Ill-intentioned Marriages

It’s quite obvious that deception is a major theme in The Taming of The Shrew, as well as many other Shakespeare plays. But what was equally, if not more appealing to me, was the subplot within this theme: deception in marriage. 

After the original rouse – playing a prank on Sly, the beggar who now believes he’s a Lord -readers learn that the sanctity of marriage may not be as holy as it’s typically thought to be. Sly was told that he was asleep for fifteen years and that he is actually a Lord who has, under some “strange lunacy,” said he was not and never was of such high social-status. (Induction 2, 27). He wouldn’t fall for the trick until his “wife” was brought into the picture. His wife – well, Bartholomew dressed as a woman – basically entered the room and said “I’m your wife” and Sly immediately commanded everyone to leave the room so she could undress. No exaggerations, he literally commanded her: “‘Tis much. Servants, leave me and her alone. Madam, undress you and come now to bed.” (Induction 2, 112-113). Surprisingly, his wife denied his request. However, it wasn’t too surprising considering she wasn’t really a woman. Sly responded with a very entertaining response, however. “Ay, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long.” (Induction 2, 121). Despite the extremely witty pun and Sly’s way too obvious lust, the inner-wirings of relationships began to show light. Women aren’t supposed to stand up to their husbands; they are supposed to mindlessly obey orders. Women were possessions. This is somewhat of a reason why Katherine is such an unbearable character in the minds of the other male characters. However, I digress. 

Later on in the play, we meet Petruccio, a man who was depicted as very eager to get married. However, he seemed to, again, spoil the sanctity of marriage: he was only interested in the wealth of his future spouse. “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.” (1.2.10). Petruccio was told how awful Katherine was.

“Petruccio, shall I then come roundly to thee 
And wish thee to a shrewd, ill-favoured wife?
Thou’dst thank me but a little for my counsel, 
And yet I’ll promise thee she shall be rich, 
And very rich.” (1.2.56-60). 

However, his warning conveniently ended with “but she’s super rich, I promise.” 

After reading this, I started to question whether Shakespeare was commenting on the relations and customs regarding marriage – even further, criticizing all of these customs. Even Hortensio and Lucentio are lusting after a spouse, and they’re not pursuing in the most honorable ways. When continuing The Taming of The Shrew, I’m interested in seeing how Shakespeare continues his commentary through deception. I’m sure there will be much more in store. 


6 thoughts on “Ill-intentioned Marriages

  1. n02697180

    I too found the scene when Sly becomes convinced he is the king from the sight of his “wife.” I found it pretty misogynistic and (as you stated) reflects how wives were often treated during the time of this play. he basically demands sex immediately as if wives are supposed to drop everything their doing and submit do their husbands sexual desires. Sly did not ask, try to seduce, or do anything to have sex with her except bluntly telling her to undress. I think you do a good job at expressing misogyny and gender roles in marriage in your post.
    I like how you bring up the fact that Katherine seems SO unbearable to these men simply because she has a strong demeanor and does not like being treated as her apparent gender role tells her to do so. She simply becomes seen as a “shrew” because she stands up for herself and does not put up with being oppressed because of her gender.

  2. elisebrucche

    I agree that Shakespeare is questioning the the relations between spouse in the Elizabethan era, especially in the way it related to class. At the time, marriage was for the most part still a matter of convenience rather than emotional attachment. As a result, both Sly (the stereotypical working class man [i.e. vulgar and dirty]) and Petruchio (the merchant) see marriage as a beneficial transaction in which they each gain something near and dear to them (true to stereotype, Sly wants sex, while Petruchio wants more money). While Sly’s reaction to his “wife” strikes me as exaggeration calculated to remind viewers of the supposed vulgarity of his peasant upbringings, it nonetheless showcases the lack of empathy towards women that all the male characters in the play exhibit. As you mentioned, even Lucentio and Hortensio, who are supposedly pursuing Bianca out of love, are really more interested in the conquest than gaining a true companion. However, what is most troubling is the play hides its stance on these false images of love and marriage, partially through the apathy and dishonesty of its male characters. I think judgement will probably lie in the dialogue of the female characters as well as in their relative success in reminding the men of their own humanity.

  3. gmedulla727

    I really liked how the theme of deception and disguise is mentioned in this post. At the time there were many unhappy arranged marriages because marriage was based on things such as wealth, common families, etc— it was based on almost anything but love. The fact that the first born has to be married before the second born makes no sense in our present day society, yet it was very important in some countries during Shakespeare’s time. As far as arranged marriages go, Shakespeare gives us a little bit of a history and shows us how far we have come in the 21st century. I agree that Shakespeare shows this when mentioning the male suitors for Katharine and Bianca. When you are untruthful about something, it is most likely not going to end up well. I’m not sure what happens in this play but that is my prediction.

  4. mahorsfall

    I enjoyed your recognition of gender inequality and the reality of marriage in Elizabethan times. I think that the situation with Sly demanding sex from his “wife” upon seeing her was for comedy’s sake, since “she” was in fact not a “she”, and to emphasize the fact that he was not a lord. Your point about the role of women, however, was very valid: “women aren’t supposed to stand up to their husbands”. You’re right, distinct gender inequality and the combination of an outspoken and strong-willed woman would definitely make the men of the play dislike Katherine.

  5. n02248774

    I agree how these marriages are “ill-intentioned marriages.” So much for true love. Christopher Sly basically denies all notions he is a lord until he sees his “wife.” This is solely because he wants sexual favors. Petruccio only wants to marry Katherine because of her money. The woman in the play so far seem to be used by these men, only for there convenience. There appears to be no love story, but instead, situations that benefit some of the characters in the play. I’m not too familiar with Shakespeare, but it is interesting to have a story develop that doesn’t involve love amongst two major characters such as Romeo and Juliet. This also goes back to how some of the blogs discussed the importance of social class throughout the play. This story so far, has less to do with love and more to do with who you are, and money distinguishing the different classes.

  6. pamsutherland

    I can’t agree more with you, the play is certainly about deception in many forms. Sly is deceived before the real play even begins. Then throughout that’s entire play everyone lies and tricks everyone else. The suitors lie their ways into the home of Katherine and Bianca. And that is just the beginning, the lies carry out throughout the entire play. Petruccio eventually coaxes Katherine into joining his lies in the name of being a good wife.

    When Sly asks Bartholomew to undress, I believe he is trying to prove his lordship. If “she” is his wife and misses him so “she” should be willing to please her husband by obeying him and by having sex with him. Had Bartholomew been a woman who obeyed Sly and had sex with him, he would have believed whole heartedly that he was a lord and the beggar life of Sly was a mad dream. The answer Bartholomew gave Sly “pardon me for a night or two… For you physicians have expressly charged…. That I should yet absent me from your bed”(i2 115-118) may have left doubts in his mind but if “she” flat out said no, Bartholomew wold have thought something was wrong and not believed the prank.


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