Katharina is debatably the most multifarious characters in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, due to her development throughout the course of the play. This essay will show how Katherina develops and changes throughout the play as well as discussing whether Katharina was tamed or simply began to understand how to present herself to society. Upon the commencement of Act I, we see that Katharina is instated in the character of a shrew.
Katarina is forceful, petulant and unmanageable by the societal standards of the period. The first time we hear from Katharina, she is caught in a rage, cursing her sisters suitors and threatening them with violence, as seen in the quote ‘‘To comb your noodle with a three-legged stool/ And paint your face and use you like a fool. ’’ which is directed at both Gremio and Hortensio. Due to the shrew or monster-like behaviour which Katharina demonstrates, her sister Bianca comes off looking submissive – like the ideal wife.
We later learn that Bianca is not actually as perfect as she appears to be, she simply understands how the social system works and knows how to make herself seem desirable. It is imperative to view the relationship between Baptista and his daughters to understand the way in which Katharina acts. Bianca is clearly favoured and Katharina is jealous of the attention and love Bianca receives from both her father and the many suitors which she has. It isn’t until Act II that we begin to feel sympathy for Katharina. It is in this scene that Katharina is introduced to Petruchio.
Petruchio is handsome and well spoken, but is only attempting to woo Katharina in order to obtain the dowry from her rich father. Prior to Petruchio’s initial meeting with Katharina he decides in a soliloquy that he will constantly contradict her, ‘‘Say that she rail; why then I’ll tell her plain / She sings as sweetly as a nightingale. / Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear / As morning roses newly washed with dew. ’’ This quote signifies the beginning of the ‘taming’ process which Petruchio utilises throughout the play.
Through the witty banter that follows between Katharina and Petruchio, we see a real struggle between the two for who will claim the upper hand. It is Katharina’s failure to recognize Petruchio’s method of taming that results in him winning the contest of the two of them and ultimately claiming Katharina as his bride. Katharina is already distressed by the thought of marrying Petruchio against her will, a man whom she finds to be exceedingly exasperating. On the day of their marriage, Petruchio is unheard of and Katherina is piqued.
When Petruchio finally arrives at the wedding, he is late, intoxicated and wearing incongruous clothes for the occasion. He quickly marries Katharina, causing a scene at the church and then heads to the reception with her. Despite Katharina’s pleas of ‘‘Let me entreat you’’ in the hope of staying for her reception, Petruchio simply replies with ‘‘I am content you shall entreat me to stay, / But yet not stay, entreat me how you can. ’’. Since Katharina has attempted to ask in a polite and civilised manner and been denied, she then refuses to leave her reception.
What Kate fails to understand is that she is now the ‘property’ of Petruchio, he grabs her by the arm, and marches out of the reception. It is in Act IV that we see dramatic changes in the behaviour of Katharina. Petruchio believes that Katharina’s demeanour may begin to change, as it is hard to be annoyed whilst in physical discomfort. This scene shows one of the lowest points in the play for Katharina, she is married to someone she loathes, she has been humiliated at her wedding, forced to leave her reception early, dragged through the mud and she is both exhausted and ravenous.
Petruchio continues to display shrew-like behaviour in the hope that Kate will begin to understand the error in her ways. This is evident in the quote ‘‘He kills her in her own humour. ’’ This scene also encompasses an important soliloquy, where Petruchio talks of how he will starve her and keep her from sleeping, but pretend that he is doing it out of love, ‘‘This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, / And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour. / He that knows better how to tame a shrew, / Now let him speak; ’tis charity to show. ’ It is only in Act IV, Scene V that the intelligent Katharina finally understands Petruchio’s game. She begins to simply agree with whatever it is that pleases him ‘‘And be it moon, or sun, or what you please. / An if you please to call it a rush candle, / Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me. ’’ Act V shows the beginning of a genuine affection between Katharina and Petruchio, as they find compromise and in turn a kind of mutual respect, possibly even love. Katharina’s final speech has much more content than what is verbally expressed.
Katherina discusses how women and weak and should therefore serve and honour their men, ‘’Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, / Unapt to toil and trouble in the world, / But that our soft conditions and our hearts / Should well agree with our external parts? ’’. This scene should not be viewed as Katharina losing herself and submitting unconditionally to a man, but rather the incredibly intelligent Katherina understanding what to say and when to say it due to the mutual love and respect which Petruchio and Katharina hold for each other which the other couples fail to have.