In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, one topic that has been debated, interpreted, discussed, reinterpreted and adapted has been the character of Katharine, the shrew, and whether she was tamed, liberated, or just a good enough actress to make everyone think she was in fact, tamed. There are many arguments for and against each of these points, as well as an argument that discusses one television adaptation of Taming of the Shrew that presents Katherine not as the expected shrew, but as Petruccio’s tamer. In addition to the television show, two different movies also discuss the present different adaptations of Katherine.
The first movie is the Franco Zeffirelli adaptation starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. This movie presents an adaptation in which Petruccio tames Katherine, but leaves it open for the viewers to interpret whether or not Katherine is just acting. The other example I am using is a movie called 10 Things I Hate About You. This movie is a 1999 adaptation of the Taming of the Shrew. Although the directors have changed almost every part of the Shakespearean play, the underlying story is mostly the same. Kat and Patrick are thrown together, and it becomes Patrick’s job to tame Kat. In this adaptation, both Kat and Patrick learn and change from each other. Though there are many adaptations and interpretations of Katherine and the way she turns out, she is not tamed, and she does not tame, instead, she is liberated, and learns to live and love.
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There is much evidence, which supports the argument that Petruccio tamed Katherine. For instance, in the opening of the play, Katherine is very vocal and aggressive. Men, women and children trembled whenever she came around, including her father and sister. An example of this is when Katherine is talking with her father about his love for her sister. “What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see/ She is your treasure, she must have a husband. / I must dance barefoot on her wedding day, / and for your love to her lead apes in hell. / Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep/ Till I can find an occasion of revenge” (Act 2 Scene 1, Lines 31-36). From the moment that Katherine and Petruccio meet, Petruccio vows to tame the shrew. He begins the taming process immediately.
After Kate and Petruccio are married, Kate attempts to assert control in her life. “Nay, than, do what thou canst, I will not go today, / No, Nor tomorrow- not till I please myself” (3.3 lines 79-80). Kate is struggling to remain in control of the situations in her life. Unfortunately for her, Petruccio will not allow it.
“… But for my bonny Kate, she must with me.
…I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels. She is my house,
My household-stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass my anything,
And here she stands, touch her whoever dare” (4.1 Lines 98-104).
Petruccio issues a challenge to anyone who assists Kate in her defiance. He makes it know; too not just Kate rather to all that will listen; that she is his property and will do what he says. By the end of the play, however, she is presented as being mild and submissive to Petruccio, 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 labor 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. 150-58)
In looking at this outtake of Katherine’s speech, it can be seen that she has been tamed by Petruccio’s actions throughout the first four acts. It is difficult to take Katherine’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 Katherine 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. Is it possible for such a person’s behaviour to change so drastically in such a short amount of time? It is very unlikely that it is possible, since Katherine, 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 Katherine of this attitude problem she possesses. With this in mind, it is very likely that Petruccio either liberated Katharine in how to control her temper, or she acted as if she had been tamed to get everyone off of her back.
Since it does not appear possible for Katherine to be tamed by Petruccio in the short time period of the play, it is possible that she was liberated by Petruccio’s actions. In the movie version of Taming of the Shrew, starring Elizabeth Taylor as Katherine and Richard Burton as Petruccio, the ending sequence is presented with the widow and Bianca refusing to come out at their suitor’s request. Petruccio then sends for Katherine, and with the expressions on everyone’s face, it can be assumed they were not expecting her to come out either. Instead, Katherine does come out, with Bianca under one arm and the widow under the other. It was at this point that 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 Petruccio, 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 Petruccio has liberated Katherine in the sense that she no longer needs to be brash and aggressive at all times, but instead she can use her assertiveness for her husband’s advantage, and for her own advantage. In other words, together, they made a great team with Petruccio’s great wit and ability to play word games at the drop of a hat and Katherine’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.
In the 1999 move 10 Things I Hate About You, there is much evidence that suggests that Patrick does not tame Kat as he is supposed to, but instead they learn and change from each other. Patrick is a rough and unyielding delinquent who is paid to take out and tame Kat. As Patrick is working to complete the job, he begins to learn and understand why Kat is the way she is, a bitch. He realizes that she is not quite as awful as others make her out to be, and instead is just looking for someone who would understand what her. Katherine also learns from Patrick. She learns that though it is easy to be disappointed and hurt in life, she is not able to live life without feeling. Katherine had, refused to let anyone get close enough that he or she would be able to hurt her. When she let Patrick in, she realized that although someone has the ability to hurt her, it is not a reason to go through life without feeling. She does, in some ways, become tamed as a result of her relationship with Patrick, but not tamed in the sense that she loses her identity. She is still her own person, and can still live her life the way she wants to, but is now able to let love and other people into her life.
So far, all the examples I have given have presented Katherine as the tamed, liberated or acting shrew. I would like to present a different view of Katherine 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 Petruccio and Shepherd’s as Katherine. For the first part of the show, the version follows the original Shakespeare text. There are some liberties taken by the writers of the show, showing some tongue-in-cheek humour. Some of that humour includes Petruccio riding in on a horse with both of them wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, the saddle has the logo for BMW on the side, and Katherine has a closet full of “cheap” vases to throw at her suitors.
However, as the comedy progresses, an interesting twist is given – beginning when Petruccio and Katherine return to Padua for the wedding of Bianca and Lucentio. It specifically occurs as Petruccio is confronting Baptista about receiving the promised dowry for wedding Katherine. During this scene Baptista demands proof that Katherine has been tamed, a part of the bargain for receiving the dowry because he had heard rumours that Katharine was not tamed or liberated, but instead that Petruccio was the one that had given in to Katherine’s aggressive nature. To prove he had tamed Katherine, Petruccio states to her that the globe in the sky is the moon at noontime. Katherine 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 Petruccio. Who, instead of getting mad and threatening that they return to his home, 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 Katherine’s speech in a 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 Petruccio’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, Katherine was not the one needing to be tamed, but the brash attitude of Petruccio.
Throughout this essay, I have presented four different arguments about the subject of Katherine’s taming. In analyzing the text of the play and seeing how different interpretations have presented the taming, that Katherine was not necessarily tamed, but instead realized that Petruccio was not going to accept her shrewish behaviour. She realized that in order to make an awful situation work, she had to accept what Petruccio was offering, but on his terms. Katherine realized that by being obedient to Petruccio he treated her as an equal, she also 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 Katherine is liberated because she still displays some of her shrewish attitudes, during the feast for Lucentio and Bianca’s wedding and dragging the two ladies to their husbands. If Katherine had been tamed at this point, she would not have been aggressive towards the two ladies.
In the play it would also be difficult for Katherine to pretend 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 equal with Petruccio, she would have acted the way she did – aggressive towards those who were being stubborn about their husband’s authority. I see it as Katherine was trying to show them that if they were obedient to their husband, the husband would treat them as 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 Katherine gave in some of her attitude towards Petruccio, Petruccio also had to give in some of his own attitudes.
The attitude of showing 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. She realizes that she does not have to compromise what she believes in, just how she goes about doing and saying something. In conclusion, I believe that Katherine is not the only one who became liberated through the course of the play, but Petruccio as well. Both Katherine and Petruccio change throughout the play. Their characters grow and expand throughout the play and in the end, they both become better people, Katherine released from her shrewish ways, and Petruccio released from his overbearing, dominating masculine personality.
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