Bianca is “more Shrew than She”. To what extent do you agree with the statement that Bianca is the real Shrew of the play “The Taming of the Shrew”? Casual observers of The Taming of the Shrew would most likely interpret the title’s subject- The ‘Shrew’- as an obvious parallel to the play’s protagonist. Katherina, to many, is regarded as the true Shrew of the play- When one observes her temperament and actions and the beginning of the play, this is a reasonable assumption.
However, a further analysis of this complex multi-layered play can change the reader’s perspective entirely.
When I analyse The Taming of the Shrew, I do not believe that Katherina is the Shrew. Of course, her actions in the first half of the play do fit the definition of the word- “A woman with a violent, scolding or nagging temperament”- Take for example, when she drags her sister Bianca violently across the stage as Act II opens, and her general refusal and stubbornness at other’s requests.
However, as it is implied in the title, Kate’s temperament changes greatly by the final scene of the play as she is ‘tamed’.
Despite her early actions, I would personally believe that the very fact that she was capable of being tamed proves she is not the Shrew of the play. I would argue that the true Shrew is in fact Bianca- She is, to reiterate a phrase: “More Shrew than She (Katherina)” Despite many believing that Bianca is the antithesis of her sister, in terms of virtue, I would disagree- despite her name with its connotations of purity and innocence (“Bianca” is Italian for “white”), Bianca is far from virtuous.
She is flirtatious and to a degree vindictive, and is skilled at manipulation. In many interpretations of the play Bianca is shown to have her father wrapped around her finger, and therefore favouring her completely over Katherina. From when Bianca is first introduced in Scene 1 she is instantly portrayed as desirable to many men- This is evident from her many suitors who are interested. (Lucentio, of course, falls in love with her instantly, a feeling Bianca reciprocates- Making them clear stock characters of commedia dell’arte.)
As well as her beauty, it seems the many men entranced by Bianca are attracted to what appears to be her meek and mild temperament. Kate implies something different however; in line 80, when she proclaims Bianca “A pretty peat! ” (A brat), and claims, “It is best Put finger in the eye, and she knew why”- Meaning that Bianca will make herself cry if she needs to, in order to maintain her virtuous facade.
This is emphasised in Act 2 Scene 1, when Kate and Bianca fight- Admittedly, Katherina does appear more “Shrewish” at first, as she drags Bianca around with her hands tied- But Bianca’s manipulative actions, as portrayed in some interpretations of the play, present her as reasoning with Kate to untie her, but as soon as her father round the corner, turning hysterical, so as to make herself appear free of all guilt to her father, and land Kate in the wrong.
If the men of the play knew of Bianca’s manipulations, they would probably regard her as the Shrew instead, as they would consider such actions not becoming of a woman undesirable. Similar “Shrewish” events ensue in Act 3 Scene 1, when Bianca is presented with her teachers, Lucentio and Hortensio in disguise. She is both flirtatious and mocking in equal measure to each of her teachers, showing Lucentio she is interested in his affections and Hortensio that she is not.
She informs them of these things somewhat deceitfully; she translates Lucentio’s Latin work into a hidden message for him in which she says, “presume not, despair not”- She ensures he knows that his love is not unrequited and to continue courting her. This is of course entirely against Baptista’s wishes, as he wants her to marry one of the suitors he has chosen and approves of. Hortensio is not as lucky as Lucentio- He is rejected rather harshly by Bianca, as he tries to send her a hidden message in scale he has written down for her to play, proclaiming his love for her.
Bianca of course refuses, chiding him saying, “You call this a scale? I do not like it. ” This scornful, blatant rejection fits perfectly into the definition of a Shrew, as she mocks and scolds Hortensio- This is perhaps more hurtful than Kate’s actions as this harsh rejection is towards a suitor, who has shown a vulnerability towards her. As many observers would predict, Bianca and Hortensio decide to marry- However they do so without Baptista’s permission. This shows that Bianca is unwilling to cooperate with her father’s wishes- A trait that in many circumstances would have labelled her a Shrew in Elizabethan times.
The most profound argument relating to Bianca’s “Shrewish” nature is probably to do with the events that occur at her wedding feast- Petruchio, anxious to prove that Katherina has been tamed, suggests a bet between him, Lucentio and Hortensio, regarding which wife of the three men is most obedient to her husband. In this era, a test of obedience such as this would be a sound way of proving that your wife was not a Shrew. Of course when called, the newly-tamed Katherina obeys and comes to her husband’s aid, whereas Bianca and Hortensio’s wife the widow do not.
To reiterate this, Petruchio then orders Kate to find the other two women herself and bid them come- Indeed they do. The idea of Bianca answering to a woman’s call and not a man’s is a powerful one, as it highlights her true temperament both to the audience today and to the characters in the play- As far as the men can understand, there has been a role reversal on the parts of the sisters- Kate has indeed been tamed and Bianca, arguably, is the Shrew. Personally, I find this role reversal very interesting, however the fact that this reversal is evident means it is harder to exclusively argue that Bianca is a Shrew whilst Katherina is not.
The more obvious interpretation in the Taming of the Shrew is that Kate is the woman of scolding, harsh temperament- As she is more violent than Bianca, and more overtly stubborn, at least in the earlier parts of the play. However, I find personally that it is Bianca’s deceitful, manipulative actions that seem the most contrary to the Elizabethan ideal of the perfect woman- Therefore making her seem more of the Shrew. After all, violent, shocking actions are always easier to control and stop- It is subtle, manipulative actions that are concocted in people’s heads that are harder to notice- And infinitely harder to tame.
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