The Taming of the Shrew

In Act 5, Scene 2, Katherina Speaks About The Duties Of A Wife And The Role Of Women. With Reference To The Play As A Whole And The Role Of Women In Elizabethan England, How Could This Scene Be Interpreted In Different Ways by Elizabethan and Contemporary Audiences?

In The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina’s speech towards the end of the play is both memorable and very important to the storyline. This is the scene when the confused audience finally discover whether Petruchio’s plan throughout the play to tame Katherina has succeeded. Has Katherina truly been tamed, does she actually believe what she is saying or is she still the same shrewish Katherine she’s always been and being ironic? The way Katherina’s speech is interpreted depends on the way it is performed and the audience to which it is being shown.

In Elizabethan England women were the property of their husbands. They were expected to obey their husband’s orders, to speak only when they were supposed to and follow their husband wherever he went without questioning his motives. Husbands were a wife’s as Katherine puts it, “lord”. Wives were supposed to be meek and dutiful during that period so an Elizabethan audience would accept that Petruchio has managed to tame his shrewish wife.

In the play Katherina is so worn down my Petruchio’s actions that she will do anything he asks her to. “[Petruchio] The poorest service is repaid with thanks, And so shall mine before you touch the meat. [Katherina] I thank thee, sir” (Act 4 Scene 3, lines 45-7) Part of Petruchio’s plan to tame Katherina is to give her no food so that she becomes so worn down with hunger that she will obey him. It works; she does what he tells her to without protesting at all. The audience would see this as a sign that she is becoming more obedient, which makes the interpretation, that she has been tamed, quite likely.

Not only does she obey Petruchio’s wishes she also agrees with what he says even if it’s false. “[Katherina] I know it is the moon. [Petruchio] Nay then you lie, it is the blessèd sun. [Katherina] Then God be blessed, it is the blessèd sun.” (Act 4 Scene 5, lines 17-9) Katherine agrees with Petruchio when he says it is the moon that shines above them and then agrees it is the sun when he changes his mind. Petruchio is testing how well he has tamed Katherine and it seems he has done quite well. Katherine knows the powerful position her husband has and he could easily change his mind about them visiting her father’s house. Because she really wants to go, she acts like the obedient and tame wife he wants her to be.

She continues this right up to her last speech. “[Petruchio]…Off with that bauble- throw it underfoot [She obeys.]” (Act 5 Scene 2 lines 123). Katherina doesn’t argue this even though it is quite a ridiculous thing to do in front of other people. An Elizabethan audience would be convinced after seeing Katherina do this not even a minute after she entered the room when Petruchio commanded her to, that she has been tamed.

It is clear, all through the play, that Katherina has been tamed, Petruchio gives her an order and she obeys, but it is her beliefs that we have to decide on. Is Katherina being submissive because she is has now come to believe that men really are superiors to women and should be obeyed, or are her opinions of men the same as they have always been and she speaks the last speech with sarcasm?

The words in her speech strongly imply this. “unknit that threatening unkind brow”(Act 5 Scene 2, line 136). She is quite angry towards Bianca and the widow for their disobedient behaviour towards their husbands. She says repeatedly that shrewish, defiant women that do not obey their husbands are ugly and “bereft of beauty”. This shows that she is seeing women, seeing herself, in a different light. An Elizabethan audience would believe that she has thought about how unattractive to men she was back before she married Petruchio, back when she was a shrew. They would see her change