Analytic Play Review Of The Taming Of The Shrew Essay

By Michael Christoff 12H
The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare is
probably one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies. Its plot
is derived from the popular ‘war of the sexes’ theme in
which males and females are pitted against one another for
dominance in marriage. The play begins with an induction in
which a drunkard, Christopher Sly, is fooled into believing
he is a king and has a play performed for him. The play he
watches is what constitutes the main body of The Taming Of
The Shrew. In it, a wealthy land owner, Baptista Minola,
attempts to have his two daughters married. One is very
shrewish, Katherine, while the other is the beautiful and
gentle Bianca. In order to ensure Katherine is married,
Baptista disallows Bianca to be espoused until Katherine is
wed, forcing the many suitors to Bianca to find a mate for
Katherine in order for them to vie for Bianca’s love. Many
critics of the play condemn it for the blatant sexist
attitude it has toward women but closer examination of the
play and the intricacies of its structure reveal that it is
not merely a story of how men should ‘put women in their
place’. The play is, in fact, a comedy about an assertive
woman coping with how she is expected to act in the society
of the late sixteenth century and of how one must obey the
unwritten rules of a society to be accepted in it. Although
the play ends with her outwardly conforming to the norms of
society, this is in action only, not in mind. Although she
assumes the role of the obedient wife, inwardly she still
retains her assertiveness.
Most of the play’s humour comes from the way in which
characters create false realities by disguising themselves
as other people, a device first introduced in the induction.
Initially this is accomplished by having Christopher Sly
believe he is someone he is not and then by having the main
play performed for him. By putting The Taming Of The Shrew
in a ‘play within a play’ structure, Shakespeare immediately
lets the audience know that the play is not real thus making
all events in the play false realities. Almost all
characters in the play take on identities other than their
own at some point of time during the play. Sly as a king,
Tranio as Lucentio, Lucentio as Cambio, Hortensio as Litio
and the pedant as Vicentio are all examples of this.
Another example of this is Katherine as an obedient wife.
In The Taming Of The Shrew, courtship and marriage are
not so much the result of love but rather an institution of
society that people are expected to take part in. As a
result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are
judged, not by their love for a woman, but by how well they
can provide for her. All suitors compare the dowry each can
bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer
‘wins’ the woman’s hand in marriage. This competition for
marriage is like a game to the characters of the play.
While discussing the courtship of Bianca with Gremio,
Hortensio says “He that runs fastest gets The ring” (Act I,
scene i, l. 140-141) likening receiving permission to wed
Bianca to winning a race. In the game, however, women are
treated like objects that can be bought and sold rather than
as human beings. This is expected since the society is a
patriarchal one. For example, Lucentio, Tranio and
Petruchio are all defined with reference to their fathers
and all the elderly authority figures, like Baptista and
Vicentio, are men. The taming of Katherine is not a women’s
shrewishness being cured as much as it is a woman being
taught the rules of the ‘patriarchal game’. Katherine has
learned how to be assertive and with this knowledge is able
to control men, and a woman controlling a man is considered
‘against the rules’ of the game.
The play ends with Katherine proving that she is truly
cured of her ‘shrewishness’ and is the most obedient of the
three newlywed wives at the end of the play. This is
demonstrated in her soliloquy when she lectures the other
wives on the proper way in which a woman should behave:
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
(Act V, scene ii, l. 161 – 164)
Although most critics interpret the play as being that
of a woman finally acting the way in which she is supposed
to act, it is difficult to believe that a character as
vibrant and strong-willed as Katherine is changed so easily.
Following with the device of false realities that
Shakespeare set in place so early in the play, it would seem
more logical that Katherine would simply be acting the part
of ‘the obedient wife’ in order to be accepted in the
society in which she lives. Katherine can ‘play a part’
very well and can even enjoy doing it. This is shown on the
road to Padua from Petruchio’s house when Kate is forced to
address Vincentio as a woman and says, “Young budding
virgin, fair and fresh and sweet” (Act IV, scene v, l. 37).
The Taming Of The Shrew is a light-hearted comedy that
is better seen than read. This is especially true since a
lot of the humour in it is physical or ‘slapstick’ humour
which is possible only on stage. The complexity of the play
is refreshing, as many of the modern plays of today are
quite linear and do little to keep a reader’s attention.
Another favourable aspect of it is the subplot involving
Lucentio and Bianca which lends itself as the basis for many
humourous moments, most notably between Lucentio, Hortensio
and Bianca. The obvious sexist attitude of the play does
not hinder it because of the reasons stated above. One must
also take into account the attitudes of sixteenth century
England and the fact that the play is a comedy and is not
meant to be taken seriously.

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