illustration of Kate and Petruchio standing and staring at one another

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare

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Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew. 'A Second Grissel'

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Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew. 'A Second Grissel'

Carolyn E. Brown, University of San Francisco

Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew within the genre of shrew literature, popular in medieval and Renaissance times. Shrews appeared in almost every form of literature—written and oral—in these periods. And Shakespeare composes his play subtly enough that it can be read as written within the tradition, and he makes Katherine "spirited" enough that she can be read as a shrew, who finds a wise and courageous man with the skills to mold her into a peaceful, loving wife. Numerous critics have compellingly interpreted the play and the protagonists in these terms.1 But some critics contend that Shakespeare put his own special touch on the tradition, modifying it in some important ways. These critics see Katherine, for example, as not quite fitting the mold of the traditional shrew. Most traditional shrew literature panders to misogynistic portrayals of women and clearly favors the male—typically a rational husband tormented by a loquacious, scolding, railing, irrationally violent, tricky woman. Shakespeare seems to have done something different with Katherine, who does not embody these characteristics. She has been shown to be too silent, too sympathetic, too tortured, too compliant to Petruchio's "taming strategies" to be a typical shrew. Camille Wells Slights, for example, notes that "Shakespeare's Kate—probably the most famous shrew of all—seems to elude the categories of literary history." Charles Brooks calls Katherine a "romantic shrew" and claims that Shakespeare humanizes his heroine. Robert Ornstein notes that Katherine is "more sensitive and tormented" and "more sympathetic and more psychologically complex than the [patently shrewish] heroine of The Taming of a Shrew"—either a bad quarto of Shakespeare's play, a source play, or a play derived from the same source that Shakespeare used.2 Critics have argued, in fact, that Katherine is not a shrew at all and that her seeming shrewishness is only a defense mechanism against the hurt inflicted on her by a misogynistic world.3

Shakespeare has also been read as having conceived Petruchio in terms different from those of the traditional shrew tamer: a patient man who usually wants a loving, mutually nurturing relationship with his spouse but who is forced to resort to violent measures in order to counteract the uncontrollable, destructive violence of his shrewish wife. In many ways, Shakespeare makes his male protagonist more problematic. At times Petruchio behaves like a bully and a brute, and his tactics with Katherine can be read as gratuitously severe and prolonged tormenting of her. Some critics express reservations about him. For example, George Bernard Shaw condemns Petruchio for his "domineering cruelty." Mark Van Doren argues that we must "confess" that Petruchio is "torturing" Katherine during his "taming" of her. J. Dennis Huston derides Petruchio's "courtship" of Katherine as "nothing less than psychological rape" and suggests that Petruchio "touches upon the 'low,' the bestial, in man's nature." Robert Ornstein argues that "Shakespeare's version of the wife-tamer is both coarser and less attractive as a dramatic figure than his counterpart in The Taming of a Shrew." And Jeanne Addison Roberts claims that "there have been some overtones of the monster in Petruchio right from the start" of the play and that "Kate's journey with him to his country house is for her a descent into hell."4 The reading of the play that I offer argues that these differences in the portrayal of the protagonists result from Shakespeare's modifying the shrew tradition in order to merge it with another equally dominant genre of the period—the story of Patient Griselda. Certainly the image is...

(This entire section contains 13311 words.)

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contained within the play itself when Petruchio states that everyone has "talk'd amiss" of Katherine, for she is not a shrew but "for [her] patience she will prove a second Grissel" (II.i.284, 288).5 Shakespeare lodges some truth in Petruchio's statement and allows for the reading that Katherine has been misjudged and is more similar to a Griselda than a shrew figure.6

Alfred L. Kellogg explains that the "roots of the Griselda story go back into pagan antiquity."7 One of its most noteworthy appearances is in Chaucer's "Clerk's Tale," "a retelling of a popular medieval tale," that "circulated in Italian, Latin, French, and English versions in the Middle Ages."8 Although sometimes modified and enhanced, the basic plotline appears in such works as Boccaccio's tenth day of The Decameron (1353); Petrarch's De Obedientia ac Fide Uxoria Mythologia (1373-74); John Phillip's play The Commodye of Pacient and Meeke Grissill (1565); and Thomas Dekker, Henry Chetile, and William Haughton's The Pleasant Commoedye of Patient Grissill (1599).9 These works begin with a powerful lord deciding to marry a poor maiden, whom he subjects to torturous tests, despite her honorable behavior. Soon after the birth of each of Griselda's two children, her husband takes them from her, lying to her by telling her that he is going to have them killed when secretly he has his relatives care for them. After he throws her out of his house-hold, he orders her back to his estate and has her make preparations for his new marriage, forcing her to serve his new bride. Once Griselda passes all of the tests with extraordinary patience and fortitude, her husband reveals the deception to her—that her children are alive and that he is not marrying another woman, since his supposed bride-to-be is actually their long-lost daughter. He glories in her well-tested virtue, and she glories in finding that her children are alive and well. The Patient Griselda figure appears in many other works, especially plays, in the early seventeenth century, some of which have little in common with the basic plot other than a heroine who patiently endures mistreatment from the men in her life. In many cases, the Patient Griselda works are meant to be, as Linda Woodbridge argues, "a male wish-fulfillment fantasy appropriate to historical periods when few living wives behaved like Patient Grissill."10 Indeed, many of them are written from a misogynistic point of view and perpetuate the ideal of wifely obedience, subservience, and unquestioning submission to the often cruel whims of husbands. And, in fact, some of the Griseldas love their husbands even more after all of the persecution.

But some of these works appear to be much more than patriarchal endorsements of female servitude and more than "wish-fulfillment fantasies" for men about female subjugation. Some of them are unconventional and respond to what Louis Wright calls "intelligent thinking upon women's status in a new commercial society"11 and to the medieval and Renaissance debate over woman's nature. While the women are subservient and ever suffering, our attention is drawn not so much to female submission as an ideal but to male cruelty as an evil. Boccaccio and Petrarch direct negative judgments toward the husbands and make their works different from traditional tales. It is Chaucer, however, who heightens the criticism. Harriet Hawkins clarifies that Chaucer "consistently alters his sources, on the one hand, to make Walter's [Griselda's husband's] behavior toward Griselda infuriating and reprehensible and, on the other hand, to make Griselda's uncritical acceptance of unnecessary suffering painful and pitiable"—an observation that some critics make about Shakespeare's depiction of Petruchio and Katherine. Hawkins goes on to state that Chaucer "criticized Walter far more powerfully, frequently, and severely than his predecessor" and enlists us on the side of his victim "by confronting us with cosmic and social injustices so cruel, so extreme, that we cannot but join in the protest."12 Chaucer has been shown to use the Griselda figure to uncover the "treachery of daily domestic life" for women.13 Shakespeare, as well as other Renaissance writers (such as Phillip in his The Commodye of Pacient and Meeke Grissill and Dekker, Chetile, and Haughton in their The Pleasant Commoedye of Patient Grissill), followed Chaucer's lead and transformed genres typically associated with misogynistic portrayals of women into explorations of marital abuse of women.

The two traditions of shrew and Griselda literature seem to be diametrically opposed to each other, for one concerns itself with a patient, self-effacing, ever-suffering female figure who follows her husband's every command, while the other portrays a vocal, demanding, aggressive woman who refuses to follow commands and, instead, gives them herself. One seems the best of wives; the other, the worst. But the plot dynamics can be quite similar, and with just a few modifications, the two traditions can be made to resemble each other. Both begin, for example, with a man who, for various reasons, is looking for a wife. The men decide on the least appropriate choice: although a man of power and influence, the lord of the Griselda story chooses the daughter of the poorest man of the village; the man of the other tradition chooses, of course, the undesirable shrew, whom all other men shun. Both genres include a wedding and a reception, which are followed by the testing of the wives. In the shrew plot, the husband attempts to tame or stamp out the intolerable shrewishness of his new wife; in the Griselda plot, the husband tests his wife's patience or wifely virtue. Although the husbands enlist different strategies, they are both trying to make their wives into models of womanly submissiveness and obedience. Both stories can end with a banquet, with the husbands calling their wives to come to them. Much of shrew literature, like that of the Griselda genre, is clearly misogynistic propaganda against women, teaching the pitfalls of husbands not keeping their wives in subservience. But if in shrew literature the taming is needless and excessive, and the woman has been mislabeled a shrew and is portrayed sympathetically, then the shrew can become a Chaucerian Griselda figure, and the shrew tamer can become a kind of Chaucerian lord, who is doing something far more menacing than merely testing or taming a wife.

