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.
Gender and Misogyny ThemeTracker
Gender and Misogyny Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I see a woman may be made a fool
If she had not a spirit to resist.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee.
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.