Study Guide

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew Essay - The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 31)

The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 31)

Introduction

The Taming of the Shrew

For further information on the critical and stage history of The Taming of the Shrew, see SC, Volumes 9 and 12.

The relationship between Katherina and Petruchio and the related themes of male domination and female submission have been a major focus of critical commentary on The Taming of the Shrew in the second half of the twentieth century. Commentators on the play discuss a variety of critical issues, including its genre, its emphasis on role-playing and on the interplay of illusion and reality, and its relationship to its Elizabethan social and political context. In all of these discussions, however, the play's treatment of the conventions of male and female behavior and of the interrelated issues of gender, sexuality, and power tend to figure prominently.

Until well into the nineteenth century, audiences and critics appear to have accepted the play's shrew-taming premise at face value. In fact, during this period the play was presented primarily in heavily adapted versions that frequently accentuated the element of violence in Petruchio's treatment of Katherina. The most successful of these, David Garrick's Catherine and Petruchio (1754), enjoyed immense popularity into the mid-1800s, when it began to be supplanted by revivals of the original play. By the end of the century, however, critics were beginning to show an element of discomfort with the relationship between Petruchio and Katherina. George Bernard Shaw, writing in 1897, described the last scene of the play as "altogether disgusting to modern sensibility," and found the concept of male domination implicit in the wager and in Katherina's final speech so offensive that no man "with any decency of feeling" could watch the scene "in the company of a woman without feeling extremely ashamed."

A desire to reconcile the playwright's reputation and the unacceptability of his play's central premise seems to underlie much of its subsequent criticism. In the 1950s, critics such as Nevill Coghill, Harold C. Goddard, and Margaret Webster argued that Shakespeare's rendition of the shrew-taming concept, and particularly Katherina's closing speech, should be read ironically. According to this view, Katherina's submission to Petruchio is not to be taken seriously; the audience is meant to perceive that she will dominate the marriage by allowing Petruchio an outward show of mastery. This analysis was countered by the views of critics such as George Ian Duthie (1951), who saw The Taming of the Shrew as confirming the Elizabethan view that a husband stands in relation to his wife as a king to his subjects. Several critics in the late 1950s and the 1960s emphasized the "gentleness" of Petruchio's behavior in comparison to the brutality displayed in earlier "shrew-taming" plays. Writing in 1958, Muriel Bradbrook claimed that Katherina was the first character in the tradition to be utterly transformed, rather than beaten or lectured into submission. In a highly influential reading that focused on the theme of illusion and reality, Cecil B. Seronsy (1963) suggested that Petruchio draws Katherina into enthusiastic acceptance of the role of obedient wife by "supposing" the existence in her of the qualities he desires and gradually assimilating her to the image he has willed.

Critics continue to differ in their opinions as to whether The Taming of the Shrew ultimately confirms, undermines, or merely renders more palatable the conventions of male dominance and female submission. In an article published in 1974, Margaret Loftus Ranald claimed that Shakespeare's use of imagery drawn from falconry portrays an "atypical" Elizabethan model of matrimony based on "mutuality, trust, and love." Five years later, Marianne L. Novy suggested that by presenting conventional gender roles as a game, Petruchio makes it possible for Katherina to participate with him in developing a mutually satisfying accommodation to the rules of the patriarchal order. David Farley-Hills (1981) saw Shakespeare as engaged in the play in a characteristic investigation of the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in human behavior. In his view, these contradictions are never resolved: "[I]nstead we have simply a poised presentation of the contradictions which leaves the comic tensions resolved in the purely comic relief of laughter." Richard A. Burt, however, argued in 1984 that despite its exploration of the contradictions inherent in social norms, the play ultimately reinforces the conventions of male domination and female submission by showing that female rebellion can be managed and contained through a strategy of coercion disguised as romantic love.

Several commentators, on the other hand, have suggested that through its prominent metadramatic elements the play ultimately subverts conventional social and gender roles. Karen Newman (1986) argued that by continually drawing parallels between the theatrical role-playing of the stage and the real-life role-playing of social superiors and inferiors and of dominant husbands and obedient wives, the play reveals that these real-life roles are not inherent in the nature of the individuals who play them, but rather are imposed by social and cultural constraints. In making a similar argument about the impact of the play, both Michael Shapiro and Juliet Dusinberre (1993) focused on the Elizabethan practice of using boy actors in female roles. By frequently calling attention to this practice, both critics argued, the play underlines the artificiality of conventionally "feminine" behavior. Some critics, however, continue to reject an ironic reading of Petruchio's subduing of Katherina. In a 1988 article, for instance, Peter Berek maintained that The Shrew is inherently sexist in its assumptions, although he also suggested that Shakespeare's choice of farce as a genre reflects the playwright's awareness of the tensions inherent in a patriarchal system and his attempt to dissipate some of those tensions on stage.

Finally, a number of critics, particularly since 1980, have investigated the relationship between the play and its Elizabethan social, economic, and cultural context. In a 1983 essay, Marion D. Perret analyzed the actions of Katherina and Petruchio in terms of Elizabethan "conduct books" that defined the proper relationship and the respective duties of husbands and wives. In 1985, Carol Heffernan examined the play's critique of middle-class values, particularly as they are reflected in attitudes towards courtship and marriage. Margaret Downs-Gamble (1993) looked at similarities between Petruchio's "wife-taming" techniques and the educational methods endorsed by Renaissance humanism, while Linda Boose (1994) saw in the play's ambivalent portrayal of social and sexual norms a reflection of the period's preoccupation with threats to conventional order and its anxieties about socioeconomic change and class conflict.

Overviews

David Farley-Hills (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Paradoxes and Problems: Shakespeare's Sceptical Comedy in The Taming of the Shrew," in The Comic in Renaissance Comedy, Barnes and Noble Books, 1981, pp. 160-78.

[In the following excerpt, Farley-Hills traces various sources of ambiguity in the play's treatment of the themes of male domination and female submissiveness.]

