The boastful, selfish, mercurial Petruchio is one of the most difficult characters in The Taming of the Shrew: his behavior is extremely difficult to decipher, and our interpretation of the play as a whole changes dramatically depending on how we interpret Petruchio’s actions. If he is nothing more than a vain, uncaring, greedy chauvinist who treats marriage as an act of domination, then the play becomes a dark comedy about the materialism and hunger for power that dictate marriages under the guise of courtly love. If, on the other hand, Petruchio is actually capable of loving Kate and conceives of taming her merely as a means to realize a happy marriage, then the play becomes an examination of the psychology of relationships.
A case can be made for either interpretation, but the truth about Petruchio probably lies somewhere in between: he is unabashedly selfish, materialistic, and determined to be his wife’s lord and master, but he also loves her and realizes on some level that domestic harmony (on his terms, of course) would be better for her than her current life as a shrew in Padua. To this extent, Petruchio goes to alarming lengths to impose his mastery on Kate, keeping her tired and hungry for some time after their marriage, but he also insists on framing this treatment in a language of love, indicating his eagerness for Kate to adapt to her rightful, socially appointed place and his willingness to make their marriage a happy one. Above all, Petruchio is a comic figure, an exaggerated persona who continually makes the audience laugh. And though we laugh with Petruchio as he “tames” Kate, we also laugh at him, as we see him satirize the very gender inequalities that the plot of The Taming of the Shrew ultimately upholds.
More characters from The Taming of the Shrew