Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew": An Analysis of a Tamed Kate

The Globe Theatre that Shakespeare created has been performing Taming of the Shrew since its early days.
The Globe Theatre that Shakespeare created has been performing Taming of the Shrew since its early days. | Source

Taming of the Shrew Essay

In The Taming of the Shrew, Kate goes through an amazing transformation from a harsh shrew to a spirited yet submissive wife. This transformation is due to Petruchio’s over-the-top kindness towards Kate and cruelty towards all others. Although her development is very evident from an outward perspective, she is essentially the same person after Petruchio’s taming as she is before. The true difference between the Kate that Gremio refers to as a “fiend of hell” (I.i.89), to the Kate that Baptista gives “another dowry to” (V.ii.120) is that she has learned to look beyond herself and begins to express love. It’s Kate’s desire for love with Petruchio’s help that leads her to expressing love and empathy without losing her feisty attitude.

Taming of the Shrew: Petruchio and Kate

Petruchio wanted to show Kate how mean she was, by beating her at her own game.
Petruchio wanted to show Kate how mean she was, by beating her at her own game. | Source

Kate's Desire for Love

Kate desires love, regardless of how unloving and unlovable she begins. In Act Two, Scene One, when Kate ties her sister’s hands, she questions Bianca of all the suitors that are after Bianca. Bianca recognizes this cruel act as jealousy and a desire to be loved when she states, “Is it for [Gremio] you do envy me so?” (VII.i.18). It is not Gremio or any other suitor that Kate feels jealousy towards; she feels jealous of Bianca and how everyone, even their father, views her as the preferred sister. Kate voices these feelings when she snaps at her father as he comes to Bianca’s defense by saying, “[Bianca] is your treasure” (II.i.32). This reflects Kate’s belief that her father views Bianca as someone valuable, whereas Kate does not believe that he feels the same way towards her.

Then when Petruchio arrives, Kate finally finds someone who gives her compliments. His sincerity may be in question, because he plans to “woo her with some spirit when she comes” (II.i.170) and to praise her with the opposite of her actions. Regardless, this is the first time she hears such flatteries as being called as “sweet as springtime flowers” (II.i.247) or being told “thy beauty that doth make me like thee well” (II.i.275) then eventually requesting her hand in marriage. Although she states that she’d “rather see thee hanged…” (II.i 300) than get married to him, she does in fact show up to the wedding, and further feels grieved when he does not arrive on time. If she had not wanted to marry him, she would have thrown the same kind of fit as she was accustomed to prior. She did not, which shows Petruchio’s effect on her.

Despite his flattery, she still seeks to find love from him, although she seeks it in juvenile ways. For instance, once the marriage ceremony ends, she desires to stay for the reception, whereas Petruchio wants to leave. She argues her case through a childish plea stating, “Now if you love me, stay” (III.ii.204). This question is much like what a child would ask their mother or best friend. The immaturity of this act reflects her lacking of the basic necessity of being nurtured and feeling cared for. Because of this, she seeks for it through childish means such as petty questions and fighting.

Petruchio: The Worst Shrew

Petruchio was able to out-shrew Kate, and cause her to be alarmed.
Petruchio was able to out-shrew Kate, and cause her to be alarmed. | Source

Who Is Petruchio?

Her quarrelsome behavior is not entirely due to her lack of being loved, but also her self-absorption. For the first time in Kate’s life, she sees others being verbally abused by someone other than herself, as Petruchio presents himself as an even worse shrew than herself. A turning point in her selfishness occurs when the servants bring out the “burnt” meat (IV.i.151). Despite Petruchio’s rebuke of the meat, she insists that it is okay. Due to his harsh words towards the servants, Kate tries to reason with him by stating, “I pray you, ‘tis a fault unwilling” (IV.i.153). In one sense, she is hungry and will say anything to be allowed to eat the meat, regardless of its state. On the other hand, she does not refer to her own need of hunger, but defends the cook’s mistake. This willingness to step outside of herself in order to defend someone else reflects her ability to empathize.

As her awareness of others grows, so does her ability to show love. One example of this emergent love is seen as Petruchio and Kate first arrive at her father’s home. Petruchio beckons a kiss. When she refuses the first time, he asks if it’s because she is embarrassed of him. She responds with, “But no sir, God forbid, but ashamed to kiss,” (V.ii.137) which signifies more the feelings towards public displays of affection during this time period rather than her feelings of kissing Petruchio. Her initial resistance may also be because she is not used to showing affection, due to the lack of love she has felt previously.

