Narratives which lampoon chauvinistic and misogynistic behaviour whilst simultaneously reaffirming their social validity, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Vinegar Girl’ blur the distinction between parody and ideals. Constructed upon the backdrop of a strict renaissance gender hegemony and its leftovers of a similarly gender-driven hierarchy, William Shakespeare and Anne Tyler critique the perception of “Shrewishness” as a product of milieu and the personal transformation undergone by such a terminology’s oppression. The ways in which love and marriage are viewed and regurgitated through contexts unveil the textual integrity and resonance of the narratives’ grounding themes.
A reflection of strong will, independence and arrogance, both the taming of the shrew and vinegar girl appropriate their milieux product of a shrew. Whether deemed outspoken and spiteful or simply charmless and plain speaking, the function of Katherina as the female protagonist reveals the patriarchal backbones of their context. The minute stage presence of herself and of any female character in the metatheatrical opening of the play emulates a stark secularisation between gender roles of the time period and imposes a harsh judgement of her attributes crucially through the perspective of the male characters. Described simply as a transaction in the routine of marriage, Hortensio projects her attitude as ill-mannered and undesirable –– “no mates for you, unless you were of a gentler, milder mold” and instils a paradoxical representation of the traditional Renaissance woman; unvirtuous, unchaste and disobedient. However, Shakespeare’s staging direction and humorous tone belittle the true intent of her shrewishness as she nurtures a deeply seated sense of insecurity and jealousy. Furthermore, the judgement of Kate by Gremio in saying “to cart her, rather, she’s too rough for me” reveals a historical milieu of public shame and punishment for the raging tempestuousness that defines her character in Padua. Anne Tyler’s introduction to a “sullen”, less intense version of the female protagonist renders a “spirited and likeable heroine” who merely strives for acceptance and worthiness in her shallow, adolescent world. Tyler appropriates the speculation of her shrewishness through the male voices in the play into a literary device of an omniscient narrative voice, framing her character profile. An ironically nurturing, kind and tamed fragment of Kate is introduced to the reader in the symbolic setting of the garden, allowing the placid mood to sporadically shift to a sense of urgency following the phone call from her Father –– implementing the similarly infused theme of male dominance through her subservient position from the outset. However, Kate stands out as an idiosyncratic, principled figure as she complains about the domesticity of the modern stereotyped woman. The contextual norm of the time such as “chatting in beauty parlours” and “aimlessly walking chihuahuas” is metaphorically rejected in a sarcastic and mocking tone through the function of the conscience-delving narrative voice. Her shrewishness is thus elevated from a Shakespearean label to a contemporary independent. Both products of their restraining contexts exemplify humanity’s tendencies to suppress individuality and conform to the societal ideal of a tamed, patient and unshrewish woman.
Modernised in synchronisation with feminism and the liberation of women, the values that permeate Vinegar Girl transcend the context of the taming of the shrew and provide underlying catharsis with the personal transformations undergone. Katherina’s dramatic denouement as the closing social statement of the play provokes a difficult mode of interpretation for modern audiences as Shakespeare’s expression of a drastically morphed, obedient wife articulates both genuine enlightenment and a satirical facade. It is communicated through Katherina’s soliloquy; “a woman moved is like a fountain troubled; muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty” that the themes of the play reaffirm the biblical notion of the woman being the glory of the man. In hyperbolically comparing her original volatile nature to a tainted, ugly and undesirable volume, her transformation is perceived as either a result of successful brainwashing by the hounds of the patriarchy or a tactical, untruthful response to her husband’s taming strategies. Her transformation regards the flattened fate of women in the renaissance, claiming “I am ashamed that women are so simple they offer war when they should kneel for peace” and reiterates her expected subservience to her superior husband. Tyler’s contemporary take on transformation is troublingly reminiscent of the play’s sexist sincerities, however, grants the notion of modern romance as she chooses to accept her Father’s self-beneficial proposal which just so happens to align with loving a man who is her equal. Kate ultimately relinquishes her strong will and retains the anti-feminist sentiments in the plot undertaken by Tyler, endorsing a response from the reader to perceive her character development as a mere personal opportunity to fill the gaps in a life she finds wholly unrewarding. “I’m not ‘backing down’ as you call it, I am simply letting him into my country. I am giving him space in a place where we can both be ourselves”. Tyler engineers kate’s subtle metamorphosis through her own incipient recognition that other people’s feelings are worth considering, rather than the need for a man to ‘tame’ her. Along with the epilogue that follows, the symbolism of the conclusion is based upon a mutal tolerance for both eccentricity and difficulty and modernises the type of relationship that hinders complications with language styles and lifestyles. The conventions of comedy are bled through Kate’s witty dialogue and sharp-tongued remarks, however, evocative catharsis is achieved through the transformation undergone by route of her personal realisation, reflective of the shifted authority and agency of gender roles through time.