The True Shrews to Be Tamed

A shrew, a scold, was in fundamental nature any woman that verbally defied authority in public and obstinately challenged the “axiom” of male rule. The late sixteenth century was harsh to deviants of social role and standing, and the penalty of having an association with the stigma of shrew meant ritual humiliation and public ridicule. “A Merry Jest of a Shrewde and Curste Wyfe, Lapped in Morrelles Skin, for Her Good Behavyour” and other ballads of the period show an image of the shrew being that of a poor, old, nagging wife. The archetype, however, would be altered by The Shrew’s Katherine Minola, yet reinforced by the Old Widow and blurred by Bianca Minola. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew brought forth a transformed quixotic shrew that is wealthy, beautiful, and, most important, spirited. In The Shrew, Katharina is viewed as the classic, traditional scold, her crime against the social order being her almost absolute refusal to accept the male domineering hierarchy. She displays a quick temper that makes slow witted men quiver in fear. In Act I scene i, she responds to Hortensio’s remark of “No mates for you, / Unless you were of gentler milder mold” (1.1.59-60) with a threat that they are of no us unless “To comb your noodle with a three legged stool” (1.1.64). With such brutal tactics, the question then arises, how much of this behavior is a direct result of her environment and her treatment?Katharina refuses to be objectified by those she feels are beneath her, and will not simply be sold to the highest bidder. Baptista comes across as a business man, keeping his prize possession, Bianca, for the suitor of highest bid, and trying to get the lesser “product”, Katharina, off his hands as soon as possible. Katharina pleads with her father in Act I scene i, “I pray you, sir, is it your will/To make a stale of me against these mates?” (1.1.57-8). She views her father as a single minded tyrant, and herself as a prisoner to the discontent and misery her surroundings provide. Katharina will not lose her individuality, and therefore simply began to reject her social role. Her rejection of accepted womanhood gave her the stigma of shrew, and her only defense against hurtful indirect remarks was wit and sharp tongue. However, Katharina’s vulnerability comes across in her interactions with Bianca, and certain realizations occur. In Act II scene i, Katharina binds Bianca’s hands and in a jealous fury commands to know which suitor she places above all others. Bianca’s many suitors remind Katharina that she is being placed in the demeaning role of the single maid in a culture of marriage, to “dance barefoot on her (Bianca’s) wedding day” and “lead apes in hell” (2.1.33-34)Petruchio is many things to Katharina, among them being her husband, her intellectual equal, and, in many ways, her liberator. When Katharina is taken to the country manor, an interesting relationship begins to occur between herself and her supposed tamer. One of the methods of taming is the deprivation of food, and oddly Petruchio joins in the deprivation. Katharina not a completely defeated individual, and Petruchio steps back from the notion of tyrant. He feels perhaps his behavior is just as hot-blooded as Katharina’s and needs to be softened. Petruchio states that “And better ’twere that both of us did fast, / Since of ourselves, ourselves are choleric, / Than feed it with such over roasted flesh” (4.1.161-3). The country manor leaves a strange balance of dominance and a level of equality. What of Katharina’s free spirit?Though Petruchio reinforces that his word shall be placed above all others, she finds a certain level of freedom and possibly happiness in their games and exchanges as there begins a compromise between obedience and intellectual freedom. On the road to Padua, her spirit is shown not to be broken but better suited, creating joy instead of misery, as Vincentio observes her as “a merry mistress” (4.5.52). Her shrewdness was not her true self, but rather a phase of temperament under ill suited conditions. It is better to be content under a king or lord than to be in despair and wretchedness under a tyrant. Act V scene ii is a revelation and makes the audience aware of the true shrews. In a bet over a sense of manhood, the men call for their wives to come to them. To be made seen in the worst light, Bianca and the Old Widow refuse to come to their husband’s call. Bianca’s refusal to come is a shock, as the innocent, meek, and mild maid vanishes. She cost Lucentio his money and manhood, and leads him to be seen as a fool. When made known what her refusal had done, she states “The more fool you, for laying on my duty” (5.2.133). The Old Widow’s refusal can be seen as a reflection of society’s conventional shrew, and Bianca’s shrewd behavior may act as a warning to marriage without a sense of balance between dominance and equality. Katharina beckoned to Petruchio and gave a speech to the other women on being obedient, displaying her new found happiness and intellectual freedom. The surface of an individual’s behavior should never be held to judgments.Works CitedShakespeare, William. “The Taming of the Shrew”. Shakespeare: Script, Stage, Screen. Ed. Bevington, David, Anne M. Welsh, and Michael L. Greenwald. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 83-119

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