Taming Of The Shrew
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Justification of Petruchio’s Animalistic Behavior
In The Taming of the Shrew, a man, Petruchio, is portrayed as a money-grubbing wife hunter. He is out to find a rich wife when he gets information about Katherine Minola, portrayed as aggressive and bad-tempered. She is a rich woman, though, and Petruchio agrees to marry her. While many would consider the animistic behavior, such as male dominance as being negative and oppressive towards the female character, and the end it pays off as he is able to tame Katherine finally, making her an obedient, honey-tongued trophy wife. In this essay, the behavior is justified from a consequentialist perspective that, the end justifies the means (Beauregard, 73).
The Katherine that gives a speech at the end of the play is completely different from the character that is introduced at the beginning of Act I. this is a new Katherine, who is quiet, modest and obedient. Until Act V, these were qualities of the character that were not evident. For instance, at the beginning of the story, men testified of her shrewdness. One of her sister’s suitors, Hortensio, reassures her that there is “[n]o mate for you [u]nless you were of gentler, milder mould” I.I.59-60. This shows how bad her character was, at least from a male’s perspective. Therefore, the change in her would be summed up as a good thing, and the way the change was achieved does not matter. What matters is that someone can change such a shrewd character into a woman of character. Then answer to what has happened is that Petruchio has managed to tame her.
Since the beginning, Petruchio understands that it is not possible for Katherine to readily agree to marry him. After all, he had refused other marriage proposals including his own. She stated that “she would rather see him hanged than marry him” (II.I.292). At this point, Petruchio understands that he has to use his male authority to have her hand in marriage. He begins by deceiving her father that Katherine has agreed to his marriage proposal. Like most of his actions and behavior, this was for the greater good, to marry Katherine and make a great wife out of her and to open the door of Bianca to get married to one of her suitors.
Petruchio has chosen the wife for himself and given that he has to live with her; he has to do whatever it takes to make her the wife of his desire. His initial desire was to tame her. He has to use everything in his power not only to win the heart of this woman but also to change her character. Petruchio chooses to use his character to achieve his goal. The tactics that he applies in taming her are akin those of a military soldier and mentor who is patient in nature (Aspinall, 5). He is willing to use force and bend the rules of society if only to make Katherine how to become the wife he wants. Nonetheless, he is willing to allow her to learn at her pace. He used the temper, actions and words of Katherine as the text of the learning process. He throws back her words and actions at her such that she sees what ridiculous things she says and does. This becomes the genesis of her change.
Just like his other Shakespeare’s male characters (Mowat & Werstine, 7), Petruchio does not use physical violence to tame Katherine, but uses other animalistic behavior. He works on distorting her protests as well as to deny her rest and food as well as other necessities pretending that it was for her good. Petruchio, when wooing Katherine, had made the declaration: “say that she rail, why then I’ll tell her plain [s]he sings sweetly as a nightingale” and “if she denies to wed, I’ll crave the day [w]hen I shall ask the banns, and when be married” (II.I.170-171, 179-180). This shows how he constructs his own version of the reality, a tactic he applies on Katherine to achieve the desired change.
Petruchio used amusing language but conveying scorn or insults. He also uses threats to make Katherine comply. For instance, having taken the mistreatment in Petruchio’s estate, Katherine is looking forward to going back to Padua and to the wedding of her sister. Petruchio exclaims “how bright and goodly shines the moon in the middle of the day” (IV.5.2-5). Katherine begins to protest, but her husband makes the threat that they will go back to his estate. She has learned her lessons, and she quickly changes saying: Forward, I pray, since we have come so far, And be it the moon, or the sun, or what you please” (IV.5.12-13). This shows the change in Katherine and the fact that Petruchio’s behavior has taught her lifetime lessons.
In the end, Katherine has finally submitted to the proclaimed right to rule of Petruchio. She also steps squarely into the submissive role of the wife. She no longer protests and is in agreement with anything Petruchio says. Throughout the play, Petruchio represents the male-dominated aspect of the society, but his animalistic behavior has achieved results in that she has made a perfect wife out of a shrewd woman.
Aspinall, Dana E. “The Play and the Critics”. In Aspinall, Dana E. The Taming of the Shrew: Critical Essays. New York, NY: Garland, 2001 pp. 3–40.
Beauregard, David N. Virtue’s Own Feature: Shakespeare and the Virtue Ethics Tradition. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1995
Mowat, Barbara A. & Werstine, Paul. The tempest by William Shakespeare, Folger Shakespeare Library,
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.