It is my contention that Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew is integrating the two traditions, which bear striking resemblances to each other. Shakespeare's framework of the play is in the shrew format, and on one level he allows Katherine to be read as a shrew and the play as a festive comedy. Jan Harold Brunvand in his study of the folktale background of the shrew story has thoroughly clarified the elements from the shrew tradition that Shakespeare incorporates into his play.14 But Shakespeare also subtly interweaves elements of the Griselda plotline that flesh out the shrew framework and transform the play into a dark study of domestic abuse—like that of Chaucer—permitting Katherine on another level of meaning to be read as a Patient Griselda.15

Shakespeare's play does not begin as traditional shrew tales usually do; rather, it starts in a fashion similar to that of stories of sympathetic Griseldas. Since writers of traditional shrew tales are not interested in creating sympathy for the scold, they see no need to personalize her; she remains little more than an inanimate object. These tales usually begin with the wedding or soon after. But in Shakespeare's play and in Griselda literature like that of Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, we are allowed to meet the protagonists before marriage plans are officially made. And in both, the woman is portrayed in a more sympathetic fashion than is the man, who shows signs of the brutal nature that only intensifies as the works proceed. These Griselda plots predispose us to admire the heroine for her virtue and fortitude in adversity. Because she comes from humble beginnings, her inner worth is overlooked, and she is not valued in society, but we are allowed to appreciate what others cannot see. These works present a dutiful, chaste, diligent, honorable daughter, who shows reverence for her father. She never seeks regard but, rather, lives unassumingly. From the very beginning of these tales, though, we are encouraged to be suspicious, even to disapprove, of the lord, who seems selfish and irresponsible. Chaucer, in fact, has his Clerk begin his tale by casting "blame" on the Lord:

I blame hym thus, that he considered noght In tyme comynge what myghte hym bityde. But on his lust present was al his thoght, As for to hauke and hunte on every syde.                                        (78-80)16

Although he is a lord with responsibilities to his lieges, all he cares about is his own pleasure or "lust." He is so self-consumed that his lieges are forced to approach him and remind him of his duties—that he should marry and provide a rightful successor for them so they can avoid "wo" should he die (139). All of the tales give indications of a peremptory, tyrannical nature in their male protagonist by the way he interacts with his men and by the way they respond to him. Chaucer heightens the oppressive nature of his lord over that of Boccaccio and Petrarch's lords: "In the very meticulousness of the decorum with which the people approach their 'lord,' there is more than a suggestion that there is indeed in Walter something to fear."17 Chaucer's lord's people seem reluctant to approach him and are repeatedly described as loving their lord but also "dred[ing]" him (181). Griselda's father, in fact, is "al quakyng" (317) when the lord approaches him to arrange to marry his daughter, and we detect that the father is feeling something more than the awe of the lord's majestic presence. The lord is shown constantly giving "commands," which his men rush to "obey." They are to do his "lust" at all times. Later when Chaucer's lord threatens to strike off his sergeant's head (586) if he does not perform his duty to the letter, we begin to sense the danger and imperiousness of this lord and are allowed to interpret his later testing of his wife as another manifestation of his brutal temperament.

Shakespeare makes us feel uncomfortable with Petruchio as well. He permits us to get an especially revealing insight into Petruchio's character when we first see him alone with his servant Grumio. This kind of scene is not to be found in any of the shrew literature, not even in the similar play The Taming of a Shrew. Just as in the Griselda stories, the male protagonist's treatment of his servants and their reaction to him help to reveal much about Petruchio's true nature. And the man we meet bears all the markings of a bully and a tyrant, obsessed with control. Petruchio seems to savor seeing Grumio jump upon command, refusing even to knock on the gate of his friend's house himself and demanding that his man do it for him: "Now knock when I bid you, sirrah villain" "or I'll knock your knave's pate" (I.ii.19, 12). Looking for an excuse to beat Grumio, he wrings his ears for no reason. In fact, Grumio seems to have been so chronically abused that he is looking for a legal way to end his servitude with Petruchio and hopes this incident will prove to be "a lawful cause for [him] to leave his service" (I.ii.29). Later, on the trip home after the wedding, Petruchio is just as unjustifiably abusive, as he duplicates his earlier actions with Grumio and jumps at any opportunity to beat his servant again: Grumio complains that his master "beat [him] because [Katherine's] horse stumbled" (IV.i.69). At the dinner at his home, he barks commands at his servants, dissatisfied with the most prompt service, threatening to batter and actually striking any servants within his reach, and throwing food and dishes. The servants' behavior is similar to that of Griselda's lord's servants, who respond to him obsequiously and obey his commandments for fear of his cruelty. The repetitiveness of Petruchio's abusive behavior and the fact that some of it occurs before he even knows of Katherine's existence suggest that violence is a permanent part of his character, not a contrived method to tame a shrew.

Shakespeare can be read as making Katherine's initial situation as pitiable as he makes Petruchio's offensive. Critics have noted that Shakespeare from the very beginning has Katherine evoke our sympathy and regard for her, just as authors of unconventional Griselda literature do for their heroines.18 While Katherine does not come from a background of poverty as Griselda does, she is like Griselda in that she is poor in reputation and public regard. None of the characters at the beginning of the play can appreciate the woman of worth that Shakespeare—like Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Petrarch—allows his audience to see. Shakespeare presents a painful scene of everyone mocking Katherine, taunting that she will never find a "mate." Despite all of the nasty name-calling, Katherine addresses the men and her father as "sirs," showing them a deference and respect that they do not deserve. When Hortensio cruelly taunts her with her undesirability, she tries to protect herself from the hurt by projecting the defensive posture of indifference and callousness:

I'faith, sir, you shall never need to fear [that   she will choose him as a mate] Iwis it is not half way to her heart.

But if it were, doubt not her care should be To comb your noddle with a three-legg'd   stool, And paint your face, and use you like a fool.                                     (I.i.61-65)

Shakespeare shows us a woman treated deplorably by everyone, a woman whose patience is certainly put to the test. And yet she responds with great aplomb.

Because Shakespeare first has us experience Katherine's torment, he predisposes us not to judge her harshly when she later lashes out at her tormentors. Katherine's reactions allow Shakespeare to make her look like a shrew on one level of meaning, yet like a woman much abused on another level. He permits us to feel that the heckling has been chronic and that it has a cumulative effect on Katherine, forcing her to strike out when her patience can no longer endure the abuse. Shakespeare allows us to read her responses as warranted, much different from the violence of Petruchio, who resembles a raucous bully who strikes out without provocation. Coppelia Kahn notes that Katherine responds only "because of provocation or intimidation."19 Shakespeare, moreover, encourages us to view Katherine's behavior as understandable when later even her uncaring father justifies it, saying he "cannot blame" her, "for such an injury would vex a saint" (II.ii.27-28). And, indeed, even a "saint" or a Patient Griselda can be provoked to the point of anger if vexed enough. Dekker, Chetile, and Haughton's Grissill, for example, snaps at her husband's servant when he threatens to take her children from her: "Come, come Ile chide, / In faith you cruell man, Ile chide indeede, / If I growe angrie" (IV.i.l 15-17).

The next step in the Griselda plotline involves the lord choosing the woman he will marry. The tales of Chaucer and Boccaccio reinforce the lord's self-centered and peremptory nature and, conversely, Griselda's dutiful and compliant nature. The lord is not interested in a wife as a lifetime marital companion but as a vessel to provide him with heirs. He views the woman as a means to a desirable end and is concerned solely with his own "lust" or wishes. The lord shows himself to be a shrewd bargainer who decides on his choice and gets what he wants, even if the maid he chooses is not willing. Typically, he goes to Griselda's father before he even meets Griselda and maneuvers the old man into giving him his daughter in marriage, for example, using his power and influence and intimidating the "quakyng" (317) father as in Chaucer's version, or simply determining to have the maiden and announcing his intentions to the father as in Boccaccio. The lord speaks for the father and even for Griselda: Chaucer's lord tells the father "And al that liketh me, I dar wel seyn / It liketh thee" (311-12); and he gives Griselda no voice at all in her future—"It liketh to youre fader and to me / That I yow wedde, and eek it may so stonde, / As I suppose, y wol that it so be" (345-47). He never asks her if she wishes to marry him, but tells her, and certainly does not wait for a reply from her. He decides on the day of the marriage and proclaims that she will "rule hire after me" (327). He instructs her that she must be "redy with good herte / To al my lust" (351-52). In Phillip's version and that of Dekker, Chetile, and Haughton, the lord proposes to Griselda, and although she rejects him, he traps her by convincing her father to give him Griselda in marriage. Phillip's Griselda laments her situation—"Alas poore sillie girle increased is thy smart" (751)—and addresses her complaint to her father, who tells her to "lament no more, distill no teares, though thou departe mee froe" (765). In all versions, Griselda obeys her father's wishes. We see a woman trapped and forced into marriage and are encouraged to sympathize with her plight.

