The Taming of the Shrew

by: William Shakespeare

Act IV, scenes iii–v

. . . I trust I may have leave to speak,
And speak I will. I am no child, no babe.
. . .
. . . I will be free
Even to the uttermost as I please in words.

Unfortunately, not even this is enough to get her so much as the cap in the end. She may be free in words, but her words now fall upon deaf ears, which is the source of her frustration. Before she met Petruchio, even though her words were rarely taken well, at least she could be assured of a reaction to them, and she seemed to take some delight in the reaction she could wring from men. Now, her words are ignored even when she removes their edge and asks for the simplest courtesies. Now indeed she cannot choose, for though she is powerless with Petruchio, she would only endure greater shame if she fled him and returned to Padua.

Also in Act IV, scene iii, Shakespeare expands his social commentary to include a critique of the importance attributed to clothing. Petruchio says that it is “the mind that makes that body rich, / And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, / So honour peereth in the meanest habit” (IV.iii.166168). By “meanest habit,” Petruchio means poor attire. This speech echoes the sentiment that Petruchio expressed earlier to Baptista before the wedding, and the repetition should be noted. The Induction seemed to claim that clothes and accoutrements could in fact change the man: Sly changed from a drunkard to a nobleman. Yet, here, Shakespeare suggests the contrary: the inner nature of a person will eventually shine through, regardless of the apparel that person chooses to wear. Indeed, the ruse of Sly’s nobility will last only a short time; sooner or later, he will be put back on the street. It is not clear whether Kate shares a similar fate, however. Just as the lord dresses Sly, so does society force Kate to wear the clothing of marriage, both literally and figuratively. Unlike Sly, Kate is unhappy in the role of the wife, a role that stifles her independent spirit. In this scene, however, as Kate’s motivations and actions continue to show that she is changing, Shakespeare forces us to question whether the clothing actually does influence the person within.

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