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Kate’s changes in Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ are going to be examined here. I will look at Elizabethan attitudes towards women and see if Kate resolves to conform to these views or to retain her shrewish persona. Additionally I will examine Shakespeare’s use of devices in her final speech (to see whether she is tamed) and how she is portrayed in Zeffirelli’s film. Women in Shakespeare’s time were not held in as high regard as men due to the hierarchical nature of society. At the head of this triangle of power in the Elizabethan society was God himself. This was because in Elizabethan times religion played a very important role in the lives of ordinary people and, interestingly, the Church itself was one of the most powerful and influential bodies (aside from the King) in society at the time. Also God was, and most often still is, portrayed as being male.
On the next rung down from God was the King who was the most powerful single person in society as it was widely believed that he had been divinely appointed. So if you went against the laws set down by the King you were seen as going against the will of God. The following rungs were occupied by other men of power who were wealthy or who were in the professions and had a career i.e. law, medicine and politics. There were no women with any careers any of these avenues due to their lesser status in society. In the rung below this there were basically all women, who were seen as their husband’s property.
This brief explanation is only a rough outline of Elizabethan society as there were a wide variety of different rungs occupied by a whole range of people with different levels of influence and skills. Women held such a low position in society mainly due to the fact that there was a total lack of effective birth control which consequently made it impractical for married women to work outside of their homes.
So this led to the widely held, popular perception of women being able only to remain at home to work in the domestic sphere of the household. Women, strangely enough, generally conformed to these views and even took a great deal of pride in bearing a child for their husbands. So to all Elizabethans the roles of women were seen as completely different from those of men and not even as significant as what a man was required to do. While the women stayed at home and looked after the family as well as undertaking general household chores, the men went out to work and earn a living for the family. Though both these jobs were just as important as each other women still occupied a lesser status in society compared to men, and there were many limitations on what a woman could do.
Girls could be educated by tutors at home but schools and universities were restricted to them. This was because women were not seen as to require the need for an education as all they should know, according to society at the time, was how to cook clean and raise a family. Women also didn’t have as much power or control in their own marriage as a woman was considered to be weaker than the man. A man even had a legal right to chastise his wife as he was considered to be the ‘head’ of the marriage.
As you can see there is a large divide between the roles of men and women and that men had more promising prospects open to them and the only real option for a woman was to marry well and go into a domestic service, of a sort, to the husband. These biased views were obviously centred on sexism towards women. Women were seen as feeble and not able to handle as much responsibility as a man and wouldn’t be able to handle what a man did. They were blatantly considered to be the weaker of the two sexes. Thus sprang forth the widely held belief that a woman’s place was at home and not doing such things as working or having a career.
Evidently the views held of women in Elizabethan times didn’t place them very highly within society and were clearly considered to be of a lesser status than men and that any woman who didn’t conform to these ideas on women was considered an outsider to society. Kate in this very much personified this outsider personality with her shrewish characteristics such as her angry outburst and constant violence to people and her surroundings. It is interesting to see how Kate is portrayed in adaptations of Shakespeare’s play and more interestingly, how she is seen to change through the course of the play or film or whatever it may be. A good example of one such adaptation is Zeferelli’s film, “The Taming of the Shrew”.
At the beginning of Zefirelli’s film, Kate is shown to be very much how the book intends her to be pictured. Kate is shown to very much live up to her bad reputation and is shown to be very much the shrew to which the title refers to as she is both scolding and bad tempered. This bad tempered nature even escalates into violence which Kate is shown to be all too capable of committing. Her image could be described as being slightly witch like as Kate’s face constantly bears a dark or even dangerous look.
The camera work used throughout the film further increases Kate’s scary, sinister appearance as there are frequent close ups on her eyes which Kate visibly narrows as if in anger or disgust. There are also close ups on Bianca’s eyes, which, in comparison to Kate’s are bright and look full of energy. This is a subtle highlight to how different Kate and Bianca are once compared despite being sisters. Also Kate is constantly roaring at various instances which shows a kind of animal quality within her. Kate also takes to breaking various objects at regular intervals in the opening scenes which shows how wild she is and shows that she can’t really control her anger or tame herself.
But as soon as Petruchio arrives in Kate’s life there is an obvious change in Kate’s character. When he presents himself to her she is visibly caught off guard by this sudden interest being taken in her rather than her younger sister Bianca. Following the two character’s tense initial meeting a chase ensues led by Kate with Petruchio in close pursuit. During the chase Katherina seems delighted, in privacy, at all the attention she is receiving but when Petruchio is in sight she adopts a pained expression to hide her true feelings of obvious excitement.
Katherina is finally caught in the end she is locked away in her room alone while Petruchio discusses the marriage with Kate’s father, Baptista. Given this time to herself Kate is seen slowly sinking down in to a chair a falling into deep though about Petruchio. She then rise and wanders over to the door to look at Petruchio through the door light which is made of red glass and casts a warm reddish glow over Kate’s face. This seems to be a symbol of how Kate is beginning to warm to the idea of being with Petruchio.