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Ruda 1 Cory Ruda Sexism in The Taming of the Shrew Sexism had permeated our culture just as thoroughly

as grouping into societies. Only relatively recently in the history of humanity have women gained a great respect and equality, this idea most prevalently seen in the western world. Under this grand understanding, the artists and intellectuals of modern and contemporary times have shunned most works, old and new, which present sexist ideals in anything but the most damning light. One work of classic literature and performance, William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, has circumvented this boundary, ignoring social ideals and manner, and uses violent and unforgiving sexism as a tool of entertainment and humor. The reason for this is argued among intellectual societies of the arts and the sciences, both as simply a work of literature and performance, and of sociological and psychological phenomena. Thus, it will be examined in this work under both the fields studying it, as well as finally judging whether the play should or should not be performed and read in modern society. William Shakespeare's play, The Taming of the Shrew, was written within an unspecified year in the early-to-mid 1590's. (Pilkington) The play begins with a short introduction in which a drunk by the name of Christopher Sly is tricked by a noble and his house into believing that he himself, a poor tailor by trade self-described as, having no more doublets than backs, no more stockings than legs, nor no more shoes than feet. (Shakespeare 6) In this trick, the real Lord and Sly end by sitting and watching a play, much like the more modern novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Ruda 2 The play within a play follows the story of Petruchio, a man seeking love, or rather, the dowry behind the marriage, and Katherina, the shrew referred to in the title of the work. There are also two other characters which need mention as they are the true young love of the story which follow the story of the low, new comedy type, in which the lovers are kept apart and must themselves find a way to be together. These characters are Bianca, sister of the shrew Katharina, daughter of Baptista, and Lucentio, her suitor. The obstacle presented between them is the fact that Baptista refuses to allow his Bianca, fair and innocent, to marry before Katharina, the older of the sisters, is herself married. (Hudson) The problem with this is that Katharina is shorttempered and stubborn to a fault, often striking out against those which anger or upset her. It seems, to Lucentio, a lost cause, until, at least, he meets Petruchio, a drunk from Verona. Petruchio has but one goal in coming to Padua and meeting his friends Gremio and Hortensio, they themselves suitors to Bianca: To get rich by marrying a woman with a wealthy father, collecting her dowry, and, eventually, inheriting her father's estate.
Petr. . If thou know one rich enough to be Petruchio's wife,as wealth is burden

of my wooing dance, be she as foul as was Florentius love, as old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewed as Socrates' Xanthippe, or a worse, she moves me not.... I come to wive it wealthily in Padua, if wealthily, then happily in Padua. (Shakespeare 21)

Thus, it is only natural that Petruchio should woo the woman Katharina and collect her extremely rich father's wealth. This would then free Bianca from her shackles and she'd be free to marry. This, however, is treated like nothing more than a game by Petruchio, who pledges to take her through wooing the woman, or by any other means

Ruda 3 necessary. Eventually, he tricks Baptista into allowing the wedding under the pretense that Katharina has fallen in love with him (though it is exactly the opposite case,) and takes her by force, violence, and, quite literally, torture, both mental and physical.
Petr. - She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat. Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall not; As with the meat, some undeserved fault I'll find about making of the bed. And here I'll fling the pillow, there the bolster, this way the coverlet, another way the sheet. Ay, and amid this hurly I intend that all is done in reverend care if her; and in conclusion she shall watch all night: and if she chance to nod, I'll rail and brawl, and with the clamour keep her still awake. And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humour. He that knows better how to tame a shrew, now let him speak: 't is charity to show. (Shakespeare 58-59)

Here Shakespeare has Petruchio literally torturing this poor woman, forcing her into submission through lack of sleep, nutrients, and mental duress. The problem with this, however, is that in this time in Elizabethan society, discipline of the shrew, even to the brutal means of violence and torture, as presented in the play, is legally acceptable, and, if even, only seen as distasteful in society. (Detmer 273-294) He also purposely sets up the type of relationship he wants with her by choosing to not take advantage of his wife on their wedding night, abstaining from sex. This is not, however, in any attempt to have her hunger for sex, but is used only to further solidify the idea of a more paternal relationship (abusive as it may be) with her. (Perret) The reader of the play is getting first hand an account of a man instilling in his wife not only extreme examples of domination and submission, but completely (and knowingly) attempting to instill within his subject a sense of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is the state in