The range of Shakespearian comedy is remarkable. At one extreme there is the serenity of The Tempest, where benevolent comedy reaches out towards the divine; at the other the searing, cynical comedy of Troilus and Cressida, with its jaundiced view of two major centres of spiritual value for the Elizabethans, love and heroism, an extreme of denigratory satire. Shakespearian comedy, indeed, could by itself have been used to illustrate all the kinds of [Renaissance comedy] for between these extremes lie gradations of benevolence and satire that would serve to show almost the full variety of the comic. Even within one single play Shakespeare can make use of an astonishing variety of comic attitudes, and this indeed is the problem, for it is not always easy to decide what is the overall comic stance. One reason why less gifted dramatists, such as [Thomas] Dekker and [Richard] Brome, can show clearer examples of particular types of the comic is that their understanding of the comic is much more limited and selective. If hope is a characteristic of Shakespearian comedy, so also is doubt arising from a profound sense of the contradictoriness of things: the contradictions inherent not only in man himself and in his ways of looking at the world, but also in the world outside him that he strives to master and that (as we see in the tragedies) often masters him. In each successive comedy the relationship between hope and doubt, between the assertion of the fundamental unity in al things and an awareness of irreconcilable contradiction is reassessed so that it is difficult to generalise about so complex and shifting a phenomenon as Shakespeare's comic stance. In each play new combinations are tested, new and daring juxtapositions of ideas attempted. The comic stance shifts not just from play to play but also within the plays, where satirical and benevolent comedy are used to test and qualify each other's assertions.

What strikes us most clearly about any Shakespearian play, comedy or not, is surely Shakespeare's awareness of alternative ways of looking at the same problems. Shakespeare's was a mind that instinctively seemed to grasp the inherent contradictions in our habits of thought and feeling, and part of his greatness is his ability to examine these contradictions without himself losing coherence of vision. Hence the pun, of which Shakespeare is so fond, is not a fatal Cleopatra, but a prism in which uniformity can be seen as an aspect of multiplicity. He takes the bogyman figure of the vicious Jew in the Merchant of Venice and creates so human a character that we are forced to see the Jew's point of view, not just as distant spectators, but also as sharers of his feelings. The result is a complex tension of attraction and repulsion that questions the Christian questioners (though perhaps not by intention) as profoundly as it does their anti-Christ. In Falstaff, the figure of misrule so challenges the overt statements of the need for political and moral order that to this day critics are divided about where, between an 'external' morality of duty and an 'internal' morality of honesty to one's feelings, the balance is to be struck in assessing the play. One could repeat instances play by play. Frequently our strongest impression at the end of a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays is that we are made to re-examine our certainties, are asked to resubmit ourselves to doubts that we thought we had resolved. Doubts not merely about the meaning of the plays themselves, but about our answers to the problems they raise. Is King Lear about a hostile universe and the inability of men to survive it in the long run, or is it a play suggesting a transcendental message of hope? When Gloucester's heart bursts smilingly, has he had a vision of a new reality or does his face record the inane grin of a man who finally loses his grip on reality—a question that is repeated even more terribly and enigmatically in Lear's last words. With such an instinctive sense of the problematic nature of life it is not surprising (however remarkable the plays) that Shakespeare should excel in comedy. Dr Johnson's view that the tragedies are often laboured would not today get much critical support, but his assertion [in 'Preface to Shakespeare', in Johnson on Shakespeare, edited by Walter Raleigh, 1908] that comedy was instinctual with Shakespeare is surely well founded:

his disposition, as Rhymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In tragedy he often writes, with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without labour, what no labour can improve.… In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to be comick; but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a mode of thinking congenial to his nature.… His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct.

This instinct expresses itself in a constant awareness of alternative possibilities, a constant juxtaposition of different images of the same events which presents the mind simultaneously with plausible alternative interpretations of the same phenomena:

When Daffodils begin to peere,
 With heigh the Doxy over the dale,
Why then comes in the sweet o' the yeare,
 For the red blood raigns in the winter's
 pale.

The white sheete bleaching on the hedge,
 With hey the sweet birds, O how they sing:
Doth set my pugging tooth an edge,
 For a quart of Ale is a dish for a King.

Where else within eight lines could one find a lyric that expressed not only the joy in the coming of spring, the mythic conquest of life over death, but also the ambiguity of man's response to this joy and his equivocal relationship to nature (the doxy—the prostitute—as the human representative of the universal procreative image), the alienation of man from this natural world as he anticipates pain in the midst of joy (the pugging tooth)—a pain that renders him ridiculous, aberrant—and finally includes man's attempts at cheerful defiance of his alienation (the quart of ale). We do not even begin to take account in all this of the further complexities added by relating the song to its context within The Winter's Tale. In these late plays the comic has come to be the means for expressing a deep sense of the inevitable contradictoriness of human experience, but at the same time the comic is subsumed in the greater harmony that the musicality of the lyric itself conveys here, a musicality that reflects what Alfred Einstein has called (in discussing Mozart [in Mozart: His Character, His Work, 1971]) 'that second naïveté for which only a few masters in all the arts are predestined'. The earlier plays do not show this same sublime confidence in the use of the comic, but are used much more to explore its implications, its uses and variety.

Among these early comedies The Taming of the Shrew is particularly interesting in illustrating a sense of poised, enigmatic contradiction that refuses to come to either the celebratory conclusions of benevolent comedy or the denigratory conclusions of satire. There seems to have been a period in Shakespeare's career in the early 1590s when he was particularly fascinated, like many of his contemporaries, with what John Donne called at this same time 'paradoxes and problems'. The fun was to see various recurring human preoccupations in unexpected lights by offering unexpected viewpoints for their contemplation. Love's Labour's Lost at around this time presents us with a dazzling set of ambiguities on the theme of male and female relationships, and in a rather different way Romeo and Juliet exploits the paradoxes of 'brawling love' and 'loving hate', of 'heavie lightness, serious vanity' in a complex tragedy that explores the ambiguous relationships of love and violence. In this period too Shakespeare wrote that highly ambiguous poem on human sexuality, Venus and Adonis. Like these other works I have mentioned, The Taming of the Shrew finds its contradictions in that perennially fruitful subject, human sexual relationships, and like Love's Labour's Lost and Venus and Adonis in the contradictions and conflicts inherent in the opposition of the sexes. The central paradox of both plays is that while men and women are sexual antagonists they are at the same time indispensable allies; they seek both to conquer and to guard themselves from one another and yet are constantly seeking the paramount pleasures that they derive from each other. The initiating joke of Love's Labour's Lost is that the men are trying to protect themselves from what turns out to be their strongest wish, while in a nicely calculated complementarity the women seek out what ultimately they have to guard themselves from. The Taming of the Shrew is a delightful and subtle exploration of the old Chaucerian theme of which of the sexes should have the sovereignty, wherein male assumptions of superiority are subtly mocked while feminine methods of gaining the upper hand are put to the test. No ultimate conclusions are reached; instead we have simply a poised presentation of the contradictions which leaves the comic tensions resolved in the purely comic relief of laughter.…

