One purpose of theatre is perhaps to reiterate social phenomena and bring to light aspects of our identity, as an individual, culture, or audience, that have been passed as unquestioned tradition from times when they made sense. The Taming of the Shrew is one such work that presents an uncomfortable social reflection, emphasizing an inescapable theme of patriarchy and normative gender roles. Yet the play does not simply advocate masculine dominance, and female subordination, as the title and brief synopses would suggest. Shakespeare's work is indeed a reflection of his society, yet may be read in normative or progressive terms. Perceiving the latter, one may deconstruct the play through a lens of current sociological performativity. Starting from the Induction, and working through the process of identity formation within the relationship of Katherine and Petruchio, it becomes evident that gendered dominance and submission may be a thematic façade for more a complicated social commentary.
[...] The courting scene is the introduction to a gendered war of the titans, in which Petruchio begins to implement his taming program of ‘killing with kindness'. He has been prepared to face the worst, through the warnings of the other suitors and Baptista thou armed for some unhappy words,” II.i.75), as well as the return of Hortensio with his shattered lute. This evidence of violent temperament seems only to impress Petruchio who predicts to overwhelm an irate and sullen shrew with mere denial of her act. [...]
[...] In performing the stereotypes of gender so thoroughly and on the narrative command of his employer, the Page succeeds in confirming Sly's new identity, and loosening the audience's confidence in their own conventions by exposing their malleability. Thus the Induction paves the way for further hierarchal transgressions, performative trickery, and subversion of norms through apparent conversion. In the Induction, the lord is able to navigate on whim, the hierarchies and constructs of society that dictate the station and agency of the rest of society. [...]
[...] Yet Petruchio does not escape the battle the ultimate victor, for something was altered in his clear-cut path of performing convention to achieve liberation. Faced with an entity he couldn't control he glimpsed an atmosphere charged with unexpected passion and excitement, emotions that were not considered when he construed only the financial aspects of marriage, and which serve to hamper his easy navigation of such convention. When Petruchio arrives (late) for the wedding he begins to ‘tame' Kate by means of desensitizing her from society and their rituals. [...]
[...] When asked by Hortensio how he came to Padua he explains, “Such wind as scatters young men through the world/ To seek their fortunes farther than at home.” His description of his own agency is almost romantic, as if life were a game to be won, a maze to be navigated: I have thrust myself into this maze, / happily to wive and thrive as best I may.” (I.ii.47). Petruchio is free within society because he is performing a designated role of a ‘wealthy bachelor, looking to see the world, and find wealth and a wife.' Because he is looking to get married, he appears to be supporting the conventional expectations of his class. [...]
[...] The Taming of the Shrew begins with Katherine struggling against a socially designated identity and destiny. Regardless of whether Kate is consciously enacting aggression as a form of rebellion against gendered hierarchy, her temperament is an overt response to a lack of agency in the events that envelop her. The first time she appears in the play, Kate is surrounded by a company that considers her an obstacle to each of their personal desires. Two suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, pursue her sister, Bianca, who shows no will but to be contrasted with her sister. [...]
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