This statement is also significant because it expresses her sincerity towards Petruchio as a husband. She uses the expression “God forbid” which emphasizes her feelings against being ashamed of him. Through her word choices, one can see that she has truly fallen in love with Petruchio. In the next line, she again proves her growing love for him. Petruchio playfully hints that since she won’t kiss him in public, they should go home. Her response is, “nay I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee, love, stay” (V.ii.139). Kate’s willingness to kiss Petruchio is more than just a desire to stay at her father’s house; her word choice proves this. This is seen because she calls him “love,” before she kisses him. This affectionate term further signifies that she has fallen in love with Petruchio.

Taming the Shrew

Just as the word “love” is chosen, her word choices in the final speech prove she is truly in love with Petruchio and sincere in what she says to the two women. As she describes a husband to Bianca and the widow, she states “thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / thy head thy sovereign, one that cares for thee” (V.ii.153). The first three things reflect the views of a marriage in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The last part of her description shows the sincerity in what she is saying. The, “one that cares for thee,” indicates her acknowledgment, despite Petruchio’s crazy antics, that he truly cares for her. If she had meant it to be sarcastic, this admission of being cared for would seem out of place and misguided.

Not only has her love for Petruchio completely blossomed, but her ability to empathize has as well, which again is seen through her word choices. In the last scene as she gives her speech to Bianca and the widow, this emergent compassion is again revealed. During this scene, she begins chiding the two women about their childish behavior towards their husbands. She reveals this by explaining this behavior through a husband’s eyes. Kate recognizes that her husband is working hard in order for her to have food on the table and a safe home. This admission goes further than just recognition of a husband’s willingness to work hard and to provide for his wife; she also claims that her willingness to be submissive and loving is “too little payment for so great a debt” (V.ii.160).

Petruchio Having Fun at Kate's Expense

Petruchio taught Kate how to enjoy life.
Petruchio taught Kate how to enjoy life. | Source

Kate Still Feisty

With her new understanding, Kate’s actions and words begin to change, but not her personality. She may have stopped her temper tantrums and her cruelty towards others, but she is still feisty. This is proven in several scenes. One of the best scenes to reflect this would be prior to Kate’s arrival at her father’s house as Petruchio and her are on their walk. He tries to make the point that she should be in submission to him as he refers to the sun as the moon and the moon as the sun. She recognizes his argumentativeness as playfulness, and she reacts with a similar elaborate rant of her own. This speech addresses his absurdity by saying, “But sun it is not when you say it is not, / And the moon changes even as your mind” (V.i.20-21). If she had been completely broken of spirit, she would have simply agreed without an elaborate speech. But instead, she made a show of the nonsensicalness. If this is not evidence enough, you see her still argumentative nature when she says, “And so it shall be still for Katherine” (V.i.22). By not accepting the nickname Petruchio has given to her, she proves that she still is independent of him. She is capable of being a submissive wife, but be her own person as well.

Later in the same scene, the playfulness is further shown as they approach Lucentia’s father. She does not need to say anything when Petruchio makes the ridiculous claim that the man is really a woman. Instead, she plays the game with Petruchio by calling the man a “young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet” (V.i.36). The fact that she is willing to go along with his outlandish remarks and humiliate a man she has never met proves she has not lost her spunk.

The Play Taming of the Shrew

Taming of the Shrew has been read and reread, performed, and reperformed. It has lasted many years, and is still as great as the original.
Taming of the Shrew has been read and reread, performed, and reperformed. It has lasted many years, and is still as great as the original. | Source

Kate's Stregnth

Few woman, now and especially during Shakespeare’s time, would be willing to risk humiliation for themselves or others, unless they have a strong personality.Then again in her final speech, Kate talks at length with a strong presence that captivates her audience, further proving she is still the feisty woman she had been at the very beginning but with new understanding. She recognizes marriage as a partnership. While in this society a woman is asked to be obedient, it is not without men serving woman as well. She demonstrates this when she states,

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;

This refers to what men of this time had to do for their wives. When she expresses her feelings towards a woman’s obedience it is not only a representation of what is expected of a woman, but what men are expected to do for their wives as well.

