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The young Shakespeare and his contemporaries: reconstructing convention in taming of the shrew

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Modern theories illumination on conventions of the past with temporally disparate ideas.
  3. The process by which society can endow an individual with a constructed identity.
  4. The ideals of gender.
  5. The character of Petruchio.
  6. Petruchio's first meeting with Kate.
  7. Petruchio's attempts to 'tame' Kate.
  8. Petruchio's reiteration of masculine dominance of the private sphere.
  9. Kate's final speech.
  10. Conclusion.

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. [...]

[...] He has plopped her in a strange world where his own brutish performance includes the bullying of his servants and other characters (reimbursed in some way out of her perception) all in the name of pleasing her. As Petruchio tortures her with new garments only to brutishly return them with the tailor, Katherine protests, ?This doth fit the time, / and gentlewomen wear such caps as these.? Petruchio's response is one of his first to hint at the game rather than feign care of her, ?When you are gentle, you shall have one (IV.iii.157). [...]

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