The title of the play already contains an animal metaphor, implicitly comparing Katherine to an unruly shrew. Similar imagery pervades the play. Katherine is often called a shrew and Gremio calls her a “wildcat,” (i.2.198). Petruchio builds on this pun with “cat” and “Kate” when he tells her he will “bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates,” (ii.1.292-293). This notion of Katherine as a wild animal that must be tamed continues over the course of the play, as when Petruchio compares his method of taming her to that of a falconer taming a falcon. These insulting comparisons symbolize Katherine’s wild temperament, but also the misogyny with which the play’s male characters regard her. Simply because she doesn’t adhere to a strict definition of a noblewoman, she is denigrated as animal-like.
It is not just Katherine who is compared to animals. The lord in the Induction calls Christopher Sly a “monstrous beast,” and “a swine,” (Induction 1.35), further exemplifying animal imagery as insulting. Throughout the play, animal imagery is used to degrade various characters who are seen as of a lesser status, often because of gender or social class. But no one is the object of these animal insults more than Katherine, as the imagery of a wild animal and a tamer has particular symbolic significance for the play’s sexist portrayal of male-female unions and traditional gender roles.
Animals Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew
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.
For I am he born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.
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.
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.