Discussion of the use of violence in “The Taming of the Shrew”

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Discussion of the use of violence in "The Taming of the Shrew"

"The Taming of the Shrew" may not immediately be described as a violent play. However if we look closer we can see that Shakespeare uses violence throughout the play, which can sometimes go unnoticed due to its subtlety. He uses physical, emotional, verbal and psychological forms of violence skilfully depending on the desired effect. Violence is important to the characterisation, plot and humour of the play.

The fundamental storyline of the play is violent, enforced by Petruchio's character. Out- Shrewing Katherina is part of Petruchio's taming plan, but the violence that he uses to ensure this is already there in his character, not just formulated for Katherina's taming. We see Petruchio's potential for violence early on in the play when Petruchio "wrings him (Grumio) by the ears" for no other reason than his misunderstanding of the context of the word "knock". This behaviour seems rather extremist, considering the nature of Grumio's fault. From the outset we are presented with the aggressive nature of Petruchio's character. This shows that Shakespeare wanted the audience to see this as a very important part of Petruchio's character. The incident is also very visually humorous due to its slapstick. We see a master and servant relationship, later to be mimicked with Katherina. Petruchio has a need to be dominant.

The same can be said of Katherina, that violence is a natural part of her character. Katherina is willing to use violence, as in act 2, scene 1, where Bianca enters "with her hands tied". Katherina's overriding jealousy has led her to behave in this manner towards her sister. Shakespeare uses violence here to increase our curiosity, and therefore our interest in the subplot, over which of her suitors Bianca likes the best. Katherina takes this action, as she likes the fact that she already has control over Bianca, who cannot marry until she does. This incident just increases Katherina's control. Katherina hits Bianca after she says:

"Is it for him that you envy me so?"

This suggests to me that Bianca's words have angered Katherina, probably because of their truth. It is clear that Katherina is jealous of Bianca and this incident shows Katherina's desire to be married herself. The difference between how Katherina needs to feel control over Bianca and her submission to Petruchio is that she knows Bianca won't fight back if she ever wants to be married.
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The general attitude that the play presents is not so much misogynistic as chauvinistic. The men don't hate women, but realise they can be manipulated for best use. Women were commodities for business ventures. Petruchio tries to increase Katherina's prospects on the marriage market through education. Katherina clearly objects to this strongly. Her tutor Hortensio (as Litio) enters "with his head broke" as a result of Katherina beating him with his lute. Katherina uses violence to vehemently express herself. To see women as a business venture undermines feelings and love, which is only mentioned by Baptista as an ...

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