Gender Relations in Taming of the Shrew

Although women and men are part of the same race and are almost identical, throughout history they have had different and specific roles.

Generally men have the more powerful and respectful roles, while women have the more subservient ones. William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew displays overdramatic actions and stereotypical roles for females and males; however gives a great sense of gender expectations and courtship customs during Elizabethan England.

The basic gender expectation during Elizabethan England is women are subordinate to men, and not just to men but in nature. Bianca is a perfect example of this for she not only listens and obeys subjectively, but anticipates her directive duties. For either she knows what is expected of her or is so one-minded because women inferiority is so engrained in her, she unconsciously acts obedient. That is how Elizabethan men want their woman to be like. Shakespeare represents it, for Bianca has many suitors anxious for her. Bianca is pretty and wealth, therefore she could probably get anything she desires; however, she remains humble. She acts as if servitude is one of the Ten Commandments. Although Katherine’s actions are shrewish, they show individualism and a strong sense of being, perfect characteristics for a man. Petruchio actually has the exact same characteristics that Katherine has in the beginning and is a respected man with a loyal servant. If Taming of the Shrew is set during today’s time, there won’t be an inadvertent male sense to tame Katherine. Simply no one would be attracted to her. However, since it is in the Elizabethan era men are expected to keep women in submissive servitude to themselves and society. As Petruchio says, “For I am born to tame you, Kate/ And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate/ Conformable as other household Kates.” (Shakespeare II. i. 291-293) it is his born right to make her into other household Kates. As if there is only one right way a women should behave. Petruchio says “household” implying women in nature are domestic and property like, clearly making them inanimate and insensitive objects. Also he refers to Katherine as Kate in his speech because she tells him to call her Katherine. Petruchio doesn’t like the fact a women is telling him what to do, so he crumbles up her wish and throws it in her face. This is just one of many demeaning acts by Petruchio aimed at Katherine’s mystique. After public ridicule, derogatory name calling, and senseless dalliance, Katherine falls in line with the Elizabethan expectations. She comes to the time’s senses and agrees “A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,/ Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,/ And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty/ Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.” (Shakespeare V.ii. 158-161). This first and fore most reveals that men get what they want, and women serve it to them on a golden platter. For Petruchio wants Katherine to be submissive, and Katherine eventually complies. Katherine believes a rebellious or a woman contrary to docile ness, becomes useless. The active woman becomes foul water no one can use, not that men don’t want to have anything to do with that sort of woman, but that they can’t. Men can’t work the same way and be successful if women didn’t do what they do- be compliant to the man’s every need and watch the house. Being foul is the most selfish act, because no one can use the woman. A contaminated woman disrupts society in Elizabethan England.

Taming of the Shrew reveals vast differences between courtship costumes in Elizabethan England and modern times. In Elizabethan England there isn’t much dating. Women and men don’t usually go on dates or try to flirt before marriage. There aren’t any cute gestures thrown back and forth between the couple to show there is a connection between them. In both Katherine and Petruchio’s, and Bianca and Lucentio’s case they don’t date or flirt before marriage. In fact it is quite the opposite; Petruchio is coarse with Katherine when they first meet. He insists on calling her Kate when she tells him to call her Katherine. Marriage in Elizabethan England is like a business contract; to attain a partner to help maintain the household or supply money. That’s why Petruchio becomes attracted to Katherine, he says “One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife/ Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love/ As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd/ As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse,/ she moves me not” (Shakespeare I.ii. 68-73). Meaning he doesn’t care about a woman’s personality or attributes, only how wealthy she is. Life in Elizabethan England is more rigorous the demanding than spending time finding love. Thus marriage isn’t about love back then, rather a way to securer land and wealth. That’s why a dowry is present in marriages then and not now-a-days. Even if there is a connection between two people, as in Bianca and Lucentio’s case, it’s not a true love for each other’s inner being. For Lucentio says “Tranio, I saw her coral lips to move,/ And with her breath she did perfume the air./ Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her.” (Shakespeare I..i. 76-78) which is just describing Bianca’s physical charms. The way he describes her is cliché and unrealistic because he compares her to attainable things.

In conclusion, the society in Elizabethan England lends itself to sustain shallow and impersonal gender relations. Taming of the Shrew really incorporates gender expectations and courtship customs of Elizabethan England. Revealing how far modern society has progressed.

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