Shakespeare wrote two of his greatest plays during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. She was an example of a strong and competent woman. When she addresses the troops at Tilbury, she was dressed from the waist up in armor and, from the waist down in a dress. She was showing that she was a queen and a lady but also showing that she was a strong woman and was worthy of wearing amour just like a man. When speaking to the men, she states, ‘I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too’ (Francisco, slide 3). She is expressing this view because she knows that it’s a way to get the men of Tilbury, to refer to herself as a weak person but also a strong queen. She is playing to the cultural ideas of what women should be even when she is the queen.
Within my notes, while we were reading The Taming of the Shrew, we talked about what wives or women should be. I have a list of eight concepts; she should be obedient, of social status, wealthy, beautiful, obtain chastity, have a gender division of labor, fertility, and be thrifty (Francisco). These ideals were what once a women married were to possess, if not already possess some before they were married. In his plays, The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Katherine have these concepts but they do not want to accept the idea of marriage. What makes them different is Katherine, she is a shrew, being more challenging to everyone and was always being put in place by Petruchio. Where Beatrice was definite in the fact she does not want to get married, but with others, she is nice, and not to offend put in her place. They are two sides of the same coin, both challenging, but in different ways.
Shakespeare uses the characters of Katherine and Beatrice to show how women should be and what they shouldn’t not be, but they end up being different types of characters. There are two ways that make Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing a romantic heroine from Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew, is a shrew even though both characters express the idea of “pure love and gross love often being contrasted” (Francisco, slide 23). Beatrice, even though she is also refusing a marriage, she is talking in the general sense, not directly about someone. Where Katherines told she is to marry Petruchio, and that’s when she starts to refuse it. Another thing that makes them different is that when they talk to other people, they have a different attitude, Beatrice most of the time was pleasant with others, where Katherine is rude to everyone, even her sister.
Beatrice, at the beginning of the play only knows that Benedick and his friend are coming and that she does not like him. There is no talk about her marrying him, and just in the general sense refuses to get married, she has no idea that they would by the end of the play. Beatrice expresses no intention ever to marry anyone, and Benedick is not even a thought in her mind. Beatrice says, ‘Not till God make men of some other metal than earth’ (2.1.59-60), Beatrice here expresses that she is not going to marry until a man is made out of a different substance then earth. Well, we all know that the planet is made of dirt, so in this case, she is referring to men, that they are dirt. She is suggesting that there is something better out there. From the beginning, she is expressing her distaste for marriage, and not because she’s betrothed to someone at that moment. Then by the end she does get married though, through the use of love sonnets, which can be seen as a pretty romantic thing for a romantic hero.
Even with her distant for marriage at the beginning, when Beatrice talks to someone else within the play, she is not acting like a shrew; she is quite pleasant with people. We see this in the exchange that takes place when Beatrice enters the room of Hero, and the maids and they have a polite conversation,
Hero. Good morrow, coz.
Beatrice. Good morrow, sweet Hero.
Hero. Why, how now? Do you speak in the sick tune?
Beatrice. I am out of all other tune, methinks.
Margaret. Clap’s into “Light o’ love.” That goes without a burden. Do you sing it, and I’ll dance it.
Beatrice. Ye light o’ love with your heels! Then, if your husband have stables enough, you’ll see he shalllack no barns.
Margaret. O illegitimate construction! I scorn that with my heels.
Beatrice. ‘Tis almost five o’clock, cousin; ’tis time you were ready. By my troth, I am exceeding ill. Heigh-ho! (3.4.39-52)
During this little excerpt from the text, we can see that Beatrice can have a polite conversation with everyone else within the play. She is not arguing with anyone over a situation, and she is acting quite pleasant. Beatrice is overall a more pleasant person within the play.
Katherine also does not want to get married, yet she is told she has to, and a big part of that is only so her sister Bianca can go out with a guy she likes. The guy everyone decides Katherine should marry is Petruchio. That is when her distant for marriage happens, she is told by Petruchio that she is to marry him, thus causing the argument of marriage with her father and everyone else:
Thou must be married to no man but me.
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates. (2.1.290-293)
Petruchio tells Katherine that she is going to marry him and that he is going to tame her. He tells her this because he knows how much of a shrew Katherine is. He says he is going to take her from ‘wild Kate to a Kate,’ meaning that she is an out of control animal that needs to be tamed. This is ironic because a shrew is also known to be a wild animal, and that is what he compares her to. They also argue over what her name is, this is a way of Petruchio already trying to tame Katherine by giving her a different name, something like this can be seen when you try to gain discipline over someone else. In her ending she also does marry but not by something romantic, but she is truly tamed by Petruchio.
Besides arguing with Petruchio and her father, Katherine is always arguing with others, and at the beginning of the play, her sister Bianca points out she is rude to the men by saying, ‘Sister, content you in my discontent” (1.1.81). A couple of lines down, she mocks the men by asking if she may also leave, then laughing and walking away. Then, after the exchange between Katherine and Petruchio about marriage, her father enters the scene, and she became even angrier, she says,
Call you me daughter? now, I promise you
You have show’d a tender fatherly regard,
To wish me wed to one half lunatic;
A mad-cup ruffian and a swearing Jack,
That thinks with oaths to face the matter out. (2.1.302-306)
She questions her father on why he is having her marry Petruchio, and she questions him calling her his daughter, basically saying how can you call me your daughter if you are forcing me to do this. In the end, Katherine is just generally rude to everyone overall making her more of a shrew. Where Beatrice has a distant for marriage, but she is not rude to others within the play making her a romantic hero.
Within these plays are ways Shakespeare is contributing to the conversation happening within the society of what women should be. In the podcast called The Birth of Theater As We Know It, the host says, “Remember too that women were not allowed on the stage at this time either, so boys would have to play all the women’s parts” (King). This is something that Shakespeare was aware of too, so to watch a man act as Beatrice or Katherine on stage could be seen as a stab at women and how Shakespeare and other men perceived them, and also how they would control them.
From these characters of Katherine and Beatrice, he does not seem like a friend to women. He makes them challenging and unlikeable by men. His idea of what women should be is in The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio tells everybody that, “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.’ (3.2.235-238). Which solidifies who and what Katherine should be, she is his life where she is to take care of all those thing. Along with what Petruchio thinks women should be. Overall according to Shakespeare women are to be tamed and in both plays he expresses the idea.
- Francisco, Timothy. “drama history revise_3_.” Shakespeare and His World, September 24 2019, Youngstown State University. Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Slide 3.
- Francisco, Timothy. “Much Ado_1_.” Shakespeare and His World, September 17 2019, Youngstown State University. Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Slide 23.
- Francisco, Timothy. ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ Shakespeare and His World, September 24 2019, Lecture.
- King, Rebecca, host. “The Birth of Theater As We Know It.” Hold That Thought, Washington University in St. Louis, June 2015. https://thought.artsci.wustl.edu/podcasts/theater-as- we-know-it
- Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Simon & Schuster, 2014.
- Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing, edited by David L. Stevenson, Signet Classic, 1989.