In this essay I will be using the school of New Historicism and Feminism in order to write a comparative analysis of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. I will discuss how intertwined the relationship between historical and textual is in Shakespeare’s play, and how it is almost impossible to study the play outside its social context. I will pay particular focus on New Historicisms substantial emphasis on ideas of power and consider Michel Foucault’s essay ‘Discipline and Punish’ in order to analyse one of the key issues of the play; Petruchio’s treatment of Katharina and how his actions may be interpreted. I will also explore the play from a Feminism perspective, and consider the roles of Petruchio and Baptista in a patriarchal society and discuss what effect this has upon Katharina. Furthermore, I will consider the ideas of New Historicism and Feminism when discussing ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ as a piece of theatre. I will then draw my ideas together in order to evaluate which of the two approaches is the most illuminating in relation to the text under discussion. When considering a text in terms of Historicism, it can be argued that the text is history, and the text and historical context are not two separate entities, they are so interlaced that they should not be attempted to pull apart. The text is part of history and history itself is textual. In particular, it may be argued that Shakespeare’s plays catalogue the social expectations, morals and social status, amongst other things, of the Elizabethan period. For example, to an Elizabethan audience the character of Katharina may have been shocking, as women were expected to conform and marry according to their father’s wishes, yet to a modern audience Katharina may not be as scandalous, due to the fact that in our society it is not unheard of or unacceptable for a woman to choose to remain unmarried. Therefore, through Shakespeare’s dramatic devices which present Katharina as a character to be...
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Foucault, M. (1975) ‘ Discipline and Punish’, in Rifkin, J. and Ryan, M. (eds.) (2004) Literary Theory: An Anthology, (2004) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. pp. 549-566.
Irigaray, L. ‘Women on the Market’, in Rifkin, J. And Ryan, M. (eds.) (2004) Literary Theory: An Anthology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. pp. 799-811.
Lublin, R.I. (2004) ‘Feminist History, Theory and Practice in the Shakespeare Classroom’, in Theatre Topics, Volume 14, Number 2, 2004.
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