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The Shrew’s Illusion Essay, Research Paper
March 3, 2000
The Shrew?s Illusion
HORTENSIO: Now go thy ways, thou hast tam?d a curst shrow.
LUCENTIO: ?Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tam?d so.
Indeed, Hortentio?s assurance in the taming of the ?curst shrow? Katerina seems a wonder to all the audience in the final scene of ?The Taming of the Shrew.? After hurling furniture, pitching fits and assaulting her sister, Katerina delivers a speech that lauds obedience and censures rough behavior. Allegedly, this speech demonstrates Katerina?s obedience to her husband, Petruchio, who has forced her to realize the error of her former behavior. Genuine submission, however, is an unlikely disposition for Katerina to adopt. A complete reformation becomes more improbable after an examination of the scenes surrounding her ?taming.? Several of these episodes attest to excellence of her acting ability. This evidence suggests her ability to impersonate the character of a tamed shrew. Her dialogue during these moments of obedience seems to mirror the language Petruchio uses earlier to tame her, suggesting that Katerina employs Petruchio?s own dissembling devices against him. Even the nuances of her language, filled with double meanings, belie her supposed transformation.
Katerina first reveals her aptitude for deception as she and Petruchio head toward Padua for her sister?s wedding. When her husband falsely labels the daylight as the ?bright and goodly shining? of the moon, she immediately protests (4.5.2). However, the moment Petruchio threatens her journey home, she begins to act. In order that she fulfill her desire to return home, she pleads that they continue and vows that ?be it moon, or sun, or what you please; / And if you please it be a rush-candle, / Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me? (4.5.13-15). In saying this, Katerina promises to ?vow,? or claim to believe, the truth of anything Petruchio alleges. However, she never promises to actually believe him. Instead, she agrees to act according to his game, a game that he himself qualifies. When contented by Katerina?s yielding, Petruchio declares ?thus the bowl shall run,? invoking the image of a ball in the game of bowling (4.5.24). This image parallels to the game he stages in which Katerina is played toward at target of a woman tamed. However, she does not submit blindly to his intentions; she plays toward achieving her own goal of returning home.
Continuing to prove her aptitude for dissembling, Katerina plays along with Petruchio?s labeling of Vincentio as a maid in the following scene. Never flinching, she runs to this withered man, praising his ?budding beauty? and ?sweet virginity.? She not only falls into her part with ease, but lies to the point of unbelievable exaggeration. Her speech characterizes this man as the most wonderful maiden ever seen; one who makes her parents delighted and her suitor thank heaven. By describing this old man in bed beside his adoring young husband, Katerina renders the entire scene ridiculous. She not only demonstrates her ability to deliberately lie, but seems also to enjoy the employment. Did she not enjoy her act, she would not have extolled the old man so fervently, nor would she have excused herself with such eloquent ardor. Rather than admit her mistake to Vincentio, Katerina lies again, claiming she was ?so bedazzled by the sun, / That everything [she] looks on is green? (4.5.46-47).
In light of this gross over-embellishment of her part, it remains important that Katerina begins her act in order to fulfill her own aim, in spite of Petruchio?s wishes to tame her. By continuing fill the role her husband desires of her, she is able to appease her own desires and return to Padua. If Katerina continues to focus upon her own wants, she cannot be the tamed shrew Hortensio labels her. Instead, she classifies herself as a manipulator in the same manner as Petruchio.
Considering that Katerina acts upon her own desires, her speeches and her behavior curiously mirror Petruchio?s own behavior earlier in the play. The eloquent language both characters utilize in their moments of deception stands apart from their common dialect. Katerina, who speaks in quick, clever puns through the play?s opening, changes her speech to a more formal tone. During the preceding scene, she drops the colloquial second person ?you,? and assumes the removed form of ?thou.? Petruchio mirrors this alteration in his speech to Katerina in scene 2.1. When he begins to lie, he addresses Kate as ?passing gentle? and ?gamesome, passing courteous,? but refers to her with ?thou,? rather than the familiar ?you? (2.1.242-245). This similarity suggests that Katerina is mimicking her husband during these scenes, in which case her character never becomes tamed.
