The Taming of the Shrew: Deciphering Kate’s Shrewish Character
The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It is both a witty and complex play with characters that are appealing and believable drawn from life and based on a keen understanding of human nature. One can see this in the main character of the play, the shrew Katherine. The reasons for Kate's shrewd behavior as well as her tameness have puzzled Critics and Shakespearean scholars for ages. This essay will attempt to decipher Kate's shrewish character from the beginning with her father and sister, through the middle with her first meeting of Petruchio, to the finale where she is finally tamed.
There is a strong underlying notion that Kate's shrewish behavior is a by-product of the mistreatment of her sister and father. Firstly, Kate's father continually humiliates her in public.
For example, when Baptista, Kate's father, informed Bianca's suitors, Tranio and Lucentio, in public that he will not allow either of them to marry his younger daughter until a husband is found for Katherine, he is in effect announcing he first wants to have Katherine off his hands. He then offers her to either of Bianca's suitors. Katherine's humiliation at this point is complete. Not only is she discussed on a public street like a piece of scandalous gossip; but she is also offered to her sister's suitors by her own father and profusely turned away as one turns away from a piece of rotten meat. Kate then tries to reveal her mortification to her father, "I pray you, sir, is it your will/To make a stale of me amongst these mates?"(57-58). Upon hearing this, Hortensio scolds Kate for her infamous temper to which she replies that if she cared enough about him to bother, she would hit him on the head with a stool. This is nothing more than a defense of her pride, she is being publicly humiliated and she reacts with haughtiness to cover her embarrassment. Kate is further humiliated when Baptista announces that he desires to hire schoolmasters "to instruct her [Bianca's] youth." He makes no mention of Katherine's studies, resulting in her humiliation through public neglect. Any child in her shoes would have rebelled profusely. She is further deliberately left out when her father directs her to remain behind because he wishes to "commune with Bianca." Kate then bridles at this and makes her exit, hurt by this display of neglect.
Similarly, Bianca's personality adds to Kate's rebellion. On the surface, Bianca seems to be a sweet, mild young woman; a "young modest girl," Lucentio calls her. However, in reality, she is a calculating and sneaky sister. Her deceit and deliberate call for attention increases Kate's shrewdness. For example, Bianca plays the role of a long suffering saint, implying that the situation where Kate must marry before she can is difficult for her, but not so for her sister. The girl Lucentio describes as "modest"...