?explain the continued fascination with Katherina in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ Audiences continue to be fascinated and relate with Katherina because of the struggles she faces with not fitting into a very concise, social mould. There’s no denying that The Taming of the Shrew is patriarchy at its worst. Shakespeare presents to the audience Katherina – an intelligent, highly stubborn woman who is willing to challenge the sexist patriarchal ideologies of the 16th century. She is subjected to many things like verbal abuse, injustice and double standards, which all resonate with the audience.
Katherina doesn’t fit into the social convention because she challenges the ‘proper’ gender roles of the 16th century. We see Katherina challenging gender conventions when she protests against being treated like a commodity in terms of marriage which at the time was like a business or financial transaction supposed to benefit the families involved. Katherina makes it clear at the beginning of the play that she does not wish to be married to someone merely because of her dowry, much to Bianca’s despair.
In Act 2 Scene 1 Baptista agrees for Petruchio to marry her. Katherina is very against the idea, twisting his words, insulting and even striking Petruchio. She is finally shocked to silence when even despite her best efforts to protest, Petruchio deceives Baptista in claiming that Katherina wants to be married to him and she “hung about my neck, and kiss on kiss She vied so fast”. Katherina also challenges gender roles in that she will willingly stand up for herself, which was very unlike any woman of the time.
This did not help her case in being a ‘shrew’ with a loud, ill-tempered personality and a “razor-sharp tongue”. We see this in Act 1 Scene 1 when Katherina is being openly insulted and abused by Bianca’s suitors and refuses to step down and accept the fact she is being called a “devil” and a “wench”. She retaliates with speech that is witty and shreds the suitor’s comments, however it was extremely out of the social practice for women. We find her challenging the roles of men and women relatable merely because of the age old contest of men verses women.
Because of the very limited roles women held in this era we find that we begin to appreciate her actions in that she will stand up for what she believes is fair and right, even if it has her portrayed as an outcast. Katherina finds herself ill-equipped for the social mould of the era as she begins to make a mockery of the power struggles not only within marital relationships, but also within society. Once married, women essentially lost all legal rights and their own identity.
This is why Petruchio refers to Katherina as his “goods” and his “chattels” after their marriage ceremony (Act 3 Scene 2). Katherina hates the idea of not even being able to speak her mind because of her limited power in her marriage. She says in Act 4 Scene 3 that her heart “will break” if she is silenced and unable to express her frustration about her lack of power and control over even her own wardrobe. The play forces the audience to question their assumptions and attitudes about the power dynamics particularly in romantic couples, but also with friends and relatives.
We can relate to Katherina not wanting to be treated like a commodity or be stripped of her own identity and values because every one of us have felt pressure to conform to somebody else’s values. Whether it be at school, home or in a romantic relationship, phrases such as “be a good girl” or “be a man” reverberates with us all and this is what Katherina attempts to overthrow in her relationship with Petruchio. Katherina is forced to deal with injustice, when she is judged and treated with unfairness, as a result of her inability to conform to social and gender conventions.
The main object of Petruchio marrying Katherina was so that he could have the challenge of ‘taming’ her. This to the modern audience seems manipulative – as if Katherina is more like an animal needing to be tamed. As a modern audience we have become far more sensitive to social injustices, and so as we witness the abusive behaviour and misogynistic attitudes towards Katherina we begin to feel almost sympathetic for her misunderstood actions and feelings. It is unfair that the only way Katherina could achieve domestic tranquillity was to conform to how Petruchio wanted her to be.
She is never given any choice, pretending that the sun is really the “moon” and moreover that an old man is really a “budding virgin” just to make Petruchio happy (Act 4 Scene 5). It is clear that as soon as we meet the Minola family that Baptista is clearly more favourable towards Bianca. In Act 1 Scene 1, Baptista asks Bianca to go inside with him and practice her music and books, he disregards Katherina saying “Katherina, you may stay. For I have more to commune with Bianca”. It is also in this scene that even though Katherina speaks just three times, we hear more about her than from her .
This speaks of the judgemental and misunderstood nature that she is subjected to. This fascinates us because as she struggles to overcome this treatment, it becomes very relatable to the audience. The concept of fairness has become, to nearly all of us, a given right. For the characters in The Taming of the Shrew to willingly let fairness be blatantly ignored, becomes a fascinating idea to the modern day audience. Even though fairness has become a right, we have all been put into situations where fairness hasn’t always been practised, and so Katherina’s plight becomes relatable.
Audiences continue to be fascinated with Katherina’s character because of the struggles that she faces with not fitting into a very concise, social mould. The Taming of the Shrew’s audience in the 16th century was one that was heavily concerned with the concepts of marriage, and so it is only natural that Shakespeare creates a character that challenges all the concepts tied to marriage entirely. Katherina takes things head on when she not only tests the boundaries of the limited roles and expectations of a female, but also won’t accept the distinct power roles of a man and woman in a relationship.
The play celebrates the quick-wit and strong mind of Katherina, even whilst revelling in her humiliation and unfair treatment. Whilst the social conventions have changed since the 16th century, they are still very apparent in our society, and there will always be those who test and rebuke those widely held standards. One point that is worth considering is whether or not our conventions are shaping our society for advancement, or worse for regression.