In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, one topic that has been debated, interpreted, discussed, reinterpreted and adapted into different forms has been the character of Katharina, the shrew, and whether she was tamed, liberated, or just a good enough actress to make Everyone think she was in fact, tamed. In this essay, I will present arguments for and against each of these points, as well as discuss one television adaptation of Taming of the Shrew that presents Katharina not as the expected shrew, but as Petruchio’s tamer.
Katharina: The Whipped Shrew
There is evidence that supports Katharina was tamed by Petruchio. For instance, in the opening of the play, Katharina is very vocal and aggressive. Men, women and children trembled whenever she came around, including her father and sister. By the end of the play, however, she is presented as being mild and submissive to Petruchio, leading up to her greatest speech in the dialogue of the play:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt. (5.2.146-154)
In looking at this outtake of Katharina’s speech, it can be seen that she has been tamed by Petruchio’s actions throughout the first four acts. It is difficult to take Katharina’s message here and say, “She is still the same person.” Her monologue reveals that she now sees it is her duty to respect her husband and to be submissive to him. Her speech leads the audience to see that this duty of the wife is one that is a repayment to the husband for all the hard work he does to support her, a debt that the wife could never possibly repay.
Reasons why Katharina might not have been tamed can be found in the fact that the play takes place in what seems to be just a few days. One must ask the question: Is it possible to cause such a great change in a person’s behavior in such a short amount of time as this? It is very unlikely that it is possible, since Katharina, by the opening of the play, is at least 20 years of age and is very much set into her ways. It would take much longer to cure Katharina of this attitude problem she possesses.With this in mind, it is very likely that Katharina was either liberated by Petruchio in how to control her temper, or she acted as if she had been tamed to get everyone off of her back.
Katharina: The Liberated Shrew
Since it is not possible for Katharina to have been tamed by Petruchio in the short time period of the play, it is possible that she was liberated by Petruchio’s actions. In the movie version of Taming of the Shrew, starring Elizabeth Taylor as Katharina and Richard Burton as Petruchio, the ending sequence is presented with the widow and Bianca refusing to come out at their suitor’s request. Petruchio then sends for Katharina, and with the expressions on everyone’s face, it can be assumed they weren’t expecting her to come out either. Instead, Katharina does come out, with Bianca under one arm and the widow under the other. It was at this point she delivered her speech quoted above.
Now, if she was tamed, it is doubtful she would have come out with the other women in her grips. It is more likely she would have come out alone, saying something along the lines of “Yes, my darling Petruchio, what can I do for thee?” Instead, she forces the other women to be obedient to their spouses, still showing some of the fearful aggressiveness at the beginning of the play.
I see this as evidence that Petruchio has liberated Katharina in a sense that she no longer needs to be brash and aggressive at all times, but more she can use her assertiveness for her husband’s advantage, and more importantly for her own advantage, as when dragging in the two women. In other words, together, they made a great team with Petruchio’s great wit and ability to play word games at the drop of a hat and Katharina’s strong will and stubbornness. I find that they no longer use these on each other, except for amusement, but to influence and gain stature and control to those around them.
Katharina: The Acting Shrew
In the performance done by the Sanderson High School for last year’s State UIL One-Act Play, they chose to do scenes from Taming of the Shrew. This interpretation of the play was an interesting one compared to the other interpretations I had seen before. Instead of presenting Katharina as being tamed at worst (I say tamed at worst because if Katharina was tamed, she would have truly lost most of her spirit) or liberated at best, Karina Mendoza portrayed Katharina as being an actress pretending to be tamed.
In the scene where Katharina and Petruchio are returning to Padua for Bianca’s wedding, they are shown arguing along the road, as to whether the globe in the sky was the sun or the moon. Instead of realizing Petruchio was trying to free her from her anger and join him in his witty word-play, and instead of giving up everything to allow Petruchio to have full dominion over her, Katharina pretends to go along with him and starts agreeing with everything he says. What Petruchio doesn’t see is that when Katharina turns away and faces the audience, she rolls her eyes at him, revealing that even though it appears she has conceded to him, she still retains her personality.
