Katherina as Subversive

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In Act One Scene One, Katherina’s position within the boundaries of Elizabethan society is a conflicted one. As Lucentio describes his ideal woman (Bianca) to Tranio, he defines for the audience the only acceptable character traits for a contemporary woman: ‘mild behaviour and sobriety’. In the same scene however, the audience is presented with a woman that clearly opposes this ideal, as she is neither mild nor sober: ‘comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool/And paint your face and use you like a fool.’ Here, Katherina clearly subverts contemporary social norms, as is typical of comedy. She describes Hortensio as a ‘fool’, perhaps making a mockery of his foolish chase for Bianca’s affections whilst also threatening him with physical violence. Indeed, often in productions of A1S1, Katherina has actually thrown a stool at the three male characters in the scene, something that is symbolic of her violently subversive nature. Shakespeare therefore presents Katherina in Act One Scene One as a threat to the stable patriarchy of Paduan society and perhaps in the process allows the audience to see gender inequalities within their own society, confirming John Moreall’s assertion that In the comic vision [...] authority and tradition are questioned and tested rather than blindly accepted.

At the beginning of Act Two Scene One, the audience sees an unchanged Katherina who again threatens the quiet and unquestioned patriarchy of contemporary society and is neither ‘mild’ nor sober: ‘Her silence flouts me, and I'll be revenged. (Flies after Bianca)’. The stage direction describes Katherina as flying, a verb that implies extreme rage and spontaneity and representing a distinct lack of self-control, something common of the comedic Elizabethan ‘shrew’ stereotype. However, Katherina continues: She is your treasure, she must have a husband;/I must dance bare-foot on her wedding day.’ The word ‘must’ demonstrates that Elizabethan women had no other option than marriage;...
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