During Shakespeare’s time the role of men and women were very different in society.’ The Taming of the Shrew’ emulates these attitudes and I shall analyze how marriage and the roles of men and women shown in the play.
In ‘The Taming of the Shrew not all of the daughters in a family could marry for love, the eldest daughter had to marry first before the younger daughters could marry. This is why Bianca couldn’t marry Hortensio, “And will not promise her to any man, until her eldest sister is wed first.” In Shakespeare’s time one of the most important things to a father was that his daughters marry men of good caliber, with wealthy homes and an authoritative family. Petruchio tries to prove that he can offer all these things to his eldest daughter, Katherina. “You knew my father well, and in him me, Left solely heir to all his lands and goods, Which I have bettered rather than decreased.”
Petruchio knows that Baptista wants the best for his daughter and Petruchio persuades Baptista that he can offer the best for his daughter. A lot of the marriages in Shakespeare’s time would have been married off for money, but sometimes the man wouldn’t marry for love either. During this time era whatever the women owned the man would inherit, in the play this is often referred to as his ‘Dowry’ and Petruchio is very engrossed about what his dowry will be, “What dowry shall I have with her to wife? (Baptista) After my death, the one half of my lands. And in possession twenty thousand crowns.” Twenty Thousand Crowns is a huge amount of money and to Petruchio it is just another way of making some quick easy cash.
In Shakespeare’s time women were treated as possessions in marriage and they were not expected to be outspoken or independent, like Katherina. “She is my goods, my chattel; she is my house, My household-stuff, my field, my barn, My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.” This shows how little Petruchio cared about Katherina and how women were seen as possessions. Today it is much more different because women have there own independence and are expected to be outspoken and independent.
In Shakespeare’s comedies, the plays often end with a feast or celebration to symbolise the end of confusion. Society is back to normal and this means that characters who disguised themselves reveal their true identities. Everyone now knows their place and Lucentio can finally say that the shrewish woman is tamed and that she behaves like a traditional woman. “Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so”. In a previous act Katherina is teased by the widow for being shrewish and her husband is viewed as being unfortunate for having such a wife. “Your husband, being troubled with a shrew, Measures my husband’s sorrow by his woe- And now you know my meaning.” The widow is saying that Petruchio is burdened by such a shrewish wife which is a very nasty thing to say.
The men use their wives as part of their own rivalry; they treat their wives like entertainers and find their behaviour very amusing. This is very different to modern attitudes because women and men are equal in our society. The men use animal and hunting imagery to describe their wives. “Am I your bird? … then pursue me as your draw your bow.” This shows how little the men care about their wives, this attitude is portrayed again when the men decide to have a wager. “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.” Petruchio again uses the word obedience which I don’t like, I believe that men and women are equal and talking about his wife being ‘obedient’ sounds as if he is the master and she is a servant.
When Bianca and the widow are called they refuse to come to their husbands because they claim they are busy. But surprisingly Katherina does come to her husband (Petruchio). Not only does she come with out question she drags the widow and Bianca with her. Next Baptista gives Petruchio another reward, not only for winning the bet but also for taming Katherina, “The wager thou hast won, And I will add, Unto their losses, Twenty thousand crowns, Another dowry to another daughter.” This shows just how surprised Baptista is that Katherina is no longer a shrew.
Petruchio decides to show off a bit and provides further evidence that Katherina is a changed woman, ” I will win my wager better yet, And show more sign of her obedience-.. Katherina, that cap of yours becomes you not: Off with that bauble- throw it underfoot.” Katherina throws off her hat just as Petruchio commanded. This behaviour in our era is unacceptable women have the right to choose what they wear and Petruchio behaves like a master to his wife.
One of the climaxing points of the play is the speech that Katherina gives to the other wives. She starts off her speech by calling husbands names which suggest that they are the top of society, “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, They head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, And for thy maintenance; commits his body.” This is a drastic change to what Katherina thought before she was tamed. She speaks as if a husband is a woman’s everything. Katherina then talks about what men do for their wives, “Painful labour both by sea and land, To watch the night in storms, the day is cold, Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe.” She talks as if a husband risks everything for his wife and that they should be very grateful for all his hard work.
Marriage in Shakespeare’s time seemed to be a business arrangement because men saw it as a way of making a lot of money. Women also seemed to have very little power and it all belonged to men. It seems very different to today where women and men are equal in everything, due to acts like the Sexual Discrimination act which stops people being discriminated because of their sex.