Traditional shrew literature does not contain the element of an enforced marriage, for the marriage arrangements are not an issue, or the shrew is already married when the tale begins, or she wishes to marry and establish sovereignty over her husband. A shrew is not forced to do anything against her will, especially not to marry. But Shakespeare veers from the shrew tradition to evoke a situation similar to that of the enforced marriage of Griselda literature. Like Griselda's lord, Petruchio is not interested in a wife as a human being or a companion; rather, he sees the woman as a source of financial security and cares only about himself. Petruchio also makes arrangements with the father without having even met his prospective mate. He displays the same domineering, intransigent nature of the lord in that he is so determined to have his way and marry Katherine that, although Baptista expresses reservations, Petruchio will hear none of them: "I am as peremptory as she proud-minded" (II.i.131).

Katherine, on the other hand, acts like a Griselda: obedient to her father's wishes, she goes unaccompanied to meet with the suitor whom her father has ordered her to entertain. During their first meeting, Petruchio is "rough and woo[es] not like a babe" (II.i.137), for there are indications that he physically holds her against her will. Once he resorts to some obligatory wooing and forestalls her leaving the scene, he, like the lord of the Griselda story, tells her that he is going to marry her and that he will tolerate no dissension: "Your father hath consented / That you shall be my wife; your dowry 'greed on; / And will you, nill you, I will marry you" (II.i.262-64). When Baptista and the other men enter the scene, Petruchio gives Katherine instructions about how to behave—"Never make denial; / I must and will have Katherine to my wife" (II.i.272-73)—and misrepresents the situation by acting as if Katherine has privately expressed her love for him and only feigns disgust for him in public. Like Chaucer's lord, Petruchio proclaims that she will be ruled by him because he knows that if she were allowed to rule her own life, she would not marry him. Like some of the Griseldas, Katherine futilely pleads with her father, asking him how he could marry her to such a brute—"You have show'd a tender fatherly regard / To wish me wed to one half lunatic" (II.i.279-80)—and wishing rather to see Petruchio "hang'd" (II.i.292) than to wed him. Shakespeare evokes the situation found in Griselda literature and has Petruchio trap Katherine, resorting to any measures necessary to get his way. She has nothing left to do but patiently obey—which she does. Baptista notes that she is "in [the] dumps" (II.i.277), depressed and mournful, almost in a death state, left to "go sit and weep" (II.i.35) by herself and endure her pain alone—as a Patient Griselda does. And as in the Griselda tales, we are permitted to sympathize with her.

While the lord in these Griselda tales is shown to be a potential bully and tyrant, he has one saving grace: an astute ability to perceive Griselda's real nature. He is able to see what no one else can—that despite her lowly condition, Griselda is actually an embodiment of virtue and honor. Chaucer has his lord commend her "wommanhede / And eek hir vertu" (239-40), explaining that "thogh the peple hath no greet insight / In vertue, he considered ful right / Hir bountee" (242-44). Petrarch praises his lord for "his swift intuition [that] had perceived in her a virtue, beyond her sex and age, which the obscurity of her condition concealed from the eyes of the common throng" (142). Shakespeare, too, has Petruchio speak highly of Katherine. This is a deviation from shrew tales. Since traditional shrew literature is directed against women, a shrew is never spoken of favorably. Critics who see Katherine as the shrew and Petruchio as her wise therapist suggest that Petruchio's favorable delineations of Katherine are part of his therapy and are meant to show her the mild woman she can become if she modifies her behavior.20 But Shakespeare allows for another reading as well, one similar to that of Griselda tales.

Shakespeare models Petruchio after the lord of these tales in that only Petruchio can see the goodness in Katherine. After being alone with her for just a short while and detecting her embarrassment at his bawdy and crass talk, Petruchio discerns that she is not what she is reported to be—a shrew: "I find you passing gentle. / 'Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen, / And now I find report a very liar" (II.i.236-38). He contends that she has been "slander[ed]" (II.i.247) and tells her father that he "and all the world / That talk'd of her have talk'd amiss of her" (II.i.283-84). He is able to see that the world has misjudged her, that it has misinterpreted her spiritedness as shrewishness and has missed her true worth. Petruchio's characterization of Katherine, unlike that of her detractors, poignantly captures the woman we have been allowed to appreciate—a woman who is "pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous, / But slow in speech" (II.i.239-40), "modest as the dove" and "temperate as the morn," indeed a "Roman Lucrece for her chastity"—descriptions that befit a "second Grissel" (II.i.286-89). As with the lord in Griselda tales, Petruchio seems attracted to Katherine partly because of her gentleness and poor reputation, detecting a woman he can dominate.

The next stage in the Griselda story involves the day of the marriage. In Petrarch's and especially Chaucer's version, there is another suggestion of the lord's love of control and power, for he will tell no one which maiden he has decided to marry until the last minute. The sense of suspense and wonder is heightened. Petrarch declares that "no one knew whence the bride would come, and there was no one who did not wonder" and that "universal bewilderment had risen very high" (142). Chaucer underscores the lord's love of power games as his men stand in wonder and suspect him of "bigyl[ing]" them (252). Once the lord holds everyone in suspense to his satisfaction, he comes forward, peremptorily announcing his choice. In the Boccaccio and Chaucer versions, he has Griselda "stripped naked" in the presence of all his company before he marries her so that he can clothe her in more elegant attire, suitable to her new station as the wife of a lord. The emphasis, though, is on his degrading her in public. Norman Lavers clarifies that Chaucer means for his lord to "humiliate" her and demonstrate her "abjectness,"21 as he begins to establish his control over her in a manner that shames her the most. Griselda's misery is underscored in Phillip's version when she expresses that her "harte is much pained" (828) to leave her home and marry a man whom she does not love. Nonetheless, she obeys her father's and then her husband's commands.

Shakespeare's Katherine, likewise, is pained yet obedient. She arrives on time for the wedding, dutifully following her father's "will," and waits for the groom. Shakespeare underscores her misery and the enforced condition typical of Griseldas, allowing his audience to sympathize with his heroine as she laments being "forc'd / To give [her] hand, oppos'd against [her] heart" (II.ii.8-9). Although Katherine's heart is not in the marriage, she endures her fate, not making a scene, not refusing to do what is contrary to her own wishes, not being disrespectful to her father. She goes off once again to be alone and bewail a fate she dreads. She is honest and dutiful—just like a Griselda. Petruchio's arriving late on an old nag is derived from the shrew tradition, but the sense of suspense and control that Petruchio derives from holding up the proceedings until he arrives is similar to that of the lord in Chaucer's and Boccaccio's Griselda stories: nothing happens until he is ready. He must control everything, and everyone must abide by his "lusts." While Petruchio does not literally strip Katherine of her clothes as the lord does to Griselda, Shakespeare suggests that his groom gears all of his behavior to stripping Katherine of her pride and humiliating her, especially with his "stripped down" clothing. Petruchio makes what should be one of the most glorious days for Katherine into one of the most humiliating, as Katherine expresses her sense of being made into a laughing stock: "No shame but mine" (II.ii.8); "Now must the world point at poor Katherine / And say 'Lo, there is mad Petruchio's wife, / If it would please him come and marry her'" (II.ii. 18-20). Shakespeare has Katherine, like the shamed Griselda, feel debased, not knowing which is worse—to marry a brute who is dressed in base attire and whom she does not love or to be a public spectacle of a bride stood up at the altar. On a festive level, Shakespeare allows us to surmise that Petruchio's behavior before, during, and after the wedding ceremony is meant in some way to be part of his taming strategy. But in not clarifying Petruchio's purpose, Shakespeare on a darker level allows that Petruchio is simply a man obsessed with power, violence, and control—like the lord of Chaucer's Griselda tale.

