Nearly all critical commentary on The Taming of the Shrew deals to some extent with the play's treatment of gender roles: that is, what it has to say about socially accepted definitions of appropriate male and female behavior. On the surface, the play appears to confirm a very traditional view that men should dominate women and that women should submit to male authority. All of the characters except Katherina agree throughout the play that her initial rebellious, self-assertive, "shrewish" behavior is not acceptable. In the end, Kate has apparently come round to this position as well, giving a long speech proclaiming the rightness of male dominance and female submissiveness.
Until fairly recently, few people challenged this view of the play. In fact, the play knew centuries of popularity with audiences who found Petruchio's "taming" of Katherina both inoffensive and amusing. In the late nineteenth century, however, commentators began to express uneasiness with the way Katherina is treated, and directors began to experiment with various "ironic" readings of the plays. In the twentieth century, debate over the play's attitude toward gender roles has produced a wide variety of interpretations.
The play's treatment of gender goes well beyond its basic plot. Unlike most playwrights who wrote plays about "shrews" in the early modern period, Shakespeare suggests possible motivations for Katherina's shrewishness: her...
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