Taming of the Shrew #
John Bell writes: In the earliest comedies there is a trace of the harridan in Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew. Putting aside for a moment the gender politics, it has to be acknowledged that The Taming of the Shrew is a very funny and brilliantly constructed comedy, and the roles of Kate and Petruchio have been a much sought after and enjoyed by generations of actors.
Performed today, the play can still evoke outrage and accusations of misogyny. But Shakespeare’s thinking is more subtle, more complex.
Given the social structure of 16th century England, Kate must learn to conform, to swear to ‘love, honour and obey’ her husband. But Katherina is a feisty and original young woman who defies her father’s plan to sell her off to the highest bidder. It takes a fellow maverick, Petruchio, to spot Kate’s superior qualities and put them both through a boot camp of a courtship in order to arrive at a contract that can accommodate them both in a marriage of true minds, one more satisfying than the conventional marriages around them.
Having entered the realm of comedy, Shakespeare’s women begin to exhibit a more beguiling femininity and we begin to wonder how much his personal situation was impacting on his writing. He was married at eighteen to Anne Hathaway who was eight years older, and with her he had two daughters, Judith and Susannah and a son Hamnet. This must have had some impact on a soul as lively and sensitive as Shakespeare’s, and given him fresh insights into women, as well as an increased empathy with them.
The women of the comedies are, on the whole, smarter than the men, they outwit them and teach them valuable life lessons.
We see money and status being valued by various characters. In Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio’s materialistic attitude is unveiled when he states the importance of wealth after his friend Hortensio tells of Katherina’s wealth. “If wealthy, then happily in Padua.” (1.2.73) The importance of wealth is later apparent when Baptista choses Lucentio (Tranio in disguise) when has proven that he is wealthier than Gremio.
In Taming of the Shrew the character Lucentio obviously deeply love/adore Bianca from the first time he sees her, equally his equivalent Cameron does the same when he first lays eyes on Bianca. “I burn, I pine, I perish” shows the extent of his desire for her. However whilst in Taming of the Shrew Lucentio becomes a ‘better’ person (is able to obtain Bianca in the end not due to her becoming worse) whilst in 10 Things I Hate About You, Cameron eventually realises the Bianca is no ‘angel’ and even asks “Have you always been this selfish?” This is a form of role reversaling which is also seen when it comes to the submission of women and feminism.
Women marry men hoping to change them; men marry women, hoping they won’t change.
Katherina clearly reflecting the values of patriarchal society. The treatment of the female characters is now something we would see as degrading and sometimes abusive when it comes to Petruchio’s method of taming. They were often seen as objects, however it is unclear whether Shakespeare was merely reflecting his society or trying to challenge it.
Often forgotten is the opening sequence with Sly, where his treatment of his ‘wife’ is different to that of the noblemen, “Are you my wife, and will not call me husband?” (…….) He also later insists that he personalise his wife’s name by calling her “Alice Madam, Joan Madam” and finally calls her “Madam Wife.” We are not sure whether Shakespeare is mocking Sly, who is really a drunken tinker, or if he using Sly’s way of thinking to juxtapose the other men in Taming of the Shrew. However due to what would be considered extremely sexist in a post?-feminism world, adaptations are made which can change the meaning of the play.
Due to the treatment of the women’s roles in Taming of the Shrew it is often considered to be a controversial play. Most of the power is held by male characters, Baptista over his daughter, Petruchio over Katherina clearly reflecting the values of patriarchal society. The treatment of the female characters is now something we would see as degrading and sometimes abusive when it comes to Petruchio’s method of taming. They were often seen as objects; however, it is unclear whether Shakespeare was merely reflecting his society or trying to challenge it.
Katherina had no freedom to choose a husband. In this play the Kath’s lack of any discussion with her father about her future, conveys that it was unlikely for a girl or women to even think to stand up against her father in this period. However ironically, Bianca, the character who first seems to conform to her place in her society ends up eloping with Lucentio (however not totally against father’s will).
John Bell sees the farcical or comedic nature of the play.
Now that he has entered the realm of comedy, Shakespeare’s women begin to exhibit a more beguiling femininity and we begin to wonder how much his personal situation was impacting on his writing. He was married at eighteen to Anne Hathaway who was eight years older, and with her he had two daughters, Judith and Susannah. This must have had some impact on a soul as lively and sensitive as Shakespeare’s, and given him fresh insights into women, as well as an increased empathy with them.
The women of the comedies are, on the whole, smarter than the men, they outwit them and teach them valuable life lessons.
Quotes of motifs: #
Shakespeare has TRANIO tell Lucentio that learning should be fun:
No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en: In brief, sir, study what you most affect.
PETRUCHIO on tacitunity:
Signior Hortensio, ‘twixt such friends as we Few words suffice;
Luciento on first seeing Bianca:
Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio,
If I achieve not this young modest girl.
Parody of Caesar’s: I came, I saw, I conquered
I will attend her here,
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail; why then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale:
Say that she frown, I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash’d with dew:
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence:
If she do bid me pack, I’ll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week:
If she deny to wed, I’ll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns and when be married.
Father, ‘tis thus: yourself and all the world,
That talk’d of her, have talk’d amiss of her:
If she be curst, it is for policy,
For she’s not froward, but modest as the dove;
She is not hot, but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel, (grizzel?)
