How does the Interpretation of Misogyny affect the Dramatic Impact of "The Taming of the Shrew"?

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How does the interpretation of misogyny affect the dramatic impact of the play?

Before any occurrences of misogyny in The Taming of the Shrew can be explored, it is essential to define the word. The dictionary definition of ‘misogyny’ is, “ingrained prejudice against women.” Some audiences’ interpretations of The Taming of the Shrew as a misogynistic work means their opinion of the play’s comedic value may be altered.

Although we may not have achieved gender equality, women in the Elizabethan Era had far fewer rights still, and were objectified and traded as was customary of the time. To Elizabethan society, women were viewed as either one of two polar opposite roles: a wife and mother, or a prostitute. This is especially ironic, considering the ruling monarch was female.  This second class treatment is apparent in the Great Chain of Being, an ancient chart Elizabethans believed depicted the order of the universe. Women fell below men in this chain, exemplifying their position in Elizabethan society. It was not just unconventional for a woman to act above her station, but was seen rather more as a disruption of the balance of the universe- demonstrating how truly misogynistic Elizabethan society was.

It is evident that Shakespeare’s audiences would have interpreted the Taming of the Shrew differently to audiences of today, because they perceived women very differently. The Taming of the Shrew is of course regarded as a Shakespearian comedy- although modern audiences may not be amused by elements of the play. However, to some Elizabethan audiences, the play would perhaps be received as a humorous work with a satisfying resolution. Katherina’s submission at the end would be regarded as a happy ending, as Katherina finds her rightful place in society, and her earlier defiant actions would be seen as laughable- if not morally repugnant.

In contrast, some modern audiences interpret that from the very start of the play, in the Induction, there is apparent misogyny. For instance, when The Lord humiliates Christopher Sly, he orders his page Bartholomew to dress in women’s clothes and pretend to be Sly’s wife. As the induction is a reflection of later attitudes in the play, the persona the Lord dictates for Bartholomew to be a convincing ‘woman’ reflects further misogyny in both the play and Elizabethan society, particularly when the lord suggests Bartholomew should speak, “With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,” implying that wives should be meek towards their husbands. This repetition of the word “low” seems to reinforce the position of women below men in Elizabethan society.

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It is also interesting to note the comedic device of cross dressing in the Induction. All the characters in Elizabethan theatre were played by men, as it was seen as prostitution for a woman to appear on stage (additionally, this shows with greater clarity the misogyny in Elizabethan society). Despite the negative attitude one might expect from audiences, it was seen as completely customary in Elizabethan times, and they would not be confused by a man playing a serious female character as audiences of today may be. However, when Shakespeare explicitly intends a male character to be disguised as female, ...

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