Animal Imagery in the Taming of the Shrew

Topics: The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare, Immanuel Kant Pages: 8 (1887 words) Published: April 25, 2014

According to German philosopher Immanuel Kant, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals”. This quote relates to William Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew, and its relation to animal imagery. Shakespeare successfully cultivates the development of theme, relationships and character by using animal imagery. Firstly, the imagery used in this play helps to develop themes, such as power and dehumanization. Secondly, animal imagery effectively develops relationships throughout the play, including those between Katherina and Petruchio, as well as Lucentio and Tranio. Thirdly, character development is influenced by animal imagery, as shown through the characters Petruchio, Sly and Bianca. Thus, Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew definitively progresses the development of theme, relationships and character through the use of animal imagery.

First of all, Shakespeare uses animal imagery to convincingly develop different themes throughout the play. One theme that evolves through the use of animal imagery is dehumanization. An example of this is Petruchio’s soliloque when he confesses his plans to tame Katherina. He mentions, “My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, / And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, / For then she never looks upon her lure. / Another way I have to man my haggard, / To make her come and know her keeper’s call, / That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites / That bate and beat and will not be obedient” (IV. i. 172-178). Animal imagery is used here by relating Kate to a falcon, specifically one that is wild and untamed. This quotation is significant to the theme of dehumanization because Petruchio is referring to Kate as a falcon, less than human. His actions that he confesses to are to treat her as if she is not a human. When he asserts, “I have to man my haggard” (175), not only is he calling her a wild hawk, but he expressed it like she is his possession, as if he owns her. Therefore it increases the development in the theme of dehumanization in this play. Another theme developed through the use of animal imagery is the theme of power. Right after the wedding of Petruchio and Kate, Petruchio is explaining to the others that he and Kate will not join them for the wedding dinner. He explains, “She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, / My household-stuff, my field, my barn, / My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything” (III. ii. 223-225). This quotation is significant to the theme of power because Petruchio is demonstrating that Kate is his possession and can be anything that he wants her to be. Specifically at line 225 when he says, “My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything”, it is relevant that animal imagery is successfully used to demonstrate this point of power that Petruchio holds over Kate. The animals listed by Petruchio are all animals that humans use, which hold no power. Horses are used for transportation to take humans wherever they please, and oxes and donkeys are used to transport heavy loads. This shows power because in all of these animals, they are tamed by their owners. The use of “my” in Petruchio’s comment suggests that he owns her and he can control her however he wants. Indeed, the themes in this play are developed by the use of animal imagery. Secondly, the play uses animal imagery to effectively develop relationships. One relationship that evolves using animal imagery is that between Katherina (Kate) and Petruchio, as well as their tendency to be shrewish and inconsiderate to each other arising from their urge to be in power. An example of this is when Kate and Petruchio first meet, when they are having a discussion that is somewhat rude and carries a sexual undertone. The dialogue that is exchanged begins with Katherina proclaiming: KATHERINA:Well tane, and like a buzzard.

PETRUCHIO: O slow-wing’d turtle, shall a buzzard take thee? KATHERINA: Ay, for a turtle, as he takes a buzzard.
PETRUCHIO: Come, come, you wasp! I’faith you are...


Cited: Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew;. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.
Phillips, Tazi. "Best Ever Quotes About Animals & Activism." Global Animal. N.p., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. .
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