The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

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Katherine (Character Analysis)

(Shakespeare for Students)

Katherine is established as a "shrew"—a loud, unmanageable, bad-tempered woman—by her own behavior and by the comments of other characters, who repeatedly characterize her as ill-tempered and unreasonable. Unlike the stock character of the shrew found in many plays from Shakespeare's time, however, Katherine emerges as a complex individual who engages the audience's sympathy and concern. Baptista's obvious preference for her sister, Bianca, his crassly materialistic approach to his daughters' marriages, and the shallowness and rudeness of the Paduan suitors suggest possible reasons for Katherine's shrewish behavior. Her "shrewish" remarks are generally also clever and to the point, suggesting that she is more intelligent than most of the other characters in the play. Moreover, despite her shrewishness she is capable of concern for others, repeatedly trying to shield the servants from Petruchio's violent displeasure.

Katherine first appears in Act I, scene i, where she vigorously protests both Baptista's decision not to allow Bianca to marry until a husband is found for Katherine, and the insulting remarks of Gremio and Hortensio. This leads Tranio, who is looking on with Lucentio, to comment that she is "stark mad or wonderful froward [disobedient, unmanageable]." After Baptista and his daughters leave, Hortensio and Gremio continue to comment on Katherine's bad temper and the near-impossibility of any man agreeing to marry her.

At the beginning of Act II, Katherine enters with Bianca, whose hands are tied, and strikes her when she denies any preference for either of her suitors. When Baptista scolds her for her behavior toward her sister, Katherine accuses him of favoritism. Later in the same scene, in her first meeting with Petruchio, she meets his initial overture with hostility and insults. He responds with sexual innuendos. After he makes a particularly obscene remark, she strikes him. When her father enters, she denounces Petruchio as "one half lunatic" and responds to his insistence that they have agreed to be married on Sunday by commenting, "I'll see thee hang'd on Sunday first." But when Petruchio claims that she is only pretending to oppose the marriage and Baptista agrees to the match, she exits without saying anything further.

In Act III, when Petruchio at first fails to show for his wedding, Katherine complains bitterly: not only has she been forced against her will to accept "a mad-brain rudesby full of spleen," but now she is being made a fool of. She exits weeping. Reporting on Petruchio's outrageous behavior during the marriage ceremony, Gremio remarks that in response to the groom's behavior the bride "trembled and shook." Nonetheless, when Petruchio insists that they leave immediately after the ceremony, Katherine resists, first entreating Petruchio to stay, then firmly refusing to leave. When Petruchio insists on his right to make her leave and threatens violence against anyone who tries to stop them, she goes with him...

(The entire section is 6,462 words.)