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[36] The Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare

Unlike any other Shakespeare’s plays, The Taming of the Shrew has an induction, which lives up to its name in the sense that the prologue scene does indeed lead into the play that follows. It seems likely that Shakespeare had adopted the device from medieval narrative poetry, where it was extensively used to introduce a story in the form of a dream. In the induction, far more is involved than the mere setting of a scene and the informing to audience. In fact, Christopher Sly seems to have lapse into a dream as he is forced to adopt a new identity. The brief yet vigorous altercation between Sly and the hostess with which the induction begins is a curtain raiser for the dramatic struggle between Petruchio and Katherina that is to follow. Equally as significant is the Lord’s instructions to his servant-boy as to the behavior he is to assume when he appears disguised as Sly’s wife forebode the main theme of the play.

The Taming of the Shrew has a powerful appeal for the Elizabethan audience at the time it opened because the struggle for mastery in a marriage remained a fact of existence and hot topics for writers. A true-to-life domestic scene opens the play and instantly grasps attention: Signor Baptista forbids all suitors to court his younger daughter Bianca until he finds a husband for the ill-tempered, difficult, and waspish elder daughter Katherina. She is notorious for her hot temper, foul tongue, and caprice. Out of jealousy and the qualm not remaining single, she often vents out her anger on her sister. Suitors of the younger sister, who decide to put aside their rivalry, contrive to find a match for Katherina.

Gremio and Hortensio bear the cost of Petruchio’s courting Katherina while Lucentio, who is madly in love with Bianca, and his crafty servant Tranio cunningly switch role to infiltrate the Baptista house. What inevitably follows is a facetious pursuit of love and a farcical melodrama that culminate in a riotously funny final scene in which Lucentio’s real father, who has no clue of his son’s betrothal, confronts the pedant-disguised impostor who reverse-accuses him of a charlatan. Equally as clueless of the entire crafty scheme is Baptista whom the suitors have tricked and outmaneuvered. He is consistently mistaken about everything and everybody, so that he does not even understand why Bianca later asks for his forgiveness. He and Vincentio are merely the butts for all the intrigues that go on throughout the play.

The Taming of the Shrew maintains an irresistible appeal among the comedies owing to the intriguing trickery with which characters rival for courtship. Just as suspenseful and entertaining is Petruchio’s calculated, punctilious campaign to tame his wife. His line of attack is psychological, although persuasive words carefully planned for each step accompany his actions. He somehow outsmarts his wife and deliberately outdoes her in his perversity and bad temper. The quintessential spleen of tantrum flourishes in the scenes in which Petruchio abuses his servants and tailor. His being abusive, tyrannical, violent, and capricious functions more than a reflection – it is evident of a caricature of Katherina through an exaggerated parody of her wild behavior. His evaluation of her mind is confirmed by her softening and surrender for she welcomes the opportunity of meeting an antagonist who will put up a good fight.

The Taming of the Shrew is highly rhetorical (even more so than As You Like It). Whether it is Petruchio’s aggressive, vituperative taming or the milder courting of Bianca, the play never lacks an elite style with which Shakespeare exploited language to a linguistic virtuosity. For example, Petruchio’s taming distinguishes from the usual method that might involve violence. What differentiate his campaign are the subtlety, the sophistication, and the ingenuity of his conceiving of Katherina’s mind. His perspicacious mind justifies the use of highly rhetorical, puny, and literary discourse that somehow alienates the ordinary speech in the play and paradoxically brings in a fuller, more intimate possession of his witty scheme.

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