Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and Women during the Renaissance

Topics: The Taming of the Shrew, Marriage, Woman Pages: 7 (2337 words) Published: April 3, 2011


The Renaissance denotes in its broadest sense, the gradual enlightenment of human mind after the darkness of the middle ages. It was indeed a complex movement in the 16th century that tended to liberate the mind and imagination of Europe from the medieval fetters; especially the traditional Christian outlook and conventional dogmas. Now one of the most important aspects of Renaissance was Humanism, which placed man at the centre of the universe. In other words, it opened the doors of a new world which gave man the power to frame his own destiny. Hence Lamartine appears correct in his assertion when he claims that, it was during Renaissance, “man discovered himself in the universe.”

However, interestingly in such an era of enlightenment the women question remained completely ignored. In other words, the Renaissance society forbade the rise of ‘Womanism’ in the contemporary scenario. Therefore this paper intends to trace the condition of the Renaissance women who lived roughly between 1350 to 1650 in Western Europe and England with particular reference to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Much like the child in the legend who wondered where the emperor’s cloths had gone this paper attempts to raise an elementary question - Did Renaissance women enjoy a Renaissance? And an apt analysis on this topic forces us to accept Joan Kelly’s argument when he says “No”. Indeed in such a society which questioned the rigid and authoritarian Christianity, people remained loyal to the biblical notions of the husband as the wife’s head and women as the glory of man. (Paraphrasing Ephesians and 1 Corinthians respectively)

Now such a gender bias in the enlightened, humanistic Renaissance society finds an apt representation in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew which was published in the year 1589. The play underlines the fact that man is the woman’s ‘lord’, ‘king’, ‘governor’, ‘life’, ‘keeper’, ‘head’, and ‘sovereign’.

True it is that Shakespeare’s play gives a fair picture of the 16th century women condition. It puts forward the problem of ‘rebellious women’ who were the point of concern of the men during the late 16th and early 17th century. Now this was because they posed a threat to the patriarchal model of a good household where women were

always the object of restrictive regulations imposed on them by the male authorities. Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew epitomizes such a rebellious figure. Hence the society without any reluctance starts calling her a shrew and even starts making efforts to tame her so that she too may fit in the mould that had been set for her by the society. Remarkably her father Baptista takes the pioneering part in this taming affair, as he declares that until Katharina is married, her younger sister Bianca too will remain unmarried. Readers may read it as a father’s concern for his daughter, but another reading may suggest it as a father’s plan to tame his daughter by creating a psychological pressure by making Katharina realize that her nature is the barrier in the path of her sister’s marriage.
Baptista however fails in his attempts to tame his so called ‘shrewish’ daughter. But when a father fails, a husband takes the charge to save patriarchy from the crisis that it faces. Indeed when Katharina voices her discontent against being made “a stale among” the unwitty “mates” (The Taming of the Shrew, Act I Sc i), Petruchio, ‘The Tamer’ appears whose intriguing genius enables him to tame his ‘individualistic’ wife. True it is that the ways that Petruchio devices are unique. This man indeed appears to know all the techniques to objectify a woman...

Cited: 1. Joan Kelly, “Did Woman Have a Renaissance?”- Women, History and
& Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly (University of Chicago
Press, 1984)
2. Lawrence Stone, Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800”
(New York: Harper and Row, 1977)
3. Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press,1956.)
4 Linda Boose, Shakespeare, The Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film,
TV, and Video (Routledge, 1997)
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