The Taming of the Shrew

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Gender and Misogyny Theme Analysis

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Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon

Issues related to gender are hugely important in this play, which centers around Petruchio "taming" Katherine and forcing her into the traditionally submissive role of a wife. The play is filled with characters who fit and don't fit traditional gender roles—particularly the idea of the male as dominant and the female as submissive. The quiet, mild-mannered Bianca, for example, plays the traditional role of a woman well, while Katherine rebels against this stereotype with her boisterousness and refusal to be ordered around by a man. In the last scene of the play, Petruchio, Baptista, Hortensio, and Lucentio tease each other over who is ruled by his wife and is thus less of a man. Perhaps with the exception of Petruchio, these men do not live up to the masculine ideal of a commanding husband in control of his wife, just as Bianca and the widow Hortensio marries turn out not to be the epitomes of female obedience their husbands may have thought they were.

While both men and women in the play don't always behave in accordance with traditional gender roles, it is the women—and particularly Katherine—who are punished for such behavior. Katherine's stubbornness and strong will cause her to be denigrated, insulted, and abused throughout the play. She is less highly valued as a potential wife than her sister and humiliated by various male characters, by none more than her own husband Petruchio. This would seem to make Shakespeare's play rather sexist and misogynistic, especially as it showcases Petruchio's abusing Katherine for comedic value. But, although the play contains much misogyny on-stage, it can also be seen as exposing some of the fallacies of traditional, oppressive gender roles. For one thing, with all of the disguises and deceptive performances in the comedy, it is somewhat unclear whether Katherine is really tamed by Petruchio, or whether she is simply pretending to be obedient to him. It is even possible that he and she are pretending together, in order to surprise Baptista and the other characters. Different productions of The Taming of the Shrew may choose to interpret this ambiguity differently, but with the play's emphasis on performance and swapping roles (more on this below), Shakespeare may be seen as suggesting that gender roles are just that: roles to be played, rather than natural, true identities. This is furthered by the cross-dressing servant in the beginning of the play who convinces Christopher Sly that he is his wife, and perhaps by the fact that in Shakespeare's day, women's parts on the stage were played by young male actors.

In the end, the fact that the play portrays a heavy dose of misogyny is unavoidable, and much of Shakespeare's audience would doubtlessly have laughed at the sexist joking and slapstick abuse in the comedy. Whether Shakespeare would have shared in this reaction, or whether the play endorses this misogyny is somewhat more up for debate, but in any case reading the play offers just as much of an opportunity to critique misogyny and traditional gender roles as it does to reinforce them.

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Gender and Misogyny ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Gender and Misogyny appears in each scene of The Taming of the Shrew. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Gender and Misogyny Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew

Below you will find the important quotes in The Taming of the Shrew related to the theme of Gender and Misogyny.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

I can, Petruchio, help thee to a wife
With wealth enough, and young and beauteous,
Brought up as best becomes a gentlewoman.
Her only fault, and that is faults enough,
Is that she is intolerable curst,
And shrewd and forward, so beyond all measure
That, were my state far worser than it is,
I would not wed her for a mine of gold.

Related Characters: Hortensio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Page Number: 1.2.86-93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hortensio tells Petruchio that there is a potential wife for him, "With wealth enough, and young and beauteous." She is attractive and will cary a large dowry, and she is of an acceptable social status. But there is a problem with her: "she is intolerable curst"; she is a shrew. Hortensio says that even if he were poor, he would not wed Katherine "for a mine of gold." Kate's shrewishness and unwomanliness make her an unacceptable choice for Hortensio and other male suitors, but all that Petruchio cares about is wealth. What's more, he seems eager to take on the challenge of interacting with, marrying, and ultimately taming Katherine.

Here we see the characterization of Kate as a shrew continue to develop. It's important to recognize what the characteristics of a "shrew" were: speaking out of turn, forwardness, self-confidence, and basically any behavior by a woman that involved her not obeying the men in her life (father or husband). In other words, the idea of a "shrew" would certainly be seen today as profoundly sexist. Yet in the world of the play, it is taken as a simple matter of course thatKatherine must be changed and brought under control.


