The Taming of the Shrew
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
However enjoyable the story concerning Bianca’s wooing, with all the disguises and intricacies, it’s simply not as compelling as the relationship between Kate and Petruchio.
- “What’s his deal” initially when we first meet him? Why is he here? (Where do you get that impression from?)
- How would you describe him: as a bully? Machiavellian? Are you repulsed?
- It strikes me as odd but I keep reading commentary insisting that it’s “love at first sight” between these two (e.g., Bloom 29). Is that your impression from the text? Is this love at all? And in dramaturgical terms, what do we consider love: how does love we observe in the arts differ from the actual experience, if it even exists at all outside of art?!
- In psychological terms, how is Petruchio’s plan supposed to work exactly? Consider its several stages.
- For feminist consideration, what is the male equivalent of a shrew? What are the implications to the answer to this (or the lack of one)?
Katherine is violent, but fair Bianca is an obsequious weasel, pleading wide-eyed innocence while rubbing in an age issue: “what you will command me will I do, / So well I know my duty to my elders” (II.i.6-7). Bianca even offers potentially cast-off suitors (II.i.14-15), and uses the snotty “you’re just jealous” retort, prissied up (II.i.18). Katherine pitches a fit and to her father correctly claims, “She is your treasure” (II.i.32) — an apt Paduan metaphor.
Petruchio comes to woo Katherine and present the disguised Hortensio as tutor for Bianca (the assumed name Litio = “license”). Once Petruchio name-drops his father Antonio, Baptista seems impressed (II.i.68-70). (Have you ever heard of someone named Antonio in Italy?) But Baptista is baffled by the prospect of a suitor for Katherine. Meanwhile, Gremio presents Lucentio (disguised and using the name Cambio = “change, exchange”).
Petruchio uses the Paduan worship of business to his advantage:
Signior Baptista, my business asketh haste,
And every day I cannot come to woo.
You knew my father well, and in him me,
Left soly heir to all his lands and goods,
Which I have bettered rather than decreas’d.
Again, despite his earlier pronouncements, is there reason to doubt his wealth? The cut to the chase regarding dowry makes it seem crass (II.i.120), but that’s the way these Paduans operate!
So Katherine is a done deal, literally, already. Hortensio returns with a lute bashed into his skull: “And through the instrument my pate made way” (II.i.154). Petruchio is amused and impressed.
Does Kate, as Petruchio says, fall in love at first sight? Does he? The marriage is arranged already (II.i.126-127) but he may be impressed that she battered Hortensio (II.i.160-161). His big plan (II.i.169f) indicates that he will be acting pathologically positive in the face of Kate’s shrewishness. “It can be played with a swagger, but in Miller’s television production John Cleese, taking advantage of the intimacy offered by the medium, delivered it with sober thoughtfulness, as if he were deeply conscious that much of his future happiness depended on the success of the strategy” (Wells 48). “As Zeffirelli sees it, the comedy is not primarily about a taming, but about the release of Dionysian energies” (Jorgens, qtd. in Crowl 54).
Kate is probably dying for affection, which he supplies, if ironically at first, in a mutual battle of wits. She hits him once; he tells her, “I swear I’ll cuff you, if you strike again” (II.i.220). He is outrageously brash, and he refuses to give up on her. “There is a poet within him that her beauty has elicited” (Goddard, I 70). Then in public, Petruchio offers with overbearing insistence a pronouncement on the way it really is between them, and he denies the fact of her protests. Her will simply does not matter (II.i.269-271). “When a small child is irritable and cross, the thing to do is not to reason, still less to pity or pamper, or even to be just kind and understanding in the ordinary sense” (Goddard, I 70). To explain Kate’s behavior, Petruchio claims that part of their bargain is “That she shall still be curst in company” (II.i.305) — even though this is no explanation. Nevertheless, “these two characters not only are well matched but are actually enjoying themselves” (Garber 63).
E.T. Clark suggests that the play was first produced at court in 1578-79 and that Oxford, instead of depicting his half-sister Katherine (who tried to have him declared illegitimate so as to inherit), has “caricatured the marriage of his sister, Lady Mary Vere, and Peregrine Bertie, ‘the brave Lord Willoughby'” (Clark 102; Anderson 130; Farina 75), which took place the year before, after a period of disapproval by Oxford (Clark 104). The play, then, originally called A Morrall of the Marryage of Mynde and Measure, was created “with Lady Mary Vere the chief prototype of Katharina, who had a strong Mynde, and Peregrine Bertie predominantly that of Petruchio, determined to subdue it to Measure” (Ogburn and Ogburn 158). Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby is a ludicrous name worthy of a Woodhouse story, but the guy apparently was no little Lord Fauntleroy after all; rather, he was “flamboyant,” like his image at Grimsthorpe Castle, “providing us with a demeanor not unlike that of Richard Burton as Petruchio in the Zeffirelli film version” (Farina 76). Five hundred gallons of wine were served at Peregrine Bertie’s wedding (Anderson 130). Lady Mary was notorious for her verbally abusive behavior, “her quick temper and harsh tongue” (Anderson 131). Peregrine’s mother reported that Mary had fumed that she, the Duchess, was out to kill her (Anderson 131). Thomas Cecil witnessed a quarrel between the spouses and reported: “I think my lady Mary will be beaten with the rod which heretofore she prepared for others” (Clark 103; Ogburn and Ogburn 138; Anderson 131). So The Taming of the Shrew is “a comedy that recounted the wooing and wedding of these two obstinate and most unlikely lovers” (Anderson 130). The pair become Maria and Sir Toby in Twelfth Night also (Anderson 131). And Katherine was also Lady Suffolk’s name (Ogburn and Ogburn 138).
But touches of matters closer to home for de Vere may also play a part. Petruchio’s reference to Kate-Hall (II.i.188) resembles Kat-Hall, another name for Burghley’s estate, Theobalds (pronounced Tibbals) (Ogburn and Ogburn 159).
The Paduans continue to show themselves as mercenary, as in Baptista’s reaction to the approaching wedding: “Faith, gentlemen, now I play a merchant’s part / And venture madly on a desperate mart” (II.i.326-327). Gremio’s claim is spurious and pathetic (II.i.334). Baptista’s dealings about Bianca are hypocritical: “‘Tis deeds must win the prize, and he of both / That can assure my daughter greatest dower / Shall have my Bianca’s love” (II.i.342-344). This new rule leads to a battle of “stuff” between the suitors as they advertise their possessions. Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) wins the battle but ponders how to drum up an imposter father, “Vincentio,” for the required reassurances to Baptista.