Starved for Safety

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Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew lives on as one of his most popular plays for its wit and farce surrounding the protagonists Katherina Minola and Petruchio. Kate, the strong-willed woman, is known for her reluctance to conform to the unwritten rules of Elizabethan womanhood. And Petruchio is the suitor convinced that he must wed and tame this unconventional woman. Yet, as the play unfolds the question remains: does Kate really change so drastically by the end of the play? By looking at Kate’s struggles with the mores of courtship and marriage, we can explore the believability of her existential change of behavior.

Before reading the Taming of the Shrew, it helps to understand marriage in the Elizabethan era. In Shakespeare’s England, marriage and courtship looked much different than they do in the 21st century. Men and women both understood the importance of marriage to society and considered it a necessary and important part of life. Marriage required the wives to present a dowry to their husbands. Thus, the greater the dowry the greater the prospect of finding a worthy husband. In that sense women were considered the property of their husbands and they must submit to them. Elizabethan women had very little choice regarding whom they married. Instead, their husbands were approved of and sometimes chosen by the families in order to bring prestige and prosperity to the families involved. Before any courtship ensued, the father had to approve of the match. Only then could the man and woman initiate their courtship.

Shakespeare knew of these standards. Ironically, by looking at Kate’s personality, we see a harsh, crass young lady—very unlike that society’s ideal woman. Instead of acting submissively, she constantly insults and degrades the men. Though most of the play’s characters simply see Katherine as innately ill-tempered, it is certainly plausible to think that her unpleasant behavior stems from an inability to fit the mold. Because of her apparent...
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