Ruda 4 which a person who is under frequent, prolonged mistreatment and abuse will finally come to a mental state where they will believe that there is no way they could stop the abuse, and will actually begin to believe that they themselves are the direct cause for the abuse. Finally, in the end of the play, poor Katharine seems to break down, casting out her former shrew-hood and playing the role of the obedient wife.
Kath. - A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty; and while it is so, none so dry or thirst will deign to sip or touch one drop of it. Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign... And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, and not obedient to his honest will, what is she but a foul contending rebel, and graceless traitor to her loving lord? (Shakespeare 85)

She continues ever further, going as far as placing her hand beneath her husbands foot in token of which duty, if he please, my hand is ready, may it do him ease. (Shakespeare 86) This can be taken in at least two different ways, the first being that A) Petruchio has broken' Katharina, stripping her of her independence, as previously stated, or B) that she has simply found the best way to deal with this egotistic, misogynistic husband she is forced to be wed to. Option B seems much more likely than the simplistic view of option A, especially with certain lines such as,
Kath. - husband, let's follow, to see the end of this ado. Petr. - First kiss me, Kate, and we will, (Shakespeare 80)

It at first seems as if this is only a domineering scene by the Patriarch Petruchio as we have seen thoughout the work, but it continues,

Ruda 5 Kath. - What, in the midst of the street?


Petr. - What, art thou ashamed of me? Kath. - No, sir, God forbid; but ashamed to kiss. Petr. - Why, then let's home again. Come, sirrah, let's away. Kath. - Nay, I will give thee a kiss: now pray thee, love, stay. (Shakespeare 80)

It seems here rather like the reformed shrew has turned the tides on her husband, now understanding how to gain the upper hand on him, especially in society, if he wishes to keep up the appearance of the caring friend to all those but his closest friends. It seems very much like she is using the same cunning tricks that her husband had once, and is, now using on her. (Henze) This eternal work of Shakespeare's, while very sexist, violent, and misogynistic, is still being played, discussed, and read in modern society. If this is so, it must be the case that people find this story important, or entertaining. Assuming not every single person who chooses to view the show is a wife beater, it must mean that The Taming of the Shrew has some value to the average pacifist viewer. It may be just that the show is one of Shakespeare's, but that seems unlikely. In that case, very few would ever return to see a second performance. What seems much more likely is that the show is attractive in that is really is entertaining to see the story and conflicts of Petruchio and Katharine play out together. Shakespeare makes sure of this, no doubt, with the way he words so much of their interactions. Puns, double entendre, and basically humorous word play litters the entirety of the script. Watching the two characters clash, even with the violence and mistreatment of Katharina, really puts the two on the same level, equals in their rule and domain, even though Katharina is a women in a man's society.

Ruda 6 For this reason, it should be concluded that Shakespeare's Shrew be understood as an acceptable, and exceptional, piece of art. True it may be, there is much of Shakespeare's work here that is over-the-top and unacceptable. However, understanding the outlook on women at the time, claiming the piece is unacceptable and cruel, and extending that as far as to say that Shakespeare is unacceptable and cruel for writing it, is only to say that he is one of the majority. The sexism in The Taming of the Shrew really is a victim of its time, though this is in no way to say that it was correct and to be praised. The Shrew, however, should be praised as the great work it is. If it weren't, then Rabelais' Gargantua and Pentagruel would have to be condemned for its extreme use of graphic obscenity, and mass genocide by urine.

Works Cited Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Thrift ed. Mineola, Ny.: Dover Publications, 1997. Print. Pilkington, Ace G., and Stephanie Chidester. "Taming of the Shrew Essay." Dixie College Online. Dixie College, 1997. Web. 15 Apr 2011.

Ruda 7 Detmer, Emily. "Civilizing Subordination: Domestic Violence and the Taming of the Shrew." Shakespeare Quarterly. Aut 1997: 273-294 . Print. "Taming of the Shrew." Hudson Shakespeare Online. Hudson Shakespeare, 2003. Web. 15 Apr 2011. Perret, Marion D. "Of Sex and the Shrew." Shakespearean Criticism Jan 1982: 3-20. Web. 15 Apr 2011. Henze, Richard. "Role-Playing in the Taming of the Shrew." Shakespearean Criticism 1970: 231-240. Web. 15 Apr 2011.