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“The Taming of the Shrew”: Petruchio and Katherina Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021

The play The Taming of the Shrew was written at a time of renewed interest in marriage, in the way relations between the sexes were being redrawn by the consequences of the Reformation and by the socio-economic conditions of contemporary England. The Taming of the Shrew remains one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies of a woman tamed by a man. Shakespeare creates bright characters of Petruchio and Katherina to unveil various modes of love, wooing, and marriage.

Petruchio is a complex character depicted as a boastful and ignorant personality. Alongside the play impulse to self-creation, to the development of the indivi­dual self as an autonomous being, came this new imperative: one’s life partner was to be regarded not as a fellow combatant in an ancient and endless war between the sexes but as a friend and companion. Through the character of Petruchio, Shakespeare unveils that cruelty is good for the victim.

The cruelty is important because it is the only thing that helps to conquer Katherina. Structurally paralleling man’s dual nature of little boy and adult dominant male, this revival presented two distinct images, separated by an intermission. Moreover, Petruchio’s habitual language underlines his authority and power over women. Thus, Petruchio never states that his only motive is financial, nor does he refer to Katherina as one of his possessions—goods, chattels, household stuff. Shakespeare underlines that there is noting deceptive in the terms of Petruchio’s proposal of marriage:

For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates (Shakespeare 2000).

The first half, ending with Petruchio’s and Kate’s abrupt departure from the wedding feast, is depicted in a fairly conventional comic manner, with the playful, game-playing little boy idea receiving visual reinforcement by Petruchio’s arrival for his wedding riding a broomstick toy horse with a stuffed head. In the second half, playfulness gives way to brutality in a concerted application to destroy Kate’s individuality through her total subjugation, physically and mentally, to Petruchio.

Deprived of food and sleep for days, this becomes a physically weak and ill Kate, vacant-eyed and in rags. Thus, there anything deceptive in the terms of Petruchio’s proposal of marriage: Lucentio’s practice is designed to deceive Baptista and gain admittance for himself to Bianca. Hortensio’s practice, to the same end, briefly involves Petruchio also as a deceiver:

Now shall my friend Petruchio do me grace,

That so I may, by this device, at least

Have leave and leisure to make love to her

And unsuspected court her by herself (Shakespeare 2000)

From the very beginning, Katherina is portrayed as a cold and unsympathetic young woman. Thus, it is possible to say that Katherina gains the upper hand but realizes that she must seem submissive; she then delivers her final speech with an ironic touch, such as a wink to the audience, sharing her secret that all is not as it seems. In the world of comedy, the excessive concern of Hortensio, Gremio, and Baptista to see that Petruchio is not deceived about Kate.

Kate is allowed to mistake the nature of Petruchio. If her awareness of his quality lags briefly behind ours at first, yet she perceives clearly what he is in their very first encounter when he returns insult for insult, roar for the roar, and threatens blow for blow. Katherina is depicted as a bad-tempered young girl who insults a lot of young men in Padua. For instance, she responds to Petruchio: “Go foole, and whom thou keep’st command.

Petruchio answers: “Did euer Dian so become a Groue / As Kate this chamber with her princely gate:” (Shakespeare 2000). Despite her savagery in action and in words, for instance, Katherina has two moments of powerfully silent eloquence, when she is in sequence stunned into a silent rage by her father and then shocked into silence by the extraordinary behavior of Petruchio. A consequence of these experi­ences is that everything is thrown open to question and that for the audience every category is infected with uncertainty.

So the contrast between brutal violence and romantic love is first made ambiguous in the contrasting final speeches of Bianca and Katherina and then thrown open to the audience for further thought. Katherina is depicted as a sulky and loutish girl who becomes a real bully and family scold to spite her pretty younger sister.

The irony of the situation is underlined by the fact that everything apparently solid about social norms – in which the most successful survivors are shown to be those with the firmest grasp on the mundanely real is seen to be transient and illusory. Shakespeare makes the point wittily by exposing the depen­dence of native patrician life on alien influences; one might say that even the imagery is imported. It is possible to say that Petruchio and Kate are a good match because they share similar personal characteristics and values which help them to survive and find their love. Thus, there is no need to justify Petruchio’s cruel actions, but it is important to underline that Kate needs discipline and self-knowledge which comes from her encounter with Petruchio.

The Kate-Petruchlo relationship contains untraditional elements. Starting from a point of mutual attraction, their conflicts are more love-play than antagonistic wrestling matches. While such a point of attack undercut Shakespeare’s intention, it receives dramatic reinforcement from an unconventional Petruchio. In The Taming of the Shrew, the center of attention is more often on the deceiver than the deceived, thus since Kate and Petruchio are both deceivers and deceived, attention is directed to them more.

More clearly “contaminated” than either of these is a passage occurring earlier in the scene in the folio version when Petruchio denies Katherina the cap she fancies. Kate protests, “He haue no bigger, this doth fit the time,/And Gentlewomen weare such caps as these.”

Petruchio retorts, “When you are gentle, you shall haue one too,/And not till then” (Shakespeare 2000). In The Shrew, as in an emerging set of late-Renaissance cultural norms by which it is the lady’s behavior rather than her birth that determine her status and reputation, Katherina has to be “gentle” and kind. Petruchio and Katherina are a goof match because, in Elizabethan England, marriage was economic rather than romantic, that a wife was a piece of property. Katherina’s fury is a product of neglect while Petruchio’s violence, however extreme, is at least attentive.

In sum, in this play, Shakespeare creates two bright and similar characters of Petruchio and Katherina. Both of them are ignorant and selfish, ‘violent’ and impolite. Thus, the personal examples of each other allow them to change and marry. Katherina illustrates best how the spirited reflection of manners and myth provided aspects of the allegory with a precise focus and depth.

Works Cited Page

Shakespeare, W. The Taming of the Shrew. 2000. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "“The Taming of the Shrew”: Petruchio and Katherina." September 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-taming-of-the-shrew-petruchio-and-katherina/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '“The Taming of the Shrew”: Petruchio and Katherina'. 14 September.

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