The Taming of the Shrew Essay

Posted on June 8, 2009

William Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew” is a lighthearted, slapstick comedy written in the 1590’s. This particular era is classified as the Elizabethan era. This famous play has been chiefly based on courtship and the concerns of married life. Both of these characteristics were profoundly relevant to society at this time, in fact this was a society concerned with marriage in general. People living in this era often married for power, land or money rather then for love. Marital disputes became very popular in literature, as this era did not offer any avenues out of an unhappy marriage.

The laws and practices of these times also did not allow women to have the same opportunities as men. Women were said to be under the authority of their husbands and society would not allow women to perform in plays. In fact, in this era, men acted out all the male and female roles.

Another concern of this society was “shrews”, that is “a woman with a violent, scolding, or nagging temperament”. Katherina has demonstrated this idea in the play. Women were expected to act a particular way, and any woman with a willful temperament or who challenged the authority of men, was classified as a shrew. It was for these reasons that men set out to “tame” their wives into the way society felt they should behave. “Taming” can be defined as “being brought from wildness into a domesticated or tractable state”. This idea of one “taming a shrew” is brought out through the main plot of the willful Kate and the equally stubborn Petruchio.

Shakespeare has used the idea of deception in his play to reflect the opinions of this society. This idea of deception has been furthered with the use of disguise. Deception can be defined as “to give a false impression and to cause to believe what is not true”. Shakespeare brings out this deception in his play through the characters. He does this by using a variety of techniques such as disguise. Disguise is defined as being “to modify the manner and/or appearance of, in order to prevent recognition”. Throughout the play this main idea of deception and disguise is ably bought out through 3 plots. They include the introductory plot of Christopher Sly, the main plot of Petruchio and Kate and the sub-plot of Bianca and her suitors.

The first story of deception found in the play concerns Christopher Sly. The first scene opens in an English country alehouse in the late 1500’s. Sly has been knocked unconscious as a result of consuming an excessive amount of alcohol. It is at this point that a lord discovers Sly, and he decides it would be very entertaining for him to play a trick on the drunken beggar. “Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man.” The Lord commands his men to take the sleeping Sly up to his extravagant bedroom and when he awakes, they are to tell him that he is a noble man who has been asleep for many years. “Wrapp’d in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers, A most delicious banquet by his bed.” The Lord also commands his men to dress Sly in the most sumptuous clothes and to feed him the finest of foods in order to convince Sly that he really is a nobleman.

Sly at first is confused as to what is going on, but remains sure of himself and insists that he is not a lord. “I am Christopher Sly; call not me ‘honor’ nor’lordship.” He resists the Lord and his servants and he only relents when he is informed that he has a wife. It is at this point that Sly instantly reverses himself. “Am I a lord? And have I such a lady?” Sly is so caught up in the fact that he may be able to bed this woman, that he stops contradicting the Lord and his servants. “Are you my wife and will not call me husband? My men should call me ‘lord:’ I am your goodman.” Sly becomes oblivious to the situation and his mind is now set on getting this woman into bed. “Madam, undress you and come now to bed.”

His speech also is disguised. Sly eventuates from speaking in prose, to speaking in verse. This is very humorous as verse is usually reserved for those in the higher class of society. Sly uses this technique to make him self appear accomplished and wealthy.

Sly is not the only one applying deception within the Introduction. The Lord and his servants have also deceived Sly through the use of disguise. The Lord has done this by forcing Sly to live a life where he is a nobleman, with all the luxuries included. As soon as Sly awoke they began filling his head with nonsense and insisting that he was a wealthy nobleman. Sly was offered the finest of foods and the finest of clothing in order to further this deception and make him truly believe that he is a wealthy Lord.

The sub plot of the play involves Bianca and her suitors. This play-within a play is taken place in Padua, Italy. Lucentio, a young gentleman from Verona arrives accompanied by his suitor when he notices Baptista Minola and his two young daughters Bianca and her older sister Kate. BiancaТs suitors Gremio and Hortensio accompany them. While standing in the street, Lucentio over hears Baptista say that no one will marry Bianca, until Kate has found a suitor. “That is, not bestow my youngest daughter, Before I have a husband for the elder” By this point Lucentio has become totally enamored with Bianca and he devises a plan to get closer to Bianca. Lucentio is to disguise himself as a tutor named Cambio while Tranio pretends to be Lucentio.

It is obvious that this is an element of deception. Lucentio and Tranio have purposely disguised themselves in order to deceive Kate, Bianca, Baptista and the other suitors. They have used different clothing in order to accomplish this.

