The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the ShrewThe Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”
Proverbs 31:30.

I’ve set myself the crazy task of reading all of Shakespeare’s works in 2016.
This was the second play I read. I’m also making sense of it using Peter Leithart’s “Brightest Heaven of Invention.”

How do we change? The introduction of the play suggests one way. People treat us a certain way, and we begin to act that way, even if it isn’t us on the inside. The clothes make the man. We rise to the occasion people present to us. Hortensio gives us a second way we change, in how he woos Bianca. He uses soft and soothing words. Study and work as it’s agreeable to your stomach. Don’t beat yourself up, but study using the method that feels helpful. Petruchio’s treatment of Kate is the third method of change. He is stern and full of round rebukes. He shows her her own abuse of others by mistreating her. He gives her no food unless she says thank you for it. The stomach is made to serve virtue, instead of hoping virtue arises as you give the stomach what it wants.

Shakespeare advocates the third approach. It is the way to tame the shrew of sin in all of us (mortification). You can’t be tame with the subtle serpent. Treat him roughly, kill him and be done with it.

At the end, there is an Esther scene which proves this third approach works best. At a banquet, three men bet on whose wife will come from the other room when they call. Only Kate comes obediently, and then she gets the others to come, too. We realize that fair Bianca, whose virtue looked great next to Kate’s shrew-ness at the beginning, has always been rather selfish on the inside.

The last speech by Kate is a marvel. She lectures the other two wives on how their husbands are their lords. They need to be submissive for all the work they do for them. She offers to put her hand under Petruchio’s foot, but he calls for her to kiss him instead. Submission leads to peace and exaltation.

I’m sure The Taming of the Shrew is highly uncomfortable to modern ears. Who would treat a wife this way, or let a husband treat her like this? I think this is meant as part of the literary shock and fun. Shakespeare is pointing to the jarring realities of husbands and wives disagreeing strongly with each other, and sinning against each other, but still having to live together for the rest of their lives. And he is using the sensitive areas of courtship and marriage as a display case for showing how people are best “tamed.” The shock of a husband withholding food from a wife, as a parent would from a child, makes the point that selfish shrews will make marriage a hell on earth if it isn’t fixed. Kate should have been tamed earlier in life.

But better late than never, right?

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