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The Taming of the Shrew

by: William Shakespeare

Act I, scene i

Most people in Shakespeare’s society believed that the woman should submit to her husband, and yet they did not necessarily expect the wife to sacrifice all of her independence and sense of self. Likewise, we should not be too hasty to accuse Hortensio and Gremio of outright misogyny at this point in the play. Judging from the dialogue thus far, their dislike of Katherine may seem a natural reaction to Katherine’s behavior. The qualities she first presents are a violent temper, jealousy in the face of Bianca’s preferential treatment, and disrespect for her father. On the other hand, like the other male characters in the play, Hortensio and Gremio do adopt a very patronizing attitude toward Katherine. They speak about her in the third person rather than addressing her directly—perhaps because they are simply terrified of what she would say back to them if they addressed their words to her. If we compare Katherine to the heroines of Shakespeare’s later comedies, such as Rosalind in As You Like It, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Viola in Twelfth Night, or Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Katherine’s situation appears extremely anomalous. All of those later heroines are outspoken and independent, and the happy resolution of those plays depends upon whether or not the male characters listen to what the heroines say. Katherine’s rage reflects her struggle to be recognized as a person rather than treated as a pet or an object.

The subplot between Lucentio and Bianca also shows subtle signs of objectifying women. While the romance between these two young lovers will seem a sweet and beautiful thing compared to the violent struggle between Petruchio and Katherine, Lucentio does not necessarily view Bianca as his equal. On the contrary, he sees her mostly as a prize to be won: “I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio / If I achieve not this young modest girl” (I.i.149150). If Bianca merely represents something for Lucentio to “achieve,” then his view of her lacks depth. Lucentio has fallen in love with her appearance, and Tranio remarks that Lucentio has looked so persistently at the pretty Bianca that he has missed the main point of the situation.