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But will you woo this wildcat?

Related Characters: Gremio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.198
Explanation and Analysis:

Gremio, another of Bianca's suitors, has entered with Lucentio, who is disguised as Cambio. Gremio plans to use Cambio to convince Bianca to marry him, not knowing that Cambio is really Lucentio and also wants to marry Bianca. Hortensio, Petruchio, and Grumio enter, and inform Germio of the plan for Petruchio to marry Katherine. Gremio is shocked, and asks Petruchio if he knows about all of Kate's faults, before delivering the line in this quote: "But will you woo this wildcat?" Gremio doesn't at first believe that Kate can possibly be tamed, though Petruchio responds with confidence.

Note also that Katherine is described here as an animal instead of a person, and that wildcat puns on 'wild Kat,' a nickname for Katherine. Naming and renaming will be a crucial tool that Petruchio uses in his "taming school."

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Nay, now I see
She [Bianca] is your [Baptista's] treasure, she must have a husband,
I must dance barefoot on her wedding day
And, for your love to her, lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep
Till I can find occasion of revenge.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Baptista Minola, Bianca
Page Number: 2.1.34-39
Explanation and Analysis:

This strange scene begins with a striking interaction: Katherine has tied up Bianca and is hitting her, demanding that she say which of her suiters she most prefers. When Baptista enters to discover the scene, he unties Bianca and calls Katherine a devilish spirit, yelling at her for abusing her sister. This scene can be interpreted literally, or playfully. Many modern productions choose to make the violence humorous, making it a kind of ironic parody of Katherine's eventual taming and lightening the themes of abuse and starvation that follow.

But the scene can also be read as one of violence, bondage, and a bitter sibling rivalry.Such a reading may be reinforced by Katherine's lines in the quote. Bianca's obedience and conformity infuriate Katherine: she claims to see that her sister is the favorite who must be married, and that she, Katherine, must be damned and kept without a husband. She asks to be left alone, saying she'll sit and cry until she can find an opportunity for revenge. This dark desire for revenge shows the intensity of Katherine's frustration with her family and the misogynistic culture in which she lives.

Say that she [Katherine] rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word,
Then I'll commend her volubility
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be married.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.178-188
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio delivers this soliloquy moments before he will meet Katherine for the first time. In it, he describes his plan for wooing her and taming her. If she gets angry and yells, he'll say that she's singing sweetly; if she frowns, he'll say she looks beautiful; if she's silent, he'll praise her for her eloquence; if she tells him to leave, he'll thank her for the invitation to stay. In short, he'll act as though her actions and words are not her own. He will not allow anything she says to carry the meaning she ascribes to them. Instead, Petruchio will ascribe his own meaning to her words and force his own reality upon Katherine, regardless of her experience.

This technique will be the crux of his taming. During their first interaction, the two exchange witticisms and puns in a humorous back and forth, and Katherine ends up hitting Petruchio. Again, we are faced with the question of how to interpret the dark notes of the play. Does Katherine relish in meeting a challenge to her wit and finally having someone who can go back and forth with her? Is her slap playful? Or is this a violent courtship in which the dominant male asserts his will forcefully upon his unwilling bride?

Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on,
And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Baptista Minola, Katherine
Page Number: 2.1.284-286
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine and Petruchio have been going back and forth after first meeting. According to plan, he has denied everything she said or did and asserted the opposite, beginning with her very name. The entire scene, and the courtship in general, is extremely performative. He first calls her Kate, and when she tries to correct him, saying she is called Katherine, he calls her a liar and tells her that she is only known by Kate. Thus begins the series of witty jabs, and slaps, and innuendos.