In Love's Labour's Lost the Christian hopefulness of The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona becomes secularised and more tentative. The Taming of the Shrew either anticipates (if earlier) or develops this tendency further. Superficially, in its concentration on boisterous action in the main plot, in its strong element of farce, and in its subsidiary use of romantic themes, it bears a likeness to The Comedy of Errors. This may partly be accounted for by their both being, in all probability, plays intended for a popular audience. In both plays, too, Shakespeare uses a framing device to introduce his plot (though in The Shrew it is incomplete). There are also thematic connections: the debate on feminine obedience between Luciana and Adriana in Errors (II. i) anticipates the similar debate in The Shrew. Thematically, however, The Taming of the Shrew also reflects the same concerns as Love's Labour's Lost, and its treatment of them shows, by very different means, a comparable sophistication. The Shrew has sometimes been called a crude play, because of its boisterousness, but this is far from the case. As in Love's Labour's Lost, not only is love's war presented as an aspect of love's harmony, but love's harmony is also presented as an aspect of love's war. In The Shrew the harmony is, however, even more tentative, Shakespeare balancing the alternatives with a niceness that makes this the most schematic of all his comedies. Like Love's Labour's Lost, The Shrew has a strong element of the medieval debate, in which alternative viewpoints are allowed to remain in juxtaposition.

The Shrew is also even more determinedly secular, if less self-consciously so, than Love's Labour's Lost. Katherina's final appeal for feminine obedience is noticeably less explicitly Christian than its counterpart in the old play of The Taming of a Shrew from which Shakespeare's play probably derives. Kate's long final speech in A Shrew very explicitly relates the need for wifely obedience to biblical doctrine (xviii. 16-41):

Now list to me and marke what I shall say,
Th'eternall power that with his only breath,
Shall cause this end and this beginning frame,
Not in time, nor before time, but with time,
 confusd,
For all the course of yeares, of ages, moneths,
Of seasons temperate, of dayes and houres,
Are tund and stopt, by measure of his hand,
The first world was, a forme, without a forme,
A heape confusd a mixture al deformd),
A gulfe of gulfes, a body bodiles,
Where all the elements were orderles,
Before the great commander of the world,
The King of Kings the glorious God of
 heaven,
Who in six daies did frame his heavenly
 worke,
And made all things to stand in perfit course.
Then to his image he did make a man,
Olde Adam and from his side asleepe,
A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make,
The woe of man so termd by Adam then,
Woman for that, by her came sinne to us,
And for her sin was Adam doomd to die,
As Sara to her husband, so should we,
Obey them, love them, keep and nourish them,
If they by any meanes doo want our helpes,
Laying our handes under their feet to tread,
If that by that we, might procure there
  ease.…

So keen is the author of A Shrew to obtain theological warrant for his concluding lesson that he quite overlooks the absurdity of making Kate the mouthpiece of his doctrine. (It is unlikely that the rather incoherent presentation of the doctrine is intended to reflect on Kate's theological inadequacies.) If, as [G.] Bullough suggests [in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 1957], A Shrew is Shakespeare's own early attempt to handle the story, then this overt theologising would be an extreme case of the tendency we find in both The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen. In any case, if we can assume that Shakespeare was basing The Shrew on the old play, it is particularly interesting to see what pains he has taken to demythologise Kate's speech in The Shrew. In place of the derivation of woman's subordination from a cosmic view of God's creation and specific references to the Garden of Eden myth and Abraham and Sarah, Shakespeare bases Kate's appeal to Bianca and the Widow to show obedience to their husbands on social obligation and the need of women for masculine protection. This contrasts not only with the parallel passage in A Shrew, but also with Shakespeare's own religious treatment of the theme in The Comedy of Errors (11. 289-99). In Elizabethan terms the treatment in The Shrew is rather unusual: woman's inferiority was usually argued on theological grounds, as in A Shrew and The Comedy of Errors, less frequently in pragmatic terms or on the mutual obligations of the sexes. They should respect their husbands, argues Kate, as people who work hard and dangerously for their wives' benefit (11. 2705-9):

          One that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance. Commits his body
To painfull labour, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in stormes, the day in
 cold,
Whil'st thou ly'st warme at home, secure and
 safe.…

Such sentiments seem to most of us so eminently more sensible than an appeal to Genesis that we overlook how unusually secular it is by Elizabethan standards, even without the assumption that here Shakespeare is deliberately altering an earlier speech that presents the orthodox theological arguments. Instead of seeking authority for wifely obedience in God's intentions, Kate goes on to draw the purely secular analogy of the husband as a sovereign and the wife as a subject: 'Such dutie as the subject owes the Prince, / Even such a woman oweth to her husband' (11. 2713-4). This of course is a perfectly orthodox analogy, but again the supression of the further analogy between obedience to the Prince and obedience to God is remarkable. It seems that Shakespeare himself is taking Tranio's advice to Biondello, 'Dallie not with the gods, but get thee gone' (1. 2251). That Shakespeare is deliberately rewriting the speech of A Shrew to give it a completely different and secular emphasis seems to be confirmed by what seems a direct borrowing from the old play at the end of Kate's speech, where she says 'And place your hands below your husbands foote' (1. 2736)—a line that almost certainly derives from the old play's 'laying our hands under theire feet to tread', with its characteristic (if in this instance, distant) Marlovian echo. Perhaps Shakespeare kept a reference to this unusual and surprising sentiment in order to allow the punning play on 'for it is no boot' in the previous line, which would provide an element of comic undercutting of Kate's speech that fits well into the interpretation of the play I shall be urging.