Like Shakespeare's Katherine, Griseldas, who start the works being either unrecognized for their inner goodness or lowly regarded, begin to win other characters' admiration once others are allowed to know them. The people begin to recognize the Griseldas' inner beauty, to which they were initially blinded. Griseldas win this regard by their virtue and their concern for the lord's subjects, often serving as peacemakers and protecting the subjects. Dekker, Chetile, and Haughton's Griselda behaves much as Shakespeare's Katherine when she ignores her own misery and intercedes for her lord's servant, Furio, trying to dissuade her husband from murdering him: "Temper your wrath I beg it on my knee, / Forgiue his fault though youle not pardon me" (II.ii. 112-13). Furio and others begin to see the sweet nature in Griselda that they had not recognized before: "Shees a saint sure" (II.ii.124). Chaucer's Griselda also makes others reevaluate her:

[She was] so discreet and fair of eloquence, So benygne and so digne of reverence, And koude so the peples herte embrace, That ech hir lovede that looked on hir face.                                        (410-13)

Her peace-loving nature makes her highly valued: "Ther nas discord, rancour, ne hevynesse / In al that land, that she ne koude apese, / And wisly brynge hem alle in reste and ese" (432-34). The lord's subjects begin to believe that "she from hevene sent was" in order "peple to save and every wrong t'amende" (440-41). While the people may praise the lord for seeing her hidden virtue when they could not, their estimation of him begins to falter when he treats Griselda poorly. In Boccaccio, the lord's vassals "blamed him greatly, accounting him a barbarous man, and had the utmost compassion for his wife" (786). Chaucer has the lord's subjects begin to reevaluate his lord's reputation and to see him as being "wikked" and having a "cruel herte" (723): "For which, wher as his people ther bifore / Hadde loved hym wel, the sclaundre of his diffame / Made hem that they hum hated therfore" (729-31).

Shakespeare clearly has Katherine behave like a Griselda in trying to appease rancor and save the unfortunate from abuse. Shrews, in contrast, never assist others; rather, they are the cause of misfortune to others. For example, although the horse falls on Katherine on the ride home after the wedding, she does not complain. Rather she extricates herself from under the horse to rush to Grumio's aid: Grumio reports that she "waded through the dirt to pluck [Petruchio] off of him (IV.i.69-70). She does not think of her own misfortune but, instead, helps to relieve another's misery. When Petruchio throws food and dishes and hits servants during the meal at his home, Shakespeare once again has Katherine try to placate the raging master and makes her the embodiment of patience and compassion for others. She advises Petruchio to be more understanding, more humane toward others, telling him not to hit the servant for a mere accident: "Patience, I pray you, 'twas a fault unwilling" (IV.i.143). Although Petruchio only rages more and becomes more violent, Katherine maintains her aplomb and tries yet again to intervene and save the servants from their master's violence: "I pray you, husband, be not so disquiet. / The meat was well, if you were so contented" (IV.i.155-56). In many senses, Petruchio's description of her as his "most patient, sweet and virtuous wife" (III.ii.193) most accurately portrays the Griselda, not the shrew, figure that Shakespeare presents as Katherine.

Shakespeare models his play after these Griselda tales by having characters, some of whom are predisposed to favor Petruchio, begin to change their estimation of him and Katherine once they experience how deplorably Petruchio behaves and how patiently Katherine responds to this shameful treatment. As in the Griselda tales, they begin to condemn Petruchio and praise, even sympathize with, Katherine. This certainly deviates from traditional shrew literature, where the readers' sympathies and respect are clearly enlisted for the husband and their derision is reserved solely for the shrew. Gremio is the first to articulate his disgust with Petruchio's behavior at the wedding—behavior that so shocks and embarrasses Gremio that he leaves the ceremony as quickly as he can. Gremio tries to set Tranio straight by telling him that Petruchio was not a "bridegroom," a respectful participant in the ceremony, but a "groom," a crude fellow,22 a "grumbling groom," "a devil, a devil, a very fiend" (III.ii.151, 153). Once Gremio gets beyond the gossip and rumors about Katherine and actually meets and observes her, his perceptions of her begin to change as well: he suggests that Petruchio is "curster" (III.ii.152) than Katherine, that, in fact, she is not at all what she is portrayed to be but "a lamb, a dove" (III.ii.155). His designations of her all suggest gentleness, meekness, patience, and humility—characteristics typically associated with Griseldas. Chaucer, in fact, associates his Griselda with a lamb: "as a lamb she sitteth meke and stille" (538). The lamb and the dove also have religious significance, as Shakespeare, like Chaucer, suggests a kind of religious nuance to Katherine and her suffering. After Curtis, another servant of Petruchio, experiences his master's treatment of Katherine, he, likewise, feels sorry for her, describing her plight as piteous: "She, poor soul, / Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak" (IV.i.171-72). Even Hortensio, whom Petruchio calls his "best beloved and approved friend" (I.ii.3), is so shamed and pained by Petruchio's mistreatment of Katherine that he censures him to his face: "Signor Petruchio, fie! You are to blame. / Come, Mistress Kate, I'll bear you company" (IV.iii.48-49). Hortensio tries to distance himself from Petruchio and sides with Katherine, offering her his company and his consolation. By having the least perceptive and sophisticated characters—like Gremio and Curtis—as well as the least sensitive to Katherine's plight—like Baptista and Hortensio—begin to feel compassion for Katherine and reservation, if not dislike, for Petruchio, Shakespeare intimates the danger of Katherine's situation and encourages his more astute audience to reassess Katherine's so-called shrewishness and Petruchio's civility.

Like Griselda, Katherine shows herself to be "ever good." Shakespeare has her act admirably again and again: she obediently arrives for the wedding; she weds Petruchio without any remonstration; she endures his outrageous behavior during the ceremony, Gremio never suggesting that she speaks one word of disgruntlement; she behaves graciously once they arrive at his home for dinner, expressing "content" with the service and food. Despite the fact that both Petruchio and Griselda's lord have proof of their wives' goodness and have personally attested to the women's virtues, they test and tame them nonetheless. Petrarch puts it this way: the lord "was seized with a desire more strange than laudable—so the more experienced may decide—to try more deeply the fidelity of his dear wife, which had been sufficiently made known by experience" (145). Chaucer's Clerk searches for a motivation for the lord's testing, but he cannot arrive at a satisfactory one and repeatedly calls it "nedelees": "He hadde assayed hire ynow bifore, / And fond hir evere good; what neded it / Hir for to tempte" (456-58). In IV.i.175-98, Petruchio officially announces his scheme for taming Katherine. Scholars have tried to explain and justify Petruchio's actions, resorting to elaborate and sophisticated readings. But Chaucer's Clerk's judgment can as easily apply to scholars' defenses of Petruchio as they do to Griselda's lord's defenders: "Som men preyse it for a subtil wit. / But as for me, I seye that yvele it sit / T'assaye a wyf whan that it is no nede" (459-61).

Perhaps scholars give Petruchio too much credit for "subtil wit." Even if we feel Petruchio is actually trying to tame Katherine, Shakespeare allows for Petruchio's actions to be blameworthy not just for their severity but also for their needlessness—just as Chaucer's Clerk says of the lord's strategies. Shakespeare, indeed, permits the reading that Katherine does not need to be "tamed," just as Griselda does not need to be "tested."

Petruchio's tactics of taming a shrew are different from those of other shrew tamers. Brian Morris, for example, states that "no one has discovered a version in which the tamer goes to work in the way in which Shakespeare's Petruchio does."23 In traditional shrew literature, the taming tactics are typically violent as the husband tries to modify his shrewish wife's behavior by combating her violence with some of his own. Critics have praised Petruchio for not resorting to such physically brutal measures and have argued that Shakespeare is attempting to make his protagonist sympathetic.24 But Shakespeare largely models Petruchio's tactics after those of Griselda's lord, whose methods may not be physical but are just as torturous, if not more so, than the cruelty of shrew tamers. The lord and Petruchio practice mental games: they are more interested in mind control than in behavior modification.25 Chaucer's lord, for example, is not testing Griselda so much as he is breaking her spirit. The lord means to wear Griselda down mentally, to take away her self-will, to make her agree with whatever he does, no matter how barbarous. Many of the lord's tactics smack of mental torture, as our attention is drawn to their cruelty.

