I read this comedy by Shakespeare as part of a challenge from the Classic Club in co-operation with Rachel @ Hibernator's Library - 2019 Year of Shakespeare. The idea is to read a Comedy for Jan - April - The Taming of the Shrew, a historical drama for May - Aug - King John and a Tragedy for Sep - Dec - Hamlet. At the same time Hamlette's Soliloquy announced the February blog party of We Love Shakespeare Week. Hitting two birds with one stone, I read The Taming of the Shrew. I find it very difficult to read Shakespeare, that is maybe why I expose myself to the challenge. On top of it, I promised Hamlette's Soliloquy to write a review of The Taming of the Shrew. So, here we go.
The story, in short, is set in Padua, where wealthy Baptista Minola has two marriageable daughters. The older one, Katherine, is vicious and ill-tempered and the young one, Bianca, is beautiful and mild. Bianca has suitors, but the father has announced that she can only marry when Katherine is married. Since most men are afraid of her and she does not have any suitors, there is a problem. Petruchio arrives and announces he intends to marry a rich woman. He does not care what she looks like or how she is. The rest of the play is taken up by Petruchio's taming of Kate and the various suitors' fight for Bianca. In the end, the newly wed men enter into a contest to see which wife is the most obedient, Petruchio wins. Katherine is not only the most obedient, she gives the other ladies a lesson how to be loyal to their husbands.
She discusses how we should think about the relation between the sexes in the play, and how writers, directors and actors have explored it in productions ever since the time of Shakespeare. As early as as the beginning of the 17th century a John Fletcher wrote a counterpart play to Shakespeare's play called The Woman's Prize or The Tamer Tamed. Here the tamer is the wife and the tamed is the husband. "It concludes with the lesson that men ‘should not reign as Tyrants o’er their wives’ (Epilogue, l. 4). Indeed Fletcher’s play aims ‘to teach both Sexes due equality / And as they stand bound, to love mutually (Epilogue, ll. 7-8)." I must say he was rather ahead of this time. Should probably try to find this play.
Looking at the introduction of the play, which really has nothing to do with Padua and the main story, we meet Christopher Sly. He is, as usual, drunk. A Lord decides to clean him up, put him in his own castle and tell him, but the time he wakes up, that he is a Lord. Although Sly does not believe it in the beginning he slowly learns the advantages of his new rank. However, it does not last. He is put back to his original place and old life. De Wachter means that this dehumanising of people is also shown in the main story. Kate is seen as an 'household item', part of what belongs to a house, including the animals.
"She is my good, my chattels, she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything; (3.2.230–32)"
With the two stories Shakespeare shows a similarity between the lower classes and women. They are both dependent on their livelihood by their masters/husband. They have to be obedient to be taken into the protection of the high ranking man and/or husband. Katherine is fighting against being married, but in the end she is lured into it, against her will. She has to accept the situation and find herself outwitted by Petruchio. To survive she has to give in to his whims. Is this what she is doing? Or has she got a higher cause?
In the last scene Katherine has a rather long monologue.
“Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And no obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I 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.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions, and our hearts,
Should well agree with our external parts?”
Can this be seen as a speech of independence? To say that women are different than men, and so it should be. Men are out fighting, but women know better than that. Women try to solve problems another way. Maybe it is she who has tamed Petruchio, although he does not know it.
Well, well...! It is rather outdated, probably more than any other of his plays. One has to take into consideration the time in which it was written, although it is no excuse. But what do we know, maybe Shakespeare wrote it as a satire? There are numerous modern productions (stage and film) with various interpretations of especially Kate and her relationship with Petruchio. It would be interesting to see one of those. It is certainly not a play you want to mention in connections with today's question of gender equality, which is still a strife. Maybe this play should not be considered a comedy at all, but rather a tragedy?