William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ follows two rather different sisters and their fathers attempt to marry them off. Bianca is the beautiful sister, fair and virtuous, a symbol of purity backed up by the fact her name means white in Italian. Kate on the other hand is the older sister, foul and bad tempered, a women no man would want to tame, she is the ‘shrew’. To get the dowry and be able to marry Bianca off Baptista must first marry off the older Kate. There are many suitors for Bianca and for Kate there are none.
This provides for comedy in itself and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ doesn’t fail to deliver in the quest to marry off the girls! Katarina is widely known throughout Padua for being a Shrew. She is prone to a fit of anger, in which she may attack, whoever enrages her. In Bianca’s case in the first scene, the attack is physical, Katharina charges at Bianca which is very funny indeed, it is also a fantastic example of Shakespeare’s stagecraft as this would be hilarious to perform on stage.
Kate is jealous of Bianca, which could be one of the sources of her unhappiness though most of the play’s characters simply think Katarina is just rather ill tempered, it is certainly reasonable to believe that Katarina’s undesirable behaviour stems from her problems. These could be a number of things such as anxiety which may also stem from feelings about the fact everyone wants to marry her sister, but not her, the fear that she may never win a husband. Katherina feels out of place in her society.
Due to her intelligence and ability to be self sufficient, she is not willing to play the role of the maiden daughter and is hounded and ridiculed by society for this. Petruchio is a gentleman from Verona. He is loud, arrogant, selfish, quick-witted, fickle and frequently drunk, he came to Padua “to wive and thrive. ” All he is interested in is finding a wife with a very large dowry, ‘I come to wive wealthily in Padua; if wealthily, then happily in Padua. ’ Kate seems to be a fantastic fit to this criteria. He ignores all advice on Kate’s shrewishness and decides to not only court her but also silence her tongue.
Many different views can be taken on Petruchio, as his behaviour is very difficult to decipher. My personal opinion is that Petruchio is actually a genuine character, which does fall in love with Kate and decides on taming her merely as a means to make a happy marriage capable. However some people may argue that he is nothing more than a greedy chauvinist who treats marriage as an act of domination, then the play becomes a dark comedy about the hunger for power that dictate marriages under the disguise of love.
In Act 2 Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ Kate meets Petruchio, her suitor. This scene is crucial to the play as a whole as it is the moment two forces to be reckoned with meet. , as Petruchio describes it ‘where two raging fires meet together they do consume the thing that feeds their fury’. What Petruchio is saying is that eventually after him and Katherina have spent some time together they will become mellower as they are matched in determination to be in control. Act 2 Scene 1 enhances the plays comic potential massively.
The meeting of Kate and Petruchio is very funny. Both Kate and Petruchio have fantastic repartee. A lot of stichomythia is used and the exchanges are very fast. Many puns are made, which are very humourous and Petruchio manages to take everything Kate says and turn it into something sexual, which is also very amusing. However by allowing them to meet like this, and making them marry with no other option for Kate Shakespeare is throwing together two big characters who are very comical together as Petruchio just winds Kate up.
The scene shows that Shakespeare is pairing two forces, witty, intelligent and entertaining. It’s a showing of physical dominance. Before this occurs, at the very start of Act 2 Petruchio is bartering for Katherina and offering Baptista dowry for her. This part of the scene is hilarious as Petruchio is so matter of fact about marrying Kate before Kate has even said yes. Petruchio describes Kate totally differently to what Baptista knows her to be, and this is enhanced in humour when Hortensio runs in after Kate has smashed a lute over his head.
Many people such as feminist critic Stevie Davis believe that the bartering is unpalatable for modern audiences, however I disagree as in my opinion you have to take this scene with a pinch of salt and appreciate what society was like at the time. I also think that Petruchio is also being very clever subtly by repeating her name and commanding her, despite being disguised as a pun ‘come sit on me’. This is very significant to the play as this is when the actual taming process begins.
Shakespeare has set up for Kate to go through the taming process of a bird of pray – deprivation of sleep, food and then clothing. The title of the ‘Shrew’ is something that would have been recognized by Elizabethan society as a very funny topic. A ‘Shrew’ would have been a woman who embarrassed their husbands, nagged, and was fierce, bad tempered and violent. It would have very embarrassing for a husband to be married to a ‘Shrew’ as she may talk about his poor performance in bed or other things of this nature and he would be seen as weak.
Act 2 Scene 1 also provides us with the prospect of a comic wedding between Kate and Petruchio. Petruchio shows up very late to the wedding wearing ridiculous garments of clothing. He is also drunk. Baptista questions Petruchio on his eccentric outfit and asks him to change to which Petruchio replies ‘To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. ’ A clever element of William Shakespeare’s stagecraft is that men define Kate’s character. Shakespeare has begun Act 1 Scene 1 with Kate being ridiculed by men and her father isn’t even sticking up for her.
She is referred to as ‘Stark mad’ after she threatens to hit Hortensio over the head with a stool. She is referred to as a ‘fiend’ ‘intolerable’ and ‘curst’ and repeatedly called a ‘devil’ by Gremio in scene 1, between line 105-121, another example of Shakespeare’s stage craft and Katarina’s character being defined by males. However, some people may perhaps take a darker view on ‘the Taming of the Shrew’ and say it isn’t particularly comic at all, and that some of the scene’s are actually very chauvinist and degrading towards women.
People may even argue the play is tragic in some senses, due to the way Kate is treated by men throughout the play and how she is never given a chance she is just seen as a ‘shrew’. The fact Kate is forced to marry Petruchio despite not wanting to could also be seen as very unfair towards women due to the fact their opinion is not being taken into account and Kate seems to be treated as some sort of baggage. The clear favouritism of Bianca in the family could also be seen as very unfair on Kate as her father doesn’t treat her objectively and this could be the reason she acts like she does.
Even when other men are ripping into Kate and calling her names her father does nothing to defend her. This could be a major contributor to why Kate acts out the way she does and if this view is taken then Kate’s shrewish behavior becomes totally understandable. Kate’s wedding could also be seen as cruel as she is totally ridiculed on what is supposed to be the biggest and best day of her life. She isn’t even allowed to eat tea with her guests, as Petruchio demands her to leave with him to his residence where he begins the taming process of starving her of sleep food and clothing, which is tragic for obvious reasons.
Tragic irony also emerges at the end of the play as it turns out Bianca is more deceitful than Kate. As a whole Act 2 Scene 1 contributes massively to the play’s comic potential as it sets up the wedding, the taming process and many other key aspects of the play. The scene is hugely significant to the play also as there is great tension before Kate and Petruchio’s meeting and it is one of the funniest scene’s in the play with all the stichomythia and clever puns, as well as the moment previous with the bartering of Kate’s future with her father Baptista. This makes it crucial to the play ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.