Shakespeare seems to be teasing us again.
This post is about my own frustration with the sexism in this play. It seems that by act 3, Katherine is “tamed” by Petruccio. Their playful, tense sparring upon meeting saw her asserting herself against his advances, and then, upon their marriage, Katherine watches as Petruccio boldly proclaims that she is his property and vows to protect her from other men (3.3.100-110).
Katherine seemed like a much stronger character in the beginning, albeit a little violent and unruly. But, in my opinion, not unjustly so, given the circumstances. Preceding Petruccio’s proclamation is Katherine’s assertion “I will be angry. What hast thou to do? [footnote: What business is it of yours?],” and then her statement “Gentleman, go forward to the bridal dinner./I see woman may be made a fool/If she had not a spirit to resist” (3.3.84 & 91-92). These statements may be as impassioned as Katherine’s previous, more cartoonish comportment, but they demonstrate Katherine’s capability of acting with conviction and composure at the same time, in place of excessive violence and unruliness. These few lines hold so much potential.
And then Petruccio deigns himself fit to speak for her. His response to Katherine’s assertion is kind of unruly and definitely disrespectful. He responds to Katherine directly—“They [the gentleman, the attendants] shall go forward, Kate, at thy command”—allowing her the authority she had already asserted. He then proceeds to direct the attendants himself through proclaiming his ownership of Katherine, invoking the Ten Commandments, and using language that shows he fancies himself a hero: “I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he/That stops my way in Padua…Fear not, sweet wench. They shall not touch thee, Kate./I’ll buckler thee against a million” (3.3.105-106 & 109-110). This is pretty ironic, considering Katherine’s previous reputation as an undesirable woman. In fact, she isn’t called “woman,” by the characters—just “shrew” or “wife” or her name, and by Petruccio mainly through its diminutive, “Kate.”
The preposterous speech is left hanging when Katherine, Petruccio, and Grumio exit, and Katherine presumably says nothing in response. Even Katherine’s family and Gremio and Lucentio acknowledge that she has probably made a mistake in marrying Petruccio.
I don’t blame Katherine for acting like a so-called “shrew.” She might be well aware of the fact that no one takes her seriously as a person, so she would rather speak her mind in ways that risk reinforcing this fact, than stay quiet and automatically reinforce this fact. Is Shakespeare making a commentary here?