Katerina is the female protagonist of the play and to me the second most interesting character in it, next only to abominable Petruchio. The way Shakespeare presents her is very complex, entertaining and open to interpretation. She had been given many roles in the play; daughter to Baptista, sister to Bianca, fiance and wife to Petruchio, suitor’s worst nightmare, mistress to servants and of course the town Shrew.Kate is a complex character because Shakespeare had presented her so differently from other females of the period he lived in.
Namely the time where a woman’s highest virtues are her abilities to be obedient, placid, meek, uncomplaining, and discreet, plus their abilities in the homemaking process and those mundane things, like playing the pianoforte, painting and sewing. But Kate, as numerous others of Shakespeare’s female protagonists, won’t stand these stereotypical assumptions. She is of no ‘gentler or milder mould’ and is considered very ‘froward’ and compared to the ‘devil’ himself. She flaunts convention and isn’t averse to quick thinking, wit, physical violence and strong language. Kate is a very determined character who taunts and mocks those people around her when she doesn’t get her way.
Shakespeare presents Kate’s relationship and interaction with her family in a very steroetypical way. It is easily assumed that Baptista favors Bianca more than he does Katerina. It is also clear that this is having an adverse effect on his relationship with Kate. As a daughter Kate is benevolent, bitter and spiteful. Bianca, who she describes as ‘his treasure’and she on the as he says is a ‘devilish spirit’ don’t get along at all.
He is a typical father who favors the more virtuous daughter than the clever one. This actually brings in mind King Lear and his three daughters, another play by Shakespeare, which question relationships, honesty and love. We don’t see her pay a lot of respect to Baptista because his character doesn’t seem to like Katerina at all. ‘Was ever gentlemen grieved as I’ says a lot to his parenting skills. He doesn’t try to understand Kate at all and a misunderstood child with that amount of spirit in her would naturally turn ‘mad’ especially since it rubs her that he shows so much affection to Bianca and none to her.
Shakespeare presents Kate and Bianca as a relationship of opposites. Since Bianca’s characterization is of a ‘sweet’, ‘modest’, and ‘much priced’ lady she contrasts sharply to Kate’s characterization which is of a ‘froward’ and ‘stark mad’, wench. They are of complete opposites and one assumes that Shakespeare did this deliberately to emphasize Katerina’s character traits. As a sister she is much punishing and a bit of a bully who is not averse to using force to get what she wants, as the audience sees in Act 2, Scene 1. But behind all this we get the sense that Bianca is much smarter than that and taunts Katerina on what she cannot have. Sadly Katerina lacks that insight which suggests that Bianca maybe much smarter or else more calculating than her emotionally spurred sister does. Shakespeare probably made this relationship to make the audience more sympathetic to Katerina as we finally see what is behind her shrewish behavior.
Shakespeare presents the audience with scenes where we see Katerina interacting with Bainca’s suitors in an amusing way. Scornful and volubly abusive, this may stem from her jealousy that her sister has suitors and Katerina has none. But inspite that she still couldn’t tolerate ‘these mates’ and said that she would rather ‘comb your noodle with a three legged stool and paint your face and use you like a fool.’ They, on the other hand also can’t tolerate her, ‘Katherine the curst’. They think that even with her dowry, which is quite considerable, ‘any man is so very a fool to be married to hell.’ . These relationship outside family is also used to emphasize Kate’s character and show us how the outside world, Padua, who makes no effort to understand her at all, sees her since we know that Katerina is known throughout Padua and beyond for her shrewishness. This also makes us think how totally loveless and friendless she is.
Then there the main relationship that Shakespeare presents which of course includes Kate and Petruchio. We see them alone in a room on the stage getting acquainted in a very strange way. From the very first meeting, Kate is in the disadvantage. She clearly does not see Petruchio’s motive, therefore making her wary but also curious. Petruchio’s motto of ‘wiv[ing] it wealthily’ may seem very unromantic to the audience, but in this instance Shakespeare presents us with a Katerina who is a woman, not the shrew. For the scene to work on stage there has to be the element of sexuality in the innuendoes and undercurrents between the two characters, especially Kate. Katerina tries to bait him all the time by using animalistic words not fit for a real lady, the audience get a sense that she maybe doing this deliberately to test his temper, and see how he would respond.
She is obviously not impressed by the speech about her virtues, and is quickly roused into anger when Petruchio showed no sign of abating his attack and defense against sallies Kate throws at him. No one challenges Kate quite like this and this time it looks like she’s barely holding to her own, which makes her mad. He even equals her on the ‘waspish’ speech. One of the most memorable lines; ‘Asses are made to bear and so are you. Women are made to bear and so are you.’ Is truly a very entertaining provocational speech by both of them. Kate, fed up with all the heated exchange of animalistic language, infuriated at being told that she would marry him with or without her consent and probably testing his gentlemanly intentions, hit him squarely in the face. But this was a grave mistake for Kate. She was shown a display of Petruchio’s disciplinary tendencies.
Shakespeare presents us with a situation where Petruchio, who is determined to bring ‘wild Kate to a comformable as other household Kates’, to her knees plans a very elaborate taming. The audience knows that Kate must go through a kind of taming as the title of the play indicates, but how we don’t know. Step one was in Act 3, the wedding scene. Kate was so bitter and outraged when she thought that Petruchio wouldn’t show up, cursing everyone about the ‘mad-brained rudesby’ who had taken her in, as she believed. Shakespeare must have instilled in her character the contempt of men in general and this would have been the ultimate humiliation, to be stood-up. We don’t actually see the wedding ourselves but through the narrating of Signor Gremio we find out about the scandalous happenings in the church where Katerina suffered so much humiliation in the hands of Petruchio.
This must have put a lot of pressure on Katerina who was so afraid to be stood up, then when the groom finally showed up, started humiliating her in front of everyone. Shakespeare allowed us to see Kate in another light as indicated by Gremio when he said that Katerina was a ‘lamb, a dove, a fool to him’ when he himself was saying just six scenes before that she was the ‘devil’ and ‘hell’ herself. The juxtaposition and ironic element is amusing. Shakespeare uses this effective technique as he did with the journey, which was narrated by Grumio, to let us see how the others see the current developments.
If Kate is the rock, then Petruchio is the hard place. She was finally beginning to realise that she can’t do anything to Petruchio using her old techniques since he was more shrewish than she is anyway. There’s just so much humiliation a girl could take. We see a humbled Kate as she ‘entreats’ Petruchio, which could not have been easy, to stay and even go so far as to emotionally blackmail him by saying that if he loves her they should stay. This unexpected change from the normal loudmouth and demanding woman is astonishing, and it was only the beginning.