The Language of Petruchio

August 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

Petruchio’s multifaceted role in The Taming of the Shrew illustrates various themes of the play, such as the concept of domestication, the economy of marriage, gender roles, and the nature of language. Through his experiences at Padua, interactions and marriage with Katherina, and the conclusion of her domestication, Petruchio presents the symbolism and meaning behind these themes. While these themes are not applicable to Petruchio alone, Petruchio’s language is of particular interest because it is the primary domesticating tool of the titular theme. Petruchio does not purchase Kate or win a tournament for her, but rather he uses language to attain her favor. He is defined by his excessive materialism, bluntness, and possessiveness, to the point of transcending social norms. Petruchio’s language immediately indicates his materialism and craftiness. Early on, he squarely states an intention to marry for wealth: “One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife- / As wealth is burthen of my wooing dance-” (1.2.66-67) Here, Petruchio immediately corrects Hortensio, who would “not wish thee to her.” (1.2.63) Petruchio demonstrates himself to be avaricious beyond what is acceptable for his time. The financial aspects of marriage are acknowledged to be an important factor in late 16th century London, but Petruchio’s stark greed surpasses this norm. He refers to himself in third person, putting on an air of conceit and also framing his identity. He is seeking a wife as if it were a chore, a basic business operation. Also, the use of “burthen” is unusual. Burden usually has a negative connotation and the phrasing makes it seem as if the wealth is a burden, both in the sense of an onerous concern, and in the sense of a physical load. Petruchio facetiously puts forth the notion that he is relieving his future fiancée of a burdensome load. In this case, Petruchio’s language has defined him as greedy, but not without wit and a sense of sarcasm. Petruchio is so greedy that he asks Baptista directly about his dowry, before he has even won Katherina’s love. “Then tell me, if I get your daughter’s love / What dowry shall I have with her to wife?” (2.1.119-120) In this case Petruchio demonstrates his frankness along with his greed. Petruchio continues to define himself through his use of words, demonstrating himself as blunt yet masterful. He does not mince words; he does not sugarcoat his aims. Unequivocally he states “Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love / … / She moves me not, or not removes, at least / Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough / As are the swelling Adriatic seas. / I come to wive it wealthily in Padua. / If wealthily then happily in Padua.” (1.2.68-75) After explaining that he doesn’t care how shrewish, foul, or old his bride is, Petruchio repeats his intention to wed for wealth. The use of the word “affection” is of importance here. Petruchio explains that after all the bad things she could possibly be, it does not “move” him. It does not alter his position. He then adds, “or not removes, at least/ Affection’s edge in me.” Affection usually suggests human love, but Petruchio’s affection is more for material wealth. His unreasonable greed is coupled with his blunt statement of intentions; most people would not phrase their emotional indifferent in such harsh, direct words. Petruchio’s blunt language is noted by others as well. Upon first meeting Baptista, Petruchio asks “And you, good sir. Pray, have you not a daughter?” (2.1.42-43) This is Petruchio’s first line to Baptista, indicating his direct and unequivocal method of acting. Gremio responds in an aside, “You are too blunt; go to it orderly.” (2.1.45) The notion of orders comes into play here. Gremio suggests that Petruchio ought to go at things gradually, but also implies the concept of levels. Petruchio does not care for intermediate steps towards his goal; rather, he goes directly to the final stage upon meeting Baptista. The idea of orders also implies something of social stratification, and by analogy, Petruchio is considered high class, just as he considers himself able to skip to the final stage with Baptista. This language illustrates not only Petruchio’s blunt nature, but also his arrogance. The final and most prominent attribute that Petruchio’s language bestows upon him is his overbearing and socially unacceptable possessiveness. Petruchio states: “Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented / That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on, / And will you, nill you, I will marry you.” (2.1.263-265) Petruchio is commanding here; he has no qualms about Kate’s disagreement. Beginning the statement with “In plain terms” is condescending towards Kate, as though she cannot understand what he will say. Petruchio’s “I will marry you” is also patronizing. He takes Kate’s silence as agreement, and makes a final pronouncement before Baptista enters: “Here comes your father. Never make denial; / I must and will have Katherine to my wife.” (2.1.272-273) Normally unruly and relcacitrant, Kate has finally submitted to Petruchio.Petruchio continues to express his possessive nature at his marriage to Kate: “But for my bonny Kate, she must with me / … / I will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house / my household stuff, my field, my barn, / My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.” (3.2.227-232.) The notion of a husband owning his wife was common, but Petruchio’s extreme in this case is outrageous. He begins by comparing Kate to “goods” and “chattels,” which simply signify that she is his physical property, but goes on to say she is “anything” – barn, field, ox – basically proclaiming that he has power even over Kate’s nature and function. He even extends his comparison to the sun and the moon. Language, in any play and in the real world, is an individual’s primary tool of cognitive conveyance; as such, it is the primary way through which we can define a character or person. Through Petruchio’s words we learn of his greed, arrogance, and possessiveness. Kate’s reaction to his language – gradual domestication – shows that for all Petruchio’s deplorable qualities, the words he uses do ultimately “tame the shrew.”

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