This is where the third, and main plot of the play begins. Bianca’s suitors realize that they will not be able to ask for her hand unless they find a suitable suitor for her stubborn sister Kate. Petruchio, also from Verona, has arrived in Padua for one sole reason. To find himself a wife whom does a large dowry accompany. He does not care if she is a shrew or not. Hortensio, another gentlemen also in want of Bianca’s hand, agrees to introduce Petruchio to Kate. All three men, Hortensio, Gremio and Lucentio (posing as Tranio) agree to assist him in gaining access to the younger daughter.

Petruchio goes directly to Baptista is completely upfront with his intentions. He tells Baptista that he wealthy and Baptista welcomes Petruchio’s offer. But Petruchio must first win Kate’s love. Petruchio is certain that he can do so.

When Petruchio and Kate first meet, they flirt and take it in turns in verbally challenging each other. Kate continues to act shrewish and Petruchio claims that Kate is in love with him. The wedding plans begin and Bianca’s suitors move in. Tranio/Lucentio promises enormous riches for Bianca, but Baptista wishes to mean Tranio/Lucentio’s father in order to confirm this. Therefore Tranio/Lucentio must find a suitable man to pose as “Vincentio”.

The disguise and deception falls deeper and deeper as the plot continues. Not only do these young gentleman have to act as if they were someone else, but now Tranio/Lucentio must find another gentleman to act as his father in order for him to have Bianca’s hand.

The whole wedding party has gathered for the event, except for the groom. Kate begins to show signs of humiliation. “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!'” This is significant as it is the first time, we the audience see Kate showing any signs of emotion.

When Petruchio eventually decides to make an appearance, his dress and behavior are both outrageous. Baptista objects to this and Petruchio replies that “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes” and then proceeds to take Kate off to the wedding.

It seems that Petruchio’s state of mind has reversed. Previously he has been honest and upfront in his actions. Now he deceiving Kate by playing games and acting like someone he isn’t”. He uses disguise to emphasize the fact that Kate is here to marry him, and not his clothing.

Once the wedding ceremony is completed Petruchio will not allow Kate to stay for the wedding feast. Instead he drags her from her father’s house. The journey from Baptista’s to Petruchio’s house is not a pleasant one. The couple arrives tired, dirty, cold and hungry. Petruchio temps Kate with the finest of foods, but Petruchio is outraged and claims that the supper is unfit. He decides the pair will fast, and they pack up and go to bed. It is at this point that Petruchio admits he is going to tame his new wife like a falcon. He plans to deprive her of sleep, food and sex and claims he will be doing this all in loving care. Therefore “killing her with kindness.”

Petruchio has rises up to the challenge and begins acting as a reflection of Kate. He is rude, stubborn and willful. All the characteristics Katerina once possessed. He has in turn, deceived Kate by not acting him self, rather someone he certainly is not.

Meanwhile Hortensio and Tranio/Lucentio give up their quest for Bianca’s hand when they find Lucentio/Cambio kissing her. Bianca is now engaged to Lucentio/Cambio. It seems the battle for Bianca’s hand is over.

The next day Petruchio announces that the couple will be returning to Padua for Bianca’s wedding. Katerina is excited for she hopes for new clothes. Petruchio again teases Kate by saying that the clothes are hideous and they will certainly not do. “O mercy, God! What miscuing stuff is here?” The couple will return to Padua, dressed as they are. “Well, come, my Kate; we will unto your father’s Even in these honest mean habiliments: “After all, “’tis the mind that makes the body rich;”

Petruchio again is stamping his authority. He is sending a message to Kate that he is in charge, and if she wants any chance of happiness, she must agree with him.

Whilst walking back to Padua, Petruchio declares that the moon is shinny brightly, when in reality it is the sun. Kate contradicts her husband stating this, and he will not have it. He threatens that the pair will return home and not attend the wedding. At last, Katerina understands the point and states that it is the moon or the sun, or whatever he wishes it to be. “What you will have it named, even that it is;”

The mood calls for celebration, but before Petruchio and Kate return to Baptista’s, Petruchio demands a kiss from his wife. It seems that the battle is over.

Back at the house, everyone claims that Petruchio has the worst of wives. Petruchio then suggests that they make a bet and she who’s wife, in turn is the most obedient towards her husband. When Bianca and the Widow are called they refuse to come, but when Kate is summoned, she not only attends to her husband, but she also lectures the other wives on how they should behave towards their husbands. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee.”

Kate has come along way from the beginning of the play; it appears that Kate has been tamed. Her attitude has completely changed, and her willful and stubborn behavior completely disappeared. Petruchio has succeeded in giving her a taste of her own medicine, and in turn molded her into a gentlewoman. Or has he? From this it can been seen that Shakespeare has used many levels of deception and disguise through out his play “The taming of the shrew”. So is this another level of deception? Has Kate really been tamed or is she simply playing along in a game with Petruchio once again?

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