Why should Shakespeare have been at such pains to secularise his principal source? I believe the answer to this lies in the new attitude to comedy we see him evolving also in Love's Labour's Lost, an attitude that asserts the contradictoriness of things in this life, rather than the ultimate reconciliation of contradiction in divine benevolence that is asserted in The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen. The Taming of the Shrew consistently avoids significant Christian reference as much as The Comedy of Errors drags its Christianity into its pagan source material. Like Love's Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew is built up of a number of irreconcilable contrasts, some of which it shares with the former play. Like Love's Labour's Lost, the central opposition concerns itself with the conflicting interests and mutual hostility of men and women; the sexes are here too seen as distinctly opposite. There is a suggestion also of the contrast between rational academic tranquillity and passionate love-making in Lucentio's finding love where he is looking to study ' Vertue and that part of Philosophie / … that treats of happinesse' (11. 317-18), the theme with which Love's Labour's Lost opens. The Taming of the Shrew, however, concentrates more single-mindedly on the sex war, developing it over a wider range to depict it at a literal as well as a metaphorical level. The play is frequently interpreted as advocating male supremacy as a solution to the battle of the sexes; the title at least rather encourages that suggestion. Yet a closer look shows Shakespeare again at his comic task of developing contrast as paradox. Sexual conflict at the literal and metaphorical levels turns out to involve contrast as well as similarity. Petruchio defeats Kate, the shrew, by asserting his physical and psychological strength over her. She challenges him on the masculine ground of muscular force, wilful determination and overt violence, and loses. Shakespeare has indeed deliberately played up the violence of Kate's nature. At the beginning of the second act Kate hauls in her sister bound with a rope, strikes her and, when separated from her by their father, 'Flies after Bianca ', as the Folio stage direction indicates (1. 887). Shortly afterwards, Hortensio, who, disguised as a musician, has been trying to teach Kate to play the lute, enters 'with his head broke ' because Kate has smashed the instrument over him. There are some hints for such violence in the old play, but it is considerably more subdued. In scene vi, for example, we find Valeria actually giving Kate her music lesson. She is playing the lute when Valeria stops her for a false note; at this she loses her temper, threatens to break the lute over his head, but instead throws it on the grounds and stalks out. The emphasis on physical violence provides Shakespeare with an opportunity to develop his paradoxical contrast between the violence of the loser in love's war and the victory of the quiet, demure Bianca over her husband. It also serves to contrast with Petruchio's method of taming her 'with kindness': 'This is a way to kil a Wife with kindnesse, / And thus Ile curb her mad and headstrong humor' (11. 1842-3).

Admittedly there is something paradoxical too about Petruchio's 'kindness': it is a kindness that is so concerned that she has fine enough food that she is allowed none and so concerned that she'll have fine linen on her bed that she is allowed to get no sleep: 'I, and amid this hurlie I intend, / That all is done in reverend care of her …' (11. 1837-8). The paradox of hurting her with kindness, so that kindness is ultimately done by hurting, is itself an extension of the sexual role of the male, whose love-making is aggression and whose aggression is an act of love. Shakespeare, like other contemporary playwrights, frequently thinks of male sexuality in terms of weaponry and martial conflict, as [Eric] Partridge has amply illustrated [in Shakespeare's Bawdy, 1947]. This association of male sexuality and aggression is peculiarly strong in The Taming of the Shrew. Our introduction to Petruchio in Act I includes an admiring account by Grumio of his master's sexual aggression (11. 675-81):

Shee may perhaps call him halfe a score Knaves or so: Why that's nothing; and he begin once, hee'l raile in his rope trickes. Ile tell you what sir, and she stand him but a little, he will throw a figure in her face, and so disfigure hir with it, that she shal have no more eies to see withall then a cat.…

Petruchio's own encounters in wit combat with Kate also tend to emphasise, in the double entendre, the aggressive male role and the corresponding role of the female as victim (11. 1072-4):

Petruchio.            Come, sit on me.

Katherina. Asses are made to beare, and so
  are you.

Petruchio. Women are made to beare, and so
  are you.

In this exchange the central issue of which of the sexes shall have the sovereignty is being aired and there is no doubt that Petruchio's pun makes his asertion more fundamental and convincing than Kate's. Kate's only reply is to turn from the general to the particular and accuse Petruchio of sexual inadequacy. The witty exchange of obscenities here has the paradoxical purpose we see in similar exchanges in Love's Labour's Lost: to show the contradictory elements of attraction and repulsion in the love game. Kate's willingness to even enter into hostilities with Petruchio is a willingness to accept the love dialogue and suggests a disposition towards ultimately reciprocity (submission, Petruchio would say, but Shakespeare is more chary). Shakespeare refines immeasurably on his source, where on the first occasion we see her Kate explicitly admits that she is going to consent to marry Ferando (the old play's Petruchio) (vi. 40 - 3). Shakespeare's method is to allow her subconscious attitudes to appear before she realises what it is she wants, and he does this through the exchanges of bawdy. Shakespeare is doing here what he does with greater refinement in the Beatrice - Benedick exchanges of Much Ado. As so often, the bawdy is a key element in understanding the plays and the prudery of generations of critical Grundys has prevented adequate readings.

One of the difficulties, of course, is that the bawdy is extremely difficult to follow for a modern reader, partly because it needed to be hidden to some extent from the Elizabethan censorship and therefore involves much obscure punning (and sometimes distortions of a pronunciation which is in itself not easy to recapture) and partly because modern editors have usually done their best to keep such passages obscure. Kate's exchange with Petruchio at this point in the play is no exception but enough of it is clear to catch its general trend and significance. Kate's succeeding quips are primarily a challenge to Petruchio to prove his sexual worthiness following her accusation that he is a worn-out stallion. His response is to show that sexually he has the more powerful weapon and can therefore afford to be generous. He will not take advantage although she is young and light: he calls her a turtle-dove in reply to her taunting him as a buzzard, a hawk considered inadequate for hunting. Hawking imagery is of great importance throughout the play and reveals very clearly the ambiguity surrounding the struggle for sexual supremacy. Christopher Sly—whose role in the play we must consider shortly—is invited, as part of the dream world in which he becomes a leisured gentleman, to go hawking with hawks that 'will soare above the morning Larke' (11. 195-6) and Petruchio at the end of the play shows his mastery by waging twenty times as much on his wife's obedience as he would on his hawk (1. 2616). Both Sly, in fantasy, and Petruchio, as part of Sly's fantasy, are acting the role here of dominant male. That Kate in fact is treated by Petruchio merely as a valuable hawk is made explicit twice. He specifically compares Kate's taming to the training of a hawk (11. 1824 - 30):

My Faulcon now is sharpe, and passing
 emptie,
And til she stoope, she must not be full
 gorg'd,
For then she never lookes upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my Haggard,
To make her come, and know her Keepers
 call:
That is, to watch her, as we watch these
 Kites,
That baite, and beate, and will not be
 obedient.

The implications of comparing a woman to a hawk are ambiguous: that she is naturally wild and predatory but that she can be mastered by handling. Women are presented in the play as birds of prey, the predators, but also as the prey. Kate's reply to Petruchio's description of himself as a buzzard catching a turtle-dove is to assert that she is as much a turtle-dove as a dove is likely to catch a buzzard. The implication here is that Kate is claiming to be the hawk. This is not only the comparison Petruchio makes himself later, as we saw, but it is also repeated by Hortensio's description of Bianca as a 'proud disdainful Haggard' (1. 1887), Hortensio has not been able to tame his hawk, and, indeed, it turns out that Bianca is the harder bird to tame. She sees herself, however, as a hunted bird, though a bird determined to elude the shooter (11. 2589-90). The hunting comparisons are carried on further in this scene with Lucentio as a greyhound and Petruchio being held at bay by his 'deer'. In these images women are given ambiguous roles as hunter and hunted, but in each case (unlike in Love's Labour's Lost) with the men as either human or animal predators. That this role may be part of male sexual fantasy is, however, one of the basic jokes of the play. Certainly Petruchio has no doubts about his own virility and his own related supremacy, either in this scene or elsewhere. If the waspish Katherine proposes to sting him (1. 1085) Petruchio is soon proposing to neutralise her by producing a sting more potent; his sting he says, is in his tail. The physical reality is that men sting literally, women only metaphorically. Katherine may be a dragon, but she has now met her St George (1. 1105).

