The famous play “The Taming of the Shrew” written by William Shakespeare consists of a funny and interesting plot that must have challenged Shakespeare's contemporaries' way of thinking. We are presented with a number of different themes, such as gender roles, the power of language, female submissiveness and the economic aspects of marriage. The following text is an elaboration and reflection on the latter.
The story of «The Taming of the Shrew» revolves around a young man, Petruchio, and a relatively young woman, Katharina, and their relationship and marriage. In that way, one can consider the story a romantic comedy. However, there are several remarkable differences between typical romantic comedies and this unique play.
Romantic comedies typically involve a young couple falling in love and ultimately marrying each other. The intimate feelings between the two are described in detail throughout the plot. When the couple marries, the plot is usually at its end. Humourous lines and dialogues are essential to the comedic part of the genre. A typical ending would consist of two united or reconciled lovers. The story always ends happily.
This is certainly not the case in «The Taming of the Shrew». Many aspects are very similar, like the humorous lines and dialogues. And although the emotions of the characters are mentioned, they are not highlighted in the same scale as regular romantic comedies. Neither does the story end with the marriage and a «happily ever after» - it continues! But the most significant difference might perhaps be the emphasis on the economic aspects of marriage. All the proposers in the plot – there are several of them – more or less bribe the father of the girl they wish to marry with assurances that they are of wealth and high social status, and although some of the men might have genuine feelings towards the girl, it seems irrelevant whether the girl shares those feelings.
The prime example of such a relationship is the one between Petruchio and the uncontrollable and tempered Katherina. Since she is the oldest of two daughters, she has to be married away quickly, because her younger sister, Bianca, is not allowed a husband until her older sister has found one. The problem is that nobody wants anything to do with Katherine because of her brutish and mean personality. Luckily for Bianca and her numerous proposers, a man with the taste for business shows up – Petruchio. This man is not at all attracted to Katherine, but he does not find that necessary. He is still compelled to marry her after hearing word of her wealth. After discussing with her father Baptista – against Katherine's own will – the father agrees to the wedding, and the marriage is arranged and held. In this marriage, the female is made out to be little more than a commodity to be traded between father and proposer.
In the 15-1600s, arranged marriages were still common also in Europe. It is not odd, then, that Shakespeare chooses this as a theme in his play. It is quite evident that he himself opposed arranged and “corrupted” marriages. We see this in the way he portrays the different characters, dealing out a good portion of sympathy to the women. Because of Shakespeare’s perhaps unusually female-friendly attitude relative to his contemporaries, some have even come to the conclusion that he was a feminist!
In today's world, millions of women are being married away regardless of their will – often to men they do not even know. In Western society, the problem of forced marriage is almost non-existent. This is due to the radical change in our ideals and way of thinking during the past few centuries. Today it is out of the question that fathers should decide who their daughters can marry, and the ideal of individual freedom stands stronger than ever. However, arranged marriages are prevalent in other parts of the world, and are still widely accepted among the populations of many countries especially in the East and South.
Overall, the theme is in my opinion just as relevant today as it was back then. Even though western women today are free to choose their own husband (or even wife in some countries..), our sisters in parts of the Middle East, Africa, South and East Asia as well as Latin America still lack this freedom. My world does not only consist of Norwegian or European women, and I see no difference between them and Indian or Afghan women. Unless and until forced “business” marriages are extinguished, this theme is by all means still relevant and important.
Book: «The Taming of the Shrew» (Shakespeare, 1590-1592)
Website: http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/shrew/themes.html (17. sep 2013) Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriage (17. sep 2013) Website: http://www.shmoop.com/taming-of-the-shrew/petruchio.html (19. sep 2013)