What does a modern audience learn about marriages and gender roles in Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew?
The theme of Shakespeare's "The Taming of The Shrew" is mostly about gender roles and how men and women relate to each other. There are lessons for the modern audience to learn from Katherina and Petruchio. The common belief during Shakespeare's time, and even today in some cultures, was that the man was the dominant person in the relationship and the female is to be submissive to his desires. Although the characters of Katherina and Petruchio were obviously attracted to one another the drama teaches us that without compromise love and attraction may not be enough to make a relationship successful. In today's society, much like Shakespeare's time, unless a man and a woman are willing to compromise and come to agreement on their specific roles within the marriage the relationship won't be successful.
"'The Taming of the Shrew' may inspire modern readers to recall times when they, like many of the characters in the play, have taken on roles themselves, hiding their true identities, in order to achieve certain goals (romantic or otherwise). How often do people pretend to be something they aren't in order to get something they want, or think they want?"
Marriages often involve power struggles. Those of Petruchio and Kate are of course exaggerated, but for a household to run smoothly and efficiently, there must be harmony. Petruchio's methods are extreme, and in many ways those more of a parent than a husband. But he knows that he must strike first, so to speak, because if he did not, nothing at all would please Kate. She would complain about his house, the food, the help, the money he made. She would criticize and carp until he became less of a man, and she an embittered woman. He attempts to teach her to be grateful and obedient.
In turn, I'd like to think she teaches him. At the end of the play she shows that it doesn't really matter who is boss, that what matters is that one should do one's best to make the life of the other easier. Willingness to humble yourself, to put yourself second, to forego your pride, to consider the wants and needs of the other--these should be most important, not who is dominant. Kate knows this at the end. I'm not sure Petruchio does.
Modern marriages are also about the give and take of relationship. Petruchio and Kate started their entire relationship, and certainly their marriage, with an imbalance--one of them had an agenda and the power to make it happen. Once they began the process of give and take (okay, so Petruchio was literally doing a give and take thing with Kate, as well), they were able to find some peace and eventually some satisfaction with one another. Neither of them defeats the other in this relationship, despite the fact that Petruchio gets his way early on and actually "wins" a bet in the end. Despite how it began, theirs will be a marriage of compromise and balance--something all marriages need, modern or not.
I agree with other editors in pointing out that the learning process is not all one-way. It is clear that Kate and Petruchio have found their equal in the other, and that at the end of the play we feel that they will have a happier and a more successful marriage than Lucentio and Bianca, precisely because Kate, now that she has been "tamed" and found a man that is worthy of her, is committed to her role. But likewise, Petruchio is forced to realise that Kate still remains a powerful character, and that marriage does involve compromise and negotiation.
The Williams Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew also teaches us about the problems that misguided stereotypes can wreak upon relationships. We also recognize the consequences of a failure to communicate effectively on relationships.