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Focusing on act 5 scene 2 of “the taming of the shrew”, evaluate the contribution Shakespeare makes to the contemporary debate about the place of women in society: At the time this play was written there was a huge debate ongoing about the place of women in society. I am aiming to evaluate Shakespeare’s contribution to this debate. He raises a very controversial issue. In the induction he sets out clearly what the play is about, in the lord’s speech we are told exactly how women should behave, this may be Shakespeare’s opinion but this view is taken by many men in Shakespeare’s day and age. This would make the play popular with some people and extremely unpopular with others, especially women.
In act 5 scene 2 we see what Shakespeare is really saying about the role of women in society. In Katherina’s speech she talks about the relationship between men and women, different actors and directors can interpret this in different ways, Katherina can either be playfully submissive, believing that what she says as humorously ironic knowing that she will in fact later be the one in charge. Or simply completely submissive knowing that Petruchio will always be the one in charge. Or, not giving in to Petruchio, but becoming a partner with him becoming mutually supportive and happy together.
He uses noun patterns to tell us women have “bodies soft, and weak, and smooth”. Katherina says “thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper” implying that the wife is simply another of the husbands possessions. Shakespeare uses language to aid his meaning. Prose is used by him to show which characters should be seen as low or comic. Sly in the induction uses prose, also the comic characters in the play such as Grumio and Biondello. The imagery which Shakespeare uses is very significant. Katherina is referred to in the beginning of the play as “devil” and “hell”. This is to show us what the men of Padua would have thought a life with Katherina would be like. There are several images that compare Katherina to a wild animal, for example a shrew and a bird of prey. Petruchio explains that he will tame Katherina the same way wild birds are tamed “My falcon is now sharp and passing empty” He refers to himself as her keeper “know her keepers call”.
All of the characters use different types of language; Lucentio uses romantic, dreamy language, that of a courtly lover – “but in the other silence I see /Maid’s mild behaviour and sobriety.” Petruchio has a lot to say for himself, he uses lively and varied speech and unlike Lucentio he uses no romantic language. He is much more of an authoritarian character than anyone else in the play. In the induction sly uses language that is easily recognisable as that of the Warwickshire countryside and all the names are typical of such a place, he talks in prose, to signify he is a lower class citizen.
Katherina’s language changes during the course of the play from rough and rude: “to comb your noddle with a three- legged stool”. To quiet and conciliatory: “Fie fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow,” This is the way petruchio wants her to speak. Petruchio has many more lines than Katherina this may be implying the male dominance within the play. This also tells us that the taming may be more important that the shrew. The exchanges of words between Katherina and petruchio are much richer and more diverse than those between Bianca and Lucentio. The conversations between Bianca and Lucentio are typical of Elizabethan love poetry.
The contemporary audience would have reacted in a fairly similar way to a modern audience. The position of the woman was a very controversial subject in the late 16th early 17th centuries. It depends on how the play is interpreted by the director. If in the play Katherina ends up being completely suppressed by petruchio becoming nothing but a slave completely obedient to him many of the women who saw this play would have been appalled with the way Katherina’s real character had been destroyed. But if the play is interpreted in the way that Katherina and petruchio come together as a team in order to get money and also to be happy and have fun, the audience would not see this interpretation as being misogynistic.