The play explicitly presents the male point of view. The drunken Sly is to be given an erotic entertainment in which the ignominious defeat we see him suffer in the first scene, at the hands of the hostess of the inn, is to be redressed in the fantasy world of the play. Petruchio has no doubt that Kate can be shocked out of her usurpation of the male role of sexual aggressor, and he apparently succeeds, but Petruchio's victory is not the only thing the play has to say on the question of sexual sovereignty. Even the Petruchio plot has its quiet moments of questioning. As Petruchio brings his hungry and exhausted bride in to his house and hurls commands at the servants, the snatch of song he chooses to sing as he waits for supper to be brought is a lament for the bachelor life, 'Where is the life that late I led', a lost song whose subject we know from an 'answer' written to it in Robinson's Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584). Petruchio's victory is not to be all gain; there is a nice touch too when Petruchio in the same scene calls for his Spaniel, whose name it appears is that of that classic victim of woman's treachery, Troilus. These hints would be nothing were they not part of a much wider pattern of references that tend to undermine the overt masculine self-congratulation.

Classical reference is unusually intrusive in the Taming of the Shrew and frequently it throws doubt on the apparent values the play is asserting. Lucentio, burning, pining and perishing with love at the first sight of Bianca, sees himself in the role of Dido to his servant Tranio's Anna (1. 457). This odd inversion of sexual roles does in fact turn out finally to be realised when Bianca shows that she most probably will wear the marital trousers. Lucentio is to be immolated on the hymenal fire. Tranio replies to his master by quoting Terence, by way of Lily's Grammar, to the effect that he had better get out of his captivity with as little harm as he may. Tranio clearly does not see falling in love as any more a subject for male celebration than Berowne, before his final conversion. In the scene in which Lucentio, disguised as the Latin schoolmaster Cambio, is teaching Bianca Latin and making love to her on the side, he chooses for his text, again oddly, that letter of Ovid's Heroides in which Penelope laments that her husband has not yet returned, while she conjectures that he may have deserted her and curses a war that was started by an adulterous lover. It must be admitted that a possible reason for the choice of this Ovidian letter is that it is the first of the Heroides, but it is not impossible that Lucentio, who has seen himself as Dido, is now seeing himself as the imploring Penelope, though to follow through the analogy would hardly be complimentary to Bianca. The oblique reference in this letter to love as a disrupting force, even without the hint of the reversal of sexual roles, would have made it an attractive choice for Shakespeare's purpose. Certainly Tranio earlier (1. 816) can see Bianca as the cause of disruption when he compares her to Leda's daughter, not only evoking Helen's role, but in the reference to her as Leda's daughter reminding us of the violence in which she was engendered. Lucentio has already compared Bianca to that other victim of Jove's lust, Europa, though here he may see himself as the bull (11. 471-2). Certainly Lucentio sees himself as more than a courtly servant of love and certainly Bianca is not the cold mistress. Jupiter appears a third time in the play in the role of unnatural seducer in the pictures offered to Sly in the Induction. Continuing his preference for Ovid, we find Lucentio reading the Ars Amatoria during another 'lesson' with Bianca and being encouraged in the 'art he professes' by Bianca to become master of the art (11. 1855-8). One of the many reversals of the play is that the sexual harmony of Bianca and Lucentio leads to her victory, while Kate's disharmony leads to submission: a 'witty', Petrarchist conclusion.

Kate's classical roles are wished on her by Petruchio and are part of the irony he directs at her lack of femininity. The irony in comparing her to Diana (11. 1137-8) is to continue the charges of libidinousness as he wishes that she and Diana will change roles. Later Petruchio, again in irony, calls her a Lucrece for chastity. In both cases this is a double irony: he is wishing on her an alluringness she does not have, but the Lucrece comparison suggests the tragic results of love and reflects the kind of ambivalance to love we have seen in the other classical references.

These images and allusions often tend to undermine both the confident assertion of masculine superiority and the apparent ease of Petruchio's victory in the dominant taming theme. Structurally the play undermines the theme less ambiguously, though the effect of this is not to overcome the ambiguity of the play's stance. One of the structural devices is the familiar one in Elizabethan drama of adding a sub-plot that qualifies and throws light on the theme of the main plot. Shakespeare has used a translation of Ariosto's / Supposai for this purpose. The Taming of a Shrew has a single plot concerning three daughters, two of whom, Emelye and Phylena, cannot be married until a husband is found for the third, Kate. By using new material Shakespeare turns the Bianca plot into something much more distinct from the main action, thereby allowing a more distinct contrast to develop; at the same time, by increasing the romantic element, he has increased the contrast between the two sisters and their attitude to love and the opposite sex. In the old play of A Shrew, however, there is a wager scene between the newly married husbands and this Shakespeare has retained, even bringing in at the last minute a third lady—the widow—to reflect more closely the pattern of the earlier play. The result has been to make the reversal at the end, in which Bianca becomes an incipient shrew while Kate becomes the obedient wife, much more dramatic, if psychologically less realistic. Shakespeare, however, as in Love's Labour's Lost, is concerned more with themes than with characters and the reversal enables him to present his comic patterns more clearly. For Bianca's new militancy is to throw doubt on the general applicability of Petruchio's method of taming women. Kate becomes a special case which needed special treatment, while the women playing their own more subtle game—Bianca and the widow—show that female submission is not to be so easily won. Indeed, Shakespeare makes this point clearer by having Hortensio go to school of Petruchio to learn how to tame a wife, only to find that he can no more handle his new wife (the widow) than can Lucentio his. We are left at the end, then, with a series of unresolved alternatives: you can take Petruchio's experience as the definitive or you can take Lucentio's and Hortensio's.