The lord accomplishes the annihilation of Griselda's self by resorting to various methods. He first removes her from contact with her family and friends, isolating her from almost everyone except for himself. In commenting on Chaucer's lord's treatment of Griselda, Deborah Ellis argues that although Griselda "is never physically far from her first home, her marriage is a spiritual and emotional exile."26 Once the lord has Griselda under his sole influence, he begins his testing: he methodically wrenches from her arms her first child and then her second, depriving her of what is most precious in her life and making her think he intends to have the children killed. This action is meant to have various effects. His depriving her of some of the greatest comforts of life—contact with friends, family, and her own children—increases her dependency on him and her subjection to his whims. The lord intimidates her with his power and apparent ruthlessness, making her scared of a husband who seems capable of committing the horrific acts of killing his children. Chaucer has his Clerk proclaim that the lord "nedeless, Good woot, he thoughte hire for t'afraye" (455) and highlights that his Griselda lives in fear and trembling: she is "quakyng for drede" (358). Scaring her makes her more pliant, as she is terrified not to obey. He also means his actions, as the Clerk says, to cause her mental "angwyssh" (462) by depriving her of her children almost from their birth and proclaiming he has ordered their slaughter. Elizabeth Salter claims that Chaucer has his male protagonist display "malice indulged to the point of luxury,"27 and at times he seems clearly sadistic. These methods are meant to intimidate Griselda, to provoke her to the point of protestation and yet not to allow her such a release, to torment her until she loses the will to object. The lord wants Griselda to beg him for mercy, to be completely at his disposal, to realize she is dependent on him for her life. Chaucer's lord brings his wife to the point of begging that she might kiss her child before it is killed and that the child might be buried so that wild animals will not devour the corpse. And in forcing her to beg, he divests her of her dignity and humiliates her. Several critics clarify the lord's intentions: Ellis argues that Chaucer's lord "takes over Griselda's will so completely that she loses even her autonomy"; John P. McCall clarifies that the lord aims for "complete abnegation of her will"; and Harriet Hawkins compares Chaucer's lord to a "neurotic power seeker" who cannot be satiated.28

Shakespeare has Petruchio's tactics resemble those of the lord in these Griselda tales and allows us to see him as not taming Katherine so much as he is breaking her spirit. Although Shakespeare does not have Petruchio duplicate the lord's precise method of testing his wife, Petruchio means it to have the same effect—to torment his wife and to crush her self-will. Petruchio also exiles Katherine from familiar surroundings. He takes her to his home in the country and will not let her return to her family home until he is satisfied with her submission. In order to tame her, a process that he compares to the taming of a falcon, he "mews" her up as one would a hawk, constricting her to her chamber and not allowing her any human contact, making her dependent solely on him. What he does is to isolate her and deny her sleep, food, and basic human comforts such as adequate clothing and warmth—Just as Griselda's lord denies her the emotional sustenance of life. The element of fright has also been present from the very beginning of her exposure to Petruchio. His behavior at the wedding, on the ride home, and at the dinner at his home frightens Katherine and everyone who witnesses it. Grumio reports that Katherine "prayed that never prayed before" (IV.i.70-71), implying that she is so frightened that she prays to God to protect her from her husband's violence. By IV.iii we begin to see the effects of this so-called taming: Katherine describes herself as "famish[ed]" (3), "starv'd for meat, giddy for lack of sleep" (9), and "as cold as can be" (37). While Katherine is suffering physical pain, it is the mental torment that Shakespeare emphasizes: her physical state makes her "giddy" or mentally confused, incapable of serious thought or steady attention (OED 2a;3). What Petruchio is trying to do is not "pluck up" (IV.iii.38) her spirits but "pluck" them out. His tactics, like those of Griselda's lord, are similar to brainwashing strategies, for he degrades her physically and mentally until she becomes completely dependent on him for the most basic human needs.29

Part of his plan to break her spirit involves making her so hungry, so disoriented, and so downcast that she will do anything for food, including begging. Both Griselda and Katherine are brought to the point of desperation. Part of the process of degradation and humiliation is to make the wife subject to the whims of the lowest servant. Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton's lord tells his wife that he "will haue [her] stoope, / And kneele euen to the meanest groome I keepe" (II.ii.79-80). Katherine clarifies just how much Petruchio degrades her in making her beg the servant Grumio for food, for her situation is worse than that of a beggar, who at least gets handouts: "But I, who never knew how to entreat, / Nor never needed that I should entreat, / Am starv'd for meat, giddy for lack of sleep" (IV.iii.7-9). What Shakespeare has Petruchio do to Katherine is to torment her, to induce her to "entreat" for any "wholesome food" (IV.iii.16), and to give her little more than a crumb, just as Griselda's lord forces her to beg for some compassion toward her children and shows her none. Petruchio is debasing her, treating her like an animal, who gets a reward for obeying her master's commands. He is making her "stoop" or bow to his will completely, and yet even this is not enough. The attack is on her integrity and her self-sufficiency until she loses the "spirit to resist." Like Chaucer, Shakespeare alienates his readers from his male protagonist when Petruchio displays "malice indulged to the point of luxury" and prompts them to take the victim's side when they experience the heroine's misery.

Petruchio continues the assault on Katherine's spirit and her resistance by tantalizing and tormenting her even more, cataloging a great wardrobe he intends to lavish on her and inducing her to beg, and then telling her she must go home to her father's house in her tattered clothes, in "mean habiliments" (IV.iii. 167). Although Petruchio tells her not to "account'st it shame" (IV.iii. 178), this is exactly the effect he means the poor clothing to have on Katherine—to humiliate and shame her, to divest her of her integrity, worth, and identity. During the Renaissance, clothing importantly defined a person's social status and worth. Brunvand notes that this incident over the clothing and the sending Katherine forth in mean garb are not present in any other shrew tales.30 But it is present in Griselda stories. For the lord, after telling his wife that he intends to marry another woman, divests her of her fine clothing and threatens to send her back home naked, inducing Griselda to beg for a less humiliating proposal. After she begs, he finally gives her a simple smock. The father of Griselda in Phillip's play clarifies just what the lord means to accomplish in denying Griselda decent attire: she is "of dignitie thus cleane depriued" (1749). Salter argues that in Chaucer the paltry clothing "symbolise[s] the extremity of her suffering."31

To complete the process of controlling their wives' every thought and movement, Griselda's lord and Petruchio, who can both be seen as neurotic power seekers rather than wife tamers, do more than dictate their wives' dress and actions. To complete the mind control, they silence their wives' voice, making their wives always agree with them and never express a thought of their own. Petrarch's lord, for example, demands that his wife "agree with [him] in all things" and "dispute [his] wish in nothing, and permit [him], with mind consenting, and without remonstrance of word or look, to do whatever [he] wills with" her (143). Chaucer's lord requires that Griselda do as he commands whether it is right or wrong and more specifically that she never contradict him in her words:

[She must be] redy with good herte To al [his] lust, and that [he] frely may, As [he] best thynketh, do [she] laughe or  smerte, And nevere [she is] to grucche it, nyght ne  day And eek whan [he] sey[s] "ye" ne sey nat  "nay," Neither by word ne frownyng contenance.                                      (351-56)

Kellogg clarifies the kind of control Chaucer's lord requires, a characterization that could just as easily apply to Shakespeare's Petruchio: the lord requires "not only obedience but obedience performed with a willingness which admits of no question as to the ultimate rightness of the thing willed."32 Other scholars explain how tyrannical Chaucer's lord is: he wants "not simply her passive submission … but the death of her own desires"; he wants "submission beyond reason" and "demands total and unconditional obedience."33

Petruchio demands that he control Katherine's tongue as well—probably her greatest and most vital asset. Katherine articulates the importance to her of speaking her mind: "I will be free / Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words" (IV.iii.79-80). It is this last shred of freedom that Petruchio wants to squelch. He refuses to go to her father's house, for example, unless Katherine agrees to the incorrect time—that it is seven o'clock in the morning when it is actually two o'clock in the afternoon, that it is the moon that shines when it is actually the sun. Shakespeare has Petruchio sound very much like the lord of the Griselda tales, demanding that she never "cross" or contradict him in word or thought, even though he may be wrong: "It will be what o'clock I say it is" (IV.iii.192); "It shall be moon, or star, or what I list / Or e'er I journey to your father's house" (IV.v.7-8). Shakespeare has Petruchio force Katherine to agree to incorrect statements of time to suggest that his male protagonist means to impose his own sense of reality on his wife, to make himself the center of her existence; he is her new "sun." As soon as Katherine agrees with his incorrect statements, he then contradicts her and makes her agree to his new assertions. He is making her agree with him unconditionally. Katherine astutely perceives that Petruchio treats her like a "child," like a "babe" (IV.iii.74), and assaults her integrity.

One of the crucial issues of both Shakespeare's play and the Griselda stories is that the wives consistently pass the so-called tests and taming, yet the husbands refuse to cease their grilling of their wives and, in fact, only intensify their efforts. Chaucer has his Clerk repeatedly express puzzlement about the lord's motivations, since Griselda is never anything but obedient: "O nedeless was she tempted in assay! / But wedded men ne knowe no mesure, / Whan that they fynde a pacient creature" (621-23). This judgment could as easily apply to Shakespeare's Katherine and Petruchio, for although she is consistently patient, Petruchio will not moderate his gruelling strategies. Shakespeare impresses us again and again with Katherine's ability to behave admirably under the greatest duress. For example, when Petruchio displays the meat before his famished and "amort" wife, Katherine, despite her desperate condition and the preceding taunting by Grumio, remains polite and patient, begging him to not take the food away: "I pray you, let it stand" (IV.iii.44). When he tells her she must thank him for the meat, she obeys and expresses gratitude: "I thank you, sir" (IV.iii.47). In making Katherine's responses curt and noncommittal, Shakespeare, however, allows for some equivocation. He permits a performative edge to Katherine's words under the surface obedience, a potential for a sarcastic subversiveness, for Katherine's "I thank you, sir" can be said with a snide inflection. But, certainly, the surface Katherine is submissive, and the only freedom she salvages is a covert irony in her words.

