5 February 2001
A very prominent theme in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is society's double standards of men and women. In the play, Katherina is a very free-willed, independent woman who wishes to follow her own path in life and is not dependent on a man for her happiness. Petruchio is also free-willed, independent and speaks his mind freely. However, where Petruchio is praised for these characteristics, Katherina is scorned and called names. Petruchio is manly and Katherina is bitchy for the same traits.
This is seen in popular cultural too often than is comfortable for such an advanced modern culture as ours. Women who are ambitious are seen as bitchy and conniving while men are seen as ambitious. Examples can be found in politics and entertainment. Prominent figures such as Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton and former Attorney General Janet Reno, were forced to take a more masculine persona, because people were so threatened by their power. Senator Clinton was always seen as a woman to be watched, just because she wanted her own life while her husband governed the country. She was even criticized for keeping her maiden name instead of dropping it in lieu of the traditional husband's name.
In the entertainment industry stereotypes of what women should be. Women of power like Oprah Winfrey are found threatening to this. Rosie O'Donnell was chastised for proclaiming her political views on her television show. When she stated her opinion about gun control to prominent NRA advocate Tom Selleck she was considered bitchy for stating her opinion, even though he did the same thing. On the television show, ER, Kerry Wheeler is considered a bitch for being a strong character and boss, while her co-worker, Mark Green can be equally headstrong and difficult but is considered determined. Comedian Roseanne has always been ridiculed for being brash with her opinions, where male comedians like Chris Rock are hailed. When a woman may celebrate her sexuality and be open with it, she will be called a slut, but if a man sleeps around he can still be a hero - President John F. Kennedy and Wilt Chamberlain, a few examples.
When you use the word feminine you naturally think of demure, quiet, pretty, pastel, and motherly. Strong, ambitious, athletic, powerful and opinionated never come to mind. And, it seems, because the woman is not to speak up for herself it is okay to say hurtful things in front of them. The first lines spoken of Katherina are hurtful. In The Taming of the Shrew Baptista, Gremio, Hortensio and Tranio are all talking about how shrewish and curst Katherina is in front of her (I.i.55). The most blatant double standard is when Petruchio is saying how he will "bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate/ Conformable as other household Kates" (II.i.272). He sees it as his duty as a man to take the free will out of her and make her into his obedient little wife.
In this day and age we can go to the moon and beyond, talk to people on the other side of the world, and have any and all the information one could want at our fingertips through the world wide web. One would think that after 400 years of progress the idea of the little wife would be extinct, unfortunately it is still rampant in our culture. Hopefully we will come to respect these strong women in our culture- not as an animal to be tamed but as a force to be reckoned with.
7 February 2001
Katherina's development in the play, The Taming of the Shrew, is a complicated dilemma for the reader to figure out. Is she really tamed by Petruchio? Or does she figure out his game and decide she's better off playing along? Or does she recognize her own excessive behavior in his and decide to change of her own free will? Or does she really fall in love with Petruchio and wish to please her lord? I think her evolution is a combination of all of the above. But do we, as readers, want her to be tamed or was her initial independence a virtue?
It's obvious that Katherina's father, Baptista Minola, hasn't treated her as well as he treats Bianca, her younger sister. On the other hand, is her "shrewishness" a cause or a result of this favoritism? Katherina is obviously a highly intelligent woman whose gifts have no outlet in the domestic company of the household. For example, in their first meeting, Katherina keeps up with Petruchio pun for pun and insult for insult. Perhaps her fury is simply the result of having no outlet for her feisty wit. And when Petruchio comes along and treats her as an equal (the opposite of taming), I think she is taken aback and that is how he is able to swoop in and win her. In this first encounter, Katherina is, for the first time in her life, spoken kindly to by a man. She seems moved by Petruchio's praise. Also, when it appears she has been left at the altar, she weeps and wishes she had never met him. I think her grief is a sign of her genuine affection and perhaps even love for Petruchio.
By the end of the play and in her final speech, Katherina may seem genuinely tamed, depending on your interpretation of the soliloquy -- is it genuine or tongue-in-cheek? Is she really her lord's noble servant or is she pandering to him and what he wants to hear? I think she wants to give her husband happiness, but knows that her husband will do the same for her. I think Petruchio and Katherina would actually have a very balanced marriage of mutual respect, because they each know what the other is capable of.
The whole play is a series of mirrors within mirrors -- reflections of reflections. Christopher Sly is quite clearly paralleled with Katherina. Is Katherina's true nature revealed or changed? Was the shrewishness a facade to her true romantic and obedient self? Or is she just going along as the dutiful wife as Christopher Sly acts the part of a lord because it is suggested? I think such an independent-minded woman as Katherina would not be as easily swayed.