The ambiguity is even more strongly asserted by another structural device taken over from the old Shrew play, the use of introductory scenes on a different plane of reality. In the old play these introductory scenes are followed by a concluding scene in which Sly reappears and wakes from the dream of the play. Shakespeare, to the surprise of most commentators, drops this final scene altogether. The Taming of the Shrew is introduced to us as a kind of waking dream, a world of wish-fulfilment in which Sly is to be indulged in sexual and social fantasies. The changes Shakespeare makes from the old play are highly instructive. In A Shrew Sly, in a state of intoxication that would hardly allow him to remember who the agent was, is beaten out of the inn doors by a male tapster. Shakespeare modifies this by changing the sex of the chucker-out and by making Sly less incapacitated by drink and more quarrelsome. We are immediately therefore introduced, at a very basic level, to the theme of man against woman, and it is in this light that the fantasies in which Sly is encouraged to indulge when he wakes from his drunken stupor are to be interpreted. The play of The Taming of the Shrew is to be part of Sly's vicarious revenge on the termagant hostess who has humiliated him in the opening scene. As in the old play, Sly is taken up by a gentleman out hunting and a trick is played on him. The gentleman tells his servants to persuade Sly he is a lord and to indulge Sly's whims. It is noticeable that while Shakespeare retains much of this from the old play he gives much greater emphasis to the idea of sexual indulgence and sexual fantasy. Sly is to be placed in a chamber hung round with 'wanton pictures', he is led to a 'lustful' bed, offered pictures of erotic subjects. These subjects, incidentally, Venus and Adonis, the rape of Io, anticipate the later references to classical erotic aberrations. When the page appears dressed up as Sly's lady, the effects of this stimulation become apparent as he entices 'her' to undress and, with a bawdy pun that sets the tone for the play he is to witness, says that he cannot wait the 'night or two' that the physicians have recommended: 'I, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long: But I would be loth to fall into my dreames againe: I will therefore tarie in despite of the flesh and the blood' (11. 279-81). Needless to say, this is not from Shakespeare's source material. It is important in that it presents the male dilemma which the play's ambiguities are to reveal at greater length: for Sly is in a complex dilemma. He cannot free his memory from the 'dream' of the militant hostess: women are a threat, they are dangerous, they are the enemy. Nor yet, obviously, can he manage without them; hence, whether he likes it or not, he has got to modify his behaviour to meet feminine requirements. Women are after all the 'ring' masters, to indulge in a Shakespearian pun. The play of Kate and Petruchio, therefore is something of a compensation for Sly for what he cannot achieve in real life. The artist of The Taming of the Shrew erects a fantasy world to satisfy cravings that reality will not indulge. As in Love's Labour's Lost, the comedy is seen as indulgence.

And yet again this is not Shakespeare's final word, for his ambiguities are also a statement about what life is really like. The failure to round off the play by bringing Sly back to wake from his 'dream' of sovereignty is a brilliant stroke that leaves the play's statement open-ended. Is the Petruchio story the dream or the reality? Has Sly woken to the real world in which termagant hostesses are merely bad dreams, or has he yet to awake? Shakespeare deliberately leaves us with the comic juxtaposition of alternatives—comic because it allows us to see the same events simultaneously from opposed, but equally plausible, points of view. As we weigh Petruchio's successful taming of the shrew with Lucentio's and Hortensio's different experiences with their women, we are left thematically with the unresolved question of whether male sovereignty is the unusual or a true reflection of the normal. We are left structurally with the uncertainty of whether we are still in Sly's dream world or whether Sly's induction was a device for mediating between the stage world and the reality that the world of Padua represents, and, finally, to accommodate these uncertainties, Shakespeare presents the concluding action in an ambivalent tone that balances celebration and rejection. Act IV ends in strong contention with the appearance of Lucentio's father Vincentio to seek his aberrant son only to find himself confronted with his double, the travelling pedant, who has agreed to impersonate Vincentio to deceive Baptista into allowing his daughter Bianca to marry Lucentio. As at the same time Tranio, Lucentio's servant, is impersonating his master, there is a farcical confusion in which disguise is used in the manner of denigratory comedy to conceal the worse as the better, counterpoised by Lucentio's disguise as worse than he is. The scene moves towards disaster as Vincentio is threatened with arrest for impersonating himself only to be saved by the appearance of Bianca and the real Lucentio to confess that they are married and ask for Vincentio's forgiveness and blessing. The scene ends equivocally with Baptista enraged that his daughter has married without his consent and with Vincentio trying to reassure him on the one hand (1. 2515) but threatening to have revenge for the indignity he has suffered on the other, and refusing to make explicit his forgiveness of his son's behaviour. All this however appears, at the beginning of Act V (I use the Folio act division) to have been the preparation for the final surge of rejoicing in the reconciliation of parents to children, masters to servants. Act V opens in the classic indication of rejoicing, the celebratory banquet, with Lucentio announcing that harmony has been achieved, misunderstanding overcome (11. 2538-40):

At last, though long, our jarring notes agree,
And time it is, when waging war is [done]
To smile at scapes and perils overblowne.

This sounds like the accredited celebratory ending, as Lucentio invites everyone to 'feast with the best and welcome to my house'. But the atmosphere of jovial celebration is quickly shattered when, in reply to Petruchio's polite 'Padua affords nothing but what is kind', Hortensio replies with the disillusioned comment 'For both our sakes I would that word were true.' Hortensio, of course, has discovered that his widow is tougher chewing than Petruchio's Kate and Petruchio's self-satisfied politeness is not going to be allowed to stand as general comment. The conversation rapidly degenerates from its joviality into a wit combat in which Petruchio finds himself ironically back at his starting point of having to assert male physical supremacy through sexual punning ('Conceives by one! how likes Hortensio that!'), while the widow with not fully conscious irony tells Kate that Petruchio is sympathetic to Hortensio only because he is married to a shrew: 'Your husband being troubled with a shrew, / Measures my husbands sorrow by his woe …' (11. 2568-9). The celebratory feast is beginning to turn sour, and the male-female conflict becomes further emphasised when Bianca enters the dispute to assert in sexual innuendo that men have their vulnerability (1. 2583) and that she is not going to be overawed by the sex (1. 2585). The dispute is turned by the men into a sex wager in which they lay bets on which of their wives is the most obedient. The wager itself, though it comes form the source material, is a nice expression of the play's ambivalence. In so far as the men are making the women go through their paces it confirms the recurring metaphors of men as 'tamers', as the dominant and superior beings (even if the possibility of the whole affair as fantasy is still present), but in that the women's performance will demonstrate the men's failure in two instances out of the three even the fantasy-reality is hardly reassuring. Kate's final appearance as the one obedient wife is comically unreal even though she presents the stock secular arguments of the day for male supremacy (11. 2713-8):

Such dutie as the subiect owes the Prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband:
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen,
 sowre,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foule contending Rebell,
And gracelesse Traitor to her loving Lord?

