Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson focuses on Katherine, who is the shrew referred to in William Shakespeare's ''The Taming of the Shrew''. Katherine's behavior and motives are examined through a discussion of specific scenes in the play.

Baptista's Daughters

Baptista has two daughters, Katherine and Bianca. Bianca has many suitors, but none of the young men of Padua want to court Katherine. Katherine seems to chafe against her society's expectations of women, and her bad temper conceals her true personality.

Katherine is no shrinking violet, and she lashes out at the men who expect women to be meek and passive. She is clearly intelligent, but she uses her biting wit to keep lesser suitors at bay. 'I pray you, sir, is it your will/To make a stale of me amongst these mates?' Katherine asks her father.

Baptista declares that Bianca cannot court anyone until he finds a husband for Katherine.

Petruchio Hears About Katherine

Petruchio comes from his home in Verona to visit his friend Hortensio in Padua. Petruchio says that he is seeking a wife, so Hortensio tells him about Katherine. She has almost everything he could want, Hortensio says. She is beautiful and wealthy. The only problem, Hortensio reveals, is that she is ill-tempered. Petruchio is interested in the challenge and vows, 'For I will board her, though she chide as loud/As thunder when the clouds in autumn crack.'

Taking Sides

In a scene that provides a possible motive for Katherine's behavior, Bianca and Katherine become embroiled in an argument. Katherine strikes Bianca. Baptista enters and sides with Bianca, calling Katherine 'a devilish spirit.'

'Now I see,' Katherine says. 'She is your treasure.' This passage shows the humanity in Katherine; she weeps at her father's bitter words. This scene may, in part, explain Katherine's behavior, as the audience sees Katherine lash out as a defense mechanism. Perhaps she keeps others at arm's length so they cannot hurt or disappoint her as her father does.

'Kiss Me, Kate'

Petruchio meets Katherine (who he calls Kate) and confirms that she is as sharp-tongued as he had heard. The two spar verbally, and Petruchio is attracted to Kate's wit, intelligence, and beauty. He seems to understand that her anger springs from trying to fit into a society that does not appreciate intelligence in women.

Petruchio believes he can curb Kate's unruly behavior and says, 'For I am born to tame you, Kate.' Petruchio tells Kate that he is determined to marry her: 'We will have rings and things, and fine array;/And kiss me, Kate, we will be married 'a Sunday.'

The Honeymoon

On the way to Petruchio's home after the wedding, Kate's horse stumbles. When Petruchio beats the servant for the horse faltering, Kate pulls Petruchio off the man. Kate's kindness in shielding the man from Petruchio's blows is another indication that the fiery disposition she usually exhibits hides her true nature.

When Kate and Petruchio arrive at Petruchio's house, Petruchio begins to complain. He reprimands the servants for failing to meet them when they arrived. Then, when dinner is served, he complains that the food has been burned. Kate disagrees, saying, 'I pray you, husband, be not so disquiet./The meat was well.' Petruchio continues to complain that the meat is not fit to eat, and the two go to bed without dinner.

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