This same spunk is reflected other times in the same speech, despite its strong patriarchal message. At the beginning of her monologue, she begins with the strong rebuke, “Fie, fie, unknit that threat'ning unkind brow” (V.ii.142). The fact that neither her sister nor the widow immediately argue back is a reflection of Kate’s continuing authoritative demeanor. Later she uses further piercing words, such as “foul contending rebel” and “graceless traitor,” which again are not met with an immediate challenge (V.ii.165-166). Also, the speech’s length is further proof that she is as full of strength as she is in the beginning, if not more. She is talking amongst both men and women, yet all listen. She rebukes, yet no one interrupts. The speech is long, and does not end until she has decided to finish speaking. The fact that she decides when the speech is finished is emphasized by the couplets in which end her speech. Only someone who could demand such authority would have been able to give such a strong lengthy speech.

Despite Kate’s apparent anti-feminist talk, Kate has not become a completely broken weak-willed woman. She still has the passion and energy she began with, but with a realization that her actions affect others. She also has learned how to love by being loved. Though she evolves in her ideas and actions, her personality is essentially the same as it is in the beginning but shaped by empathy and love. She still is able and willing to fight which is reflected in her monologue. However, she does it with tact and poise, which is no longer met with dispute. Though it is Petruchio who helped her along the journey, if she hadn't desired for love in the beginning, her transformation would not have occurred.

© 2010 Angela Michelle

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Comments 11 comments

CJA 4 months ago

I've been teaching taming of the Shrew for decades and have come to the position that Kate's speech is the third of a series of contracts in the play, the first two being the covenant between Petruchio and Baptista, while the second is the fraudulent contract with the supposed Vincentio. The subtextual message in the speech is directed to Petruchio and Kate clearly outlines the obligations and rewards he is entitled to if he acts properly. the key in understanding this is in the antithesis of her conditions. If his will is "honest" then she will be obedient and thus not a 'foul. contending rebel". If he is dishonest, then her rebellion becomes patriotic since the contract has become essentially null and void. So in the end, Kate has not either been tamed, nor has has simply told Petruchio what he wanted to hear. Rather, her final speech is a hostile negotiation in which failure to agree results in a loss of face, reputation and money on Petruchio's part.

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Thelma Alberts 16 months ago from Germany

Very well reviewed. Thanks for sharing. Congrats on the HOTD!

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 16 months ago from the short journey

Congrats your Hub of the Day award for an interesting post filled with food for thought.

Sulabha profile image

Sulabha 16 months ago from Indore, India

You are simply brilliant. A very good critical study.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 16 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Angela, nice review on that classic Shakespearan play. Congrats on HOTD, too! Voted up for useful!

mikeydcarroll67 16 months ago

I think the play is a good example that we have to first love ourselves for who we are (rather than becoming a narcissist). It is a good example that we have to open ourselves up, deal with the bitterness and gradually accept who we are.

Lee Cloak 16 months ago

A really great hub about a fantastic play, one i would dearly love to see in London on stage some day, thanks for sharing, voted up, Lee

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 16 months ago from Ontario, Canada

You have done an excellent job on this review. What a story on transformation, a story at play each day in so many lives.

angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States Author

I am careful to use the word submit, because there is a duality that is going on. Not all power goes to the man; the man is expected to love his wife as Jesus loved the church. I think submit gets a bad rap in our society today, because it's not completely understood or respected. I think if a man is truly loving his wife as Jesus loved the church, then her best interest would always be in the forefront of his mind; therefore, he would not just expect her to serve him solely, but take care of herself as well. He would also serve her, just as Jesus served the church. As far as obeying, he also would not expect her to obey anything that was not in her best interest. Even Jesus allowed suffering on himself in order to save his church.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon

Excellent work! It takes a strong and beautiful woman to be able to submit to her rightful head, because she has to learn to serve, to obey, and to look to another's needs more than her own. This was not just a 16th and 17th century idiom, but a proper and true behavior that women in all civilized countries have practiced from the beginning of history until the 20th century, the time when they began to abandon their proper roles and rebel against the freeing and fulfilling headship God placed upon them.

I love this play and have seen it several times in several different performances! You did a wonderful job with it.

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Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

Good Job, welcome to hubs.

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