Reassuring enough, if you can believe it; but, as Petruchio has been demonstrating his 'honest will' by making her take off her cap and 'throw it underfoot' (1. 2678), our sympathies are more likely to be with Bianca's comment 'Fie what a foolish dutie call you this?' (1. 2681). So far Bianca and the widow are winning on points, and the play is apparently heading for the rout of male chauvinism in satirical unbelief, but few people seem to think that this is how the play should end. Producers (a fair guide to average audience expectation) nearly always choose to take Kate's submissiveness seriously at the end and play down the disruptive undercurrents provided by Bianca and the widow. This may of course be because producers are usually men, for Kate's speech could (if required) be readily paro-died on stage, leaving the satiric note predominant. Yet an equivocal ending is clearly the right one. Kate is given the last word among the women and it is a substantial last word. The last few lines, moreover, reintroduce the rejoicing note with which the scene opened as Vincentio looks forward to becoming a grandfather and Petruchio seals his triumph over Kate not with a further show of strength, but with a kiss and the anticipation of their becoming one flesh in bed. The last few lines of the play are in fact a masterly balancing act between rejoicing and scorn, hope and doubt (11. 2738-50):

Petruchio. Why there's a wench: Come on,
  and kisse mee Kate.

Lucentio. Well go thy waies old Lad for thou
  shalt ha't.

Vicentio. Tis a good hearing, when children
  are toward.

Lucentio. But a harsh hearing, when women
  are froward.

Petruchio. Come Kate, wee'le to bed,
  We three are married, but you two are sped.
  'Twas I wonne the wager, though you hit
   the white,
  And being a winner, God give you good
  night.
                        (Exit Petruchio)

Hortensio. Now goe thy wayes, thou hast
  tam'd a curst Shrew.

Lucentio. Tis a wonder, by your leave, she
  will be tam'd so.

Shakespeare's play ends on a note that exactly balances the viewpoints that have been juxtaposed throughout the play; there is no resolution of the comic tensions except in the laughter of acceptance. Tendencies towards satire and rejection are checked and countered by tendencies towards rejoicing, the play finding an equilibrium in its refusal to resolve the contradictions. Moreover, the determined secularism of the play we noted earlier confines the sense of contradiction to the world as it is reflected in the play. This is pure comedy used relatively, as if such dilemmas are a feature of earthly, but not necessarily cosmic, experience. It took the much deeper scepticism of our own day to evolve a balanced comedy that is itself a metaphor for a cosmic absurdity. For Shakespeare and his contemporaries such an extension, if thinkable, could only be thought of as tragic. It is thus in Lear that Shakespeare gets nearest to the vision of cosmic absurdity.

Richard A. Burt (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "Charisma, Coercion, and Comic Form in The Taming of the Shrew," in Criticism, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, Fall, 1984, pp. 295-311.

[In the following essay, Burt focuses on The Taming of the Shrew to support his contention that Shakespeare 's comedies reinforce social norms, "not by putting an end to social conflicts, but by managing and controlling them. "]

Modern critics tend to view Shakespearean comedy either as a celebration of social harmony or as an ironic, quiet subversion of that harmony. Critical disagreement typically focuses on the resolutions of the comedies: critics who see a restored and renewed community point to the marriages, banquets, and festivity of the endings, while critics who view the resolutions as ironic commentary argue that the presence of the Shylock, Don John, Malvolio, or Jacques is often disruptive of social harmony; irony is measured by what certain critics take to be a gap between the social harmony presumed by the characters and Shakespeare's sense that this harmony is achieved provisionally and at great cost. Despite this disagreement, all of these critics share a central assumption about the social function of the comedies: the purpose of the comedies is to resolve social conflicts conclusively, though for ironic critics they may fail to do so. I want to suggest that the comedies have a different social function. Community is formed and affirmed not by putting an end to social conflicts, but by managing and controlling them so that social norms are continually reinforced. This function is disclosed by the form of Shakespeare's endings.

Although critics tend to believe that the comedies have formal unity, they have been troubled by Shakespeare's dramatic closure because it violates formal unity in the most spectacular manner: closure is generally extremely artificial and arbitrary, often straining the bounds of credibility. Northrop Frye argues, for example [in A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance, 1965], that "the drive towards a comic conclusion is so powerful that it breaks all the chains of probability in the plot, in habit and in the characters, even of expectation in the audience." Similarly, Louis Adrian Montrose argues [in Helios 7, 1980] that to view "the happy endings of Shakespeare's romantic comedies as symbolic assimilations of potential disorder by a normative system" is inadequate because "Shakespeare's romantic comedies conclude on the threshold of marriage and parenthood. They end without the consummations and procreation which guarantee the continuity of the socio-economic order; and without the comic society's assimilation of the incongruous perspectives opened up during the younger generation's marginal experiences in forest, darkness, dream, spell, disguise, and courtship game." The comedies do not fully incorporate "the challenges to the social order and orthodoxy" they present. René Girard [in Literature and Society, ed. Edward Said, 1979] argues explicitly that the endings are arbitrary. I will argue, however, that dramatic closure is in fact motivated by the social purpose of the comedies: the lack of formal unity and coherence critics have correctly perceived registers the ideological function of the comedies, namely, to coerce solutions to what are in fact unresolvable conflicts in the family and in the social structure of Renaissance England.

I want to advance my case by focusing on The Taming of the Shrew because critics have taken its formal problems to be entirely separate from the question of whether social unity is attained. The formal problem is twofold: not only does the Christopher Sly frame fail to return but the final scene itself is not required by the demands of the plot: a resolution has apparently already been achieved; both couples have married when it begins. It will be my contention, however, that the question of formal coherence is not in fact separate from the question of social harmony; indeed, the comic form of The Taming of the Shrew is shaped by its social function. Shakespeare's comedy does not resolve conflicts by putting an end to violence and aggression but controls conflicts through less obvious and more enduring forms of domination—discipline and coercion. Dramatic closure that is balanced, conclusive, and coherent does not occur precisely because social conflicts are never fully resolved: social harmony is possible only because Petruchio and Kate are differentiated competitively from the other couples through a wager. The fact that The Taming of the Shrew lacks formal coherence does not mean, however, that it should be dismissed as a crude, early comedy. I will argue, rather, that The Taming of the Shrew is paradigmatic of Shakespearean comedy: the fact that the social harmony achieved in the resolutions, inconclusive though it may be, is all that can be achieved, necessitates the sacrifice of complete dramatic closure.

