Exploring Perspectives in The Taming of the Shrew

While studying Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with my Year 11 Advanced class, we explored different perspectives of the lead roles: Petruchio and Katherina. Students readily identify the inherent misogyny for a contemporary audience, and some struggle to understand why this is a comedy.

We began by selecting examples of Petruchio ‘gaslighting’ Katherina – trying to subdue her characteristic ability to disagree or argue with others. Examples had to be at least eight to ten lines long. We chose these:

Petruchio explaining why the ‘mutton’ wasn’t suitable to eat

I tell thee, Kate, ’twas burnt and dried away,

And I expressly am forbid to touch it,

for it engenders choler, planteth anger;

And better ’twere that both of us did fast,

Since, or ourselves, ourselves are choleric,

Than feed it with such over-roasted flesh.

Be patient. tomorro’t shall be mended,

And for this night we’ll fast for company.

Come, I will bring thee to thy bridal chamber.

Petruchio objects to the tailor’s dress for Katherina:

O mercy God! What masking stuff is here?

What’s this – a sleeve? ‘Tis like a demi-cannon.

What, up and down carved like an apple-tart?

Here’s snip and nip and cut and slish and slash,

Like to a censer in a barber’s shop.

Why, what a devil’s name, tailor, call’st thou this?

Petruchio tries to convince Katherina that Vincentio is a woman:

Good morrow, gentle mistress, where away?

Tell me, sweet Kate, and tell me truly too,

Hast thou beheld a fresher gentlewoman?

Such war of white and red within her cheeks!

What stars do spangle heaven with such beauty

As those two eyes become that heavenly face?

Fair lovely maid, once more good day to thee.

Sweet Kate, embrace her for beauty’s sake.

Students then re-wrote the lines into contemporary English, before changing the explanation and tone to an opposing position. So, make the mutton a delicious steak, or the dress the most beguiling satin gown, and praise an attractive man. I was interested to see if students found the idea of teasing and cajoling somewhat more palatable, or if this exercise was a little tricky.

For Katherina, students were able to choose lines from her final speech where she berates wives who are unwilling to accept and obey their husbands. By moving away from Shakespeare’s language, students developed interesting interpretations. Perhaps Kate had found commonalities with Petruchio – a keen mind, an enjoyment of banter, almost a sense of equality.

My mind hath been as big as one of yours,

My heart as great, my reason haply more,

To bandy word for word and frown for frown.

But now I see our lances are but straws,

Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,

That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.

became

Listen! Have you noticed that I have matched wits with humour?

I am as strong and generous as you.

Our disagreements are shallow, really.

We have more in common than you believe

We are human: we love, we fear, we bleed.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons

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