Is it possible to stage Katherina's final speech as a suitable closure and/or does it open up further problems for the audience /actor / director?

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Is it possible to stage Katherina’s final speech as a suitable closure and/or does it open up further problems for the audience /actor / director?

William Shakespeare’s comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, centres around the marriage of two sisters: Bianca, considered the epitome of beauty and obedience, and Katherina, the ‘shrew’ for whom the play is named.  Bianca, the younger sister, cannot marry until a husband is found for Katherina. Of course, Katherina’s reputation as ‘ Kate the cursed’ makes this rather difficult.

Bianca’s suitors (Lucentio and Hortensio) find someone to ‘tame’ Katherina -Petruchio. This sets the stage for many different interpretations of the play for the audience, including the role of Katherina and the impact of her final speech. Unlike Petruchio’s character, which was dwelt on when the play was first written, Katherina’s character has only recently attracted much critical attention, particularly with the development of feminism. Many modern critics might therefore concentrate on the aspects of gender and class throughout the play, especially those made in Katherina’s final speech. Earlier audiences, however, may have had different views, for example many may have commented on how the scene between Christopher Sly and his attendants was not resolved or the issue of Petruchio and his wife-taming tricks towards Bianca. It is therefore advisable to take into account the different expectations audiences have about the play. I feel that the main problem, however hard one tries, is that it is not entirely possible to feel a sense of ‘closure’ at the end of the play.

Throughout the last scene of Act V, Shakespeare builds up the dramatic tension of the characters, which leads to the climax of Katherina’s speech of submission. Looking at Katherina’s speech, it is noticeable that she has been tamed by Petruchio’s actions throughout the first four acts. Her monologue reveals that she now sees it is her duty to respect her husband and to be obedient to him. Critics, however, have argued that it is not possible for such a person’s behaviour to change so drastically in such a short amount of time. The play takes place in a matter of days, too short a time to be able to tame such a ‘curst and shrewd’ character. It would take much longer to cure Katherina of this manner she possesses, with this in mind, it is very likely that Petruchio either liberated Katherina in how to control her fiery temper, especially since she has found mutual respect and a place in society. In the play, it would also be difficult for Katherina to pretend she was acting, as she would have risked being discovered if she showed herself being aggressive with the other characters. Some twentieth century critics suggest that she does not speak with her own voice here and that a masculine voice has replaced the voice of the scold. It is however ironic that Kate’s speech, which rounds the play off, virtually silences the stunned male characters.

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As the audience, are we meant to understand that Katherina’s speech is a joke against the male actors in the play? From the start of the play Katherina is ridiculed as a joke, often described as a ‘ wildcat’, ‘ an irksome brawling scold’  ‘ shrewd’, ‘ ill favoured’ and ‘cursed’. Some argue that Kate has a stereotypical role to play out, one which would have certainly been familiar to the Elizabethan audience.

Kate, who has long been chastised by her father for the way she treats her sister, now gets the chance to play the role of ...

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