The relation between the disappearance of the frame and the resolution of social conflicts within the narrative structure will become clear if we see that Petruchio's taming process is deeply in the service of patriarchy. There is currently a consensus among most critics that The Taming of the Shrew is a feminist critique of patriarchal views of women. In this account, Petruchio socializes Kate without depending on coercion or violence; instead Petruchio plays at patriarchy with Kate. If the threat of violence is present at all, it is only part of a temporary strategy Petruchio abandons as soon as Kate is tamed. What Petruchio wants, according to these critics, is not a traditional patriarchal relationship in which the husband rules the wife, but a loving relationship between equal and independent partners. Marianne Novy argues, for example [in English Literary Renaissance 9, 1979], that "… the game element … sets up a protected space where imagination permits the enjoyment of both energy and form, while the dangers of violence, tyranny, deadening submission, and resentment magically disappear." According to John Bean [in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, eds. Carol Neely et al., 1980] Kate is tamed "not by a Petruchio's whip, but when she discovers her own imagination, for when she learns to recognize the sun for the moon and the moon for the dazzling sun she is discovering the liberating power of laughter and play." Yet they have been unable to account for the problem of closure because they separate Petruchio's modern, progressive, playful games from the willfull, arbitrary and tyrannical domination they associate with patriarchy. In separating coercion from role-playing, these critics are committed to the assumption that Petruchio will stop playing once he tames Kate, and this assumption presents them with a problem: why does Petruchio continue to play after Kate is transformed on the road to Padua? Why does the comedy continue after Kate wins Petruchio's wager?

We can begin to answer these questions if we see that Petruchio's role-playing does not oppose patriarchy but relocates and reinforces it within a domestic relationship; the husband increases his authority over his wife by gaining her love. The aim of Petruchio's games, as with the Protestant domestic courtesy literature to which The Taming of the Shrew is so often favorably compared, is less to create a relationship between equals based on reciprocal duties and obligations than it is to maintain patriarchal domination by emphasizing the importance of married love. In The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England: 1500-1800 [1977], Lawrence Stone observes that

the Protestant sanctification of marriage and the demand for married love itself facilitated the subordination of wives. Women were now expected to love and cherish their husbands after marriage and were taught that it was their sacred duty to do so. This love, in those cases where it in fact became internalized and real, made it easier for wives to accept that position of submission to the will of their husbands upon which the preachers were also insisting. By a paradoxical twist, one of the first results of the doctrine of holy matrimony was a strengthening of the authority of the husband over the wife and an increased readiness of the latter to submit herself to the dictates of the former. Sir Kenelm Digby complacently remarked in the late 1630's that one should be careful to choose an obedient wife, 'which none can promise to himself … whose will is not wholly in his power by love'.

Rather than creating a relationship between equals, according to Stone, the demand for married love tended to reinforce a patriarchal, hierarchical relationship.

I want to suggest that this demand for married love is embedded in a discursive practice composed not only of conduct manuals and Protestant sermons but also of plays performed for the middle-class Protestant, London householders who made up a large segment of Shakespeare's audience. The Taming of the Shrew, in particular, displays the capacity of role-playing to reinforce patriarchy by intensifying the emotional bond between husband and wife. Petruchio wins Kate's love because his playfulness gives him an authority of an untraditional, imaginative, and irrational type, a type [Max] Weber termed "charismatic" [in Max Weber: The Interpretation of Social Reality, ed. J. E. T. Eldridge, 1980]. According to Weber, charismatic authority is irrational, emotional, and agonistic. Charisma "may involve a subjective or internal reorientation born out of suffering, conflicts or enthusiasm." Charismatic authority creates or demands new obligations and it must continually be reaffirmed because it is maintained outside the realm of everyday routine, outside of institutions. "The only basis for legitimacy for it," Weber says, "is personal charisma, so long as it is proved; that is, as long as it receives recognition and is able to satisfy the followers of disciples. But this lasts only so long as the belief in its charismatic inspiration remains." Thus, charismatic authority is occasional; it has to be constantly renewed, or, in the idiom of Renaissance, continually rehearsed.

By considering Petruchio's authority as charismatic, we can grasp the essential unity of features in his character which have hitherto seemed disparate or even contradictory. Petruchio's irreverent, untraditional, "mad" behavior at his wedding, his sometimes subversive mockery of Baptista, his saturnalian trip with Kate to his home, his willfulness, his combination of force (or the threat of force) and imaginative play, his interests in contests, are all in the service of a new kind of patriarchal authority...

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Roles And Role-Playing

Marianne L. Novy (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 264-80.

[In the following excerpt, Novy examines the relationship between game-playing and the reaffirmation of male authority in the play, suggesting that by combining these two elements, Kate and Petruchio are able to develop mutuality within the context of an outwardly traditional marriage.]

Some of Shakespeare's recent critics have seen Petruchio's behavior in The Taming of the Shrew as an attempt to teach Kate to play, to draw her into his games. Kate's final attitude,...

(The entire section is 33287 words.)

Language And Imagery

Margaret Loftus Ranald (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "The Manning of the Haggard: or The Taming of the Shrew," in Essays in Literature, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall, 1974, pp. 149-65.

[In the following essay, Ranald traces Shakespeare's use of imagery drawn from falconry in The Taming of the Shrew to argue that the relationship between Katherine and Petruchio provides a picture of marriage as a "compact between … two mutually inter-dependent personalities working together as they hunt through life. "]

The Taming of the Shrew is, in George Hibbard's phrase [in Tennessee Studies in Language and Literature 2, 1946], "a play about...

(The entire section is 16058 words.)

The Elizabethan Context

Carol F. Heffernan (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "The Taming of the Shrew: The Bourgeoisie in Love," in Essays in Literature, Vol. XII, No. 1, Spring, 1985, pp. 3-14.

[In the following essay, Heffernan analyzes the play's portrayal of the values of the emergent middle class critique of the materialistic nature of Elizabethan marriage arrangements.]

Besides the much discussed romantic wooing of Bianca and rough taming of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, there is a less noted but steady undercurrent of suggestion that calls attention to the fact that in the society of Padua marriage is a business and that, in general, this world is one...

(The entire section is 16065 words.)

Further Reading

Berry, Ralph. "The Rules of the Game." In Shakespeare's Comedies, pp. 54-71. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

Examines the play's view of the "rules of the game" of marriage as worked out in the relationship between Kate and Petruchio.

Bryant, J. A., Jr. "The Taming of the Shrew." In Shakespeare and the Uses of Comedy, pp. 98-113. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Focuses on the character of Kate while examining the place of The Taming of the Shrew in the development of Shakespeare's vision of comedy.

Carroll, William C. "The Taming of the Shrew and Marriage." In The Metamorphoses of...

(The entire section is 428 words.)