Here Petruchio breaks off the dialogue to deliver his intentions "in plain terms." Baptista has agreed on the marriage, the dowry has been settled, and regardless of Katherine's desires, Petruchio is going to marry her. This marks a break from his usual tactic of taming, where he forces his "reality" over hers. Here Petruchio's lesson is outright: what you desire is meaningless. Her willingness or unwillingness is irrelevant, since she is the daughter and wife, and he is the husband and the man.

For I am he born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.291-293
Explanation and Analysis:

Just a few lines earlier, Petruchio told Katherine's that her desires are meaningless (and she will marry Petruchio whether she wants to or now), here Petruchio says that he is the man who was born to tame Kate, and bring her from a "wild Kate to a Kate / Comfortable as other household Kates."

Earlier, Gremio asked Petruchio if he could woo the "wildcat," treating Katherine as a kind of animal. Here, Petruchio again "animalizes" Katherine, figuring her as a beast that needs to be tamed. By suggesting that he is the only one to tame her, he elevates his status among the other men of the play and reinforces his role as Katherine's singular master.

Note that the social hierarchy depicted in the play is extremely rigid and narrow: lords rule over servants and men rule over their wives, but there is no Duke or extra-powerful political figure to overrule unfair treatment. In this way Petruchio's power over Kate is made even more absolute.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

No shame but mine. I must, forsooth, be forced
To give my hand, opposed against my heart,
Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen,
Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Petruchio
Page Number: 3.2.8-11
Explanation and Analysis:

It is the wedding day, and everyone has gathered, but Petruchio is late. When Baptista complains that the lateness brings him shame, Katherine laments that the shame is only hers, since she is forced to marry against her will and give her heart to a madman. She believes that Petruchio is insane, not even knowing the full extent to which he will extend his cruelty after the wedding. She claims that he "wooed in haste" – insisted immediately on getting married – but now wants to be married "at leisure", which is to say whenever he wants to show up to the ceremony.

Katherine here reiterates that she is being married against her wishes, that she thinks it's wrong, and that there is nothing she can do about it. Such is the lesser status of women during the play. Her emotions and her words are dismissed as the rantings of a shrew, a name which she is even called by her father as she exits crying, abandoned at the alter on her wedding day. It is worth noting that Petruchio's "lessons" that Katherine's speech and wants are meaningless are constantly upheld and reinforced by the entire society presented in the play. Katherine is an outspoken woman; everyone else in the play, from her sister, to the men pursuing her sister, to her father, to her fiancé want to make her obedient.

I see a woman may be made a fool
If she had not a spirit to resist.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.226-227
Explanation and Analysis:

The marriage has happened according to Petruchio's wishes, and he has immediately begun his taming by continuing to disrespect tradition and Katherine's wishes. As soon as the wedding is over, Petruchio says that he and Katherine will be going home. Baptista pleads with them to stay, and Kate even appeals to Petruchio, asking him to stay if he loves her, but Petruchio still refuses.

Here Katherine attempts to refuse, asserting her "spirit" by trying to "resist" the will of her husband, lest she be made a fool. But she is powerless; the whole wedding and post-wedding performance is under Petruchio's control. To these lines, Petruchio responds (below) that Katherine is essentially his property. She leaves with him, again against her wishes, and misses her post-wedding feast.

I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 3.2.235-238
Explanation and Analysis:

Responding to those that would try to limit his control over Katherine, since they want her to stay for the feast that follows her wedding, Petruchio says that he owns Katherine, and is master over her. In a stunning, horrifying list and very direct language, he characterizes her as his property: "my goods, my chattels." She is also his "house" and all of his "household stuff." She is his "field," his "barn," and, in a series of animal comparisons, his "horse," "ox," and "ass."