While Petruchio is contrary and refuses to be pleased with any article of clothing, Katherine, unlike a shrew who can never be pleased, is easily satisfied with every piece and tries to reason with Petruchio to accept the cap: "I'll have no bigger. This doth fit the time, / And gentlewomen wear such caps as these" (IV.iii.69-70). Although Petruchio means the statement "all [his] pains is sorted to no proof" (IV.iii.43) to mean that Katherine is unappreciative of all he has done for her, Shakespeare makes the statement equivocal: it seems that, indeed, Petruchio is "pain[ing]" his wife "to no proof" or for no reason. Ornstein claims that Petruchio "proceeds despite Kate's reasonableness."34 The question that Chaucer's Clerk poses to his audience could just as easily be posed to Shakespeare's audience:

But now of wommen wolde I asken fayn If thise assayes myghte nat suffise? What koude a sturdy housbond moore devyse To prove hir wifhod and hir stedfastnesse, And he contynuynge evere in sturdynesse?                                    (696-700)

Shakespeare allows for the reading that Katherine has endured enough trials and that she has proven her stead-fastness.

Despite Katherine's gentle behavior, Petruchio persists in his taming strategies, which like the lord's testing of Griselda, get only worse with each new step. Shakespeare allows us yet again to ask the same question that Chaucer's Clerk asks when he wonders "if these assayes myghte nat suffise." When Petruchio insists that the sun is the moon, Katherine submits her voice to Petruchio:

Forward, I pray, since we have come so far, And be it moon, or sun, or what you please. And if you please to call it a rush-candle, Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.                                    (IV.v.12-15)

Instead of becoming more adamant in her contrary stance or putting up repeated resistance, as shrews typically do, Katherine behaves as a Griselda, who, as Petrarch clarifies, with "each day [becomes] more devoted and more obedient to [her husband's] wishes" (147). Although he needlessly continues his "taming," she offers him no resistance:

Then, God be blest, it is the blessed sun. But sun it is not, when you say it is not, And the moon changes even as your mind. What you will have it nam'd, even that it is, And so it shall be so for Katherine.                                    (IV.v.18-21)

Once again, her language has the potential to evoke a snide subtext with Katherine alluding to Petruchio's "moon" madness and intimating that Petruchio's calling the sun the moon is as ludicrous as calling a "rushcandle" the sun. But her subversiveness is concealed with her adroit use of language, and on a literal level, she is obedient. Shakespeare suggests the gratuitousness of Petruchio's tactics by having even Petruchio's friend Hortensio express annoyance at Petruchio's unnecessary "taming": "Petruchio, go thy ways, the field is won" (IV.v.23). While Hortensio may be applauding his friend for his success, there is also a tone of exasperation as he tells Petruchio that enough is enough. Shakespeare has Hortensio articulate the sentiment that Chaucer's Clerk repeatedly poses: "If these assayes myghte nat suffise?"

Shakespeare has Katherine sound very much like Griselda, who makes her husband's will her own: Petrarch's Griselda reassures her lord that "I have said, and I say again, that I can have no wishes save yours … Whatever you wish to do, therefore, about anything whatsoever, that is what I wish too" (146); Chaucer's Griselda similarly states that "ther may no thyng, God so my soule save, / Liken to yow that may displesen me" (505-06). Hawkins's description of Chaucer's Griselda's situation can apply to that of Shakespeare's Katherine: she is "denied any voice in the decisions that most affect her life"; "she must never express her own thoughts or feelings about his actions."35 Like Griselda, Katherine is being forced to become what she feared the most—a "puppet" (IV.iii.103)—a mere shell of a woman, whose actions and words are suggested and controlled by another. The only way she can "be free" (IV.iii.79) is through a well-concealed subtext. Chaucer has Griselda clarify just how much she has lost since her marraige: she has lost her "wyl and al [her] libertee" (656)—exactly what Petruchio demands of his new wife.

Shrew and Griselda literature can end in similar ways: tales about shrews sometimes end at a banquet with husbands wagering on their wives' obedience; Griselda tales also end at a banquet with the lord continuing to test his wife's steadfastness. The major difference is that while the shrew's husband subjects his wife to a test, Griselda's lord makes his wife endure repeated and more humiliating tests and requires that she give a speech of submission. After pronouncing that his marriage to Griselda is ended, the lord sends Griselda to her father's home and announces his intention of marrying a more suitable woman. He then commands that Griselda come to him from her father's house in the same rags in which he sent her away and perform a servant's duties, such as making preparations for his upcoming marriage. Dekker, Chetile, and Haughton have their lord heighten Griselda's humiliation by making her bear wood, clothe the new bride, and present the bride to him. Griselda comes obediently to the lord's call and fulfills his commands. Chaucer intensifies Griselda's submissiveness and humiliation by having her bow on her knees "and reverently and wysly" (952) address her lord. On the wedding day, the guests arrive for the banquet, and before the assemblage the lord calls Griselda to come to him again. She responds with alacrity and obedience. He then asks her what she thinks of his new bride and invites her to speak. Petrarch, in particular, suggests his lord is playing a kind of game that involves displaying his wife's servitude before his guests: "Just as they were to sit down at the tables, Walter turned toward her and said before them all, as if he were playing game of her, 'What think you, Grisildis, of this bride of mine? Is she pretty and worthy enough?'" (150). Chaucer has his Clerk underscore that this testing has gone beyond all rational bounds and that it is superfluous and cruel: "What neded it / Hir for to tempte, and alwey moore and moore?" (457-58). Once Griselda has proven her constancy far more times than is necessary, finally the lord proclaims "this is ynogh" (1052) and reveals the extent of his game playing.

For his ending, Shakespeare borrows ingredients from both genres as he has throughout his play, but his emphasis is on the Griselda story. Since there is no indication that Katherine gets a new set of clothing for her trip to her father's house, she most likely is in rags, just as Griselda appears in the basest attire. Like Griselda's lord, Petruchio is playing a kind of game, betting on and flaunting his wife's obedience. Petruchio, too, calls Katherine to come on command, another test she passes. Like Griselda's lord, Petruchio, though, is not satisfied, and he subjects her to more trials, all of which are unnecessary, since she has already proven her meekness in both this scene and in earlier scenes—again and again. He now commands her to throw off her cap, and not satisfied with that, he orders her to deliver a speech to the other wives on the "duty they do owe their lords and husbands" (V.ii.132). Once again Katherine obeys each command, but Petruchio never stops. Reminiscent of Chaucer's lord, Petruchio continues "hir for to tempte, and alwey moore and moore." Right up to his last words, he is still proving Katherine's obedience, ordering her to kiss him in front of the whole assemblage—an indecorous act. Like Griselda's lord's last commands to his wife, Petruchio's tactics can be read as meaning to humiliate Katherine. He takes away her dignity and disgraces her by making her come on command, perform a servant's duties of retrieving guests, and fawn over him whenever he orders.

In all of the tales during the lord's last set of tests, the Griseldas are excessively submissive and dutiful—on the surface, at least. But in all of the Griselda stories, there are intimations that Griselda is actually miserable and that she is forced to suppress her agony under the opposite pose of wifely contentment in order to appease her husband. Chaucer's Clerk, for example, remarks that he "deme[s] that hir herte was ful wo" (753), although Griselda shows no obvious outward signs in her countenance or behavior. The Griselda tale, thus, contains a tension between the feigned public profession of submission and the concealed torment. Chaucer, especially, finds a way to have his Griselda give voice to this tension, making his heroine speak in ambiguous terms. In the envoy to the tale, Chaucer advises wives not to let "humilitee [their] tonge nayle" (1184) but to "stondeth at defense" and "beth egre as is a tigre" (1195, 1199). He goes on to advise wives to fight back with the subtlety of words:

Ne dreed [husbands] nat, dooth hem no   reverence, For thogh thyn housbond armed be in maile, The arwes of thy crabbed eloquence Shal perce his brest, and eek his aventaile.                                         (1202-04)

And, indeed, under her extreme submissiveness, Chaucer's Griselda harbors resentment and pierces her husband with her "crabbed eloquence." She is adroit at making her words lament her state and condemn her husband while seeming to express selfless devotion to him. When the lord asks her in public if she thinks his new wife is beautiful and virtuous, she compliantly agrees word for word. But she adds a few words that celebrate her fortitude and, conversely, deride his brutality:

O thyng biseke I yow, and warne also, That ye ne prike with no tormentynge This tendre mayden, as ye han do mo; For she is fostred in hir norissynge Moore tendrely, and, to my supposynge, She koude nat adversitee endure As koude a povre fostred creature.                                      (1037-43)

Elaine Turtle Hansen explains that Griselda responds "to her banishment with the longest, most pathetic speech" and that she exercises the "powers of subversive speech."36

Shakespeare places Katherine in a situation similar to that of Griselda during her last trials. Like Griselda, she delivers a speech—a characteristic not found within the tradition of shrew literature.37 Katherine, too, speaks and behaves compliantly, vowing utter obedience to her husband, spouting patristic doctrine about a wife's duties to her husband, and even offering to place her hand beneath Petruchio's foot as token of her surrender to his will, just as Chaucer's Griselda bows on her knees before her lord. She seems the embodiment of wifely servitude and dependence, and, indeed, Shakespeare allows her to be read as such. There are indications, however, especially in Katherine's last speech, that she is miserable and that she suppresses her torment to avoid her husband's oppressive temperament. But Katherine, like Chaucer's Griselda, can be read as not nailing her tongue completely and as adroitly using her language as a weapon: she wounds Petruchio with her "crabbed eloquence."

Just as her earlier responses to Petruchio seem compliant on the surface yet are equivocal enough to suggest a snide subversion, Katherine's last seemingly meek words contain a submerged tone of mockery and irony. The lengthiness of her speech, like that of Griselda, suggests that under the guise of submission she is assuming dominance and drawing attention to her misery and Petruchio's cruelty. Her words covertly allude to her resentment toward her "lord": "Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow, / And dart not scornful glances from those eyes, / To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor" (V.ii.137-39). While Katherine is addressing the other wives present—Bianca and the Widow—she is also speaking about and to herself, as the speech comes to resemble a kind of soliloquy. Her speech is addressed to angry and hurt women, of which she has been a member throughout the play, and advises them to conceal their murderous thoughts—as she is doing with her "crabbed eloquence." Katherine speaks of wives secretly wanting to "wound" and harm their husbands but having to project the opposite pose of patience and kindness: "It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads, / Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds, / And in no sense is meet or amiable" (140-42). Her speech continues with more references to women's (and implicitly her own) anger, comparing "a woman mov'd" to a "fountain troubled" (143). If a woman is troubled, she must appear as clear, tranquil water—at least on the surface—and let the agitation well beneath the surface—a description that befits the subversive subtext of her speech. A few lines later in the speech, Katherine again underscores other wives' and her own discontent, speaking of "froward, peevish, sullen, sour" women (158).

She ridicules Petruchio by imitating his exaggerated bravado, making her listing—"Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign" (147-48)—as excessive as his speech of self-enhancement: "She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house, / My household stuff, my field, my barn, / My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing" (III.ii.228-30). Her tributes to male dominance are overwrought and inflated and, thus, are allowed to mock Petruchio's inflated and unwarranted sense of greatness. By making her language devoid of references to love and affection and, instead, surfeited with references to domination, power, and authority, Shakespeare has her suggest that Petruchio is more like a despot than a loving husband and she more like a frightened subject than a devoted wife. The language she uses to describe Petruchio's treatment of her applies more to a prison warden or an animal trainer than a husband: he is her "keeper," who "cares" for her and provides her with "maintenance" (147-49). Katherine's word choice suggests Petruchio does no more for her than an animal keeper does for his pet or a warden does for a prisoner held in confinement. She is merely kept alive by his providing her with the basics of life, although we have seen that in starving her and denying her sleep and warmth Petruchio does not do even this. And in return for the most meager day-to-day maintenance that one would allow for an animal, for example, she must give him everything: she gives him her life, "love, fair looks, and true obedience; / Too little payment for so great a debt" (154-55). Once again Shakespeare has Katherine speak equivocally: if we read "too little payment" as referring to the wife's actions, then Katherine is lauding husbands for their solicitude, which a wife can never adequately repay. But if we read the phrase as referring to the husband's actions, then Katherine is suggesting that women sacrifice much more than they ever get in return.

Her language continues to present her relationship with Petruchio as more like a battle that she has lost than a loving union:

I am asham'd that women are so simple To offer war where they should kneel for   peace, Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, When they are bound to serve, love and obey.                                     (162-65)

She implies that she would like to "rebel" (160) and be a "traitor" (161) to Petruchio, but she is forced to kneel, like a captured prisoner of war, "bound" or shackled in prison. Her language contains no references to affection but rather to governorship, as she portrays herself as a conquered "subject," who is dutiful to her "prince," not out of devotion but out of compulsion: "Such duty as the subject owes the prince / Even such a woman oweth to her husband" (156-57). While she seems to suggest female inferiority, she acknowledges that women have inner "strength" (175) but that they are so weak with respect to physical prowess and political power in a patriarchal world that their strength does them little good. Katherine's subversive message suggests that men rule and women obey not because of men's innate superiority but because men use physical might to oppress women—as Petruchio has used to oppress her. The men win the battle because they have the stronger "lances": their gender gives them more political clout over the "lance-[less]," powerless wom use their can always use their "lances" or penises38 to rape and victimize women. Katherine, in fact, intimates that women are treated little better than "worms" (V.ii.170), just as Chaucer's Griselda accuses her husband of treating her like a worm: he lets her "lyk a worm go by the weye" (880). She ends the speech with the same advice with which she started: she tells herself and other women to "vail [their] stomachs" (177), an expression meaning to conceal one's temper and anger39 as she does in her speech.

Despite the subversive message, both Shakespeare's play and the Griselda tales end happily. But the endings can be read as only superficially happy, as all of the works end on a troublesome, ambivalent note. While Griselda is reunited with her children and we are told Griselda and her husband are happy, we are not allowed to experience this happiness for ourselves. Chaucer's Griselda embraces her children, not her husband, and swoons so many times and expresses the desire to die that she seems near death. Because Chaucer does not convince us that his lord is a changed, loving husband, he distresses us when we realize, as Hansen clarifies, that Griselda faces a "permanent union with a man whom the Clerk has carefully characterized as a sadistic tyrant, worst of men and crudest of husbands."40

On one level, Shakespeare's play, likewise, seems to end harmoniously, and Shakespeare allows for a festive reading, with the shrew being transformed into an obedient wife and with Petruchio and Katherine ending the play by kissing and leaving to consummate their union. But, like Chaucer's tale, there is a disturbing, ambivalent tenor that allows the ending to be read differently. Although Katherine can vent her anger through her "crabbed eloquence," in some senses her fate is worse than that of Griselda, for Petruchio never says "this is ynogh," as Chaucer's lord does. There is no indication, as there is for Griselda, that her situation will ever improve. For example, Chaucer's Griselda is dressed in fine clothing at the tale's end, an action that signals the elevation of her condition. But Shakespeare does not suggest that Katherine obtains any finer attire, an indication that her abjection and humiliation are never to end. By having Petruchio test Katherine more and more right up to the very end, Shakespeare suggests that Petruchio will never be satisfied and that Katherine will have to endure these humiliating tests for the rest of her life. Considering the many references throughout the play to Petruchio's proclivity for violence and the pained, if not "amort," future for Katherine, Shakespeare writes a subtext that makes his audience feel uncertain and troubled about Katherine's future safety. Like Chaucer's heroine, Katherine can be read as being in a "permanent union" with a man who has seemed a "sadistic tyrant, worst of men and cruelest of husbands." But her situation seems even more grieved, for on a subtextual level, we are allowed to wonder if she will "survive" him (II.i.124).


1 The following are a sampling of the critics who have read Katherine as constructed within the traditional outlines of a shrew and Petruchio as her successful tamer: Robert Heilman, "The Taming Untamed; or The Return of the Shrew," Modern Language Quarterly 27 (1966): 147-61, calls Petruchio a "remarkable therapist"; Hugh M. Richmond, Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy: A Mirror for Lovers (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), 83-101; Joan Hartwig, "Horses and Women in The Taming of the Shrew," Huntington Library Quarterly 45 (1982): 285-94, esp. 294, sees Katherine as being transformed "from unhappy shrew into graceful woman, creating 'wonder' in her world"; Maurice Hunt, "Homeopathy in Shakespearean Comedy and Romance," Ball State University Forum 29 (1988): 45-57, esp. 46, argues that Petruchio helps his "patient to achieve a truer self, one freed, for instance, from … the trap of shrewishness"; Ruth Nevo, "Kate of Kate Hall," in Modern Critical Interpretations of "The Taming of the Shrew," ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 29-39; Joel Fineman, "The Turn of the Shrew," in Modern Critical Interpretations of "The Taming of the Shrew," 93-112; Tita French Baumlin, "Petruchio the Sophist and Language as Creation in The Taming of the Shrew," Studies in English Literature 29 (1989): 237-57, esp. 237, 247, praises Petruchio as a "sophistic rhetorician" who transforms "an isolated, selfish, dysfunctional personality into a socially integrated woman at peace with herself and the world."

