Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
Too little payment for so great a debt.
. . .
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.
Kate makes this long speech at the end of the play. It indicates a shocking transformation of her opinions about marriage and men, and it stuns everyone who hears it. The once shrewish Katherine now declares that Bianca and Hortensio’s widow are ingrates for looking angrily at their husbands—whom Katherine describes as their lords, kings, and governors. She says that a woman’s husband protects her and supports her, living a life of danger and responsibility while the woman is “warm at home, secure and safe.” In return, she says that the husband asks only for his wife’s kindness and obedience, which represents but tiny payment for “so great a debt.” A husband is to his wife as a prince is to his subject, and if a woman proves shrewish (“froward, peevish, sullen, sour”), then she is like a traitor to a just ruler.
Katherine says that women’s bodies are soft and weak because their inner selves should match them and that women should thus yield to their men. She then tells Bianca and the widow that, in her time, she has been as proud and as headstrong as they are (“My mind hath been as big as one of yours, / My heart as great”), but now she understands that “our lances are but straws,” implying that their weapons prove insignificant and improperly used. A woman should prepare herself to do anything for her husband, including, as Katherine does now, kneel before him and hold his foot. This speech indicates the extent of Katherine’s character development over the course of the play—she began the play by fighting against her social role, but now she offers a forty-three-line defense of it. The speech also summarizes the play’s view of marital harmony, in which husbands provide peace, security, and comfort to their wives, who, in return, provide loyalty and obedience.
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