The question that I am raising is, in The Taming of the Shrew are the women treated as property or people? I think that there is not one clear concise answer to this, but rather an answer in relation to the behavior of the women themselves. Bianca is a woman who acts like property, allowing her father to order her around and not making decisions for herself. During the first act Baptista orders Bianca to go inside and as Bianca complies Katherine makes the comment “A pretty peat!”, calling Bianca her fathers pet (1.1.78). By calling Bianca a pet Katherine is referring to her willful obedience to do whatever their father says.
Katherine, however, is very strong willed as is made known throughout the entire beginning of the play. She is called many things due to her behavior and is told by Hortensio, “No mates for you unless you were of gentler, milder mould” (1.1.59-60). When Petruccio offers to marry Katherine to free Bianca up for marriage he is warned about the kind of woman that she is by many and promised to be rewarded handsomely due to his sacrifice, again leading the reader to believe that life with Katherine would be nothing but trouble.
What I find incredibly interesting is the way the women end up being treated in comparison to the way that they behave. While Bianca acts like property she is treated like a person, wooed feverishly by Hortensio and Lucentio who are so overcome with love that they fall over each other to dress beneath their station in order to be closer to her. In act five Lucentio admits to Baptista what he has done was driven by love, “Love wrought these miracles. Bianca’s love..” (5.1.104-105). After being deceived by Lucentio, Bianca does not seem to take it well and appears to be behaving more like her sister when she is summoned by Lucentio and refuses to come (5.2.80-88).
Katherine, in the beginning of the play, is the epitome of the strong willed woman. During Petruccio’s “chase” of Katherine, he lies to her father and tells him that Katherine is in love with him and agrees to marry him (2.1.300-309). What shocked me is that Katherine did not seem to put up much of a fight, and from then on you see her true character. As opposed to Bianca, Katherine acted like her own person and ended up being treated like property by Petruccio. Petruccio even goes so far as to say, “She is my goods, my chattels” and again Katherine does not protest (3.3.101). The biggest transformation seen in Katherine is the speech she makes at the end of the play about the true way a wife should behave while speaking to her now disagreeable sister (5.2.140-183).
It appears to me that Shakespeare is making a comment about how women behave before marriage. The treatment of women as property, while definitely shown in the play, is shown in a negative light. The transformation seen in Bianca and Katherine seems to say that women will be treated how they allow themselves to be treated, meaning they overall are people and not property.