Critics have often argued that Kate’s final speech does not show the importance of female submission. They maintain that Katherina outlines the idea that men and women have different duties from one another. It also seems apparent that both sexes have distinct roles in marriage. Some critics have argued that this play represents an anachronistic view of marriage, which was already out of date at the time the play was first performed.
Joan Hartwig reveals the dehumanising treatment of women during the Elizabethan era due to the assumption that women, like horses are ‘ commodities to be bought and sold’. This connection can be seen in many instances in The Taming of the Shrew. Grumio when agreeing to find a husband for Katherina says ‘ would I have given him the best horse in Padua to begin his wooing that would thoroughly woo her, wed her, bed her and the rid the horse of her’. Hartwig continues to point out how Petruchio wishes to tame Kate, ‘ She is my goods, my chattels.
She is my house, my household-stuff, my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my anything. ‘ Petruchio brags ‘thus I’ll curb her mad headstrong humour’ in the same manner that a horse is tamed by curbing. While all of this appears inhumane to modern listeners, this method of ‘taming’ was seen as an appropriate treatment to Shakespeare’s audiences. It is, therefore, understandable why many husbands thought that ‘ taming’ their wife after the manner of Petruchio, was a commendable and acceptable thing to do.
When the play was first performed in the sixteenth century, it was clear that it had not yet occurred to critics to question whether a man has a right to get the better of a women with his ‘stronger will’, the point which many modern critics are often divided upon. Shakespeare has often been criticised for his portrayals of women. Many argue that, over the centuries, women’s role in society and marriage has changed dramatically from when the play was first performed. In the seventeenth century, scenes, speeches and parts of the plot were often cut, sometimes replaced with new speeches and dialogue.
The version that Samuel Pepys saw in 1667 was an adaptation, he wrote that ‘it hath some very good pieces in it, but generally is but a mean play’. In 1756, David Garrick adapted the play in a version called Katherina/Petruchio. Lines that would make the audience sympathetic to Katherina were cut, and some of the lines in her final speech were even given to Petruchio. This emphasised the message of the need of a wife to obey her husband even more. In both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the play and in particular the final speech were taken at face value.
The ideas about a wife’s obedience were seen as an excellent moral lesson, and young women were often encouraged to learn parts of the speech by heart before they got married. By the end of the nineteenth century, women were beginning to challenge their role as obedient servants to men. For instance, the play writer George Bernard Shaw, whose own plays often have strong female character, wrote that ‘the last scene is altogether disgusting to modern sensibility. ‘ In the twentieth century the original version of the play has been regularly performed.
I personally feel, that it has become much more difficult to take the final speech at face value, due to modern ideas about women’s equality. Should the director take ‘ The Shrew’ and point out all the ways women can be suppressed? Katherina has certainly attained this in her last speech, though if emphasised any more one might despise her and her role as a female diminished even more. The play would almost certainly end in a anti-climax, Katherina becoming a ‘victim’ and Petruchio ending up as the ‘villain’ this would not be what Shakespeare would have intended.
Feminist critics are divided about whether or not we can view the action of this play supporting or subverting the patriarchal hierarchy, which is described in Katherina’s last speech. The induction serves as an ironic commentary on the action of the rest of the play foreshadowing events and themes that may serve as some importance in both the plot and subplot of the play. For instance, we might compare the public humiliation of the stocks that the Hostess threatens Sly with, with the public punishment that is given to Katherina during her ‘taming’ process.
Though Christopher Sly represents the role of Katherina in the play, critics often disagree as to why it was included in this way, instead of being incorporated into Act I, or being left out all together, especially since the play can stand on its own. Many believe that it only confuses the audience members being left unresolved, further leaving the audience pondering. In Conclusion, I feel that it is not entirely possible to get a sense of complete closure at the end of the play, with many questions still unanswered.
For example, it seems strange that Shakespeare has not returned to the unsettled scene with Christopher Sly, especially as it serves as an appropriate induction to the preceding scenes. Many feel that Katherina speech does act ‘as a suitable closure’, with Petruchio winning his ‘peace… and love, and quiet life and right supremacy’ with the shrew vanquished out of sight. Though Hortensio says unequivocally, Petruchio has ‘tam’d’ a ‘curst shrew’, One still wonders and reserves doubts about Katherina’s future conduct.