many other practices and strategies to “discipline” Katherine and make her a duteous and obedient wife, while also conforming to the socially acceptable and civilized image of a non-violent husband. In the Elizabethan times, confining a wife physically was related to the husband’s prerogative to use physical force on the wife, and was considered as a way to enforce marital responsibilities to coexist. As compared to using physical force, which sometimes would gather public attention if people as in neighbors became conscious of violence happening in the home, instead confining the wife could be considered as a lenient and civilized way of keeping control while maintain the good, peaceful household, without letting the workings be visible to outsiders.
The methods used by Petruchio to tame Katherine basically represent how the scolds and shrews were treated when Shakespeare wrote this play. And so, the reason why this play was written was not to unveil the atrocities and violence that women had to go through at that time; the audience was well-aware and familiar with the practices of public humiliation and public shaming and other legitimate and civilized practices and methods of domestic violence.
And what’s important is the comedic aspect of Shrew that prevents this play from becoming serious and critical narration on the sensitive issue of subordination of women and violence and atrocities against them in the early modern times.
Besides that, the farcical undertones are what create a surrounding where jokes concerning and involving abuse are accepted and approved by the audience of the play, and which are to a certain extent highlighted by the slapstick-style physical and ironic interactions which can be seen in events like the kiss at the Church on their wedding day. It is also not supposed that the society or the people who watched the play were to any extent altered or convinced in their opinion regarding the position of a woman in society in comparison to men, or at the very least shocked or outraged by how Kate was being treated, than the people within the play. It is also worth noting that not a single character in the play comments on or criticizes Katherine’s abduction from their wedding reception or the abuse she goes through following their marriage at the hands of Petruchio, her husband. What happens instead is that the abuse Katherine experiences is told through other characters in the play, such as Gremio, who tells what happened at the wedding and the incident when the horse falls on Katherine to Curtis and Tranio. Once Gremio describes the events, both depicting abuse against Katherine, they become jokes or comedic stories that the characters in the play laugh at or that are supposed and aimed at entertaining the audience of the play. Here it is also important to mention Katherine’s final speech that she gives at the end of the play. Considering the context and background of the play as a farcical representation of different forms of abuse against “disobedient” wives, it is hard to interpret Katherine’s final speech. However, the reference she makes towards a wife as “And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will”, in her final speech, sheds light on the image of the shrew or the scold in the Elizabethan times and the need to “tame” her, highlighting Katherine’s transformation from a shrewish wife to now a dutiful and obedient wife.
Though Katherine’s speech can also be interpreted as ironical, but the response that Petruchio gives, as in: “Come on, and Kiss me Kate”, when she finishes her speech, reiterates and strengthens the farcical and satirical feature of the play, as his humorous, short and brief response casts a shadow over the entire speech by Katherine.
At the end of the play, it is showed that Petruchio has finally succeeded in establishing his power over his wife Katherine, and thus, the shrewish has finally and successfully been tamed. On the other hand, Katherine also accepts her now tamed personality, which supports the Elizabethan belief that taming the wife by using violence would definitely result in wife becoming obedient to her husband.
Emily Detmer, in her essay concurs, stating that the manner in which the “shrew” in the play is tamed would have made “wife-beating reformers proud”, since the play appears to persuade its audience into enjoying “the permissibility of abuse because of the absence of blows and the harmonious outcome”. Hence, it shouldn’t be wrong to say that rather than a critical observation on abusive husbands subduing their wives, this play by Shakespeare is, in the light of the argument presented by Emily Detmer, a farcical representation of the entire process that Katherine was made to go through to be tamed. The process was very familiar to men in early modern England, who would use it to control their disobedient wives.
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