What seems to be Shakespeare’s view of marriage in The Taming of the Shrew and of the role of women in marriage?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's play, The Taming of the Shrew, it might seem that the author's view of marriage is traditional. Petruchio appears to be dominant in the marriage.

When Petruchio marries Kate, he controls many aspects of her life, allowing her little freedom. In time she seems tamed. Petruchio...

...subjects her to humiliation by not allowing her to eat, sleep, or wear proper clothing for her visit back home.

Is Kate truly tamed? She does obey her husband when the other new wives ignore theirs, and scolds each woman for not obeying her spouse. This is certainly not the Kate we met in Act One. There are several interpretations of Kate's behavior at the end of the play.

The first viewpoint is that Kate has lost her fire and is now a subservient wife:

Some people view Kate as thoroughly brainwashed and dominated by Petruchio.

Others argue that this is not Kate's true self at all, but a performance that she is putting on based on Petruchio's dictates. She does what she is told, but her heart is not committed to her husband's view of their marriage:

Others choose to believe that Kate is merely performing the role assigned to her...

If this perception is accurate, we can assume that Kate has her way to some degree as she holds fast to her opinion of men, keeping…

...her own self-respect and true identy since she does not believe in male supremacy.

Another position points to Kate's belief that all people are controlled by a prince (possibly there is a double entendre here, with an allusion to the "Prince of Peace," or Jesus, as her "Lord"). In either case, Kate is not giving up anything in listening to Petruchio because she was answerable to someone above her already.

Kate may suggest that no real autonomy...is possible... since every person alive is...already subject to a prince…

One more perception of Kate's acquiescence to Petruchio's demands may be her way of playing the "marriage game." She lets her husband think he has the upper-hand, while in her own mind she understands that men are inferior to women, and if women are controlled in the marriage, it is because their husbands are neanderthals.

Kate...has assessed that all women are outmatched— because men are generally more shrewish than women.

It is hard to say for certain what Shakespeare had in mind for the character of Kate with regard to marriage. It is sufficient to say that Kate is no longer the "shrew" she was, after she is married. That marriage has changed her is not a new thought in Shakespeare's time. However, here Shakespeare shows his "support" of Kate, giving her the longest speech in the play, and "[she] earns the most acclaim for it." Kate knows when to speak out and when to be silent. In that Petruchio has "tamed" his wife, Kate is not crushed or oppressed—she is more gracious and better than ever, something Shakespeare has allowed in her character development.

Kate really appears to have mastered herself and to have harnessed the ability to create a compelling argument.

Kate does not lose her voice by being married: she controls it. In fact, while Kate appears "serious and conscientious," the conversations of those around her seem "cheap" and "contemptible," including that of her husband, Petruchio.

Shakespeare supports marriage in general; he wants Kate to be respectful for the sake of her husband's pride, but he allows her, in private, to be the wiser and more sophisticated of the two. Kate maintains a strong persona with the Bard's blessing.

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The Taming of the Shrew

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