And Roman Lucrece for her chastity: (Rape of Lucretia)
We wear clothing for a variety of reasons; for warmth and protection, modesty, occasion and distinction. The more regalia worn, the higher the rank, however cloaks and vestments may also be used to cover up a multitude of sins. Power dressing has always existed, so women wear solid colors, high heels and shoulder pads. Men wear suits, collars and solid ties. Today’s trend is toward more casual wear. The minimalist dress is often referred to as a fig-leaf.
In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet claims:
“Clothes maketh the man."
Mark Twain was a great humorist, added his own twist to Shakespeare’s words with this quote,
“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society." he wishes to impress upon us the importance of dressing well. Twain compares well dressed people to stark naked ones, who don’t have an opinion of fashion and style.
Fashion is the most universal form of self-expression, whether it’s a sign of tragic self-effacement or delightful defiance that so many women use clothes to make a statement about themselves. Our relationship with clothes changes as our relationship with ourselves shifts so at all times our dress sense should reflect our real selves.. Sometimes we like to dress up; at other times we dress down.
Most of Shakespeare’s plays revolve around characters adopting disguises. Rosalind in As You Like It, adopts a new name and male disguise. Cross dressed as a man, she commands more respect than as a woman. Viola in Twelfth Night dresses in the same clothes as her missing twin brother, which of course generates a lot of comedy out of mistaken identity.
In The Merchant of Venice, three women assume male disguises: Jessica, the daughter of Shylock, who disguises herself as a boy in order to escape her father’s house and elope with Christian Lorenzo; Nerissa, who dresses as a legal clerk in order to attend her mistress Portia in the garb of a male barrister.
King Lear makes the following observation:
Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; robes and furr’d gowns hide all.
Plate sin with gold and the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks; arm it in rags, a pygmy’s straw doth pierce it……
The Taming of the Shrew
Medieval dress codes delineated status. In order to reverse their roles, Lucentio and Tranio merely swap their overcoats.
Petruchio arrives for his wedding with:
Why, Petruchio is coming in a new hat and an old jerkin, a pair of old breeches thrice turned, a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, another laced, an old rusty sword ta’en out of the town-armory, with a broken hilt, and chapeless; with two broken points:
O, sir, his lackey, for all the world caparisoned like the horse; with a linen stock on one leg and a kersey boot-hose on the other, gartered with a red and blue list; an old hat and ‘the humour of forty fancies’ pricked in’t for a feather: a monster, a very monster in apparel, and not like a Christian footboy or a gentleman’s lackey.
‘Tis some odd humour pricks him to this fashion;
Yet oftentimes he goes but mean-apparell’d. BAPTISTA I am glad he’s come, howsoe’er he comes.
Why, sir, you know this is your wedding-day:
First were we sad, fearing you would not come;
Now sadder, that you come so unprovided.
Fie, doff this habit, shame to your estate,
An eye-sore to our solemn festival!
But where is Kate? I stay too long from her:
The morning wears, ‘tis time we were at church.
See not your bride in these unreverent robes:
Go to my chamber; Put on clothes of mine.
Not I, believe me: thus I’ll visit her.
But thus, I trust, you will not marry her.
Good sooth, even thus; therefore ha’ done with words:
To me she’s married, not unto my clothes:
Could I repair what she will wear in me,
As I can change these poor accoutrements,
The servants however are expected to be well dressed:
serving-men in their new fustian, their white
stockings, and every officer his wedding-garment on?
Be the jacks fair within, the jills fair without,
PETRUCHIO promises Kate new clothes:
Will we return unto thy father’s house
And revel it as bravely as the best,
With silken coats and caps and golden rings,
With ruffs and cuffs and fardingales and things;
With scarfs and fans and double change of bravery,
With amber bracelets, beads and all this knavery.
What, hast thou dined? The tailor stays thy leisure,
To deck thy body with his ruffling treasure.
Petruchio orders expensive drapers to prepare Katharina’s outfit for Bianca’s wedding, but then rips them up forcing her to wear her everyday clothes.
Well, come, my Kate; we will unto your father’s
Even in these honest mean habiliments:
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor;
For ‘tis the mind that makes the body rich;
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
The number of references to clothing in Macbeth signifies Shakespeare’s interest in its importance as a metaphor for power and position.
“lapt in proof"(I.ii.54) armour that proved effective. (protection)
“Why do you dress me
In borrowed robes?”
Macbeth is uncomfortable with this new title, because the witches have just predicted it but he knows the former Thane of Cawdor still lives. Ironically he too betrays King Duncan.
“New honours come upon him
like strange garments, cleave not their
mould but with the aid of use.” (distinction)
Just like new clothing often need to be worn in, new positions take a while to adjust to and become comfortable with.
“I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people
Which should be worn now in their newest gloss.” (distinction)
New clothing, like reputations have to be taken care of so they don’t get soiled.
“And when we have our naked frailties hid
That suffer in exposure”. (modesty and protection)
Raw, naked emotions need time to recuperate.
“Lest our old robes sit easier than our new.” (distinction)
Malcolm and Donaldbain realise they are vulnerable under a new King.
“who wear our health but sickly in this life”. (protection)
Another reference to the fragility and serendipity of life.
“Now does he find his title
hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarf” (V.ii.20) (distinction)
Macbeth’s authority has been eroded and Shakespeare uses the clothing metaphor to illustrate his diminished stature.