The Taming of the Shrew - Petruchio and Katherina's relationship.

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Everyone has an opinion about Petruchio and Katherina’s relationship. What is yours?

There are many possible interpretations of the relationship between Petruchio and Katherina. A very superficial reading of the play might lead one to conclude for instance that it is an extremely sexist relationship and shows a man like Petruchio taking control of a ‘shrew’ like woman, in order to gain a dowry, the methods he uses both physically violent and psychologically crushing.  Another interpretation might be that the play portrays a man and a woman, both of them hot headed and determined, working through their difficulties with one another, using exaggerated comic actions.  A more feasible explanation probably lies somewhere between these two extremes, or as a clever compromise between the two.  This essay sets out to debate whether or not the relationship between Petruchio and Katherina has some depth, or whether it is simply a demonstration of the gross sexism displayed towards women in Elizabethan society.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that this play is purely sexist and that the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio has nothing to do with love. For instance, when we first meet Katherina she is treated with contempt even by her father; he tries to marry her off to two older men Gremio or Hortensio. They refuse her and call her a “wench” and “mad”, Baptista her father, does not defend her in any way, even when Katherina pleads with him “I pray you , sir, is it your will to make a stale of me amongst these mates?”.  He then jumps at the chance to marry her off to Petruchio, not having met him for very long at all.  Baptista also insisted that Katherina be married before Bianca in order to ensure that they are both wed. Neither Katherina nor Bianca get a say in this, they have to obey their father, just as Katherina is made to obey Petruchio. It is possible that all Katherina is to her father, is a thorn in his flesh that he is trying desperately to pass on to someone else.

When Petruchio first asks for Baptista’s consent to marry Katherina, he immediately inquires; “What dowry shall I have with her to wife?” which shows that obviously he was more concerned about the money than the love of a wife. This suggests the relationship has a lot to do with what Petruchio wants, as he is the dominant male as far as Katherina is concerned. Before he even meets Katherina he says he is seeking “fortunes”, and when Katherina is described in a very ill way by Hortensio, Petruchio’s reply is “Thou know’st not gold’s effect”, again advocating that Petruchio did not care who he married, as long as money came into the picture.  The fact that he did not care what kind of wife he had seems to tell us that he was never looking for love in the first place, which possibly has something to do with the context of the time, but it certainly seems that Petruchio is solely a heartless rogue.

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When Petruchio and Katherina first meet, Petruchio does not listen to a word she says as his only goal seems to be to marry her.  He neither seems to respects nor listens to what she wants.  When she tells him “They call me Katherine”, he ignores this and as if to mock her, he excessively uses the name “Kate” whilst addressing her. This immediately leads one to believe that he has little care for her feelings. Petruchio then proceeds to ridicule her, with use of puns and crude sexual innuendos. This is a novel way, to say the least, ...

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