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Taming of The Shrew': Gender Roles in a Play

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In The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare highlights and examines issues regarding gender relationships and inequality in the Elizabethan era. The subject of gender serves as a central idea of the work and interpretation can vary from reader to reader. Shakespeare uses Baptista’s two daughters Katherina and Bianca and their suitors within the play to examine the concept of Gender relationships and the issues within said relationships.

In The Taming of the Shrew, The Minola sisters are written with a sibling rivalry and hostility towards each other due to their starkly different personalities and the effect that this has on their interactions with members of the opposite sex, the opposition between the two maintains through to the end of the play, although in a manner that shifts from their initial introduction. Of the sisters, Bianca is the one favored by both their father, Baptista and the suitors, she is seen on the outside as the perfect Elizabethan woman, she is obedient, quiet, phlegmatic and chaste whilst her sister, Katherina, has a reputation for her aggressive and ‘shrewish’, her scolding tongue scares off any potential suitors “To cart her rather. She’s too rough for me”, Gremio, the character who utters this remark about Kate is referring to carting, which was a method of torture meant for prostitutes, who were seen as low-class and repulsive, revealing how the men of Padua think of Katherina. The allusion to prostitutes comes up once more during this scene when Kate utters the line, “ I pray you, sir, is it your will To make a stale of me amongst these mates?”, a ‘stale’ is the lowest possible class of prostitute and is said in reference to her father trying to marry her off so that he can have his favored daughter, Bianca, made available for marriage. Shakespeare writes the Animus between the girls as well as Biana’s character itself to highlight in both realistic terms and parody the idea of an ideal woman that existed in his time and manages to persist into the modern era.

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The Central relationship in “Taming” is the relationship between the characters of Petruchio and Katherina when they meet in the play Shakespeare writes them as evenly matched, they possess similar personalities, wit, and temperament, “By this reck’ning he is more shrew than she”. The two prosper from the mind games that they are constantly involved in throughout the play. The unconventional relationship the two share works for Shakespeare to highlight the hypocrisy of Elizabethan attitudes. The relationship between the two satirizes the ‘shrew’ stories that were very popular at the time, Shakespeare writes this to highlight the gender inequality present, whilst in most shrew stories the male characters are soft-spoken, Petruchio, as previously stated, has a similar personality to his ‘shrew’ which allows the audience to see how the Elizabethan period blindly accepted male behaviors whilst chastised the behavior of female that was deemed to be undesirable. Throughout the play, Petruchio tries to mold Katherina into more of a submissive wife, one that would have been deemed as acceptable by Elizabethan society, however, due to the comic nature of the play the earnestness of endeavor is put into question, on the surface level the audience reads the process as Petruchio degrading his wife, not allowing her to eat or sustain herself, “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart or else my heart, concealing it, will break, And, rather than it shall, I will be free even to the uttermost, as I please, in words”. However, the further the audience looks into the play the clearer the transformation motif becomes, whilst Katherina becomes more subdued so as to conform to social norms and through her taming, although we are encouraged to doubt the validity of the change. Katherina delivers that last speech of the play, she lectures to a group of men about how women should appreciate their men, going as far as to call men, “thy lord, thy king, thy governor.” The whole speech brims with irony as the Katherina has been for the entire play, been the voice for strong, outspoken women, he comedic nature of the play makes it the purpose of the speech remain rather ambiguous, “I see a woman may be made a fool If she had not a spirit to resist.” Allowing for different readings but Shakespeare still writes Katherina’s last speech to highlight issues regarding gender relationships and inequality.

Shakespeare contrasts the central relationship between Kate and Petruchio with that of her sister, Bianca, and her significant other, Lucentio. The story of Lucentio and his bride is written by Shakespeare in stark contrast to what is written between Kate and Petruchio, the audience watches as the contest and turbulence of their relationship is brought into comparison with that of Lucentio and Bianca, who seems to have a perfect relationship, theirs is a marriage of true love rather than convenience. The young lovers share an unrealistic love that is clearly rooted more in fiction than in reality, they are more akin to other Shakespearean relationships such as Romeo and Juliet or Ferdinand in the Tempest. The relationship between Bianca and Lucentio is colored by the concept of courtly love, Tranio is written as what appears to be the perfect lover, from the moment he sets his eyes on Bianca he knows he is in love with her, “Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, If I achieve not this young modest girl. Counsel me, Tranio, for I know thou canst. Assist me, Tranio, for I know thou wilt.”, while this quotation shows how much Lucentio has fallen for Bianca it is not devoid of criticism as Lucentio talks about Bianca almost as if she was an object, although not to the extent that Petruchio does regarding Katherina following their marriage. Although Bianca and Lucentio are shown to love each other, their relationship works to highlight the concept of Bride-Price and marriage as an economic exchange, Bianca’s father, Baptista, approves of Lucentio marrying Bianca, not because of love but rather because Lucentio offers him the best price, Shakespeare writes this interaction to highlight the inequality experienced by women and the lack of power that they experienced in regards to the institution of marriage. However, the motif of change calls into question Bianca’s role within the story up until the last scene, whilst Katherina becomes a more socially acceptable woman, Bianca, in contrast, reveals her more ‘shrewish’ behaviors, Bianca proves herself woman as independent as her sister, this realization is the only real change that Lucentio experiences throughout the play. Shakespeare wrote him as a relatively flat character with no motive other than having Bianca. This is not unusual in plays, but Shakespeare writes this as a satire of gender inequality and the effect that it has on relationships.

In сonclusion, Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew uses its characters and motifs to highlight and dissect gender relationships and inequality in Elizabethan England. Shakespeare’s characters of Katherina and Bianca and their spouses Petruchio and Lucentio, respectively, were used to examine stereotypes and expectations regarding gender, marriage, and sibling relationships. The effect of gendered relationships and inequality in Taming creates an uneasiness in the audience and highlights gender issues in Elizabethan society.

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Taming of The Shrew’: Gender Roles in a Play. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/taming-of-the-shrew-gender-roles-in-a-play/
“Taming of The Shrew’: Gender Roles in a Play.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/taming-of-the-shrew-gender-roles-in-a-play/
Taming of The Shrew’: Gender Roles in a Play. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/taming-of-the-shrew-gender-roles-in-a-play/> [Accessed 6 Feb. 2023].
Taming of The Shrew’: Gender Roles in a Play [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Feb 6]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/taming-of-the-shrew-gender-roles-in-a-play/
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