What also aids in this view is that when Katharina and Petruchio arrive in Padua, after Katharina gives the above speech, Petruchio scoops her into his arms and carries her into the church, all the men applauding him. It is at this point Katharina looks out to the audience and gives the crowd a knowing wink and signs the word for “Okay,” as if she is the one who got him instead of the other way around.
I find this evidence plausible as well, since it is difficult to see Katharina willing to give in to Petruchio and find a middle ground with him, even if their aggressive nature is so much alike. After all, if Katharina is just acting as if she were tamed, then it is likely she would still have her shrewish attitude. If this is the case, then Petruchio is in for a big downfall when she decides to remove her disguise and unleash herself upon her unsuspecting husband.
Katharina: The Tamer of the Shrew
So far, all the examples I have given have presented Katharina as the tamed, liberated or acting shrew. I would like to present a different view of Katharina as something other than the one being tamed, and look at a modern interpretation that displays her as the tamer.
I recently had an opportunity to see a recording of the 80’s television comedy Moonlighting, starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. In this show, a special was done on a revision of Taming of the Shrew with Willis’ character as Petruchio and Shepherd’s as Katharina. For the first part, this version follows the original Shakespeare text, with some liberties taken by the writers of the show, showing some tongue-in-cheek humor – Petruchio rides in on a horse with both of them wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, the saddle has the logo for BMW on the side, and Katharina has a closet full of “cheap” vases to throw at her suitors. But, as the comedy progresses, an interesting twist is given – beginning when Petruchio and Katharina return to Padua for the wedding of Bianca and Lucentio. Petruchio is confronting Baptista about receiving the promised dowry for wedding Katharina, and Baptista demands proof that Katharina has been tamed, a part of the bargain for receiving the dowry, because he had heard rumors that Katharina was not tamed or liberated, but that Petruchio was the one that had given in to Katharina’s aggressive nature.
To prove he had tamed Katharina, Petruchio states to her the globe in the sky is the moon at noon-time. Katharina turns to the blazing sun, and after a few moments of silence from the whole town waiting for her response, says “My husband, you are mistaken. For it is the sun. I beg you, look again.”
The shocked crowd turns to Petruchio who, instead of getting mad and threatening they return to his home as in the other performances when they are on the road to Padua, stares back at the sun, and says, “Why, you are right. How foolish of me.” The rest of the tale ends with a variation of Katharina’s speech in an 1980’s fashion – that man and woman are to be equals and should not try to be dominant over the other, and that it was Petruchio’s kindness towards her that won her heart, for she was still the same opinionated woman. She states that what women truly want is for men to treat them with respect and they will receive the same respect in return. In other words, Katharina was not the one needing to b e tamed, but the brash attitude of Petruchio.
Throughout this essay, I have presented four different arguments about the subject of Katharina’s taming. In analyzing the text of the play and seeing how different interpretations have presented the taming, I find that I have to agree with two of the interpretations, the first that Katharina is acting tamed, and second that she was liberated.
First, I feel that she was just acting on the road to Padua, that she was still just pretending to be tamed so she could see her family one more time. I feel this with how quickly she changed her attitude when Petruchio threatened to return home and forego the wedding. But, I also feel that her acting job here backfired against her emotionally. When she saw that by being obedient to Petruchio he treated her as an equal, she realized she needed to compromise her nature to keep this man she was falling in love with, which leads to her being liberated.
I say Katharina is liberated because she still displays some of her shrewish attitudes during the feast for Lucentio and Bianca’s wedding, when she drags out the two stubborn women, who refused to come out when the husbands called for them. If she was tamed at this point, she would not have been aggressive towards the two ladies. If she was acting, she would have risked being discovered if she showed herself being aggressive with the ladies. If she was liberated and able to be as an equal with Petruchio, she would have acted the way she did – aggressive towards those who were being stubborn about their husband’s authority. I see it as Katharina was trying to show them that if they are obedient to their husband, the husband would treat them as an equal.
I also find I have to agree with the Moonlighting version of the play, in a sense. It has to be seen that if Katharina gave in some of her attitude towards Petruchio, Petruchio also had to give in some of his own attitude. The attitude of show respect and obedience and receive respect and equality, although carried to an extreme in the Moonlighting episode, can be seen in all the versions of the play discussed.
In conclusion, I believe that Katharina is not the only one who became liberated through the course of the play, but Petruchio as well, from his own super-masculinity.