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What aspects of 'The Taming of the Shrew' identify the play as a comedy?

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Introduction

Patrick Johnson, 11KO What aspects of 'The Taming of the Shrew' identify the play as a comedy? 'The Taming of the Shrew', written by William Shakespeare between 1589 and 1594, is a romantic comedy set in the Italian city of Padua. Since the play was written, the audience's idea of comedy has changed quite dramatically. In the fifteen hundreds, an audience would have enjoyed obvious, visual aspects of comedy such as we would see in a modern-day pantomime, whereas an audience watching the play today would also enjoy less obvious aspects such as sarcasm, irony and dry humour. Shakespeare, although aware of Queen Elizabeth's position as a strong and independent woman, also had to fulfil the expectations of the time. This is why the 'feminist' of the play comes out 'Tamed' at the end. Women were expected to be obedient to men, whether husband, father or elder, in the same way as commoners were subservient to the King and aristocracy, a model of society often referred to as the Great Chain of Being. This hierarchy supported belief in the Divine Right of Kings and, similarly, in man's superiority to woman. The fact that the play is set in Italy further strengthens the link with the Italian tradition of Commedia dell'Arte, one of the major influences on modern pantomime. The subject of 'The Taming of the Shrew' - who shall have sovereignty in marriage - is also part of a long and well established tradition in English literature offering many opportunities for comedy, for example Chaucer's 'Wife of Bath's Tale' and Noah's wife in the Medieval Mystery Plays. ...read more.

Middle

Katherina: It is my fashion when I see a crab. (223-227) The opportunities here for double-entendre and bawdy gesture are obvious! Petruchio is the most flamboyant and eccentric male in the play. He dresses, talks and acts loudly and is sometimes drunk:"...Petruchio is coming in a new hat and an old jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turned..." [III, ii, 41-42]. This refers to Petruchio's late arrival at his own wedding, drunk, and dressed so that guests look upon him as "a wondrous monument". Further amusement is found in Gremio's reports of Petruchio's behaviour during the wedding, an account which would afford the actors much scope for slapstick and exaggeration: 'I'll tell you, Sir Lucentio, when the priest Should ask if Katherine should be his wife, 'Ay, by gogs-wouns,' quoth he, and swore so loud That all amaz'd the priest let fall the book, And as he stoop'd again to take it up, The mad-brain's bridegroom took him such a cuff That down fell priest and book, and book and priest.' (156-160) Although this is written in blank verse, there is an insistent rhythm in the harsh and monosyllabic words which adds to the humour. Petruchio is a good source of comedy for the audience, who find much hilarity in his capers. Even in the final scene of the play he is jesting, wagering against his two friends that his new wife is more obedient than theirs: 'I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound,/But twenty times so much upon my wife.' ...read more.

Conclusion

[I, ii, 128-129] Grumio's rhyming couplet here adds humour, especially in the insult to Katherina. As seen in quotations above, all characters make use of paronomasia, but especially the servants, who 'need' to use puns to strengthen their positions as the comedians of the play. Puns were popular amongst Shakespearian audiences, who found the confusion they entailed hilarious. Bawdy humour is used, between male characters, but most notably between males and Katherina - "To cart her rather. She's too rough for me." [I, i, 55]. T o be so abrupt and rude towards a lady could have been shocking but bawdy humour would be particularly amusing to members of the audience, encouraged by the actors' gestures and emphasis. Verbal comedy is also provided by the exaggerated speech of some characters, notably Petruchio who uses hyperbole in his taming of Katherina - "I tell thee, Kate, 'twas burnt and dried away..." [IV, i, 157]. The meat, as the audience well know, is fine, but Petruchio exaggerates its condition to make sure Katherina doesn't eat it. This is amusing because of its ridiculous exaggeration and dramatic irony, and the insistent rhythm of the hyperbole strengthens its effect. The title of the play itself could also almost be described as hyperbole: 'The Taming of the Shrew' - throughout, Katherina's identification as a 'shrew' and Petruchio's 'taming' are deliberately exaggerated for comic effect. ...read more.

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