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To many desultory observers The Taming of the Shrew may be conjectured as being profoundly misogynistic, an intolerable illustration of female subjugation in 16TH Century England.

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Introduction

Michael Billington, theatre critic for the Guardian, asked 'whether there is any reason to revive a play which seems totally offensive to our age and society' (6 May 1978). With particular reference to the final scenes of the play, explore the ways in which a modern audience can respond to Shakespeare's presentation of the relationship between Kate and Petruchio To many desultory observers The Taming of the Shrew may be conjectured as being profoundly misogynistic, an intolerable illustration of female subjugation in 16TH Century England. However in my opinion this is a far too superficial and perfunctory observation. The Taming of the Shrew displays enough ambiguity in its readings to support differing interpretations of its meaning and demonstrates its relevance to modern society. It is clear that one's own evaluation of the plight of Kate is an integral part of whether one finds the play offensive or not. On face value the shrewish Kate is tamed by the cruel, exploitative Petruchio who uses her father's wealth as his only reason to embark on their marriage; a marriage she despairingly tries and fails to resist. He embarrasses and degrades her, culminating in the final scene where Kate openly relinquishes her independence; grovellingly placing her hand under Petruchio's foot and lectures the other women about what should be their 'traditional' servant role within marriage. ...read more.

Middle

Thus it is Kate who is educating Petruchio rather than the latter educating the former about the role of women in marriage. By engaging in loquacious argument, Kate's refusal to conform to the conventions of 16TH Century England acts as a sharp warning to Petruchio that he cannot simply bamboozle her into marriage. In the Zeffirelli production of the play, Elizabeth Taylor certainly portrayed a character of deep internal strength and fortitude, often hurling items at Petruchio in a physical as well as emotional resistance to his suppression. Even when she seems to be silenced during Act II Scene I or suppressed in Act V Scene II as Kahn has argued 'her spirit remains mischievously free'5. Her appearance is in sharp contrast to that of the 'worthy' Bianca. Her hair is unkempt, her clothes ripped and untidy, and she possesses a tense persona, quite unlike the almost shy and innocent persona of her sister. This illustrates the rebellious nature of Kate and her desire to remain independent, not tied to the needs of her sister and father. However it would be quite narrow to confine one's reasoning to a feminist argument - there are many other reasons why this play is not offensive. The play after all is a comedy, not a tragedy or drama. While it would be fair to accept that a suppression of Kate would have been appreciated by a 16TH Century audience, it can be doubted as to whether this is what Shakespeare intended. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Taming of the Shrew challenges the assumption that the wife will simply submit to her master's wishes as well as question whether this hierarchal structure can continue if it is threatened by rebellious behaviour. It is clear that Billington has fallen into the trap by failing to recognise the extent to which Kate and Petruchio's marriage is equivocal in addition to neglecting the ironic tone in Shakespeare's argument. The Taming of the Shrew is successful in delineating two contrasting paths to marriage which, contrary to many observers' primary viewpoints, illustrates Kate and Petruchio's marriage as the happy one. Whereas Bianca and Lucentio's courtship is 'disguised' and their marriage reveals their partnership as superficial and deluded, Kate and Petruchio systematically destroy each other's disguises, and their 'contract' turns into a union of true, enduring love. Indeed it may be noted that Billington himself only uses the word 'seems' and not 'is' and therefore it may be he who is utilising the device of ambiguity in an attempt to forge his own revelationist opinion. The very fact that contemporary versions of the play such as Ten Things I Hate About You have been popular demonstrates why there is reason to revive a play which clearly provides entertainment for a modern day audience. 1 Carol Rutter, Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare's Women Today (1994) 2 Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1978) 3 John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Godly Form of Household Government (1621) 4 Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (1991) 5 Coppelia Kahn, Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (1981) ...read more.

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