Katherine and Petruchio are the major characters in Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew. Katherine is a woman in Padua and she is the shrew in the play. She is a woman that is sharp-tongued and has no respect for the men and insults them. Katherine is also an angry woman and she physically attacks those who enrage her. Padua is a patriarchal society and women are expected to respect men. Therefore, due to Katherine’s nature, she comes across as too rough and men are afraid of her. Gremio says that he would never want to marry her because she is rough and that a man who would marry her would be a fool because doing so would be like marrying hell. Hortensio says that Katherine is a devil and that she is not likely to attract any suitor unless she becomes gentler. Her personality is strong and she confronts things she feels are not right. At one point, she tells her father Baptista not to marry her off to a fool. She is also angry because her father shows favoritism to her younger sister Bianca. We see her dragging Bianca with her hands tied with a rope into a room. This act may show us how she feels about her sister and explains why Katherine behaves the way she does. She says that her sister Bianca is showered with many suitors and yet she has none and is still single. When the father rescues Bianca from Katherine, she tells the father that Bianca is a treasure and she is going to get a husband while Katherine will be humiliated during her sister’s wedding.
Katherine has a negative attitude towards society. Society alienates her because it does not understand her. She behaves the way she does because she feels alienated. Her way of expressing her feelings of unhappiness is through domineering and this makes the society further alienate itself from her. This makes her grow lonely, as she cannot find a man to marry and a man who will compliment her temperament. She is scared of becoming an old maid in her father’s house. However, her independence makes her insult suitors who come because she is not willing to compromise on the kind of a man she wants. She also knows that at one point she will have to become flexible or she will never fulfill the role the society expects her to play which is to marry and become an obedient woman. These frustrations make Katherine antisocial.
On the other hand, is Petruchio. He is the man who marries Katherine the shrew. He is materialistic and is willing to marry Katherine even if she is a shrew as long as she comes with a good fortune. Her dowry is sizable to convince Petruchio to marry her because he is money-minded. To him, love is not an important thing in marriage. His friend Hortensio says that a man would marry Katherine with all her faults because she comes with money.
Petruchio has an equally strong personality as Katherine and he seems like an equal to her. He is not cowered by Katherine’s strong personality and he makes it his mission to marry her. He tells her that he will marry her whether she agrees or not. This is because he is a boastful man who is selfish. He does not care whether Katherine wants to marry him or not as long as he fulfills his objective of wealthy marrying. He is also a domineering male chauvinist. He intends to dominate his wife and make her become a submissive wife as was expected in the Elizabethan society at that time. He starts his domination by turning up for his wedding late dressed like a clown. Katherine has no option but to marry him even if he is dressed inappropriately. Thus, he has his way in the wedding ceremony and this shows that he will make Katherine obey what he wants.
Petruchio aims to tame his wife and make her fit her societal role. He starts his taming by coming late for the wedding ceremony. During the ceremony, he behaves badly and even slaps the priest. Katherine puts up with his unacceptable behavior because she wants a husband. After the ceremony is over, he forces Katherine to go to his house before the wedding reception is over. Once there he does not give her food or allow her to sleep claiming nothing is good enough for his wife. This shows that Petruchio has started taming Katherine and she will do as he wills.
Katherine is tamed by Petruchio because when they plan to go back to Padua to attend her sister’s wedding, he promises her a new wedding gown made by a tailor. When she goes to try it on, she loves it very much. However, Petruchio says the material is not good enough, she has to wear one of her old clothes, and she obeys her husband. This means that Petruchio is succeeding in taming his wife.
On their way to the wedding in Padua, Petruchio tames Katherine’s language. He asks her to call objects and people what they are not. For example, he tells her to say the sun is the moon and the old man is a young virgin. She agrees with him even though it is absurd. “Sun it is not when you say it is not, And the moon changes even as your mind: What you will have it named, even that it is, And so it shall be so for Katherine” (Shakespeare Act 4 Scene5). In this scenario, Katherine does not defy her husband and agrees with everything he says. She has realized things are better this way this is because she has learned her husband’s games and decides to play along. She also plays his games when he calls her names for instance he calls her cake, cat, hawk in a bid to tame her by objectifying her. He says she is his property and thus he can do whatever he wants with her. She, on the other hand, calls him names and compares him to a crab and a turtle. These two play these games but in the end, Petruchio wins by taming Kate.
At Bianca’s wedding reception, Petruchio boasts to his friends, that he has tamed his wife. The other men at the wedding know Katherine for her shrewdness and get into an argument and they decide to settle the argument with a wager. Petruchio is confident that his wife will obey him because he knows he has tamed her. The contest is between Petruchio, Lucientio, and Hortensio. The bet is to call their wives and whoever’s wife comes wins the wager. Only Petruchio’s wife comes and thus wins him the wager. The other wives do not heed their husband’s call. This shows that Petruchio has completely tamed his wife. Her father Baptista is shocked that his once untamable daughter has been tamed and he offers to give Petruchio additional dowry. In addition, Kate’s speech at the wedding reception about how women should respect and obey their husbands shows that Petruchio has tamed his wife and everyone at the reception becomes a witness to this Katherine is no longer shrew but now confines to the societal image of a dutiful wife.
Conversely, we may say that Katherine tamed Petruchio by agreeing with whatever he demanded. She does this because she has discovered this is the only way to have a good marriage. She may not necessarily be tamed but she could have duped her husband into believing she was yet in reality, she is the one who tames Petruchio. This is because we even see him defending her and saying she is not a shrew and he changes other people’s perception of her by changing her reputation. However, Petruchio has a bigger influence on her and brings out a change in Katherine’s behavior.
The shrew in the play is Katherine but one may also say that Petruchio is the shrew of the play. This is because he treats Katherine cruelly in his attempts to tame her. He has become worse than she was and he denies her even basic things like food and sleep. He also forces her to wear old clothes to create an image of an obedient woman. He also becomes a shrew to his servants and beats them up or screams at them when they do something wrong. Therefore, due to his behavior, we can say he was a shrew too.
The play lives up to its title and Katherine is tamed by Petruchio. The once wild Kate becomes obedient and envious of society. Petruchio has done a good job in taming her and his friend Hortensio says that other men could learn from him how to tame their wives and equates his home to a taming school.
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. 2010.