In Act V Scene ii of The Taming of the Shrew, how would Katharina's speech be interpreted by a modern day audience?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is perhaps of no surprise that Katharina's speech in the final scene of this excellent play is not interpreted very favourably by a large number of feminist critics, and I would imagine that your average audience would probably share their dismay. The way in which Katharina recommends complete subservience to one's husband and stereotypes women as physically weak, going as far as to suggest that women should match their personality to their physical nature is shocking and abhorent to an audience who believes in the equality of the sexes. Note what she recommends to her female listeners:

Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth...
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?

In addition, Katharina at various points in her speech describes man as being his wife's king, governor, lord, head, life, keeper and sovereign. Such terms of reference point towards the attitude of Shakespeare's time, which presented the Biblical view of teh wife being under the headship of the husband as the glory of the man. In particular, the lines that would excite most dismay and disgust are as follows:

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,

and place your hands below your husband's foot,

In token of which duty, if he please,

My hand is ready; may it do him ease.

Such a symbol of complete subservience and acceptance of a completely inferior position would definitely be questioned by a modern day audience, especially given the way that this attitude is so different from Katharina's attitude during the rest of the play.

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The Taming of the Shrew

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