Examining Katerina?s conversation in the final scene preserves the independence of her character. Evidence even implies that Petruchio is conscious of her maintained autonomy. When the widow, Hortentio?s wife, disputes Petruchio, Katerina intervenes. Rather than listening patiently and allowing her husband to defend himself, as an obedient wife should, Katerina interrupts, demanding to know the intent of the widow?s comments. Insulting Katerina, the widow retorts, ? your husband being troubled with a shrew, / Measures my husband?s sorrow by his woe / And you know my meaning . . . I mean you? (5.2.28-32). Katerina again refuses to fall back, but rather retorts again with a double-edged reply, ?And I am mean indeed, respecting you? (5.2.33). The word ?mean? in this statement may imply that Katerina?s behavior is moderate compared to the widow?s. However, the play on the word ?mean? also suggests that Katerina intends ?contemptible? as her meaning, as it is used several lines earlier. Petruchio?s line, ?To her, Kate,? which follows her statement further suggests the latter significance (5.2.34). His line incites Katerina to contend with the widow. If he had believed Katerina tamed, he would not urge her to fight, a behavior far from ?temperate.? He even bets that his wife can ?put down? Hortentio?s, a statement that affirms both his confidence in Katerina herself and her ability to insult the widow. The term ?put down? implies that Katerina can ?disparage?humiliate?and belittle? her opponent, all of which imply that she retains her contentious abilities (Webster?s 951).
Despite the initial impression implied by the message of Katerina?s final speech, she continues to retain her individuality. Petruchio alludes to this quality even as she enters the room, with the two ?froward wives / As prisoners to her [Katerina?s] womanly persuasion? (5.2.119-120). Qualifying the other women ?as prisoners? to Katerina, Petruchio suggests that she controls the situation. Additionally, the phrase ?to her womanly persuasion? suggests a double meaning that again labels Katerina a dominating force. ?Womanly persuasion? implies both Katerina?s manners of conduct as a woman and, more significantly, her ability ?to move by argument or expostulation? (Webster?s 868). Insinuating that Katerina moves the other women through debate or disapproval, Petruchio affirms that she still is quarrelsome. If he thought she was completely tamed, he would not intimate that she is still antagonistic.
Katerina?s language during this speech also suggests that she once again is acting out a part. During her lecture, Katerina switches the subject of her address from the familiar second person to the formal ?thou? and ?thy.? This alteration typifies both her husband?s and her own speeches in scenes where they play an act. Thereby, her speech seems to be simply another great performance, rather than evidence of her tameness.
The implications of Katerina?s metaphors and the subtleties of her language further disqualify her last speech as a demonstration of obedience. Katerina compares an angry woman with a ?fountain troubled / Muddy, ill-seeming. . .And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty will deign to sip? (5.2.142-146). By characterizing domineering women as the source of water for a thirsty wanderer, she grants women dominance as the provider of the situation. Her use of the word ?deign? implies that men must ?condescend? or ?lower themselves? in order to take anything these women offer (Webster?s 723). By implying that the men must lower their status, she further qualifies women as the dominant force. This example also suggests that men will not pay attention to their wives if they feel threatened by them because they will refuse to ?condescend.? Therefore, Katerina?s speech suggests that women only need to appear temperate in order to gain the attention they desire.
Examining the roles of the provider and the recipient in marriage, Katerina again inverts the classical conception of the dominant player. During her lecture, she implies that women, the reciever, need to perform no duties but accept their provisions. Meanwhile their husbands, while the male provider ?commits his body / To painful labor?to watch the night in storms, the day in cold? only desiring ?love? and ?fair looks? from their wives (5.2.148-153). According to this description, it appears that the women manage the dominant role, while their husbands ridiculously scramble to win a passing glance.
After a close examination of Katerina?s language and the behavior surrounding her alleged taming, it seems improbable that she has reformed her character. Instead, her mimicry of Petruchio and the double implications of language suggest that she learns how to effectively deceive her family. Despite her appearance as a temperate and obedient wife, Katerina retains her ability to manipulate others and fulfill her own desires.
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