illustration of Kate and Petruchio standing and staring at one another

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare

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What message about courtship, marriage, and relationships is Shakespeare sending in The Taming of the Shrew?

Shakespeare's primary message about courtship, marriage, and relationships in The Taming of the Shrew is that the emotional component is subordinate to more dominant social and economic power structures, employed for the benefit of husbands individually and broader family interests collectively.

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The Taming of the Shrew has long been analyzed for its prominent themes on courtship and marriage. Shakespeare masterfully uses the relationships in the play to comment on how they serve social and economic functions in addition to mere emotional and psychological ones.

Katherine's marriage to Petruchio is a prime example of how matrimony was often employed as a patriarchal power structure, where a wife was expected to conform and submit to the whims of her husband. Katherine's societal position is nothing more than a young maiden-in-waiting—a subject to do her husband's bidding—and she plainly acknowledges it when she tells Bianca, "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper."

This power structure extends outside the confines of the home as well. Petruchio addressing Vincentio as his father-in-law or Lucentio seeking Baptista's approval for Bianca's hand shows how marriage was frequently employed as a tool to unite families who shared significant political or financial interests.

The latter example in particular, while perhaps cynical, accentuates the economic component of matrimony above all else. Lucentio was only given Baptista's permission to marry his daughter when he could persuade Baptista that he was spectacularly wealthy. Love and affection for Bianca had no bearing. Hortensio would have won her hand had he been able to show greater wealth. In other words, money might not buy love, but it could buy a wife.

In the world Shakespeare creates here, romance is explored through a lens of firm social and economic hierarchical structures, with great importance placed on how the relationship affects outside parties like parents, siblings and friends. This is quite different from his traditionally romantic (and tragic) portrayal of courtship in works like Romeo and Juliet.

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