The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare is
probably one of Shakespeare\'s earliest comedies. Its plot
is derived from the popular \'war of the sexes\' theme in
which males and females are pitted against one another for
dominance in marriage. The play begins with an induction in
which a drunkard, Christopher Sly, is fooled into believing
he is a king and has a play performed for him. The play he
watches is what constitutes the main body of The Taming Of

The Shrew. In it, a wealthy land owner, Baptista Minola,
attempts to have his two daughters married. One is very
shrewish, Katherine, while the other is the beautiful and
gentle Bianca. In order to ensure Katherine is married,

Baptista disallows Bianca to be espoused until Katherine is
wed, forcing the many suitors to Bianca to find a mate for

Katherine in order for them to vie for Bianca\'s love. Many
critics of the play condemn it for the blatant sexist
attitude it has toward women but closer examination of the
play and the intricacies of its structure reveal that it is
not merely a story of how men should \'put women in their
place\'. The play is, in fact, a comedy about an assertive
woman coping with how she is expected to act in the society
of the late sixteenth century and of how one must obey the
unwritten rules of a society to be accepted in it. Although
the play ends with her outwardly conforming to the norms of
society, this is in action only, not in mind. Although she
assumes the role of the obedient wife, inwardly she still
retains her assertiveness.

Most of the play\'s humour comes from the way in
which characters create false realities by disguising
themselves as other people, a device first introduced in the
induction. Initially this is accomplished by having

Christopher Sly believe he is someone he is not and then by
having the main play performed for him. By putting The

Taming Of The Shrew in a \'play within a play\' structure,

Shakespeare immediately lets the audience know that the play
is not real thus making all events in the play false
realities. Almost all characters in the play take on
identities other than their own at some point of time during
the play. Sly as a king, Tranio as Lucentio, Lucentio as

Cambio, Hortensio as Litio and the pedant as Vicentio are
all examples of this. Another example of this is Katherine
as an obedient wife.

In The Taming Of The Shrew, courtship and marriage
are not so much the result of love but rather an institution
of society that people are expected to take part in. As a
result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are
judged, not by their love for a woman, but by how well they
can provide for her. All suitors compare the dowry each can
bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer\'wins\' the woman\'s hand in marriage. This competition for
marriage is like a game to the characters of the play.

While discussing the courtship of Bianca with Gremio,

Hortensio says "He that runs fastest gets The ring" (Act I,
scene i, l. 140-141) likening receiving permission to wed

Bianca to winning a race. In the game, however, women are
treated like objects that can be bought and sold rather than
as human beings. This is expected since the society is a
patriarchal one. For example, Lucentio, Tranio and

Petruchio are all defined with reference to their fathers
and all the elderly authority figures, like Baptista and

Vicentio, are men. The taming of Katherine is not a women\'s
shrewishness being cured as much as it is a woman being
taught the rules of the \'patriarchal game\'. Katherine has
learned how to be assertive and with this knowledge is able
to control men, and a woman controlling a man is considered\'against the rules\' of the game.

The play ends with Katherine proving that she is
truly cured of her \'shrewishness\' and is the most obedient
of the three newlywed wives at the end of the play. This is
demonstrated in her soliloquy when she lectures the other
wives on the proper way in which a woman should behave:

I am ashamed that women are so simple

To offer war where they should kneel for peace,

Or seek rule, supremacy, and sway,

When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
(Act V, scene ii, l. 161 - 164)

Although most critics interpret the play as being
that of a woman finally acting the way in which she is
supposed to act, it is difficult to believe that