Patriarchal Marriage Theme in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew

January 30, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the play, Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare, we see various characters playing different roles with different personalities. In the beginning, Katharina is seen as the shrew that needs to be tamed while her sister Bianca is the innocent, shy, and well-mannered one that all the suitors want. The clause that their father puts forward, however, prevents Bianca from being married before Katharina. This is where Petruchio fits in and makes it his mission to marry her and “tame her.” After marrying her, he puts her through many ordeals and obstacles to break her down and be subjected to him. Patriarchal marriage was a big part of Shakespearean time because it allowed male to dominate over women, and he depicts these gender roles throughout many of his plays. In Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio’s subjection of Katharina not only makes him the shrew truly, but also enforces the system of patriarchal marriage and men overpowering women which was heavily prominent in Shakespeare time. The idea of male supremacy is key in helping men feel that they are truly supreme and have the power, which is important for Petruchio because in the end, Katherina’s loyalty gives him the power and satisfaction of being a real man.

“Encouraging Whistle Berries: Paradoxical Intervention in the Taming of the Shrew” by Richard Raspa reinforces the idea “of patriarchal authority and the marginalization of the feminine voice.” (2) The focus of this article emphasizes the feminist point of view and shows how Petruchio regards Katharina as property and enforces such horrible conditions on her. He also touches upon how this isn’t something new but rather it is tradition of European folklore. This an important idea mentioned earlier as well because it helps in furthering the idea of patriarchal marriage in society in which a woman must obey her husband. The idea of obedience in the play is seen analogous to Milton Erickson’s paradoxical intervention. Paradoxical intervention is defined as “a therapeutic method that induces change by paradoxically encouraging the behavior the therapists seek to discourage.” (105) Through this technique one is able to induce proper behavior by reacting the opposite of what is expected. This is clearly the method that Petruchio adopts to change Katherina and subject him to her.

We see his first act of paradoxical intervention when he praises her behavior and praises her for her “shrewish behavior.” He claims that everything he’s heard about her is a lie, and instead claims “for thou are please, gamesome, passing courteous, but slow in speech yet sweet as springtime flowers.” (2:1:238-2439) While this is before they get married, he begins his taming as soon as they meet in attempts to woe her. But his real taming beings when they get married and he masks each event with her love for her. He uses this psychological battering to exasperate her to a point where she is tamed and listens to his very sentence. By claiming that the meat was burned and she shouldn’t eat it, he forces her to go to bed hungry. He says, “Since of ourselves, ourselves are choleric, than feed it with such over-roasted flesh. Be patient, tomorrow ’t shall be mended, And, for this night, we’ll fast for company.” (4:1:110-114) Despite Katharina’s protests that the meat was fine, eh forces her to believe that it wasn’t and makes them starve. This paradoxical intervention is just one of the many ways he forces her to believe whatever he chooses.

However, it is important to point out that de doesn’t do all of this to merely subjugate her, but to also get her to listen and be obedient like a good wife should be. Kahn states that Petruchio “desires a listening wife.” (110) We see a clear transition in Katherina’s behavior throughout the play. In the beginning, she has an outburst each time she doesn’t get what she wants. She wrangles with her sister, the suitors, the tutor, and even her father. The whole purpose of this is have a doting wife that will listen to his wants, and he uses these measures to get what he wants.

The idea of patriarchal marriage is reinforced even more through the idea of marriage being about money. In the article “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare’s Mirror of Marriage”, Coppelia Kahn addresses the idea that Katherina’s marriage to Petruchio was a way her father, Baptista, was working with the marriage market and the money he would get from the arrangement. Firstly, he is adamant that Katherina must marry first before Bianca does. This can be seen as a way to make sure Katherina gets married. In the article, Kahn says, “Petruchio’s and Tranio/Lucentio’s frequent references to their respective fathers’ wealth and reputations remind us that wealth and reputation pass from father to son, with woman as mere accessory to the passing.” (91) For Baptista, he needed to make sure that both of this daughters would get married, thus he places this condition down. Also, Baptista reinforces the idea of patriarchal marriage when he says he says the following lines to Katherina. In act 3, scene 2, Baptista says, “Go, girl, I cannot blame thee now to weep. For such an injury would vex a very saint, Much more a shrew of thy impatient humor.” Clearly, he realizes he has done her wrong but Katherina is forced to live with the reality he has imposed on her.

The article also focuses on how Petruchio’s character is shaped by society at that time. The need for Petruchio to marry a woman that would make a “man” mirrors the image of what marriage should be. Specifically, during the time Shakespeare was writing, she says, “He is animated like a puppet by the idée fixe that a man must command absolute obedience from his wife.” Thus, by portraying Petruchio with this idea, the patriarchal marriage is enforced. Through all the manipulation he puts her through, she is forced to answer to his “taming.” The author introduces an idea of the “farce” to represent the taming, which “carries out our desire to simplify life by a selective anesthetizing of the whole person; man retains all his energy yet never gets hurt.” (2) Through this treatment towards her, Kate is forced to automatically react in a way that is pleasing to Petruchio.

The most notable scene in the play is when he says the sun is the moon and she is forced to agree. Katherina says, “Forward, I pray, since we have come so far, And be it moon or sun or what you please. And if you please to call it a rush-candle, Henceforth I vow it shall so for me.” (4:5:12-15) This was such an important point because at this point, he was able to get her to think the craziest thing despite whether or not she believes it. Whether she did this to please him or get out of the situation already, it shows that Petruchio is using farce to manipulate her to form her into the wife he wants her to be. Throughout all of this taming, Petruchio is essentially looking for validation he is a man. To be considered a true man, he must have his wife subject herself to him. Clearly through scene with the sun and moon, Shakespeare shows “that male supremacy in marriage denies woman’s humanity.” (96) Clearly, even Katherina is aware of the bizarre statement she is making but must do so under the order of her husband.

In conclusion, there is an emphasis of patriarchal marriage throughout Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew.” There are various ways gender roles and male supremacy are shown through the characters and the scenes taking place. Firstly, it is seen through the fact that the marriage is a monetary transaction for Baptista rather than a marriage for his daughters. Kahn provides an analogy of him playing as a seller in a marker and Bianca is the good product while Katherina is the bad one. Therefore, in order to sell the good one, he makes a condition that the bad one must go first. Clearly, he was playing the game and was able to gain money from Petruchio through this transaction. Lastly and most importantly, Petruchio adopts the form of paradoxical intervention to make Katherina submit to him. While he does so to gain a perfect and doting wife that obeys his every command, this can also be seen as validation for his need to be considered a true man in society. Therefore, patriarchal marriage is a key idea in the play and is shown to represent the ideals of society during Shakespearean time.

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