2 Camille Wells Slights, "The Raw and the Cooked in The Taming of the Shrew," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 88 (1989): 168; Charles Brooks, "Shakespeare's Romantic Shrews," Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960): 351-56; Robert Ornstein, Shakespeare's Comedies (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986), 72, 68.

3 Consult, for example, the following: John Masefield, William Shakespeare (New York: Henry Holt, 1911), 108-09; Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 69-70, contends that Katherine is "lovely and sweet by nature" and that her "shrewishness is superficial, not ingrained or congenital"; Nevill Coghill, "The Basis of Shakespearian Comedy," in Shakespeare Criticism, 1935-60, ed. Anne Ridler (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), 208, calls Katherine a "girl of spirit" who has "developed the defensive technique of shrewishness"; George R. Hibbard, "The Taming of the Shrew: A Social Comedy," in Shakespearean Essays, ed. Alwin Thaler and Norman Sanders (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1964), 23-24, contends that Katherine's "shrewishness is not bad temper, but the expression of self-respect"; Anne Barton, introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), 107; Coppelia Kahn, "The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage," in The Authority of Experience: Essays in Feminist Criticism, ed. Arlyn Diamond and Lee R. Edwards (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977), 84, argues that Shakespeare's heroine is "trapped in the self-destructive role of shrew by her male guardians"; Marilyn French, Shakespeare's Division of Experience (New York: Ballantine, 1981), 77; Brian Morris, introduction to the New Arden The Taming of the Shrew (New York: Methuen, 1981), 114, argues that Katherine's shrewishness is a "disguise" "forced on her by a neglectful father, a sly sister, and an unsympathetic society."

4 George Bernard Shaw, Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson (London: Cassell, 1961), 178; Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare (New York: Henry Holt, 1939), 50; J. Dennis Huston, "'To Make a Puppet': Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew," Shakespeare Studies 9 (1976): 74, 76; Ornstein, 65; Jeanne Addison Roberts, "Horses and Hermaphrodites: Metamorphoses in The Taming of the Shrew," in Modern Critical Interpretations of "The Taming of the Shrew," 60-61.

5 All quotations will be from the New Arden edition of The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Brian Morris.

6 A few critics allude to the connection between Katherine and a Griselda figure but do not develop the comparison: Roberts states that Petruchio's "comparison of Kate to Lucrece and Grissel [is apt]; he proceeds to treat her like each of these women in turn" (59); David M. Bergeron, "The Wife of Bath and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew," University Review 35 (1969): 279, states that "Katharina evolves into a type of Griselda in the play" and that "Petruchio's passing remarks" about her being a "second Grissel" remind us of Chaucer.

7 Alfred L. Kellogg, "The Evolution of the 'Clerk's Tale': A Study in Connotation," in Chaucer, Langland, Arthur: Essays in Middle English Literature (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1972), 277.

8 Deborah S. Ellis, "The Color Purple and the Patient Griselda," College English 49 (1987): 188.

9 Giovanni Boccaccio, "The Tenth Story of the Tenth Day," of The Decameron, vol. 2, trans. John Payne (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 780-91; Francis Petrarch, De Obedientia ac Fide Uxoria Mythologia, trans. R. D. French, in Chaucer: Sources and Backgrounds, ed. Robert P. Miller (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 140-52; John Phillip, The Commodye of Pacient and Meeke Grissill (London: Malone Society Reprints, 1909); Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle, and William Haughton, The Pleasant Commoedye of Patient Grissill, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, vol 1, ed. Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 208-98. All textual references will be to the aforementioned editions.

10 Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 211.

11 Louis Wright, Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935), 507.

12 Harriet Hawkins, "The Victim's Side: Chaucer's Clerk's Tale and Webster's Duchess of Malfi," Signs 1 (1975): 345, 341.

13 Deborah S. Ellis, "Domestic Treachery in the Clerk's Tale," in Ambiguous Realities: Women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Carole Levin and Jeanie Watson (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987), 111.

14 Jan Harold Brunvand, "The Taming of the Shrew": A Comparative Study of Oral and Literary Versions (New York: Garland, 1991).

15 Valerie Wayne, "Refashioning the Shrew," Shakespeare Studies 17 (1985): 161, contends that Shakespeare uses the "shrew to raise issues about women and marriage without simply endorsing customary and conservative attitudes." Harriet A. Deer, "Untyping Stereotypes: The Taming of the Shrew," in The Aching Hearth: Family Violence in Language and Literature, ed. Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker (New York: Plenum Press, 1991), 77, argues that the play "does indeed exploit spouse abuse as a major source of action and humor. But it does not encourage such behavior; rather it reveals how destructive and widespread is its hold on society."

16 All quotations will be from Geoffrey Chaucer, The Clerk's Tale, in The Tales of the Clerk and the Wife of Bath, ed. Marion Wynne-Davies (New York: Rout-ledge, 1992), 71-117.

17 Kellogg, 297.

18 Hibbard, 23, claims that when we first see Katherine, she is "being grossly insulted" by the men and "her vigorous complaint to Baptista is fully justified"; H. J. Oliver, introduction to The Taming of the Shrew (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 51, argues that Katherine's first words are "deserving of sympathy"; Slights, 171, says Katherine is being "publicly humiliated" and "understandably reacts with resentment toward her father."

19 Kahn, 91.

20 See, for example, the following: Maynard Mack, "Engagement and Detachment in Shakespeare's Plays," in Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, ed. Richard Hosley (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962), 280; Cecil C. Seronsy, "'supposes' as the Unifying Theme in The Taming of the Shrew," Shakespeare Quarterly 14 (1963): 19; Morris, 124; Ann Thompson, introduction to The Taming of the Shrew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 32, 34.

21 Norman Lavers, "Freud, the Clerkes Tale, and Literary Criticism," College English 26 (1965): 185.

22The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 971), "groom" sb.1 2. All further citations will be noted in the text as OED.

23 Morris, 75. Richard Hosley, "Sources and Analogues in The Taming of the Shrew," Huntington Library Quarterly 27 (1964): 299, also argues that Petruchio's tactics with his wife appear "to be Shakespeare's original contribution to the literature of shrew-taming."

24 Barton suggests that in comparison to traditional shrew tamers, Petruchio "is almost a model of intelligence and humanity" (106); Wayne labels Petruchio's tactics a "more humane and artistic way to 'tame' a shrew" (174); Slights argues that Petruchio "gives no evidence of the sadism … in earlier versions of the shrew story" (178).

25 Deer, 74, agrees that "wanting to civilize Kate is one thing; wanting to displace her independence and vitality with a mere echo of himself is quite another.… We wonder whether controlling another person's imagination may not be the worst abuse that one spouse can inflict on another."

26 Ellis, "Domestic Treachery in the Clerk's Tale" 110.

27 Elizabeth Salter, Chaucer: The Knight's Tale and The Clerk's Tale (New York: Barron's Educational Series, 1962), 60.

28 Ellis, "Domestic Treachery in the Clerk's Tale" 105; John P. McCall, "The Clerk's Tale and the Theme of Obedience," Modern Language Quarterly 27 (1966): 263; Hawkins, 350.

29 Lawrence Danson, "Continuity and Character in Shakespeare and Marlowe," Studies in English Literature 26 (1986): 229, allows for the possibility that Petruchio subjects his wife to something "comparable to brainwashing or cult-indoctrination." See also

30 Brunvand, 187.

31 Salter, 47.

32 Kellogg, 297-98.

33 The quotations belong respectively to McCall, 264, 265, and J. Mitchell Morse, "The Philosophy of The Clerk of Oxenford," Modern Language Quarterly 19 (1958): 18.

34 Ornstein, 68.

35 Hawkins, 346.

36 Elaine Turtle Hansen, "The Powers of Silence: The Case of the Clerk's Griselda," in Women and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), 235.

37 Brunvand, 187.

38 Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy (1947; rpt. New York: Routledge, 1990), 132.

39 Thompson, 153.

40 Hansen, 232.

Source: "Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew: 'A Second Grissel'," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 37, Fall, 1995, pp. 285-313.


The Latin Lesson and the Domestication of Learning in The Taming of the Shrew


The Taming of the Shrew, Good Husbandry, and Enclosure