Describing his wife as property, fields, and beasts of burden is cruel, but the final item in his list demonstrates the full extent of is control. He concludes, she is "my anything." Whatever Petruchio desires her to be, she will be. He is saying that his words and his will shape her reality, her identity, and her very being, until she is nothing more than a fluid "anything" – whatever he desires – that he completely owns.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And ‘tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,
And, till she stoop, she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper's call.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.188-194
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine and Petruchio have made it home to Petruchio's house after a difficult journey. Petruchio continuously berates his servants to irritate Katherine and to act insane; he has taken her to her bedroom, and here in a soliloquy outlines in greater detail the next stages of his "taming." Using more animal imagery, he calls her a "falcon" which needs to be trained, saying that he will not allow her to eat or sleep until she is well trained. He will keep here "haggard, / To make her come and know her keeper's call."

Again, as readers, we may question whether Petruchio's plan is meant to e taken literally. Treating a woman like a hunting animal in training (recall the Lord from the Induction just returned from a hunt) is cruel, but what is the true extent of the cruelty. Does Petruchio really starve Katherine and keep her sleep deprived. Is this taming comedy or torture, or both?

Petruchio's basic plan going forward is to find something wrong with all her food and her bedding, so that in the name of caring for her and her best interests, he will keep her from comfort and food. In this way he intends to "kill a wife with kindness."

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Tranio: Faith, he is gone unto the taming school.

Bianca: The taming school? What, is there such a place?

Tranio: Ay, mistress, and Petruchio is the master,
That teacheth tricks eleven and twenty long
To tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue.

Related Characters: Bianca (speaker), Tranio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Page Number: 4.2.56-60
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene takes place back in Padua, where Lucentio (as Cambio) has been courting Bianca. Hortensio has seen the two kissing, and been convinced by Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) to cease his attempts to woo Bianca. Tranio then goes up to Bianca and Lucentio to tell them the news that Hortensio has given up.

Here they discuss Hortensio's intention to learn from Petruchio at "the taming school." Bianca questions what such a place could be, and Tranio responds that it indeed exists, and "Petruchio is the master" who teaches how to "tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue." In this quote, taming is treated as a kind of education, and thus Petruchio is framed as a master, a husband, and also an educator who teaches women how to be good wives, and men how to be good trainers of women. And the men of the play all seem to believe that such training is necessary, that all women must be "trained" to be good obedient wives to their husbands.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

It shall be what o'clock I say it is.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Page Number: 4.3.202
Explanation and Analysis:

The household is preparing to leave for Bianca's wedding, after Petruchio insists that he and Katherine attend in their basic clothing. During preparations, he says incorrectly that it is seven o'clock. Katherine corrects him: "I dare assure you, sir, 'tis almost two." Petruchio's response is one of absolute power and control: "It shall be what o'clock I say it is."

Here he goes beyond controlling Katherine's life to dictating what her sensory experience of the world should be. Petruchio demands that the forces of nature and time itself for Katherine must all be viewed through the lens of Petruchio's will, subject to change on his whim. By continuing to assert that Katherine knows nothing without him and that her desires are meaningless, he hopes to break her and make her completely subservient. At the end of the scene, Hortensio remarks in a prophetic aside, "Why, so, this gallant will command the sun!" foreshadowing Petruchio's continued use of this technique.

Act 4, Scene 5 Quotes

Now, by my mother's son, and that's myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or e'er I journey to your father's house.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Baptista Minola, Katherine
Page Number: 4.5.7-9
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio, Katherine, and their train are traveling to Baptista's house for Bianca's wedding. Continuing with the "lesson" he gave with "It shall be what o'clock I say it is," Petruchio has said that the moon is shining, even though it is daytime. When Katherine protests that it is the sun, Petruchio offers this quote in response.

Note that he begins by swearing by his "mother's son," that is, by himself, and says that "It shall be the moon, or star, or what I list." Whatever Petruchio says shall be. He swears by himself since to Katherine, he is the absolute figure of authority. No Duke, no King, no God will supersede his authority. His will dictates her very experience of the world.

Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please.
And if you please to call it a rush candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Petruchio
Page Number: 4.5.14-17
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to Petruchio swearing on his own self, Katherine seems to finally give in. When he says they'll turn back if she disagrees, he says that since they have come so far, she will call it "moon, or sun, or what you please," even "a rush candle." She vows that whatever Petruchio says the sun is, it will be for her. Katherine appears to be broken, and for the rest of the play she goes on with his jokes and his crazy assertions that things are not what they seem. As Hortensio says, the field is won; the "shrew" has been tamed.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

Let's each one send unto his wife,
And he whose wife is most obedient
To come at first when he doth send for her
Shall win the wager which we will propose.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine, Bianca, Petruchio, Hortensio, Widow
Page Number: 5.2.68-71
Explanation and Analysis:

This is in the final scene of the play; the marriages are done, the plot has been mostly resolved. All that remains is this bet, and the test of "whose wife is most obedient." Petruchio suggests that each man send for his wife, and that the man whose wife comes first when sent for wins the bet. This demeaning experiment is meant to demonstrate Petruchio's mastery, and remind the other males in the play that Petruchio is the head of the taming school. More broadly, the bet, with its emphasis on wifely obedience, implies that all women are "shrews" who must be trained, that any woman who does not show total obedience to her husband is a shrew.

The wager also sets up Katherine's controversial final speech

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Petruchio
Page Number: 5.2.162-163
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio wins the bet, as Katherine comes first and most obediently. At his request, she explains to everyone, addressing her friends, all the characters, and often the audience in a lengthy monologue about obedience. Here she explains that a husband is "thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee." Recall that Petruchio suggested that Katherine was his anything. Here she seems to suggest that he is her everything. Across various frames of reference, including life itself, the husband is the master.

Each production and reading of The Taming of the Shrew must find a way to interpret this challenging speech. For modern audiences where this kind of misogyny and sexism are taken to be antiquated and wrong (and frankly horrifying), the final speech is usually delivered ironically, with a hint or even more that Katherine hasn't been tamed either entirely or at all. But the speech can also be evidence that Katherine has been completely broken, her former character and outspokenness completely eliminated by Petruchio's taming.

I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.177-180
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another excerpt from Katherine's long, controversial final speech. Here she says she's ashamed that women are so simple, and that they fight their husbands when instead they should be obedient. This line could be ironic, since she describes the type of woman she has been the entire play, or dark, showing that her old personality has been erased. She continues to say that women should seek the "rule, supremacy, and sway / When they are bound to serve, love, and obey." This little rhyme suggests that she has finally conformed to Petruchio's rule and to the ideal of silent, obedient women.

Again, we must question whether this speech should be taken directly or ironically. It's length and extreme excess might suggest that it is sarcastic, and typically in modern productions the speech is delivered as a wink to the audience, implying that Katherine's true beliefs and personality have survived. But given the severity of Petruchio's tutelage and the extent to which he asserts his will over his wife's even to the point of deconstructing and rebuilding her very reality, it is also easy to read this final speech as a haunting display of a woman broken down by torture and ultimately oppressed by the misogynistic culture she lives in.

Now, go thy ways, thou hast tamed a curst shrew.

Related Characters: Hortensio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Page Number: 5.2.205
Explanation and Analysis:

The wager is over, the speech is done; everyone is awed at Katherine's transformation, and the field seems to be won. After Petruchio leaves with his wife, Hortensio says that his friend has "tamed a curst shrew." While our interpretation is debatable, it is clear that the characters within the play believed the final speech to be in earnest. Katherine has become Kate, an obedient woman without any concrete beliefs or identity other than those of her husband.

Note also that Christopher Sly and the outer play are here forgotten. The play within the play ends, and with it the entire play ends. Whether forgotten by the playwright or simply considered superfluous at this point, audiences and readers are left to consider Katherine's harrowing final speech. And, in fact, there are many very different interpretations of the play. Some critics argue that it is, simply, horribly misogynistic. Others argue that the "cruelty" of the play is in fact a kind of play, a back and forth both characters, having met their match, enjoy. Still others argue that the misogyny represented in the play is supposed to make an audience reflect on the misogyny in their society; that the play is forcing an audience to see and be horrified by society's expectations for women.